avery r young, “lady sings de blue(s) or billie head was bleevin at carnegie hall”
By B. David Zarley
Sharing a dedication to the arts and yet diametrically opposed—one bathed in the warm glow of gentrification, under the aegis of the University of Chicago, the other in Washington Park on the periphery of the cluster of shops and street violence murals (“Spray paint, not bullets”) that have sprung up like foxglove in the shadows of the Green Line on Garfield Boulevard—one would be hard pressed to find a better dyadic home for “The Distance Between,” the consummation of the artists-in-residence for the Arts+Public Life/Center for the Study of Race, Politics & Culture, than the Logan Center for the Arts and the Arts Incubator.
Separated from one another by the verdant expanse of Washington Park, the environs surrounding Logan and the Incubator ably reflect the Janus-like face of the South Side; “The Distance Between” revels in, pontificates upon and avails itself to said space. At the recent “Park Crossing” event, live music from resident artists LeRoy Bach and Tomeka Reid straddled the park, most notably in “Washington Park Suite,” which featured cellists Reid and Fred Lonberg-Holm playing ad-hoc, simultaneous improvisational movements from across the park, their individual contributions manipulated and reflected to each other in real time across the space by Todd Carter and Alex Inglizian. Read the rest of this entry »
Barbara Jones-Hogu, “I’m Better Than These Motherfuckers,” circa 1970
“Let a new earth rise,” wrote Margaret Walker in For My People. “Let another world be born. Let a bloody peace be written in the sky.” The closing stanza of this rousing militant poem provided the title for Barbara Jones-Hogu’s 1971 silkscreen series, “Rise and Take Control.” Two of these images, a symmetrical semi-abstract triple portrait fractured with flowing acid-rock text, appear in the Logan Center for the Arts’ retrospective of the fierce, vivid work of AfriCOBRA (African Commune of Bad Relevant Artists), a group of Black Power-era Chicago artists who came together to represent and promote a resistant Afrocentric message through (and beyond) visual art. Jones-Hogu’s “I’m Better Than These Motherfuckers” is an even more direct statement, and an even more densely and exquisitely printed piece, centering on a black woman sitting on the beach among melanin-deficient figures seemingly dissolving in the sunlight. Read the rest of this entry »
In a multimedia exhibition of both two- and three-dimensional works, the one most important to William Pope.L’s “Forlesen” is actually the fourth; time, in all its idiosyncrasies, brutalities and inevitabilities, lays at the exhibition’s heart.
“There’s nothing that necessarily ties the episodes together except time,” said Pope.L in regard to Gene Wolfe, the science fiction author who wrote the novella “Forlesen” (1974), and from that one observation the seemingly disparate pieces of Pope.L’s exhibition take on a (somewhat) coherent form.
Pope.L’s decision to purposefully not re-read the story prior to beginning his work—therefore relying upon the residue of memory—firmly grounds “Forlesen” in the fourth dimension at its conception. Perhaps most important, if least obvious, is the foundational aspect allotted to the passage of time, and the obfuscation that ensues.
Less esoteric are the works that deal with decay; the sloughing of ketchup (foodstuff that once reminded Pope.L of hardship and fame, but is now a romantic reminiscence) and joint compound scales from “Curtain” present the viewer with an empirical example of time’s ravages, as do the black helium balloons of “Ellipsis.” Aloft when fresh, they inevitably hang from the rafters like narcoleptic ravens, or lay shriveled upon the ground like dreams deferred. Even the room-dominating sculpture “Quarter Shape (penis)” can be seen as an allegory for atrophy; what do men fear losing most as caducity approaches? Combine the phallus with the withered balloons, and a nightmarish image akin to Updike’s Ben Turnbull takes shape. Read the rest of this entry »
It’s not all that surprising that a man whose work takes jabs at power symbols and the concept of reverence would have the chutzpah to bring live horses into the esteemed Hyde Park Art Center.
Though not present when I visited (they will make scheduled appearances during the show’s run), horses clearly influence Jeremiah Hulsebos-Spofford’s sprawling, ambitious installation. Throughout human history, horses have enabled human movement, from the physical, moving humans across continents, to the ideological, as culture spread as a byproduct of warfare. Horses also mean dominance. Cities around the world are dotted with statues of Great Men sitting astride their noble mounts, usually erected out of some immutable material like bronze or marble because their significance is meant to be permanent and unchanging. The Chicago-based sculptor spent seven months constructing his meditation on what happens to monuments when the unquestionable greatness they represent crumbles in the face of a society that no longer believes in such a thing. “Hall of Khan” is the result, and it doesn’t disappoint. Read the rest of this entry »
On July 4, 1971, Michael Hart uploaded a text version of the United States Declaration of Independence onto the Xerox Sigma V mainframe computer at the University of Illinois Materials Research Lab. By allowing the shared file to be freely downloaded by any user that logged onto that particular Sigma V—one of fifteen node computers that made up ARPANET, later to become the Internet—Hart unknowingly introduced the first electronic book and heralded its immeasurable effect on how media is read. This effect was truly realized two decades later as affordable image scanners catalyzed the digitization of both text and image. A common flatbed scanner—modified by hand and outfitted to resemble a conventional photographic apparatus—allowed artist John Neff to produce a series of unassuming black-and-white images that make up his solo exhibition at the Renaissance Society. The long exposures travel conduits between a do-it-yourself photographic contraption and a personal computer running consumer-grade software before revealing themselves line-by-line with lateral distortion from glitched data and mechanical idiosyncrasies. Read the rest of this entry »
“Fearsome Fable–Tolerable Truth,” the immersive, double-sided mural that lines the Hyde Park Art Center’s Gallery 4 is really two shows in one. Depending on your mood, you might confront either a smog-laden, fossil-fueled wasteland or a verdant, solar-powered paradise, as the painting’s composite sections can be carefully flipped by hand.
Artist Tom Torluemke conjures these contrary worlds with an abbreviated, just-the-facts style of brushwork consistent with the classic WPA murals that inspired this endeavor. The surfaces aren’t highly refined, but they don’t need to be. Like any mural, a respectable viewing distance yields the best results; imperfections vanish and color and form crackle with life. Read the rest of this entry »
Mike Nourse/Photo: Jay Schroeder
Artists must do more than just make art. Teaching, curating exhibitions, negotiating contracts, conducting studio visits and writing press releases are some of the professional practices that career artists can master, yet these skills are largely absent from college-level studio art curriculum.
Hoping to fill this void, the University of Chicago’s Graham School of Continuing Liberal and Professional Studies, in collaboration with the Hyde Park Art Center, is offering a new visual arts certificate program. At twelve months long, the curriculum includes four courses plus a studio component. It is perhaps one of a kind among institutional peers.
“To my knowledge, we are unique,” said Dr. Kineret Jaffe, director of the Graham’s partnership office and a volunteer chair on the Hyde Park Art Center’s board. Jaffe met me, on the vert Schweinfurt carpet of the art center’s downstairs meeting space, to explain the program to me. We were joined by her office’s program coordinator, Nicole Yagoda, and HPAC’s director of education, Mike Nourse. Read the rest of this entry »
One of the distinguishing features of Chinese poetry is its commemorative function. It often celebrates a social occasion rather than expresses an individual state of mind. Along similar lines, R.H. Quaytman’s enigmatic, and possibly hermetic, restrained formalist paintings at the Renaissance Society honor Susanne Ghez’s forty years as director of this important gallery. In what might be an attempt to observe the prohibitions against painting posed by the discourse of contemporary art history and an institution that has deemed most species of painting to be obsolete or undesirable, Quaytman imposes a set of rules on her practice, structuring her oeuvre—past, present and future—as if it were a book. Each Quaytman exhibition is conceived as a chapter, so she can formulate and control spatial resonances and motifs as they accumulate and are repeated among the paintings in this chapter of the “book.” The subtle formal relationships accumulate meaning during an extended viewing in the gallery. Read the rest of this entry »
Heather Mekkelson, “Ends of Other Ages” (detail)
Before the first line, readers of Virgil’s quintessential epic, the Aeneid, know the foundation of the Roman Empire lies at the end of Aeneas’ quest, allowing them to contemplatively shuffle through the labyrinthine narrative and get lost in its lurid, poetic vignettes without losing track of the story arc. Visiting “Epic Something,” then, is like the first reading; and the search for its ultimate empire from within the works of thirteen artists presents something of a challenging journey. Read the rest of this entry »
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, “Divan Japonais,” 1892-93
The mutual influence between French and Japanese printmakers comprises a complex, multi-dimensional set of exchanges that go far beyond the Impressionist period. “Awash in Color,” on view at the University of Chicago’s Smart Museum of Art, includes several graceful Mary Cassatt aquatints whose emphasis on patterning and faded color display Cassatt’s emulation of Japanese woodblock prints coming into France in the late nineteenth-century. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s lithographic posters, whose spatial relationships and compositions break with Western pictorial traditions, and whose subject matter echo the actors and geishas of ukiyo-e, are accompanied by galleries full of stunning work by less-well-known French printmakers (and well-known artists like Degas and Vuillard) from the period in which a taste for things Japanese was referred to as Japonisme. The exchange of ideas and materials went both ways, however, and one notable import to Japan from the West was a color known as Berlin (or Prussian) blue. It was first synthesized in Germany around 1704, and was used in the 1830s in the famous woodblock landscapes of Katsushika Hokusai and Utagawa Hiroshige, among others. Aniline dyes derived from coal tar made their way to Japan where their vivid colors, like magenta and emerald green, mark the Meiji Period, which also saw a shift from woodblock printing to the imported industrial techniques of photogravure and lithography. Read the rest of this entry »