Reviews, profiles and news about art in Chicago

Review: Alain Biltereyst/Devening Projects + Editions

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AB55

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For at least thirty years, the conversation surrounding geometric abstraction has been mired in the shop-worn rhetoric of early twentieth-century modernism, its relationship to utopian ideals, a critique of said modernism, or some combination thereof. Besides being played out, I’ve never found these approaches particularly illuminating. Far more provocative possibilities emerge when one encounters geometric painting as it truly is: a form of sculpture, subject to the pressures and demands of the discipline.

Unlike two-dimensional work, which offers us a glimpse into a credible alternative reality fashioned by the artist, sculpture projects itself outward, extending its influence into our world and transforming our physical relationship with it. By not demanding that we look “in” but instead inviting us to look “at” and “around,” the modestly scaled “signs” in Belgian artist Alain Biltereyst’s attractive new show, “Notes” at Devening Projects + Editions, accomplish such a feat.  Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Rainer Spangl/Devening Projects + Editions

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spangl galleryRainer Spangl’s new show at Devening Projects + Editions is cool, calm and calculated. Adorning the walls of the Garfield Park space is a litany of tastefully arranged, pastel-hued paintings that evoke the architectural grandeur of an ornamental frieze. Beneath them, five chromatically gray interiors depict quiet corners of Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum. The paintings are as cultured as that city’s famed cafés. The urbanity, however, comes with a price. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: 24 Hrs/25 Days/New Capital

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156699_407234622678632_1259019225_nAt the stroke of midnight on the twelfth of December, after twenty-five days of uninhibited twenty-four-hour activity, New Capital ended an ambitious exhibitionary undertaking and with it their two-year tenure as the cornerstone of a cluster of alternative contemporary art spaces on Chicago’s far West Side. Titled “24 Hrs/25 Days,” the durational exhibition project was a cacophony of immeasurable production and accelerated activity on display. New Capital founders Chelsea Culp and Ben Foch facilitated dozens of artists and collaborators in the continuous production of short-run exhibitions and performances at the bi-level warehouse gallery. New Capital’s visiting public was provided twenty-four hour access to the development and staging of this program. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Kirsten Stoltmann and Mike Kloss/New Capital

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At the turn of the millennium, Kirsten Stoltmann’s decorated tumbleweeds and mystical levitation footage at Van Harrison Gallery, her slow-motion video of skateboarders intercut with pictures of flowers in the UIC MFA show and, at Donald Young Gallery, her two-channel projection of her Caucasian self singing Marvin Gaye and wandering like an invisible ghost through a gathering of well-heeled African-Americans, all offered satire that replaced smugness or maudlin pathos with a distanced feeling of loss. Since that time she has focused more on objects—in particular, graphic collages in which loaded words or familiar phrases are sometimes engulfed in a shimmering field of patterns and commercial images, and sometimes starkly scrawled over the artist’s ferociously autonomous body, both a bitter revisiting of eighties feminist text art and a scornful anticipation of visual one-liner memes on Facebook. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Alison Ruttan/Adds Donna

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“Natural Disaster,” currently on view at Adds Donna, is a new collection of ceramic sculptures by Alison Ruttan from an ongoing project titled “A Bad Idea Seems Good Again.” Her sunken ceramic architectural maquettes are based on photographic evidence of sites of conflict across the Middle East, East Africa and Southeast Asia, miniaturizing scenes of manmade destruction. Diverse in style of depicted demolition—from partially collapsed midrise to debris-ridden car-bomb site—the maquette ruins occupy a tabletop terrain of charred plywood situated at the center of the exhibition space.

Ruttan uses photographic documentation from turbulent metropolitan areas (most frequently Beirut, Gaza and Baghdad) to construct and demolish each structure by hand, reenacting—on a less abrasive, personal scale—the process that yielded the aftermath she is citing. This positions “Natural Disaster” neatly alongside a previous project by Ruttan, “The Four Year War at Gombe,” informed by Jane Goodall’s investigation into strategic societal conflict among chimpanzees that produced a haunting echo of wars historically waged by humans. For the project, Ruttan reenacted and re-photographed, with human subjects, the conflicts documented by Goodall. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: David Salkin/Peregrine Program

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On the surface, David Salkin’s “Room for Views” is a whimsical celebration of texture and pattern—a slight divergence from his work as an interior designer, but certainly not much of a leap. The difference, perhaps, is that in “Room for Views,” Salkin gets to let loose and create his ideal room, “with the hopes of discovering a therapeutic and highly customized environment,” says the artist. Upon further consideration, this whimsical celebration turns into a meditation on the arrangement of space. We are asked to pay attention to the many ways our material environment is ordered, from the layout of our cities to the arrangements on our mantles. Read the rest of this entry »

Portrait of the Artist: Paul Erschen

Artist Profiles, Garfield Park No Comments »

Unless you’re acquainted with urban legends around cigarettes, you (like me) may not have known that the standard Marlboro pack allegedly contains several Ku Klux Klan references. Tipped to the side, the colored chevron resembles a “K”—and the box has three such designs. The tips of the “l” and the “b,” with the rest of the word “Marlboro” covered up, look like the eyes of a hooded Klansman. The negative space around the Philip Morris coat-of-arms logo looks as if two Klansmen are carrying the banner, and the logo “Marlboro” upside down can be read as “Orobl” (horrible) “Jew.”

Such conspiracy trivia may or may not be explicitly in evidence in Paul Erschen’s upcoming show at The Hills Esthetic Center, but it forms the conceptual foundation for his work around scavenged cigarette boxes—primarily Newports (and off-brand and counterfeit Newports) rather than Marlboros, thus the show title: “Newport Room.” Much of Erschen’s work comes from his environment—the cigarette-box collection came about as a side activity when he was collecting discarded plastic drug bags. He also will be presenting small wooden models inspired by specific but anonymous West Side facades. Non sequiturs intervene, like the small industrial-organic forms placed throughout, cast in plaster from unrecognizable detritus and faux-painted in muted tones. There will be photocopied and screenprinted images culled from his cigarette research and presented bereft of context, and surprising color elements added to the architectural dioramas. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Jon Waites/Peregrine Program

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Steeped in the art historical practices of Minimalism, Jon Waites’ solo exhibition “Radical, Work” combines his youthful preoccupation with skateboarding and the basic forms of the notable movement. The work challenges some basic assumptions of artistic practice, such as the sculpture/painting divide, while based in a vernacular of skateboarding.

One untitled work mimics a skating ramp. Made of grip tape on plywood, the piece suggests function while simultaneously mocking any notion of utility by hanging ceremoniously on the gallery wall. Other works, such as “Gnarly Third” and “Gnarly Redo,” use variations of the same palette and geometry. A green tangled mass, represented in both sculptural and painted form, suggests the motion, twists and turns involved in the sport. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Alex Valentine/Devening Projects + Editions

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The opening reception for Alex Valentine’s “Blonder Tongue Audio Baton” at Devening Projects felt more like a Vice magazine release party than the buttoned-down opening receptions of yore, and appropriately so; Valentine’s work is not stuffy. His distinctive, colorful offset prints nonchalantly hung from strings as if they were drying laundry, and visitors were encouraged to leaf through prints scattered on a table nearby. Valentine, a print instructor at SAIC, is a champion of offset printing—a difficult to master form of commercial lithography, traditionally used to make books, magazines and posters in large runs. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Wish You Were Here/ADDS DONNA

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“Cynic” seems an unfair label for the uncompromising Diogenes, who carried a lantern during daylight in search of an honest man. At bottom, Dada was similarly nostalgic for art as a lost ideal, an end in itself rather than a vehicle for reflection. This starry-eyed hopelessness applies to an evolving exhibition now in its third iteration at ADDS DONNA, whose title, “Wish You Were Here,” underscores the theme of glibness thinly masking absence and loss. Read the rest of this entry »