Reviews, profiles and news about art in Chicago

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 »

Eye Exam: What Will Happen to the Evanston Art Center?

Evanston, News etc. 1 Comment »

Evanston_Art_Center_mansion_buildingBy Jason Foumberg

A crumbling old mansion beside the lake seems more befitting of an Edgar Allan Poe tale than a community art center, but it has been the Evanston Art Center’s home for the last four decades. The City of Evanston owns the Harley Clarke Mansion and decided to market the 20,275-square-foot residence, which sits on a large property, in 2012. Last month the city acknowledged a bid from billionaire investor James Pritzker, as reported by Crain’s.

Where does this leave the eighty-three-year-old art institution? For most of its existence the EAC has made do with very little. At one point it occupied a library’s basement, and then an abandoned barbershop, and then leased the lakeside mansion for a token $1 per year.

The EAC’s executive director, Norah Diedrich, considered her options: aggressively fundraise in order to stay in a building that is structurally inadequate for an art center’s needs, or locate a new facility and potentially modernize the art center into a thriving community resource. Diedrich and the EAC’s board of trustees have chosen to relocate. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: De-Natured/Block Museum of Art

Drawings, Evanston, Prints No Comments »

Martin Kippenberger, “Untitled (The Mark),” 1990, graphite, ink, and Letraset on hotel stationery


A few weeks ago I was watching Channel 9 for the weather. When I tired of the inane ideological background noise that is the local news, I switched to Channel 20 and “Deutsche Welle,” and I landed in the middle of an expanded story explaining in clear, comprehensible detail how futures markets create poverty in third-world countries. Moral and ethical concerns, a sense of intelligence and gravity, inspired, perhaps, by the ever-present debt to the past, likewise set the tone for the contemporary German art in “De-Natured.” This exhibition begins with Joseph Beuys—whose documents and objects obsessively reenact his experiences in the Luftwaffe, launching a new species of “social sculpture”—and fills the Block’s galleries with carefully chosen, significant minor works by important artists: It is a crucial short course on later-twentieth-century German art. Beuys’ work and cult status is related conceptually to the provocative gestures of Duchamp, but for Beuys, wit and spatial displacements are weighted with the sense of moral urgency that haunted postwar Germany. The documents (for the Free International University), multiples and objects in this collection, which belong to the Ackland Art Museum of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, provide a solid introduction to Beuys’ ideas about the connection between art and radical democracy. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Night Sky/Evanston Art Center

Evanston, Multimedia No Comments »

Ryan Thompson


Curators Karen Hanmer and Vera Scekic conceived “Night Sky” as a meditation on the current relationship between humankind and the cosmos. We have never before been able to observe stars and planets with more granularity and precision, and dozens of mobile apps exist to facilitate stargazing. Even the most astronomically illiterate person can identify the major planets with ease, as Jason Judd illustrates with “Night Songs,” a compilation of amateur YouTube videos of planets. The exhibition asks: now that people can freely and easily travel the galaxy on their computers, has the night sky lost some of its stirring appeal?

In response, most selected artists address the more carnal, raw and emotive response evoked by the idea of billions of nuclear fireballs strewn across incalculable distances. While many of the literal, representational approaches fall short of capturing the night’s grandiosity, Kate Friedman’s installation “Returning to the Stars Someday” captures the solemn majesty of the heavens well, particularly considering that the artist did return to the stars and Sarah Krepp realized the final presentation. Hanging mylar sheets filled with Friedman’s complex and rich layering of intricate drawings, acrylic, ink, photography, and lasercut elements envelop the viewer like the wrap of darkness. On the summer solstice, an interactive component will mark the year’s shortest night. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Prints and the Pursuit of Knowledge in Early Modern Europe/Block Museum of Art

Drawings, Evanston, Prints No Comments »


I was captivated by Dürer’s “Melencolia I” as a young person. In those days, the dense, mysterious print was presented as great and unique art, largely isolated from the multiplicity of its sixteenth-century Northern European context. Now, however, anyone who wants to find out about the print will be able to see it surrounded by engravings and woodcuts representing a confluence of scientific and humanistic knowledge, produced and communicated to the world through the burgeoning process of printmaking. The brooding angel takes her place in an era concerned with the measuring, exploring and mapping of the wonders of an expanding universe. Allegorical figures, innumerable putti and Platonic solids share the same space as scientific instruments and objects of empirical observation. Brimming with engravings and woodcuts, several rooms address subjects ranging from public dissections and exotic creatures to maps, paper astrolabes, portable sundials, diagrams and herbals. Read the rest of this entry »