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 »
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 »
By 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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
By Dana Boutin
With new staff and a new site imminent, the Evanston Art Center, in the words of Executive Director Norah Diedrich, is at a crossroads. Poised for challenges to come, Diedrich says, “The environment and economy that we’re all in—whether you’re a for-profit company, a Fortune 500, or a community center—is in flux and chaos. Darwin said it’s not the smartest or strongest that survives but the most adaptable.” As the Art Center’s new director since 2009, Diedrich is looking outward and onward. She worked previously as Manager of Public Programs at the Museum of Contemporary Art, and as the Director of Cultural Programs at Alliance Française, and is now applying her experience in community engagement to plan the Evanston Art Center’s future. Read the rest of this entry »
“Social Mobility” is an installation put together by Temporary Services, a group that investigates public space. Their projects represent and raise questions about everyday places and people, rather than the colorful outpourings of privileged individuals. Relational art is not political per se, except that it generally takes place in the city, and simultaneously in the flow of signals we call the internet. Although the people who practice in this area likely have what we might call progressive ideas, their tactics often owe more to Dada, Situationism and punk rock than any theoretical or ideological position. “Social Mobility” centers on projects that challenge accepted (or hegemonic, if you like) channels of distribution of art and information by freely sharing information as pretexts for social exchange. Their current exhibition contains several vitrines of booklets and found ephemera, such as stickers, posters and religious tracts, some bookshelves that hold the Self-Reliance Library, an unpredictable collection of books and references regarding practices like self-publishing, nomadic living, herbals and weapons production.
Despite the aleatory nature and potential for disarray in its divergent collections, the installation seemed antiseptic (like a hospital waiting room) and just a bit too cerebral for the on-the-street strategies usually enacted by the group. Banners designed to call attention to the economic and political forces shaping the ubiquitous and homely personal petrochemical plastic shopping bag make an impact—they were quilted—but for all their admirable labor, they are very neat and drab. Among the banner slogans: “The inexperienced dreamer simply cannot survive alone—The Survivor.” Read the rest of this entry »
By Jason Foumberg
When we’re tourists we often find ourselves standing on graves or admiring tombs of the illustrious dead. Several years ago, after a traipse through some European cemeteries and catacombs, I became (morbidly) obsessed with the Capuchin ossuary in Rome, a series of underground chapels decorated with the bones of monks in the seventeenth century. Where a tomb designed by Bernini or Michelangelo hides the deceased behind decadently carved marble, the Capuchin monks used actual bones for their headstones, creating decorative patterns in the style of Baroque stucco bas-relief or fresco—swirling aureoles and floral motifs—while other skeletons are collaged into tableaux, such as a clock made from phalanges and flying cherubim composed of skulls and winged shoulder blades.
I wanted to learn why the Capuchins built their shrine to death but, oddly, I could not find any full historical accounts about this strange place. I realized that the thousands of tourists who visit the chapels each year are not informed about why this place exists or how it came to be; we are simply left to ogle the lugubrious sculptures and ponder our own mortality. Tourists to the bone chapel can purchase postcards of the crypts so that the visceral images of bodily decomposition may be contemplated in private or distributed around the world like a decree: death trumps art. Read the rest of this entry »
The mid-eighteenth century was the heyday of Georgian England. The civil and international religious wars of the previous century were a dim memory, revolution had not yet risen in France, and commercial swag was flowing into London from the far-flung empire. As brewers, gamblers, young women and musicians flocked to the capital, the prosperous citizens of London did their best to thoroughly dissipate themselves. Writers such as Henry Fielding (“Tom Jones,” 1749) and John Cleland (“Fanny Hill,” 1748) were developing the comic and pornographic novel to depict that scene, and Thomas Cannon was one of the first gay activists (“Ancient and Modern Pederasty,” 1749).
In 1768, thirty-four prominent British painters, sculptors and architects, with the official endorsement of King George III, proclaimed the establishment of a Royal Academy “to promote the arts of design.” Its first president, Sir Joshua Reynolds, proclaimed the purpose to train artists capable of creating works of high moral and artistic worth. But ten years later, two of its earliest students, James Gillray and Thomas Rowlandson, were applying the exceptional pictorial skills of the European Baroque to that very English activity of mocking, laughing and celebrating the pomposity of authority and every other human foible. Which is to say that Rowlandson, who was himself no stranger to the gambling dens and brothels, was not the moralizer that his famous predecessor, William Hogarth, had been. Read the rest of this entry »