Reviews, profiles and news about art in Chicago

Eye Exam: A Fresh Look at SoHo in the 1970s

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Gordon Matta-Clark, Suzanne Harris and Tina Girouard

Gordon Matta-Clark, Tina Girouard and Suzanne Harris

By Jason Foumberg

Jessamyn Fiore never met Gordon Matta-Clark, but he has always been part of her life. “I grew up in a loft that my mother and Gordon had converted from a factory building,” in downtown New York City, says Fiore. “We had his art around. His family was like my family. His friends were like my friends.” Matta-Clark died in 1978, and two years later Fiore was born to his widow, Jane Crawford. “Once Gordon passed away, my mother devoted her life to his work and his legacy,” says Fiore.

Although Matta-Clark was just thirty-five when cancer ended his life and his prolific art career, the art world wasn’t ready to sweep him into the dustbin of art history. And we still haven’t—no doubt due, in part, to the hard work of caring for his estate, a tremendous task that Crawford and Fiore now share, as of last year.

As co-director of the estate, Fiore, thirty-two, has not simply inherited the wealth of an important artist; Fiore has what she calls a “creative relationship” with Matta-Clark’s legacy, as if he were her art-father, his ideals about art and community fostering her own belief system.

Fiore’s story is fascinating because it reveals how an artist’s reputation is sustained, in our modern curriculum and imagination. It is not simply that a powerful dealer releases major artworks into the market at strategic moments; the legacy of an artist like Matta-Clark stays alive because an advocate like Fiore works to connect the core values of his artwork with those that are relevant to today’s artists. Fiore identifies a spirit of collaborative artistic empowerment in the work of Matta-Clark and his peers that resonates with today’s artist-centric art world.

“What is the role that friendships play within an artistic community, and within an artist’s practice?” asks Fiore. She has expanded her inquiry beyond Matta-Clark to look at 112 Greene Street, a live-and-work art center in a converted factory building, known by its street address, that incubated New York City’s political, post-minimal, feminist, performance and experimental art in the seventies. Read the rest of this entry »

Art Break: Amy Zahi on Curating

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130417_NinaArtShow_40No one cares about BFA students. Critics and curators want to deal with MFA students. The BFA students get ignored or not taken seriously as professional artists. They’re constantly hearing advice about getting out into the art world, but they don’t know anybody. They‘re afraid of just walking up to someone at an opening and saying hi. They don’t know who Michael Darling is. Someone had to teach me, too. Sabina Ott’s professional practice class [at Columbia College] changed my life. She took us out to see Julie Rodrigues Widholm, Mary Jane Jacobs, Claudine Ise, Michelle Grabner, Natasha Egan, J.C. Steinbrunner, Chicago Artists’ Coalition (Cortney Lederer, Tempestt Hazel, Sara Slawnik), and a slew of practicing on-the-ground artists.

For the exhibition [at the Arcade Gallery], the idea was to match five BFA candidates in their senior year with five professional working artists. Almost all of the BFA students are not going off to grad school after they graduate; they’re going to stay in Chicago and start art practices. What’s next? they ask. Or, I’m scared and I need to find a job. The show was an opportunity for the students to get out into the Chicago art world. They don’t know anybody but their own teachers. I wanted the students to see examples of artists who have graduated and entered the art world, to see artist practices and how they evolve over time. The students had to travel to their studios, research these artists’ works, be involved in choosing the pieces to exhibit (theirs and the artists), get their artwork show-ready, and be present to install. Read the rest of this entry »

Eye Exam: Changes at the Arts Club of Chicago

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Janine Mileaf

By Janina Ciezadlo

Despite the current belief in most quarters of the miraculous powers of social media, Janine Mileaf, the newly installed director of the Arts Club of Chicago, believes strongly in “bodies in a room together, generating ideas.” Her model is the salon culture of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century France, presided over by educated women. Almost a century of wealthy imaginative women—the Arts Club was founded in 1916 by a woman—precede Mileaf as directors of the Arts Club. While Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas were cultivating Picasso and the American expats of the early twentieth century, Rue Winterbotham Carpenter, the founder and first president of the Arts Club, brought the first exhibition of Picasso’s drawings to Chicago, and exhibited work by Leger, Rouault and Brancusi, while hosting performances by Martha Graham and Sergei Prokofiev. Chicago was “cultivating deep conversations in the salon tradition,” as Mileaf describes it, about contemporary art among the members of the club a decade before the Museum of Modern Art opened in New York. Many of the works introduced by members of the Arts Club became the foundation for the Art Institute of Chicago’s modern European collection. Read the rest of this entry »

Portrait of a Curator: Amelia Ishmael

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Amelia Ishmael described the opening reception of “Black Thorns in the White Cube” with the excitement of a teenager recapping her night at a concert. “Before anyone showed up, Scott [Speh] and I were listening to cars drive by and I thought that was really special. And there was this excellent rumble across the sky—never a thunderstorm, just this rumble, and I was like ‘Oh! Odin came!’” Ishmael is a self-described listener, although her curated exhibition of Black Metal genre art did not have any sonic components. Ishmael pronounces the work “black” with an enjoyment that seems to reflect her years of intense concentration on what the word represents. She moves weightlessly, hopping a bit when she gets excited.

“This is work that I want to see in an art gallery,” says Ishmael. “When I started thinking about this exhibition, I started looking around to see if anyone had put together a show like this. There are some people working with metal music, but no one had done an [art] exhibition focusing purely on Black Metal.” Read the rest of this entry »

Portrait of a Museum Director: Lisa Corrin

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It is a brilliant coup for Chicago’s art community that, on February 1, Lisa Corrin took the reigns as the Ellen Philips Katz Director of Northwestern University’s Block Museum of Art. Corrin relocated to Evanston from her directorship at the Williams College Museum of Art, and prior to that, as Deputy Director of Art at the Seattle Art Museum, where she oversaw the commission of major works of public art in the Olympic Sculpture Park. Like several of Chicago’s newest museum directors, notably at the AIC and the MCA, Corrin is a former museum curator. She is a champion of contemporary art, and widely respected in her field for co-organizing Fred Wilson’s 1992 groundbreaking exhibition “Mining the Museum,” which essentially threw open the doors of the institutional critique genre.

How will Corrin position her own brand of advocacy for contemporary art in a city that is nearly saturated with major contemporary art institutions? I recently spoke with Corrin about her priorities for the Block Museum and how she envisions the museum’s role within the city. Read the rest of this entry »

Eye Exam: The Slow Way

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Jason Dunda's "Portrait of Paul Hopkin as the most Beautiful Effigy in the World"

By Jason Foumberg

Paul Hopkin is an artist who opened Slow gallery in August 2009 in a west Pilsen storefront. Slow is a curatorial project where Hopkin pairs two (and sometimes three) artists in an exhibition to see a conversation emerge. We chatted about his practice and vision for the gallery.

Tell me about the name Slow.

I am really interested in food, and have been forever. I used to automatically mistrust any artist who didn’t know their way around a kitchen. The connection of slow food and slow art is not coincidental.

Can you explain the practice of curating two-person shows, rather than solo shows?

Solo shows always “work,” but they seem to encourage the dreaded like/dislike response. It is hard to get someone to look at a show of a single artist and encourage them to think about what they are seeing at the same time. Pairing work in ways that are less obvious can draw out tensions, illuminate peculiarities in an artist’s point of view. That content often makes itself apparent as tension or a giggle rather than as a concise answer. Theme shows can dumb down too—they can simply generate an internal checklist—yup, that one is about robots too.

I fell for art because it was introduced to me as a way to change the way people see. I am still in love with the power and problems that that offers. The way I put shows together allows me to put something out in the world that is my take on things, but still keeps the artist’s work front and center. Read the rest of this entry »

Laughing at/with the Art World: Inside the weird enterprise of the Reeder family

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Photo: Colleen Durkin

By Ella Christoph

There’s no hiding at Club Nutz—the comedy club nestled into the second floor of a building on Clark and Hubbard Streets is a tiny, twelve by twelve foot space. Darkly lit with a spotlight on the stage, small balconies give some viewers a tiny bit more breathing room. Still, performers can’t avoid looking audience members in the eye, and vice versa. The club, the brainchild of brothers Scott and Tyson Reeder, and Scott’s wife Elysia Borowy-Reeder, sells itself on the claim that it’s the world’s smallest comedy club, as though that is something people seek out. But the owners claim it makes comedy way, way better. Scott compares it to watching a movie on a plane and laughing out loud even when the movie’s not funny. “There’s something about that enclosed space, and the fact that you might die, that leads to heightened emotions,” he says. It’s the same at Club Nutz. “Even a bad act has a certain intensity to it.”

The intimacy raises the stakes of the event—if a joke falls flat, there’s no hiding. Scott says there’s one serial performer that has shown up at Club Nutz a number of times. “He just told all these terrible facts about his life,” Scott says, laughing. “I mean they were terrible, a really rough childhood, and he didn’t present them in any funny way. And the content—I mean it was kind of funny, but it was heartbreaking. I don’t know if it would work at a normal comedy club. There’s something about the scale of it where it’s more intimate, or people can feel comfortable sharing something like that.”

The Reeders often work with small spaces. First and foremost visual artists, the comedy club is just the latest venture in their series of weird enterprises. Beginning in 2002, the Reeders curated at The Wrong Gallery in New York. The smallest exhibition space in New York, it was “nothing more than an expensive-looking glass door identical to those of the Chelsea white cubes it satirized,” the Reeders write. Designed and curated by class clown of the art world Maurizio Cattelan, Ali Subotnick and Massimiliano Gioni, The Wrong Gallery crossed lines without ever opening its doors. Peeking through the locked single glass door, labelled with the gallery’s irreverent name in simple black type, viewers could see whatever art they exhibited on the brick wall of the gallery, which had two-and-a-half square feet of floor space. After being evicted from its New York location in 2005, it moved to the Tate, where it exhibited pieces like Dorothy Iannone’s “orgasm box,” a colorfully decorated box framing video of Iannone’s face as she masturbated. Read the rest of this entry »

Eye Exam: What Is a Curator?

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Susan Aurinko

By Jason Foumberg

A friend recently asked me what a curator does. Are they like librarians? he asked. For an art outsider like my friend, the definition of a curator is limited to a stereotype suggested by the quiet halls of the museum. In the art world, though, the title of curator is totally unfixed. Just as the definition of artist was blown open in the early twentieth-century, the role of curator is no longer an elite, academic-bound job title.

Museum curators create solo retrospective exhibitions or thematic group shows, and biennial curators are jet-setting networkers. Often these types of curators have the highest degree offered in their academic field (art history or art studio), but that doesn’t mean they work in cushy, first-class jobs. They do more fundraising and donor development than actual exhibition planning, they give lectures and write catalogue essays, and they build and sustain their museum’s collection, if it is a collecting institution.

All of that is fairly routine and traditional in relation to the curators that I recently spoke with. They call themselves curators, but do not work for a museum. Do their self-ascribed job titles expand the definition of a contemporary curator, or merely confuse it? Read the rest of this entry »

Portrait of the Artist as Curator: Brandon Alvendia

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A sticker by Alvendia

“I am for an art that embroils itself with the everyday crap & still comes out on top,” wrote Claes Oldenburg, in 1961, in a non-traditional artist statement titled “I am for an art.” Brandon Alvendia would like to see more artists define their practices in light of Oldenberg’s spirited dictums. He reframes Oldenburg’s “everyday crap” into “everyday pragmatism.” It’s a phrase that guides his own work. “How do I make best use of this,” he continually asks himself.

Alvendia re-purposes things at every turn, from bargain-priced floppy discs (gutted, they make good CD cases) to out-of-print books that he photocopies and binds into paperback books for free distribution. Not everything that he re-purposes is an object, though. For example, exhibitions are readymade platforms for the creative presentation of other artists’ work. “Curating is my art practice,” says Alvendia. For the Miami art fairs in 2007, he exhibited the work of ten artists in his wallet, a fitting context for the moneyed affair but also an economic means of exposure for the ten artists.

Alvendia’s latest artistic-slash-curatorial mission is “Fair Use: Information Piracy and Creative Commons in Contemporary Art and Design,” which recently opened at Columbia College, where he teaches part-time. The exhibition features about a dozen artists who test the limits of copyright law. Image appropriation has been a hot topic since the 1980s, but the rules of the game keep changing. As the law adapts to deal with artistic interventions, artists keep pushing the envelope. Read the rest of this entry »

Portrait of the Curator: Matthew Witkovsky

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Continuity or change? That is the question that Chicago’s photography community is asking as Matthew Witkovsky settles in as the new chair of the Department of Photography at the Art Institute.

Under his three-decade reign, Witkovsky’s predecessor, David Travis, built up the Institute’s collection, expanded its exhibition space and added facilities for scholarship; but he also played it safe and emphasized connoisseurship, leading to a staid approach that kept the department at several removes from the waves of experimentation that have broken over photography during his tenure.

Having come to his new position from stints as first assistant and associate curator at the Department of Photographs at the National Gallery of Art, Witkovsky is no stranger to the arts of diplomacy required of an arts manager in the big leagues. He is not easy to pin down when it comes to finding out the direction in which he intends to take his department. Read the rest of this entry »