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 »
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 »
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 »
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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“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 »
“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 »
“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 »
untitled, charcoal, paint, paper and glue, 2013
About half of the seventeen pieces in Monica Rezman’s exhibition “The Pollen Path” are straightforward acrylic and charcoal works-on-paper. Those familiar with this Chicago artist’s oeuvre will note that, though her driving obsession with hair is still present, it’s not always front and center. In this show, the black serpentine marks that once appeared to be her works’ sole raison d’être are tempered by the inclusion of flatly colored geometric shapes. Read the rest of this entry »
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 »
“Portrait of Kenneth Koch,” oil on linen, c. 1966
Jane Freilicher is a poet’s painter or at least that’s how her poet friends from the 1950s have characterized her. As the current exhibit at the Poetry Foundation demonstrates, Freilicher returned the favor, rendering portraits of each of them, beginning with a full-figure oil portrait of Frank O’Hara. The year was 1951. Freilicher was twenty seven, O’Hara was twenty five, and avant-garde poetry, jazz and painting were erupting all over the Lower East Side of postwar New York. Frank wrote Jane a letter about an essay that was “really lucid about what’s bothering us both besides sex.” It was Paul Goodman’s manifesto that summer in the Kenyon Review, touting the “advance-guard artist” who is “especially concerned with dissolving the introjected (imperfect, unsatisfactory) society.” That letter, as well as other correspondence and collaborations with poet friends, is now also on display at the Poetry Foundation. Read the rest of this entry »