Reviews, profiles and news about art in Chicago

Eye Exam: Chicago is an Exquisite Corpse

Activist Art, Architecture, Art Fairs, Art Schools, Collage, Comics, Design, Digital Art, Drawings, Evanston, Fall Preview, Galleries & Museums, Garfield Park, Gold Coast/Old Town, Humboldt Park, Hyde Park, Installation, Little Village, Logan Square, Loop, Michigan Avenue, Multimedia, Museum Campus, Outsider Art, Painting, Performance, Photography, Pilsen, Prints, Public Art, River North, River West, Rogers Park, Sculpture, South Loop, Street Art, Streeterville, Suburban, Ukrainian Village/East Village, Uptown, Video, West Loop, West Town, Wicker Park/Bucktown No Comments »
The thing that was sent to me in it's intended but unsettling orientation.

The thing that was sent to me in its intended but unsettling orientation.

By Elliot J. Reichert

The above image was sent to me anonymously in the middle of the night. Shocking as it appears, I was relieved to receive it. You see, weeks ago I had contacted a few artist friends to ask them to reflect on the upcoming fall art season in Chicago and to ask one to “take over” the task of appraising it. To my surprise, they were reluctant to describe it, even those who had exhibitions of their work opening in the coming weeks. Later, I realized that their silence was my doing, having asked a question that could produce no coherent answer.

Much like the drawing game made famous by the Surrealists, Chicago’s 2015 fall art season is an exquisite corpse—a thing of grotesque beauty that is the dream of no one, but the creation of many. At first glance, it appears sinister, like the Block Museum’s solo show of newly commissioned works by Chicago artist Geof Oppenheimer. Rumor has it that the sculptor has filled the museum’s ample galleries with austere and foreboding installations resembling the cinderblock constructions of grim institutions, like prison, or perhaps your corporate office. Even more menacing, Irena Haiduk, also Chicago-based and also exhibiting new work, will haunt the eaves of the Renaissance Society’s transformed gallery with the Sirens of Greek mythology, luring visitors unexpectedly into a debate on the revolutionary possibilities of art and social change amidst current political upheaval worldwide. Read the rest of this entry »

News: Janet Dees joins the Block Museum of Art

Evanston, Galleries & Museums, News etc. No Comments »
Janet Dees. Photo: Kate Russell.

Janet Dees/Photo: Kate Russell

After completing an international search, the Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art at Northwestern University has announced that Janet Dees will join the museum’s curatorial team. Dees, who is currently finishing her Ph.D. in 18th-20th century American art at the University of Delaware, brings to her appointment extensive knowledge of global contemporary art and museum practices, as well as museum leadership experience, says Kathleen Bickford Berzock, Associate Director of Curatorial Affairs at the Block Museum.

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Review: Julie Green/Block Museum of Art

Activist Art, Ceramics, Evanston, Installation No Comments »
Julie Green. "The Last Supper," 2000-ongoing. Installation view of 357 plates in the 2009 exhibition "Counter Intelligence," California State University, Los Angeles.

Julie Green. “The Last Supper,” 2000-ongoing. Installation view of 357 plates in the 2009 exhibition “Counter Intelligence,” California State University, Los Angeles.


From a Missouri grand jury’s decision not to indict officer Darren Wilson in the fatal shooting of an unarmed Michael Brown in Ferguson, to the sentencing of Boston Bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to death, our flawed criminal justice system is ever present in our lives. Julie Green’s set of 600 plates illustrating the final meals of U.S. death row inmates helps us remember the human lives behind the news. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Evanston Biennial Solo Shows/Evanston Art Center

Collage, Evanston, Installation, Painting, Sculpture 1 Comment »
Noelle Allen. "Henry's Rainbow", 2014 resin, 23" x 32" x 2"

Noelle Allen. “Henry’s Rainbow”, 2014
resin, 23″ x 32″ x 2″


This May, the Evanston Art Center will end its forty-eight year residence at the former Harley Clarke mansion and move into a newly renovated space one mile away. For the final exhibition within its historic location that blossoms with organic design and motifs, the center has selected three artists whose practices are deeply rooted in the natural world: Noelle Allen, Jennifer Yorke and Robert Porazinski. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Collecting Paradise/Block Museum of Art

Drawings, Evanston, Painting, Sculpture, Textiles No Comments »

"White Tara Painting," Western Tibet, 16th-17th century painting on cloth, University of Michigan Museum of Anthropological Archaeology Koelz Collection of Himalayan Art, Koelz 17458 [K569]

“White Tara Painting,”
Western Tibet, sixteenth-seventeenth-century
painting on cloth, University of Michigan Museum of Anthropological Archaeology
Koelz Collection of Himalayan Art, Koelz 17458 [K569]


“If you find Buddhist art in a monastery, take it” might well have been an early twentieth-century variation on the koan made famous by Sheldon Kopp, as Western scholars scoured South Asia for artifacts. Gallery signage tells us that what Professor Giuseppe Tucci (1894-1984) called a garbage dump, local monks considered a repository of sacred relics. Shame on him, but without his acquisition, four magnificent eleventh-century folios would not now be showing at the Block Museum. And they really have the sharp perfection of world-class illumination and calligraphy. Then there was Walter Koelz (1895-1989), a zoologist at the University of Michigan who collected whatever caught his eye. At the Likir monastery, he proudly bargained down the price on two seventeenth-century painted fabrics. Without them, the third, left behind, could no longer perform a ritual function. They don’t kick you in the gut like the dharma-defender hanging nearby, but Koelz’s Buddhist divinities have plenty of grace and power one would not experience without his questionable efforts. Such appropriation by Western collectors is one thing that may happen to sacred art, centuries after it was made. Alternatively, these works could be collected by devotees, where they might influence the art and religious practice of other lands. Those are some of the rather predictable kinds of stories this exhibition tells about the legacies of Buddhist art from Kashmir. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec/Block Museum of Art

Evanston, Prints No Comments »
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. "May Milton," 1895 lithograph, 31 1/4" x 24"

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. “May Milton,” 1895
lithograph, 31 1/4″ x 24″


This compact, one-room exhibition of a dozen and a half lithographs is a gem. Mounted by Northwestern upperclassmen and overseen by art-history professor S. Hollis Clayson, the works are drawn from the Andra and Irwin Press Collection. The students’ extended labels are well written and informative, and often reveal fresh insights. Smaller documentary images draw parallels to Japanese art, to photographs, and to then-contemporary art. One of these indicates how Picasso painted Lautrec’s poster of the chanteuse May Milton into the background of one of his own paintings. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Wangechi Mutu/Block Museum of Art

Collage, Drawings, Evanston, Installation, Video No Comments »
Wangechi Mutu. "The End of eating Everything," (still), 2013, animated video (color, sound), 8:00 minute loop

Wangechi Mutu. “The End of eating Everything,” (still), 2013, animated video (color, sound), eight-minute loop


Images are ideological constructions that serve the social function of representing political and global interactions. For Wangechi Mutu’s collages in her survey “A Fantastic Journey” the artist sources imagery from National Geographic, pornographic and fashion magazines to undercut disparaging assumptions about the black female body. “Le Noble Savage” is a wry collage that demonstrates the historic weight of this misnomer. It was a term coined in the seventeenth century that designated non-Europeans as primitive and served as a reason to discredit their accomplishments. A female figure marked with dark sores wears a raffia-patterned skirt reminiscent of traditional Kuba textile from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Mutu’s Afrofuturist aesthetic is evident in the figure’s skin. Her diseased flesh refers to the victims of crises in Africa, the interpolating global politics of war, the illegal trades of bodies, minerals, bullets and more recently the Ebola epidemic—one that the Western press ignored until two American missionaries were infected with the virus. The figure reaches up to the sky holding high a fern populated by many birds showing that there is more to Africa than just the pervasive reductive binary of casting it as a “dark” continent or the emblem of the “cradle of civilization.” Read the rest of this entry »

Art World’s Big Weekend 2014: Comprehensive Listing of Gallery Openings for September 4–7 [updated]

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


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)


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: The Left Front: Radical Art in the Red Decade/Block Museum of Art

Evanston, Prints No Comments »


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 »

Eye Exam: Art Makes Sense in Retrospect

Evanston, Painting No Comments »
Linda Kramer, "Fetus with Guitar and Bubble," 2012

Linda Kramer, “Fetus with Guitar and Bubble,” 2012

By Jason Foumberg

At seventy-six years old Linda Kramer makes oil paintings of floating fetuses. She has been painting in and around Chicago for more than six decades, and her latest series contains flesh-pink fetuses hovering over other bodies, some of them dead. Sometimes a red hotdog (also floating) takes the place of the fetus. What comes next in this series of morphing objects? Only Kramer knows, and she has worked in this stream-of-consciousness method for awhile, meandering among formalist and figurative strategies for most of her career. “Unstable Variations” is the title of her retrospective exhibition at the Evanston Art Center. Read the rest of this entry »