Reviews, profiles and news about art in Chicago

Eye Exam: At Home with Juan Angel Chavez

Bridgeport, Sculpture No Comments »

By Jason Foumberg

I asked for the grand tour of Juan Angel Chavez’s new gallery, and he outstretched his arms. “This is it!” he said with a smile, his fingertips just reaching either wall. The seventy-two-square-foot exhibition space, called The Marshfield Project, is the enclosed garden-level entryway to Chavez’s studio at 34th Street and South Marshfield Avenue in the McKinley Park neighborhood, adjacent to Bridgeport. It was co-founded with his wife, Jenna Leitner; upstairs is their home. The Marshfield Project is not, however, a conventional gallery for professional artists. Chavez presses this point. The inaugural exhibition this month will be Guadalupe Estrada’s debut solo show. She is Chavez’s mother.

The Marshfield Project was partially funded by the 3Arts Artist Projects grant program. It works a little like Kickstarter in that the artist names a project and fundraising goal, and supporters vote with their dollars, but 3Arts promises to contribute a third of the funds. Chavez and Leitner raised $3,170 with 3Arts’ help, for minor adjustments to the space and the publishing of a catalog on newsprint. 3Arts similarly funded Edra Soto and Dan Sullivan’s domestic exhibition structure, The Franklin, in the backyard of their East Garfield Park home on Franklin Boulevard. Soto’s father will have the second exhibition at The Marshfield Project, in February. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Mario Gonzalez Jr./Zhou B. Art Center

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The MOS (Meeting of Styles) international graffiti event will erupt in Chicago September 14-16, where Mario Gonzalez Jr., one of its organizers, is sure to be covering one of the many walls with his colorful arabesques. But in the weeks leading up to it, Zore (as he is known in the graffiti community) is also having a solo exhibition at the Zhou B. Art Center. His gallery work is just as assertive and eye-catching, but it’s also too eye-pleasing to be temporary. These pieces are as decorative as gold-leafed, lacquered Japanese screens, though they seem to have been made with materials found at a home-improvement center. He paints and draws on a variety of unprimed supports: paper, canvas, plywood and steel and, though he still has a deft wrist with a can of spray paint, he brushes and draws as well, in perfect control of the paint as it drips, globs, stains or breathlessly snakes in bold lines across the surface. He still can put out the bold icons of self-assertion that claim his rightful place in the community of taggers. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Field Static/Co-Prosperity Sphere

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Heather Mekkelson


•Field: a constellation of objects, their relations forming a syntax. •Static: not as adjective (“fixed or stationary”), but as noun and object (“atmospheric electricity, interference”). •Ellen Rothenberg, “Constellations”: a wall hung with price tags flung like stars, clinging in clusters—cosmic economics. •“[T]he exhibition has become the basic unit” of meaning in art (Nicolas Bourriaud): a relational aesthetic of the object. •Heather Mekkelson, “Antenna with Belts”: a rooftop skeleton, an insect made up exclusively of appendages, joints sutured by belts: the everyday intersecting with the alien. •There are only peripheries here; the “center” gives way to relations. •Mark Booth, “I IMAGINE YOU SLEEPING…”: a shimmering sheet and looping lines of speech: the aural returning as the spectral. •A constellation of con-texts for re-vision: Michael Fried’s “Art and Objecthood,” Rosalind Krauss’ “Sculpture in an Expanded Field,” Walter Benjamin’s “Arcades Project,” Nicolas Bourriaud’s “Relational Aesthetics,” Bruno Latour’s “Reassembling the Social”…. •Curators Caroline Picard and Devin King: “…objects…embody a network…[blurring] the lines between life forms and inanimate material bodies…the realization and decay of magnetisms…” •Static and decay as necessary conditions for communication. •Rebecca Mir, “Iceberg Mountain”: conical web of rope anchored by rocks and cleats, a tensive monument of nodes and connections without a base. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Network: From Turin to Chicago/Zhou B. Art Center

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By way of a cultural exchange, two exhibitions, one from Italy, the other from Chicago, are now showing side-by-side at the Zhou B. Art Center. And who would want to miss such a tempting opportunity to make a comparison? Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Celebrarte/Zhou B Art Center

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Sergio Gomez


There’s no way to account for the objects in this exhibition except to point toward the large, glowing heart of its curator, Sergio Gomez, his own depiction of which is also on display. He loves art and artists, and since the opening of the Zhou B. Art Center in 2004, he’s been putting on shows of mostly figurative art in his 33 Gallery. Some of those artists share his Latino heritage, and in this exhibition, he joins them with many others from around the community to “celebrate Latino spirit, imagination and creative force in Chicago.” Rather than an attempt to identify the most important Chicago Latino artists, this is more like a cross-generational, community-building event, though it must be noted that most of Sergio’s community is Mexican, as only one Cuban and two Puerto Ricans are included. Some of the older artists Sergio has known for decades are included, beginning with Mario Castillo, who inspired him to become an artist at Joliet Junior College in 1990. But there are others that he has just met, like the graphic artist Dolores Mercado, who also works at the National Museum of Mexican Art. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: 7th Annual National Self-Portrait Exhibition/Zhou B. Art Center

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Marina Ross

Bigger is not necessarily better, especially when it comes to an exhibition where anything can be art and everyone is an artist. The latest edition of the National Self-Portrait Exhibition is 300-percent larger than last year and fills up the entire 12,000 square feet of the first floor of the Zhou B. Art Center. At this rate, curator Sergio Gomez, who first created the show seven years ago in his small 33 Collective Gallery (now 33 Contemporary), will eventually move a mile east and fill up all of Cellular Field. Yes, it’s fun to grab a glass of wine and wade through the carnival of all the wild-desperate-cranky-wacky self-presentations. But at some point, one has to ask whether any of these selves are especially worth knowing. Read the rest of this entry »

Art Break: Bauhaus versus IKEA

Architecture, Bridgeport, Sculpture No Comments »

"Convalescent Home"

“I’ve been to IKEA ten, maybe twelve times, for this project,” remarks Jeff Carter as we survey his current installation arching across the western corner of Crown Hall at the Illinois Institute of Technology. His gaze drifts over the modified IKEA products, and a small smile splays open his lips as he reflects on those trips, “I now know that modernist mecca far better than anyone should.”

While his current work, “The Common Citizenship of Forms,” isn’t Carter’s first use of the mega-store’s materials, it may be his most thoughtful. Carter establishes a formal dialogue between common representatives of modernist design—IKEA and the Bauhaus—through a series of large-scale architectural models, composing a microenvironment that represents the layout of demolished buildings from the Michael Reese Hospital Campus. Former Bauhaus director Walter Gropius had created a master plan for its 28-building campus in 1946 as part of a post-war urban renewal effort to revitalize its surrounding Bronzeville neighborhood, as well as designed the eight structures that Carter chose to recreate. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Susan Clinard/Art Matrix Gallery

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Impressionism never caught on with sculpture the way it did with painting, probably because spontaneity is so much more problematic in three dimensions. The tempestuous surface of Rodin is still much admired but very difficult to imitate, while the sentimental, soft-focus wax surfaces of his contemporary Medardo Rosso went almost immediately out of fashion in an era that was responding to the power of archaic classical and primitive art, and reviving direct carving. But former Chicago sculptor Susan Clinard is bringing Medardo’s style back with a number of small, well-modeled clay figures framed within the wunderkammers that she has built for them.

The nooks within these cabinets of curiosities seem to reflect the compartmentalization of the artist’s own body as well as her life as mother, wife and artist, while also feeling like a display of odd relics in a very remote, rustic museum. They contain pieces of wood, stone and metal, as well as small, wax-covered clay figures, and the entire effect is the sadness of something lost before it was ever quite understood.

By themselves, many of the figures express a joyous and remarkable facility of modeling.  Clinard has a magic touch for making lumps of clay come alive as human heads, hands and postures. A dozen or more small portrait caricatures have escaped the cabinets and are displayed on a table beside them. One wishes that more figures would break free from their compartments, slough off the sentimentality of the soft-focus wax, and defiantly command the space of a room. (Chris Miller)

Through May 15 at Art Matrix Gallery, Zhou B. Art Center, 1029 West 35th.

Eye Exam: Fair Play

Art Fairs, Bridgeport No Comments »

photo by Marian Frost

By Laura Fox

In a day and a half in Bridgeport last weekend, connections both professional and personal formed between local art groups and artists. The catalyst was the new MDW Fair.

The fair’s genesis itself is a bit of a feat in community-building. In February, Ed Marszewski, the founder of The Co-Prosperity Sphere, Version festival and Public Media Institute, asked threewalls and Roots and Culture if they wanted to help host an art fair focused on Chicago artists and art organizations. In two months and with less than $10,000, the three partners recruited sixty-plus exhibitors to fill 25,000 square feet of exhibition space in the Geolofts warehouse, plus a separate sculpture garden. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Get Real: New Figurative Realism in Chicago/33 Collective Gallery

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Jennifer Cronin


There are at least a dozen very good but very different shows that could be called “New Figurative Realism in Chicago,” drawing from the many living historic styles and ethnic identities in our area. Sergio Gomez, artist and curator of 33 Collective Gallery, has admirably reached out beyond the members of his own organization to find nine painters whom he finds promising and, not surprisingly, like his own work they confront an individual protagonist with the modern world. Most dramatically, there is Jennifer Cronin’s “Peculiar Manifestation of Paint in my Everyday Life,” an epic-sized canvas depicting what must be the artist herself applying makeup in front of her bathroom mirror, while behind her, a monstrous swirl of ugly green paint is reaching out to tap her on the shoulder. More intimate confessional imagery is presented by Rory Coyne’s “Another (Conversation),” where a vigorous but startled young man confronts the large pink rabbit head emerging from his own chest. But most compelling is Ryan Shultz’ “Self Portrait with Christmas Lights.” As the string of holiday needle lights is fading, Christmas (and Christianity?) is definitely over, while the artist’s searching eyes stare out from the cruciform features of his own face and naked shoulders. (By the way, Ryan survived up to episode seven in Bravo’s “Work of Art” reality program last year—quite an achievement for such an old-school painter). Read the rest of this entry »