Reviews, profiles and news about art in Chicago

News: Claudine Isé Appointed Executive Director of Woman Made Gallery

News etc., West Loop No Comments »
Claudine Isé

Newly appointed executive director of Woman Made Gallery, Claudine Isé

Last week Woman Made Gallery (WMG) announced that former Newcity contributor Claudine Isé has been appointed as the venerable exhibition space’s new executive director. Isé succeeds Beate Minkovski who is retiring after twenty years of service to the organization. In the gallery’s press release, Isé speaks to the important role Woman Made has performed in advancing social discourses around gender and justice, “I am deeply inspired by the Gallery’s unwavering commitment to the social and cultural ideals espoused by feminism, LGBTQ activism, and social justice movements. Woman Made Gallery is a vital resource for contemporary artists of all genders, and I am looking forward to working with its exceptional staff, board and funders to further the gallery’s mission.” Since its founding in 1992, WMG has hosted 378 exhibitions and exhibited more than 7,500 women artists. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Heaven and Earth: Art of Byzantium from Greek Collections/Art Institute of Chicago

Loop, Michigan Avenue, Painting, Sculpture No Comments »
Icon of St. Prokopios, 14th century. Byzantine; Greece, Veroia. Church of Saint Prokopios, Veroia.

Icon of St. Prokopios, 14th century. Byzantine; Greece, Veroia. Church of Saint Prokopios, Veroia.

RECOMMENDED

The story of Renaissance painting begins with innovations in naturalism that were a welcome liberation from the schematic strictures of the Byzantine style. Or at least, that’s how the leading art historians of the last century, like Ernst Gombrich, told it. Perhaps that’s why this is the first special exhibition devoted exclusively to Byzantine art at the Art Institute of Chicago in 124 years. But as this exhibition proves, the best Byzantine figurative art in painting, sculpture and mosaic was no less fresh, expressive and exciting than subsequent art periods are known to be. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Wangechi Mutu/Block Museum of Art

Collage, Drawings, Evanston, Installation, Video No Comments »
Wangechi Mutu. "The End of eating Everything," (still), 2013, animated video (color, sound), 8:00 minute loop

Wangechi Mutu. “The End of eating Everything,” (still), 2013, animated video (color, sound), eight-minute loop

RECOMMENDED

Images are ideological constructions that serve the social function of representing political and global interactions. For Wangechi Mutu’s collages in her survey “A Fantastic Journey” the artist sources imagery from National Geographic, pornographic and fashion magazines to undercut disparaging assumptions about the black female body. “Le Noble Savage” is a wry collage that demonstrates the historic weight of this misnomer. It was a term coined in the seventeenth century that designated non-Europeans as primitive and served as a reason to discredit their accomplishments. A female figure marked with dark sores wears a raffia-patterned skirt reminiscent of traditional Kuba textile from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Mutu’s Afrofuturist aesthetic is evident in the figure’s skin. Her diseased flesh refers to the victims of crises in Africa, the interpolating global politics of war, the illegal trades of bodies, minerals, bullets and more recently the Ebola epidemic—one that the Western press ignored until two American missionaries were infected with the virus. The figure reaches up to the sky holding high a fern populated by many birds showing that there is more to Africa than just the pervasive reductive binary of casting it as a “dark” continent or the emblem of the “cradle of civilization.” Read the rest of this entry »

Review: A Proximity of Consciousness: Art and Social Action/Sullivan Galleries

Activist Art, Art Schools, Installation, Loop, Performance, Prints, Sculpture No Comments »
Installation view with "Publishing Clearing House" by Temporary Services

Installation view with “Publishing Clearing House” by Temporary Services

RECOMMENDED

“A Proximity of Consciousness” inaugurates SAIC’s season of lectures, book releases and a symposium dedicated to the art of affecting social change. The exhibition is curated by Mary Jane Jacob and Kate Zeller and showcases new works by a powerhouse roster including Michael Rakowitz, Pablo Helguera, James Duignan, J. Morgan Puett, Paul Durica, Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle, Dan Peterman, Laurie Jo Reynolds, Temporary Services, Rirkrit Tiravanija and many more collaborators. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Mickalene Thomas/Kavi Gupta Gallery

Installation, Photography, Sculpture, Video, West Loop No Comments »
Mickalene Thomas. Installation view of "I was born to do great things"

Mickalene Thomas. Installation view of “I was born to do great things”

RECOMMENDED

Mickalene Thomas is a master of the ode, of placing ephemera of her muse (her recently deceased mother, Sandra Bush) on actual pedestals in galleries and museums where the black female body and experience is not typically upheld and celebrated. The bronzing of Ms. Bush’s house shoes and an old sweater, the display of her bra, jeans, earrings and bare body make Thomas’ mother into the supermodel she always hoped to be. Not in a morbid way, this is a celebration of what Zora Neale Hurston might say is a “will to adorn” working women who have style for days, despite economics. Read the rest of this entry »

Eye Exam: Mother of Invention

Activist Art, Artist Profiles, Installation, Multimedia, Painting, Pilsen No Comments »
Lise Haller Baggesen. "Mothernism," 2013-14, mixed media audio installation

Lise Haller Baggesen. “Mothernism,” 2013-14,
mixed media audio installation

By Matt Morris

I’m the sort of queer person who hangs out in places where you hear the word “breeder” tossed around; this isn’t really a unifying trait of these places, actually, because I’m often the one saying it. I’m dubious about moves to increase visibility for the material conditions of parents and families. I usually remain unconvinced that these agendas to further elucidate the particulars of family life can resist being co-opted by a forceful patriarchy that rigidly orders gender roles to align with the reproductive determinations of our bodies. It’s a particularly fraught conversation within the art world at least in part because advancements to naturalize current norms threatens cultural producers who aim to innovate and imagine more possibilities for how to live than we’ve previously been offered.

Into the midst of these chilly philosophical divides, artist and writer Lise Haller Baggesen strikes with “Mothernism”—a project comprised of both her traveling multimedia tent installation and a new book released this fall from Green Lantern Press and Poor Farm Press. With the excesses (and excessive generosity) of Baggesen’s artwork and book, she loosens the divide that would place motherhood at odds with a pursuit of rebelling against status quo oppression. As she writes in the book’s chapter “Mother of Demolition”: “Beginning with the old feminist premise of the female as ‘the second sex,’ and lesbianism as a third, I suggest that motherhood is a fourth… and hell, who knows? Maybe menopause is a fifth and so on… Because if we can accept motherhood as one sex among many, we can perhaps relieve the inevitable burden of motherhood perceived as a stagnant destination.” Read the rest of this entry »

Lise Haller Baggesen’s Mothernism: Extended Web Exclusive Interview

Activist Art, Installation, Multimedia, Oak Park, Painting, Pilsen 1 Comment »
Lise Haller Baggesen. "Mothernism," 2013-14, mixed media audio installation, during one of the artist's readings at Ordinary Projects

Lise Haller Baggesen. “Mothernism,” 2013-14,
mixed media audio installation,
during one of the artist’s readings at Ordinary Projects


On October 2, I previewed Lise Baggesen’s “Mothernism” installation at Ordinary Projects in the Mana Contemporary building (2233 South Throop in Pilsen). We took off our shoes and climbed into the tent that serves as an interactive centerpiece to the exhibition. What follows is an abridged version of our rich conversation about Mothernism the book and the artwork. (Matt Morris)


Newcity: What compelled you to write Mothernism?

Lise Baggesen: The book grew out of my thesis project, and the funny thing was that actually at the time the book was not supposed to have been written, because I was trying to escape making a formal written thesis. Visual and Critical Studies is a part of Art History [at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago], so a lot of the people in it, probably half of the group, went through it in a purely theoretical, academic track, and a lot of them have moved on to PhDs now. The other half of us had studio practices, but I think I was the only one in the group with a really long studio practice before I came to VCS.

At some point I got really frustrated, particularly in the first year there was so much emphasis on the theory. They were still talking about this post-disciplinary and inter-disciplinary way, but they were more talking the talk than walking the walk, I found. And so I did a project in Joseph [Grigely]’s Research and Production class where I started using this alter ego. The first one was Alice B. Ross, and she’s more of a loner than the subsequent Queen Leeba. Leeba is more family-oriented than Alice is. Alice is more of a hermit recluse who will go back to the studio and make love only once, but dream and dream. Her notes to self really became about the studio practice as this space where your voices can live. She dabbles in theories about quantum physics and David Bowie and Doctor Seuss and ‘un-slumping’ yourself and how the studio practice can be that un-slumping’ and how it can also be the slump that you find yourself in.

That project really became an eye opener for me about how writing could become a part of my studio practice rather than just being the writing you do about your studio practice, through writing artist statements and all this stuff. Suddenly it was a point when the writing informed the work while it was being made and dared me to go places where I wouldn’t have done. For instance, Alice made these really big velvet Morris Louis glitter paintings. I was not sure about that, but Alice would totally do it. I was in conversation with this voice I’d put into the world that then became a type of daring.

The first half of writing the thesis in VCS is a lot of group talk, you know, group think—throwing it out there, pulling it apart. Kind of rigorous… I’ve just said ‘kind of rigorous’ which is terrible. What happened was that every time I brought motherhood into this kind of conversation, there were a lot of people among my peers that really wanted to shut the conversation down. They were like, ‘We don’t want to hear about this mothering here. You can’t bring it up as a feminist in art discourse. We don’t want to hear about it, and we don’t want to talk about it.’ Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Roger Brown: Virtual Still Life/Russell Bowman Art Advisory

Painting, River North, Sculpture No Comments »
Roger Brown. "VSL # 8: Vases with a View," 1995, oil on canvas, mixed media

Roger Brown. “VSL # 8: Vases with a View,” 1995,
oil on canvas, mixed media

RECOMMENDED

The eleven examples at Russell Bowman Art Advisory of Chicago artist Roger Brown’s Virtual Still Life series, created before his death in 1997, consist of patterned oil landscapes with attached ledges that mostly hold a myriad of found ceramic containers. As an avid accumulator of artful tchotchkes, Brown was certainly no stranger to placing objects on shelves and these last works gather up parts of his collection to dwell with his paintings in the fine art world. Though Brown’s estate ultimately ended up safe in the hands of caring institutions, it is touching to see these hand-picked artifacts saved by their incorporation into paintings. Like heirlooms conferred to deserving children these objects were promised a continued life of appreciation beyond the loving eyes of their vanished curator. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Luis Gonzalez Palma/Schneider Gallery

Photography, River North No Comments »
Luis Gonzalez Palma. "Mesa Rio," 2009  digital print on transparency, gold leaf on board, red paper

Luis Gonzalez Palma. “Mesa Rio,” 2009
digital print on transparency, gold leaf on board, red paper

RECOMMENDED

As the veteran globalized A-list Guatemalan photographer Luis Gonzalez Palma enters his late fifties, he persists in his lifelong struggle to overcome the sadness in his heart through enduring a long series of unsuccessful attempts to affirm life fully by expressing his agonies and contradictions in his photo-art. His latest body of work, “Mobius,” leaves him where he started, only, as always through each iteration, more intense and more accomplished. Still posing native Guatemalan models for deep gold-toned portraits on which he sometimes strategically and elegantly paints, and setting up telling magical-realist scenarios, Gonzalez Palma has simplified his representations of his subjects by taking head shots of them that accentuate the moods and expressive emotions with which he endows them. Read the rest of this entry »

Portrait of the Artist: Sarah Beth Woods

Artist Profiles, Logan Square, Performance, Sculpture No Comments »
Sarah Beth Woods at work on nail art related projects

Sarah Beth Woods at work on nail-art-related projects

“I don’t actually care about painting people’s nails,” Sarah Beth Woods confesses. “I love making these little nail tips and adorning them. I love the material and the kind of bricolage aspect of it. But I really love what happens when you put it out in the world for people to interact with. I think so much can happen when there are other people putting them on and sharing their stories.”

Woods’ artistic practice bridges the fine-art world with the beauty shop. She creates elaborate, exaggerated braided headdresses and press-on nail tips, often bringing them into fine-art contexts to adorn visitors. Neon-pink nail tips are decorated with oversized gold dollar signs. Red and blue shower poufs have been deconstructed and then woven into intricate hair weaves. Her ghetto-fabulous aesthetic looks straight out of a Nicki Minaj music video, yet her personal appearance is surprisingly neat and conservative. She keeps her hair and nails short, her friendly smile decorated only with clear lip gloss.

Last month, Woods opened her exhibition “Bricoleur” with an event she described as a “collaborative, interactive fiber installation and hair braiding experience” at Azimuth Projects, an apartment gallery in Logan Square with hair braider Fatimata Traore. Visitors took turns having their hair braided and then “accented” with shiny door-knocker earrings and colorful tassels. Woods’ sculptural works comprised of hairpieces and jewelry remain on display in the space. Read the rest of this entry »