Reviews, profiles and news about art in Chicago

Portrait of the Artist: Chris Cosnowski

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"Nike with Slit Skirt," oil on panel, 2014

“Nike with Slit Skirt,” oil on panel, 2014

I met Chris Cosnowski’s cats before I met him.

It’s one of those all-too-common unbearably chilly Chicago days, and I’m making my way up the artist’s freshly shoveled driveway, concentrating mostly on the fact that I can’t feel my toes. Thankfully, his home is inviting and warm, as is his wife Allison (and their two felines). As Chris takes my coat, I notice several of his own paintings adorning the high-ceilinged walls of his living room.

“Has your studio always been in your basement?” I ask as we head downstairs.

“Yeah, it has. But I’m thinking of making a change. It’s really tough getting my paintings up the stairs, and I hate having my sizing be limited.”

“Have fun in the dungeon!” Allison yells after us with a giggle.

The first things I notice in Chris’ studio are his boxes. Lots of boxes. They’re the kind you see at a garage sale, or perhaps a disorganized thrift shop. I want to walk over and peer into them, to rummage through them. But I resist. Read the rest of this entry »

Art Break: Bronzeville’s Second Renaissance

Artist Profiles, Bronzeville, Hyde Park No Comments »
Samantha Hill's "Great Migration" installation at the Southside Hub of Production

Samantha Hill’s “Great Migration” installation at the Southside Hub of Production

Samantha Hill claims there is a cultural renaissance occurring in Chicago’s historic Bronzeville neighborhood. “There is palpable new energy circulating here amongst organizers, educators and residents that isn’t yet defined.” Determined to capture and engage in this revival, for her first solo exhibition at the Hyde Park Art Center, Hill presents “Topographical Depictions of the Bronzeville Renaissance.”

Originally from Philadelphia, Hill has been naturally drawn toward and deeply involved in the cultural activities of the South Side since her arrival in the city ten years ago. She has organized happenings, held residencies and taught art courses at the South Side Community Art Center and Chicago State University. As a social art practitioner, bringing people together and facilitating conversations is at the heart of heart of what she does, and it is through working in these neighborhoods that Hill has been able to get to know people at the forefront of Bronzeville’s new momentum, record their stories and discover the spirit of the neighborhood. Read the rest of this entry »

Art Break: Lisa Yun Lee Wants to Create a Free Art School at UIC

Activist Art, Artist Profiles No Comments »

Lisa Yun Leee_Photo

“Who gets to make art? Who gets to determine what is beautiful?” asked Lisa Yun Lee, the newly appointed director of the school of art and art history at the University of Illinois at Chicago. (This is a new position that emerged from combining the schools of studio art and art history.) One of her many big ideas is to open a free art school for the city of Chicago. “Joseph Beuys proclaimed everyone an artist,” Lee says. “In the summer our classrooms sit empty. So why not invite local residents—children, teenagers, adults and seniors—to come make art?”

As the leaves outside her office window turn a deep amber, Lee sits down to the daunting task of creating what she hopes will be a radical blueprint for an art school of the twenty-first century. Sampling and collaging avant-garde ideas from experimental educational models such as the Black Mountain College, Bauhaus and CalArts, Lee hopes to create a school of unprecedented accessibility to as wide a public as possible. Read the rest of this entry »

Art 50: Chicago’s Visual Vanguard

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Illustration by Ryan Duggan

Illustration by Ryan Duggan

The health and diversity of Chicago’s art ecology relies not just on the number of influential artists (which we profiled in last year’s Art 50), but also on the behind-the-scenes operators, the movers and shakers, who help artists get their message out to large audiences. Chicago’s cultural infrastructure is strengthened by the smart, hardworking people who lead our museums, sell our art, broadcast our ideas, and make the city a better place to be an artist.

The Art 50 was written by Jason Foumberg, Alan Pocaro, Annette Elliot, Sofia Leiby, Janina Ciezadlo, Pedro Vélez, B. David Zarley and Bert Stabler.


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Portrait of the Artist: Melvin King

Artist Profiles, Outsider Art No Comments »


Melvin King’s paintings are pure Americana. It is artwork that tells important stories about black religious worship and the civil-rights movement.

King’s paintings hang from every available space on the walls in his three-story brick house and studio in Burnham. When there is no more wall space, paintings are placed on the floor, where they lean against walls. They also are stacked in boxes, stored under tables and desks or stacked on top of them. Some of the paintings are framed, others are wrapped in plastic. Still others have cardboard packing protectors on each of the frame’s four corners. Read the rest of this entry »

Visiting Artist: Marissa Lee Benedict

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benedict-wolfThis is the fifth installment of the Visiting Artist column. Here, Marissa Lee Benedict reflects on several of her art-research projects, of “propositions.” Benedict shows at Threewalls (119 North Peoria) through June 13.

Located on the border of Illinois and Indiana, off of Avenue O, Wolf Lake is neatly bisected by the state border; an invisible geopolitical line made visible by a two-lane road running vertically through the middle of the body of water at a precise longitude of 87º31’W.

Wolf Lake was first brought to my attention a few months ago, as I discussed my need to find water sources from which I could collect algal samples; sites which would speak to my interest in finding dis/connections. While I was sitting in his studio a few months ago, David Allan Rueter mentioned that last year he had driven down to Wolf Lake to walk its shores, tracing the edges of the fractured lake by foot.

Walking the shoreline of Wolf Lake, it’s difficult to find soil, the road and dikes being mostly composed of slag, gravel and lakefill. I’m afraid that most of what passes for soil is, in fact, dirt: soil’s less microbially active cousin. Wolf Lake, along with neighboring Calumet Lake, was once among the most biologically diverse pockets in the Midwest. To take a water or soil sample from Wolf Lake 150 years ago would have been to collect a cosmic paraphernalia of organisms. A century of heavy industrial use by the surrounding steel mills has radically reduced this biodiversity, but despite this, I have hope that the samples I collect will come alive. With the chill of winter on the lake, the ground is still frozen in early March. Many of the organisms will be dormant, arrested in their metabolic activity by the freezing cold. I’m un/certain of what I will find as I dip my hands into the frigid waters, my fingers going numb and lifeless as I walk back and forth across the state line, filling two containers: one from the Indiana side of the waters, and one from the Illinois. Read the rest of this entry »

Breakout Artists 2013: Chicago’s Next Generation of Image Makers

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Cover by Edie Fake, 2011 Breakout Artist

Cover by Edie Fake, 2011 Breakout Artist

By Jason Foumberg, with contributions from Abraham Ritchie, Bert Stabler, Pedro Velez and Meredith Wilson.

What is contemporary Chicago art? What is a contemporary Chicago artist? These used to be dirty questions, ones you didn’t want to answer because they could pin you down, box and tag you, and file you away. Remember Chicago Imagism? Yeah, we can’t forget it. It’s enough to say that contemporary Chicago art is not a thing; it is an ecology. In other words, it is alive, and its diversity keeps it thriving.

This is our tenth annual selection of Breakout Artists. Each year, a handful of artists catch our eye—at exhibitions, in studios, or on the web, and we recognize something Chicago-ripened about their way of being and making. We want to press pause on the streaming channel of contemporary reality, and say, hey, this is what right now looks like. We want you to see it, too.

Visiting Artist: Paul Hopkin

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This is the fourth installment of the Visiting Artist column. Paul Hopkin is an artist and founder of Slow, a gallery in his home in Pilsen.

An exhibition at Slow by artist Theodore Horner, age 10.

An exhibition at Slow by artist Theodore Horner, age 10.

Before I ever took studio art classes, I met a painter, became interested in his practice and purchased work from him. I still have it hanging in my apartment. Living with art has taught me plenty about how to see.

We tend to visit culture rather than live with it. Art is in a museum. Sure, we hang things to adorn our walls—to decorate—but we expect that people with “real art” are wealthier than us. Is it strange that students who dedicate their education and lives to studying and producing art have often never lived with any? Do we expect someone else to support the arts?

Just as I can eat a healthy diet—not junk food—on a limited budget, I can afford to live surrounded by brilliant ways of seeing. I can have a richer life without ever owning work by someone famous, can find immense variety inside of modesty. For every famous artist there are literally thousands of brilliant points of view that will remain unknown, unless we seek them out and bring them home.

We need to live with art to get to the better parts of it. True, some art is made to be experienced in a gallery. Jeff Koons’ “Puppy” is a thrilling artwork to experience away from home, just as in upscale restaurants we certainly eat decadent, exotic ingredients. In both cases we are better for not having to live with such indulgence. With art, we don’t always need to own something so over-the-top to find satisfaction. Read the rest of this entry »

Portrait of the Artist: John Wehmer

Artist Profiles, West Loop 1 Comment »

8775“It was all Melissa’s doing,” eighty-five-year-old John Wehmer says by way of explanation, referring to Columbia, Missouri gallerist Melissa Williams. Last spring Williams visited Wehmer in his home on a hunch and eventually convinced him to unearth a body of two dozen large abstract paintings, many of which had been unseen in storage for decades, in a show that will now open at the McCormick Gallery this weekend after a stunningly successful showing in Missouri. The exhibition offers yet more evidence of the undersung role of Midwestern artists in mid-century abstract painting. Read the rest of this entry »

Portrait of a Gallery: Paperish Mess

Gallerist profile, Ukrainian Village/East Village No Comments »

paperishpplHarvard economist Richard Freeman has called this generation of twenty-somethings “lost,” which is a nice way to say screwed. Underemployed and underpaid, floundering in an anemic economy, it’s a terrifying time to start a business. Lisa Muscato and Sean Murty, the owners of the fledgling combination shop and art gallery Paperish Mess, don’t seem too worried.

Their project of opening a shop has a reckless bravery to it. The couple staked their own money in Paperish Mess, which features a lovingly curated collection of objects from more than seventy-five independent artists and a rotating art installation. Lisa and Sean have yet to draw paychecks from the store, but then again, “a paycheck was never something we wanted to base our lives around,” they say. Instead, they see themselves, and their shop, as serving a “greater good.”

“We’re building up a community of artists that will appeal to people… we want people to come in and be inspired… empowered to do whatever they want,” says Lisa. “Local businesses are better for vendors, for artists, for owners, for the community. We saw a lot of vacant spaces, not a lot of local businesses, and we want to invest in the neighborhood… Better a space like ours in a storefront than a corporation.” Read the rest of this entry »