Reviews, profiles and news about art in Chicago

Review: Imaging/Imagining: The Body as Art/Smart Museum of Art

Drawings, Hyde Park No Comments »
Giulio Cesare Casseri, "Tabulae anatomicae" (detail), 1627

Giulio Cesare Casseri, “Tabulae anatomicae” (detail), 1627


Representations of the human body can never exist apart from the cultures and technologies that produce them. Two physicians—Mindy Schwartz and Brian Callender— mined the University of Chicago’s impressive collections to produce a compelling history of anatomical and medical imaging. Their findings stress the idea that medical illustrations are products of collaboration between physicians who need visualizations as guides to their practice and for teaching, and the artists who produce them. Although the exhibit begins with a woodcut in a book by the second-century Roman physician Galen, medical illustration really flourished in France because the technologies for reproduction—etching, lithography, the workshops and the craftspeople that produced and disseminated books and fine prints—were in place to record the progress of science.

Where there are artists, imagination will creep into the territories science might like to claim for observation. A large, haunting three-color engraving by Gautier D’Agoty from 1746 of the flayed back of a woman whose head is slightly turned to be available to the viewer was called the “flayed angel” by the Surrealists. The print reveals a woman’s back, and her muscle structure, while vividly dramatizing the complications of the medical gaze. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Harold Mendez/Threewalls

West Loop No Comments »

but I sound better (newsletter)


With a material list including “graphite, reclaimed exhaust hose, soot, food matter, vegetable oil, hand ground Cochineal insects and tri-directional foil,” you know you’re dealing with a special kind of artist.

Harold Mendez is a writer and no doubt an avid reader, and an artist working across several visual media. His conceptually driven work draws from Beckett, Basquiat, Simone de Beauvior and on, and on and on. Fascinated by narrative construction, Mendez is a text-heavy artist who gives titles to his works that are both loaded and vague. The exhibition, titled “But I Sound Better Since You Cut My Throat,” incorporates diverse techniques and materials, but all evince a dark, ambiguous spirit. Eerie pinhole photographs hum with deep blacks, lens flares, sparks and shadows. A couple of large-scale, mostly monochrome mixed-media pieces hang on the walls and a chunky, prehistoric-looking sculpture sits on the floor in the main gallery. It’s the piece with the hand ground Cochineal insects. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Sebastian Black and India Donaldson/Queer Thoughts

Pilsen No Comments »
"Living with Potpourri," wood and potpourri, 2014.

“Living with Potpourri,” wood and potpourri, 2014.


Just as Fashion Week wrapped up in Paris, Queer Thoughts in Pilsen opened a new exhibition of collaborative works by Sebastian Black and India Donaldson that simulates the culture of simulated (read: knockoff) fashion and luxury goods. More specifically, Black explains in the press release that they are interested in objects produced in the authentic factory, but outside of official working hours, which are then smuggled into the world. What might have been a heavily burdened ontological premise plays lightly in a blushingly sweet, sparsely hung installation of clothing-like sculpture, a video and a work on paper. Like the artist Sturtevant has done with her conceptual forgeries of modern and contemporary art, Black and Donaldson’s works slink right up to the difference between original and copy, showing off that distinction is more a matter of the mind than any hard ruling. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Left Front: Radical Art in the Red Decade/Block Museum of Art

Evanston, Prints No Comments »


The collapse of the world economy in 1929, accompanied by the apparent success of the new Soviet state, got many American artists fired up for drastic social change, if not outright revolution. This exhibition focuses on the members of the John Reed Club and the American Artists’ Congress, two organizations that promoted the ideals of Marx and world communism.

Since the exhibition is based on (but not limited to) the Block Museum’s own collection of prints, Chicago artists get the most wall space, especially Morris Topchevsky, Carl Hoeckner and Henry Simon. Without exception, their work is dramatic, figurative, hard-hitting and on message. But, that’s about all they had in common. Reflecting his study with Diego Rivera in Mexico, Topchevsky depicted worker/victims with the stately innocence found in fourteenth-century Italian fresco. Hoeckner was closer to German Expressionism, depicting the shocked and nearly zombified characters that would continue to appear in Chicago figurative art throughout the rest of the century. Simon was more theatrical, whimsical and entertaining. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: HEAD/Western Exhibitions

West Loop No Comments »
Richard Hull, "Human Arrangement," oil and wax on linen, 2013

Richard Hull, “Human Arrangement,” oil and wax on linen, 2013


Western Exhibitions’ website claims that “HEAD” “features work that riffs on portraiture.” But this show—smart and wild, dark and dazzling—does more than this. It is less about riffing than ripping the head off of portraiture, countering it through a dismantling of the face. The “horror of the face,” according to French theorist Gilles Deleuze, resides in its imperialism: it imposes its own self-portrait, “overcoding” the libidinal depths of the body with legible surfaces and thereby domesticating the act of signification. But many of these works turn horror back onto the face, opening, animalizing, libidinizing and disorganizing it. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Dan Devening/Tarble Arts Center

Painting, Suburban No Comments »



2013 is being canonized as abstract painting’s comeback year. In the past twelve months, Newcity alone has featured more than fifty articles related to abstract art and artists, and while this past fall’s EXPO Chicago was packed with painterly condo décor, the good stuff is getting harder and harder to find. Perhaps that’s why you’ll need to sojourn downstate to see one of this winter’s most compelling investigations of contemporary abstraction.

In “Kiosk” at Eastern Illinois University’s Tarble Arts Center in Charleston, artist Dan Devening—longtime professor of painting at SAIC, founder of Devening Projects + Editions and one of the minds behind the recently opened West Loop space Paris London Hong Kong—presents a series of twelve untitled colorful and loose (but decidedly conscious) abstractions that probe the limitations of conventional structure and illusory space. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Lynn Saville and Reuben Wu/Schneider Gallery

Photography, River North No Comments »
Lynn Saville, "West 125th St, NYC"

Lynn Saville, “West 125th St, NYC”


The accent is on the aesthetic surface rather than the depiction of the subject in the contrasting approaches of architectural photographers Lynn Saville and Reuben Wu, both of whom shoot structures at middle distance and in color, and each investing their subjects with a distinct sensibility.

A visual commentator on the great recession and its ravages, Saville goes out at night to capture eviscerated stores through their plate-glass fronts, bathed in glowing electric light verging on garish neon; her subjects are not yet ruins, but they could become so if economic recovery does not reach them. The play between the dazzling come-on of the light show and the abandoned commercial spaces creates a pure seductive effect; there is nothing behind the gleaming visual wrapping, no baubles to buy.

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Review: Jeff Britton/Bert Green Fine Art

Michigan Avenue, Painting No Comments »
"Drunken Devil," oil on panel, 2013

“Drunken Devil,” oil on panel, 2013


“Wow! That’s wild,” seems to have been the thought behind each of Jeff Britton’s oil paintings. It could have been provoked by a huge construction crane parked outside Britton’s studio window, or by Peter Paul Rubens’ painting of “Saturn Devouring His Son,” or by the ragged edge of a weather-blasted field in winter. The artist doesn’t seem to be pursuing any particular direction other than a need to depict whatever has grabbed his attention. He likes to be grabbed—and then aggressively push back with a brash, expressive, gutsy expression in oil paint. Nervous, spontaneous dabs of paint are more dramatic on smaller panels, so several of these pieces are less than ten inches on a side. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Peri Schwartz/Perimeter Gallery

Painting, River North No Comments »
"Bottles and Jars XXXIII," oil on canvas, 2013

“Bottles and Jars XXXIII,” oil on canvas, 2013


Peri Schwartz likes to paint bottles—not the curvaceous, off-white, mysterious kind painted by Giorgio Morandi, but the straight-edged, clear glass kind that reveals the solid bright colors of the liquid within—predominantly red, orange and yellow. She began her career with confrontational self-portraits back in the 1970s, and she seems to be continuing that project without the outer anatomy. Isn’t each human body an assembly of liquid filled containers? Schwartz’s rectangular containers are tightly ordered, but still there’s a restless quality suggesting that she’s never quite satisfied with them. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Nora Schultz/The Renaissance Society

Hyde Park, Sculpture No Comments »
"Speechbubble 3" from "parrottree—building for bigger than real" (installation view), 2014. Photo: Tom Van Eynde

“Speechbubble 3″ from “parrottree—building for bigger than real” (installation view), 2014. Photo: Tom Van Eynde


In Nora Schultz’s solo exhibition “Parrottree—Building for Bigger Than Real,” steel rods, metal plating, paned glass, newspaper, tinfoil, wire and discarded industrial materials are borrowed generously from the storage facilities of the Renaissance Society, nearby hardware stores and unassuming locations in the Hyde Park neighborhood—all areas in close proximity to the site of the exhibition. Disassociating them from their surroundings, the scavenged objects are assimilated by the artist into a new context, used as raw material for sculptures to be mounted, hoisted, painted, cut or printed upon. Schultz pulls the found materials into the exhibition space, exalting them, raising them into the air. The works are suspended above, perched in the rafters, nested. They are motionless yet nonetheless precarious, embodying the anxiety of a towering house of cards. Gazes are commanded upwards as if a constellation, a high-rise or a Wall Street ticker board resides there. Text phrases, themselves seemingly poached from an unspecified source, are inscribed in black marker along thin railings of scrap steel, pressure-clamped overhead to the interior structure of the exhibition space, at times reaching to the floor. Read the rest of this entry »