Reviews, profiles and news about art in Chicago

Review: 100 Faces of War/National Veterans Art Museum

Albany Park, Painting 1 Comment »
Matt Mitchell. "Mariela Meylan, In Recovery, From Livermore, California and Costa Rica," painting part of Mitchell's 100 Faces of War Experience" series.

Matt Mitchell. “Mariela Meylan, In Recovery, From Livermore, California and Costa Rica,” painting part of Mitchell’s 100 Faces of War Experience” series.


Amherst artist Matt Mitchell took nine years to complete a hundred oil portraits of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans. A sociologist helped him find a representative sample according to gender, race, age, service branch, rank and home state. Thus, each picture represents 25,000 personnel. Here are pictures of hapless teen enlistees, nurses, career soldiers, administrators and even some casualties. The diverse faces of these citizen-soldiers peer out, some proudly, others barely concealing their psychic wounds. Mitchell aimed to conclude the project by the official end of hostilities in Afghanistan. About the more or less continuous war since 9/11, one veteran observes wryly, “It only took four years to win WWII.” Working from photos Mitchell himself took during interviews with his sitters, the life-size portraits are identical in scale and treatment. A pathetic beauty emerges from the rosy faces and detailed clothing, all rendered in an old masters technique. They need to be seen in person for they do not reproduce well. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Lauren Gregory/Swimming Pool Project Space

Albany Park, Painting, Video 1 Comment »


I like Lauren Gregory’s art, and you may wonder what the point of reading any further could possibly be; I’ll tell you. It’s different. Not different, like bad, like what we think people say when they have nothing more intelligible to offer, but this may actually be something different, something you’ve never seen before. There’s something striking about seeing thickly finger-painted oils on a canvass of faux fur, maybe even be primal. My first impression of “Man,” an oil on fur, was that it was a cave painting, made just after we started traveling, perhaps on our way to becoming nomads; we strung up canvasses of freshly skinned whatever-it-was we were eating for dinner back then, and painted on it.

But that was just my first impression. Gregory’s work makes you think. It’s possible that you may never want to have “Mother” on your wall, but you’d have no problem engaging in suddenly frequent trips to your friend’s house to see it on theirs. It’s almost nightmarish, some of what she creates, but those so-compelling nightmares we continue to visit fondly, if only because sharing stories can be so entertaining. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: John Chiara and Sean McFarland/Swimming Pool Project Space

Albany Park, Photography No Comments »
John Chiara

John Chiara


This two-person show is a conceptually rather than aesthetically driven conversation between two Bay-area photographers who use experimental methods to capture uncanny landscapes. John Chiara’s epic, faded Cibachrome prints of ocean and suburbs are taken with immense homemade cameras, limiting his options for subjects to places he can drive or hold the camera, creating off-kilter, alienating compositions. His prints themselves, developed in similarly unorthodox homemade tubes, illuminate the materiality of the images with unpredictable, washed-out colors and the marks and smears left by uneven developing chemicals. Where Chiara’s photos are delicate and ephemeral, Sean McFarland’s are all cold-edged and sublime. His process involves piecing together digital images (some his, some found) to create images of lightning storms and aerial shots of various topographies, which he then re-shoots as black-and-white Polaroids to produce a consistent fictional documentary. It’s a smart pairing, intellectually, given the concern of both artists with the deconstruction and extension of the photographic medium, but McFarland’s photographs are trickier; his process isn’t obvious or even suggested by the final images, which look like straightforward snapshots, leading to the question: must we know how an image is constructed in order to best appreciate it? (Monica Westin)

Through November 29 at Swimming Pool Project Space, 2858 W. Montrose.

Review: Steven Frost/Swimming Pool Project Space

Albany Park, Multimedia No Comments »

Steven Frost’s merit badges are modeled on the patches that Boy Scouts receive for community service and educational efforts—archery, first aid, insect study, and so on; but Frost’s badges are far from these traditional do-gooder achievements. Instead, he commemorates the trivial junk of daily life. There’s the “Looking for Yourself in Missed Connections Badge,” and the “Badge for Losing Your Phone on the Chinatown Bus.” There’s a badge to recognize sexual fantasies and some are constructed from designer knock-off materials such as the Louis Vuitton logo pattern. It seems all the badges are granted for un-fulfillments rather than exceptional efforts. For the slacker class (over-praised by mommy, can’t fill daddy’s shoes), where irony is currency, these patches will look perfect fixed on pre-faded jeans and thrift-shop cardigans. Frost is new to Chicago, having moved recently from D.C. to earn a master’s degree in fiber art, where he’ll be the easy descendant of Darrel Morris’ embroidered anti-heroic mementos of insecurity. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Video as Video: Rewind to Form/Swimming Pool Project Space

Albany Park, Video No Comments »


If you haven’t been to Albany Park’s new art gallery, Swimming Pool, the current show, “Video as Video: Rewind to Form,” is the perfect excuse for a Saturday outing (Saturday being the only day this independent space is open to the public). The curators are intent on delivering video that has been distilled to the essential characteristics of its medium, or at least that’s one way to understand the invocation of form as a throwback, a place in the past we’ve been cast out of. Many of the videos make this connection to form with a separate, embedded object. Rochelle Feinstein alters vintage television sets, Rob Carter’s “Reseed” takes place in the Wimbledon tennis courts, Mioon’s contribution is a documentation of a fluttering, feathery sculptural video installation, Julie Lequin’s idiosyncratic work is based on her book “The Ice Skating Tree Opéra,” and Luana Perilli’s extremely affective footage of her Italian grandmother is projected into decorative ceramic frames. It is tempting to suggest that these examples mark an expansion rather than a contraction in contemporary video practice. Taras Polataiko’s “Kyiv Classical,” is, by itself, a reason to visit. Also focused on an object of cultural identity and memory, “Kyiv” explores the defaced site in Bad Ems, Germany where Czar Alexander II issued a secret edict forbidding the use of the Ukrainian language. The video features a relentless sincerity and the song of a mysterious, never-seen bird that has learned to warble a classical Ukrainian tune. The limits of this gallery’s space require innovation and curators Alicia Eler and Peregrine Honig have come upon a viewing strategy that fundamentally alters the traditional experience of video in a gallery. Instead of projection, each video is presented in its own, personal-sized DVD player equipped with a single headset. In place of a crowded, dark room with the many distractions of people entering and exiting, gossiping and critiquing, one is left quite alone with the work in a startling, but positive, intervention into reception. (Rachel Furnari)

Saturdays from noon-5pm, through October 18, at Swimming Pool Project Space, 2858 W. Montrose.