Reviews, profiles and news about art in Chicago

Art World’s Big Weekend 2014: Comprehensive Listing of Gallery Openings for September 4-7

Andersonville, Bronzeville, Collage, Drawings, Edgewater, Evanston, Fall Preview, Garfield Park, Installation, Lincoln Square, Logan Square, Multimedia, Painting, Photography, Prints, River North, Sculpture, Suburban, Ukrainian Village/East Village, Video, West Loop, Wicker Park/Bucktown 1 Comment »
Andrew Falkowski. "Pink Monochrome," 2014

Andrew Falkowski. “Pink Monochrome,” 2014

Thursday, September 4


LOOP

Dan Ramirez, painting
Union League Club of Chicago, 65 West Jackson
Opening reception: 5:30pm-7pm, through September 30
(Members only opening, viewing by appointment only)

SUBURBS

Anthony Iacuzzi and Christopher Schneberger, photography
Perspective Gallery, 1310-1/2B Chicago Avenue, Evanston
Opening reception: 5pm-8pm, through September 28

Amy Vogel, mixed-media survey exhibition
Cleve Carney Art Gallery at College of DuPage, Fawell and Park Boulevards, Glen Ellyn
Opening reception: 12pm-2pm, through October 25

Taehoon Kim and Barbara Diener, large scale sculpture and photographic installation
Moraine Valley Community College, 9000 West College, Palos Hills
Opening reception: 3pm–5pm, through September 18 and October 23 respectively Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Josef Frank/Swedish American Museum

Andersonville, Design, Textiles No Comments »

RECOMMENDED

“Frank has designed a brothel” was one response to Josef Frank’s contribution to the Die Wohnung housing fair in Stuttgart in 1927. Like many progressive architects and designers, Josef Frank (1885-1967) was strongly opposed to the heavy opulence that we associate with the Victorian age. But unlike the Bauhaus designers, he did not eschew fantastic ornament, and indeed, the generous, diverse, out-sized sensuality of his fabrics would have served quite well in that capacity. This exhibition samples some of the 170 patterns that he designed until 1950, and you can see why so many of them remain in print. They’re wild and crazy, with a feeling of whimsical excitement and discovery meandering off into infinity. As Frank once declared, “one should design their surroundings as if they originated by chance,” and indeed, some of these designs do seem to have originated with a chance encounter the artist had with a book of American birds or a Chinese landscape seen while visiting the Metropolitan Museum. Frank only spent a few years in Manhattan, but it made quite an impression on his imagination. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Gift of Hope/Swedish American Museum

Andersonville No Comments »

Molly J. Schiff, "Through the Maze: Dedicated to Raul Wallenberg"

RECOMMENDED

Credited with saving the lives of over 100,000 Hungarian Jews in the final months of the Nazi occupation, and subsequently imprisoned by the Soviets, Raoul Wallenberg has become the poster child for international concern for the Jewish Holocaust. Streets, plazas, foundations, postage stamps and memorial days have all been named in his honor. Then there are the monuments, over thirty worldwide, done in a variety of figurative and abstract styles. Here in Chicago, there’s a wall of Wallenberg memorabilia at the Swedish American Museum in Andersonville, and this summer in their main gallery, twenty-five members of the American Jewish Artists Club are participating in the “Gift of Hope” to tell Wallenberg’s story. Read the rest of this entry »

Eye Exam: Chicago’s Current Comic Affairs

Andersonville, Comics, Evanston, Michigan Avenue No Comments »

Enrique Chagoya, "Return to Goya No. 9," 2010

By Julia V. Hendrickson

Comic and cartoon artists work quietly but profusely in Chicago, drawn, perhaps, to the functionality of its gridded streets, city blocks like frames on a page. Comic book and specialty bookstores like Quimby’s and Challengers flourish because there is an audience for experimental narratives and a vibrant community surrounding comic art. In reaction to such public interest, January brings a flurry of exhibitions related to comic and sequential narrative art.

For those interested in historical context, the Block Museum in Evanston offers a small but superb collection of prints in “The Satirical Edge,” with work from the 1950s to the present, all using graphic comic and cartoon imagery for socio-political commentary. The majority of this collection features a group of artists, the “Outlaw Printmakers,” who were part of a 2004 exhibition at Big Cat Gallery in New York. Most striking are Tom Huck’s series of small-town narratives depicted in large, hypnotically intricate woodcuts. A handful of R. Crumb comic books from the early 1970s are the only direct connection to comics, but the influence of comic art is evident in works like Richard Mock’s bug-eyed linocuts and Enrique Chagoya’s collaged accordion book.

Chagoya’s newer work is also prominently displayed, and includes an etching from his latest edition, a dancing, demon-chased Obama, a subtle revision of Goya’s “Los Caprichos.” The Block aptly compliments the “Satirical Edge” with a concurrent exhibition of prints by eighteenth-century caricaturist and political cartoonist Thomas Rowlandson. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Paul Clark and Doug Stapleton/Las Manos Gallery

Andersonville No Comments »
Doug Stapleton

Doug Stapleton

RECOMMENDED

The stark contrast between photographic postmodernism and modernism could not be demonstrated better than in Doug Stapleton’s photo-collages—rife with exuberant cultural play—and Paul Clark’s straight abstractions of tomato cages and fencing that captivate with their complex and dynamic forms disturbed by disorder. Postmodern globalized mélange reaches its limits in Stapleton’s “The International Style,” which is a collage of statuary heads from various civilizations cut out from appropriated photos and arranged in a jumble that juxtaposes Jesus and a fakir, along with other improbable combinations. Turn to Clark and you will find an old-school photographic fundamentalist whose black-and-white images are exquisitely balanced in terms of the values of light, tone and composition; and result from a meditative and concentrated practice at the antipodes from Stapleton’s unbridled romp through history. Yet Clark’s stills are alive with the dance of rebellion against rational order, as the tomato cages twist in the snow and the fences buckle, warp and split. (Michael Weinstein)

Through February 28 at Las Manos Gallery, 5220 N. Clark

Review: New Photographs/Las Manos Gallery

Andersonville, Photography No Comments »
Benjamin Wilson

Benjamin Wilson

RECOMMENDED

Featuring eight gifted straight photographers and photo-artists practicing in a variety of genres and techniques and experimenting with them intensely, this “spectrum show”‘s most powerfully emotive work is Benjamin Wilson’s series of “Interior Spaces,” in which ordinary empty rooms are transformed into surreal sites that smack of ominous antiseptic modernist labyrinthine torture chambers, through the quiet offices of a simple pinhole camera fashioned from a paint can. A second dose of the twilight zone is provided by Meike Zuiderweg’s small hazy color shots–taken with a primitive plastic Holga camera–of details of the figurative commercial statuary adorning the roofs of stores; shot from below, these icons of kitsch take overpowering command over us poor mortal consumers. For the opposite effect of the finest intricate precision in endlessly involved and layered black-and-white abstractions of tomato cages, fencing and sheeting, look at what Paul Clark does with a plastic Isolyi camera, which he calls “a higher-line Holga.” All power to the primitive. (Michael Weinstein)

Through September 30 at Las Manos Gallery, 5220 N. Clark

Review: Sandra Binion/Swedish American Museum

Andersonville, Painting, Photography, Video No Comments »

RECOMMENDED

From soft yet clear color photographs through multi-channel videos to expressionistic paintings on paper resembling Japanese brushstroke art, Sandra Binion seeks to manifest her reverence for the remote farming district of Ennesbo in Sweden from which her great-grandmother emigrated to America in 1896. Each medium that Binion deploys opens up a distinctive perspective on Ennesbo; the photographs are suffused with pathos and accent traces of the past, the videos show the present round of work and leisure and the paintings depict the artist’s emotions, the wildness of which contrast with the meditative quality of the other bodies of work. In her lecture at the opening of her installation, Binion stressed the “quietness” and “respect for privacy” that she experienced in Ennesbo; yet do these apparently communal and peaceful people experience the expressive “power” that Binion later said “welled up from her gut” when she felt compelled to paint? (Michael Weinstein) Through

September 21 at the Swedish American Museum, 5211 N. Clark (773)728-8111.

Pamela Johnson: Profile of the Artist

Andersonville, Painting No Comments »

Pamela Johnson doesn’t have a sweet tooth, though her new paintings, six-foot-tall canvasses of cupcakes, cookies and waffles dripping buttery syrup, definitely suggest a fixation with junk food. Her fascination is more societal than personal, however. These works are Johnson’s attempt to not only update the classical notion of the still life, but to also show Americans what they’re eating on a scale that fits our proficiency for consumption. Her cupcakes glisten with whipped lard; her monolithic hamburgers weigh hundreds of pounds; her wedding cake is as sugar-coated as the big day itself; her peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches are sticky, moist, built for heart-attacks. The paintings look delicious, hypnotic and grotesque simultaneously. “These are the foods that most Americans grew up eating and have a certain nostalgia related to them,” says Johnson, whose update on the still life is charged with social relevance. “It’s sad to say, but our culture is about mass consumption and mass production. Junk food seemed like the perfect symbol of that. I decided to paint the highly processed, artificially flavored, mass-produced foods that define our culture. I wanted to show the overindulgence, gluttony and instant gratification that is so inherent in our culture. I wanted them to be not only larger than life, but larger than you. So big they barely fit on the canvas and all of it ready to fall over at any instant.”

While developing “Junk Food,” the California Polytechnic State University graduate (with a B.S. in civil engineering and an art minor) was also painting a series of diminutive houses, often tucked at the bottom of large canvasses with moody slate-gray skies filled with ripe clouds weighing down on the seemingly vacant residences. Women frequented these works as well, in post-violent repose, incredibly articulated fingers helping them crawl from alleys where we can only guess at what happened.

Regarding “Junk Food,” Johnson says, “A lot of people have said that the paintings are kind of gross, but at the same time the work makes them hungry. Which is exactly what I am hoping for.” What these foods lack in sustenance the paintings make up for in varied emotional resonance, and have already drawn much attention. At April’s “Artist Project” in the Merchandise Mart, three of the large canvasses were taken by The Frederick Weisman Art Foundation in California, and since then she’s shown junk food in New Orleans, Nashville and, through August, at Urbanest in Chicago.

Like all great art, Pamela Johnson’s junk-food paintings inspire discussion and present to us choices that, though difficult to make, are unavoidable as our social and physical health deteriorate under the weight of packaged and processed culture. Damien James)

Pamela Johnson shows “Junk Food” at Urbanest, 5228 North Clark, through the month of August. 

Beyond Bondage

Andersonville, Multimedia, Rogers Park No Comments »

By Jason Foumberg 

Gay leather subculture defies mass appeal, so it’s a wonder that uniforms are de facto. Black leather jackets and pants, black boots and leather muir caps define the “old guard,” or the traditional leather scene—a community of bars with backrooms, masters, slaves and slings. Think iconic early-1950s Marlon Brando on a Harley, and you’ll get a sense of the leather community’s adopted uniform. Many took it even further by branding their leather jackets with patches and pins specific to their bands of brothers and clubs.

That which was worn to originally evade camp has since become a symbol of it—yet another costume in the pantheon of gay masquerading (see drag; the Village People). The Brando attire, now complemented by metal spikes and chains, no longer bespeaks the hyper-masculine outlaw attitude that it intended to claim. Surely it was productively rebellious at one time; now it is on view as historical document in Chicago’s Leather Archives & Museum (LAM).

What is the face of the new gay avant-garde? The “new guard,” according to Scott Ian Ray, artist and curator of “Yes,” an exhibit at the LAM timed to coincide with the thirtieth-annual International Mr. Leather festival, embraces wearable kink just as the old did, but the uniform has been shed in favor of multitude fashions, from gas masks to latex to superhero costumes. A permanent exhibit at LAM in the dungeon room examines “pervertibles,” which are everyday objects converted into sex toys, including a meat tenderizer and a citrus juicer. Perhaps the new guard exemplifies this attitude to claim any object, “queer” it, wear it, use it and uphold it as the marker of a community solidified not by its uniformity, but by its diversity of means. “We don’t have to wear the same old leather our daddies did,” says artist and friend of the curator, Scott Nash.

The new guard’s extreme fetishes make the old guard seem mainstream. In a print by Axel, a Mr. Universal Pig character stands triumphant over a Tom of Finland-type character, classic old-school erotica rendered in shades of gray, and sitting on a toilet—the throne. Masks prevail, such as a nude self-portrait by Thistle Harlequin in pig mask and high heels, again on a toilet, and a print by Sean Fader of the artist in a bear mask and underwear in a hotel room. It seems the pig becomes a ubiquitous symbol, likely appropriated from the “squeal like a pig” rape scene in “Deliverance,” yet the new guard isn’t in search of a new iconic depiction or hero. The well-worn fetishes of old are giving way to the anything goes attitude where it may not even be necessary for the wearer of leather chaps to even be “into” such a scene.

Leather gear and the complex system of colored handkerchiefs provided a visual breakout. It’s a community that loves to see itself. The new guard multiplies the effect of seeing and being seen, but no clear signifiers remain. One could be into urine games one weekend and superheroes the next without breaking any codes, and the exact clothing to symbolize these fetishes may or may not be worn. The monumentalized depiction of gay leather, upheld by the LAM, is changing.

Another exhibition on the theme of contemporary representations of homosexuality is less than two miles away from the LAM at estudiotres gallery, in Andersonville. Whereas “Yes” at LAM is all about fringe culture and extremes, “Everyday People” considers homosexuality in the terms of “normal” lovemaking and common culture. Being gay may not have a look; being gay might mean shopping at Ikea or hanging out with one’s lover. The embrace of the disgusting in the LAM show is here pushed out of the frame. Instead, loving relationships take center stage in paintings by Brooke Barnett and photographs by Doug Ischar, Molly Landreth and Sean Fader, who is coincidentally featured in both exhibitions.

Barnett and Landreth show domestic scenes of gay intimacy, thus downplaying any notion of sexuality as difference; tenderness is tenderness. Ischar shows documentary photographs from 1984 of gay cruising on the Belmont beach cliffs. On the surface the scene could very well be a crowded beach of sunbathers. The subject is highly relatable because a hot body is, well, hot.

In Sean Fader’s photographs, self-portraits are manipulated so that each frame contains multiple selves, and sometimes the artist is pictured as wearing a false body, such as a pre-adolescent or an overweight man. His skin has a zipper in the front, revealing his real body beneath. Fader’s self-love affair, combined with his always expressionless stare, seems to be an honest portrayal even if it looks like acting. Playing the part just comes naturally.

“Yes” shows at Leather Archives & Museum, 6418 North Greenview, (773)761-9200, through October 18. “Everyday People” shows at estudiotres gallery, 5205 North Clark (773)271-0533, through June 27.

Review: Eva Skold Westerlind

Andersonville, Photography No Comments »

RECOMMENDED

When her children outgrew their dollhouse, photographer Eva Skold Westerlind appropriated the only object that survived unscathed—a boy dressed in old-fashioned breeches—and adopted him as her “alter ego.” She then made a pinhole camera and put the figurine through his paces in scenarios suffused with whimsical pathos and sometimes a touch of desolation, creating the performance persona of the “solitary traveler,” an everyman-child journeying through life. Westerlind’s existential odyssey is absurd in a most delightful and piquant way; Albert Camus’ deadly serious Sisyphus has nothing on Westerlind’s avatar pushing mightily against an enormous pear for no apparent purpose, and sleazy Jean-Paul Sartre is put to shame by the little boy peering with intense energy through a gaping keyhole. Most of all, Westerlind’s images are visual representations of Milan Kundera’s “incredible lightness of being,” as when the playful lad holds aloft a parasol and levitates with spritely grace. Westerlind’s figurine survived because her children rejected him as ugly; she shows us that beauty is never just skin deep. (Michael Weinstein)

Through June 15 at the Swedish American Museum Center, 5211 N. Clark.