Barbara Jones-Hogu, “Unite,” 1970
A venerable South Side institution of which many Chicagoans may not have heard is the starting point for a three-stage investigation of the artists’ group AfriCOBRA. A timely collaboration among several South Side arts institutions celebrates the origins, philosophy and impact of this group of artists.
AfriCOBRA (African Commune of Bad Relevant Artists) was the cultural counterpart of the Black Power movement. Most people are familiar with writers like Amiri Baraka and Nikki Giovanni, but Chicago moved into the 1960s with a very strong visual arts tradition located in Margaret Burroughs’ South Side Community Art Center in the 3800 block of South Michigan Avenue. Works in this exhibition by Elizabeth Catlett, Charles White and others associated with the center since the late 1930s, when it was established as part of the WPA, laid the groundwork for what was to come. Read the rest of this entry »
Elizabeth Catlett, “The Torture of Mothers,” 1970
Like an iceberg in the ocean, most of the art in any art museum is off-view, so an exhibition with a theme no more profound than “Buried Treasures” is always timely. Thirty art museums with African-American collections were asked to propose items for this exhibition, from which fifty artworks were chosen. Even for a non-specialist like myself, most of the artists are familiar, and some of them have several works on display. But there really are some treasures, and overall there is quite a variety. Unlike the Elizabeth Catlett, Jacob Lawrence and Romare Bearden artworks, most of it would not be easily identifiable as African American in style as well as theme, and the examples of Romantic nineteenth-century landscapes, contemporary ceramics and fabric art appeared to be neither. Read the rest of this entry »
Cover art by Andre Guichard
By Jason Foumberg
A chronic criticism of Chicago’s art landscape is that, for a thriving urban center, its art venues and exhibitions spaces are too farflung across the city’s grid, and therefore largely inaccessible. A Chelsea-type stroll just isn’t possible in Chicago, and even if there are concentrated gallery districts in River North and the West Loop, they scarcely represent the full spectrum of the city’s visual art production. Our art scene has multiple centers with as many margins, and therefore many frontiers. Diane Grams’ new book, “Producing Local Color: Art Networks in Ethnic Chicago,” argues that Chicago’s island neighborhoods benefit from autonomous art production and consumption. The book offers three case studies—the Chicago neighborhoods of Bronzeville, Pilsen and Rogers Park—to describe how locally cultivated art scenes exist in relation to specific local issues, from real estate to crime, and to larger concerns of politics, civil rights and economic access.
For many years a common tactic in Chicago has been the domestic gallery. In 1961, several people decided to start a “home-based museum” on the South Side and called it the Ebony Museum to represent black history in Chicago. Twelve years later they moved locations and changed the name to the DuSable Museum of African American History. This boldly innovative domestic space only became culturally legitimate and publicly influential, writes Grams, when the institution was relocated into the city’s parkland alongside other major cultural institutions. Read the rest of this entry »
Photo: Lauren Anderson
By Jason Foumberg
Out and about at the new gallery exhibitions this weekend, I noticed some nearly sold-out shows, with red dots signaling feverish sales, and collectors cheerily purchasing the hot commodities. As a critic I don’t usually pay attention to price lists or count the red dots, but it was hard not to notice that multi-thousand dollar artworks were being snapped up at every venue. Gallerists were glued to their phones, pumping handshakes and flashing weird smiles. There’s something exciting about all this but also something a little strange. Erik Wenzel called it “Halloween for a very specific segment of the population,” and it is indeed playfully grotesque. Read the rest of this entry »
By Jason Foumberg
A panel discussion was assembled this past Thursday, March 26, to address a perception that artists on Chicago’s South Side are under-known and undervalued or, at worst, intentionally ignored. As a nod to Ralph Ellison’s 1952 novel “Invisible Man,” the multi-part event, which included the discussion, was titled “Invisible Artist: Creators from Chicago’s Southside,” underscoring a divide that is not merely geographic but also—and mostly—racial.
The “South Side problem” is a micro-argument of the “Chicago-problem,” or second city syndrome, an old topic recently dusted off once again at the University of Chicago for the roundtable “Chicago Artist? Is there such a thing anymore?” in January. In both cases there’s the acknowledgement of a healthy and active art scene followed by its perceived dismissal by a large and vaguely defined power-granting establishment. Unfortunately this can be distilled to the question, Why haven’t “They” made me famous yet? This is unfortunate because it assumes a passive, backseat role to one’s career, which has not been the enduring feeling of the many do-it-yourself art scenes on the South Side and in Chicago alike. In both cases artists have pushed through the various stereotypes (the South Side is violent; Chicago is provincial) to create their own artistic home.
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Andre Guichard founded Bronzeville Gallery Guichard with hopes of inspiring the Southside community. The Third Annual Art Di Gras, a Mardi Gras-inspired celebration of art, hosts over forty artists in the three story gallery space. This year’s fête entitled “Art Gumbo” includes pieces from Guichard’s own Jazz series along with a diverse group of artists whose work largely centers on the pride of African heritage. Ade Oyelami creates bright tribal Batik on rice paper-mask prints. Karen Powell mixes old black-and-white photographs with fabric to create a balance between historic and modern. Brian Keith Thomas’ “Prelude to a Parting” is a striking oil depicting a female character whose face is the most memorable of the show. Abstract painter Jennifer Brideforth’s acrylic-on-canvas “Conflict, Interruptions” is a solid blue canvas with a thick red bar across the middle, signifying the internal struggle for peace and balance. Other standouts include Chicagoan Raymond A. Thomas, photographer Tony Smith and sibling artist collaboration Twin. (Rachel Turney)
Through September 26 at Gallery Guichard, 3521 S. King Drive, (773)373-8000.
A few thousand years after the fall of civilization, some anthropologist digging at the site of modern-day Bronzeville will examine the Carbon-14 readings taken from a fiber in one of Marva Jolly’s clay pots and collapse into confusion. Surely they’ll wonder why the twenty-first-century artisan opted to capture such full scenes using minimalist techniques, mineral colors and, frankly, the most ancient medium available. Then, hopefully, they’ll look closer. Read the rest of this entry »