Reviews, profiles and news about art in Chicago

Review: Paint Paste Sticker: Chicago Street Art/Chicago Cultural Center

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“I bet most of the people here,” including most of the artists, “have been to lock-up at some point. And I bet there are a lot of undercover cops here,” remarked an acquaintance and one of the participants in “Paint Paste Sticker: Chicago Street Art” at the opening of the exhibition at the Chicago Cultural Center. That remark points to a big part of the success of the exhibition: the palpable tension among the art on view, the anti-vandalism laws of the city, and the intensely official civic institution that hosts the exhibition.

The exhibition’s entrance greets visitors with one of the city’s recognizable bus shelters completely covered in spray-paint executed with a recognizable Zore design. Inside is a long wall covered in artist’s stickers, tags, paste-ups and other objects that you usually see on private property across the city. It’s a virtual who’s who of Chicago sticker art with artists adding their calligraphic, tagged signatures, quick sketches or small drawings to a variety of stickers that were intended for more mundane tasks like shipping, or gathering dust at the Post Office. The wall also includes signs from the CTA such as third-rail high-voltage warnings and public service messages. These might come off as cheesy in a street art exhibition, but in the context of a city-sponsored show, the appropriated signs have a sharp edge.

Displayed neatly framed on the chaos of the sticker wall, an anti-vandalism ad sums up the tension of the street art exhibition’s site on city property. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Artist and the Poet/Art Institute of Chicago

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Lesley Dill. "A Word Made Flesh...Throat," 1994. Gift of Stanley Freehling.

Lesley Dill. “A Word Made Flesh…Throat,” 1994. Gift of Stanley Freehling.

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In conjunction with the newly opened “Picasso and Chicago” exhibit, the Art Institute’s Prints and Drawings department assembled “The Artist and the Poet”—a survey of twentieth-century collaborations and influences, though the connection is rather tenuous, as none of Picasso’s work is included within.

A poet, art critic and curator, Frank O’Hara is the most famous “poet among painters.” The curators devote ample space to his spirited collaborations, including over a half-dozen lithographs with Larry Rivers and an extraordinary print with Jasper Johns. From this last lithograph, titled “Skin with O’Hara Poem,” emerges the smeared image of a man’s face and hands pressed against glass. O’Hara’s poem, unusually gloomy, appears in faded typewriter text in the upper right corner. The ghost-like quality of the print is intensified by the fact that, of six planned prints, this was the only one realized before O’Hara’s early death in 1966. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Shelly Jyoti and Laura Kina/Chicago Cultural Center

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INDIGO KinaApplied to a contemporary art exhibition, the saying about a tree falling in a forest might go something like this: If an artwork’s political or ideological import isn’t palpable in the work itself, does it have any repercussions? If the viewer can’t sense it, is it really there at all? Such questions have become increasingly important as artists who engage global capitalism and its discontents make the ethical dimensions and political ramifications of artistic production integral to their work, as do Shelly Jyoti and Laura Kina.

Jyoti a textile artist, and Kina, primarily a painter, tackle identity politics and post-colonialism through their respective mediums. They teamed up for “Indigo,” a collaborative exhibition of work featuring that particular murky shade of blue, named for the natural dye from which it’s derived. As the exhibition text explains, indigo has a rich, layered cultural and socioeconomic history. For Jyoti, the color signifies the struggles of Indian indigo farmers oppressed by British rule back in the nineteenth century. Her “Indigo Narratives” series adapts ancient embroidery and printing techniques in wall textiles and one giant, cascading mobile to contemporary images that symbolize India’s struggle under colonialism and subsequent non-violent rebellion. Kina’s “Devon Avenue Sampler Series” a “sampler” of both needlework and appropriation, combines textiles from Indian and Jewish traditions with text and commercial iconography native to Devon Avenue, a street that Chicago magazine once called “the most beguiling commercial strip in the city” due to its dizzying array of ethnically diverse restaurants and shops. While “Indigo” is billed as a collaboration between two professional artists, the gallery didactics acknowledge other hands at work—much of the material labor that went into the art on display was performed by Indian artisans belonging to a fair-trade women’s collective. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Maharaja: The Splendor of India’s Royal Courts/Field Museum

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“Portrait of Amar Singh II, Ruler of Mewar,” City of Udaipur, 1700-1750

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This exhibition focuses on the courtly life of the former four hundred petty states once found on the Indian subcontinent. Their princes were described by one of their English masters, Lord Curzon, as “half-Anglicised, half-denationalised, European-women-hunting, pseudo-sporting, and very often in the end spirit-drinking young native chiefs.” So as Lord Curzon might expect, there’s an emphasis on bright, shiny, gem-encrusted bling in body ornament, knives, rifles, gaming boards and more. But there’s also a hint of the many styles of opaque watercolor paintings that were developed in that diverse area, beginning with the imperial Mughal school of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

The Mughal school was imported from Persia and vigorously cultivated by Emperor Akbar and his immediate successors. Their aesthetic demand for well-observed detail, variety and aggressive high-energy probably carried over into the rest of their reign, accounting for their extraordinary success in conquering and ruling such a vast and diverse area. But as imperial ambitions faded, the princely patrons of the following centuries seem to have preferred the depiction of more lyrical, dream-like worlds, with much more attention paid to themselves. This show has a few good examples of such erotic and psychological themes. Throughout both the painting and the jewelry, there seems to be a delight in smallness—as if the world were filled with wonders beyond the limits of human perception. You might wish to bring your own magnifying device. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Allen Ruppersberg/Art Institute of Chicago

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Allen Ruppersberg, “No Time Left to Start Again/The B and D of R ‘n’ R”

First-generation and L.A. conceptual artist Allen Ruppersberg stands apart from his contemporaries for his greater involvement with everyday life and performance. Whereas Ed Ruscha surveyed the Sunset Strip in photographs, Ruppersberg opened “Al’s Grand Hotel” on Sunset Boulevard, a performance hotel that hosted guests in absurdly decorated rooms.

“No Time Left to Start Again/The B and D of R ‘n’ R,” an expansive new artwork at the Art Institute of Chicago, continues Ruppersberg’s established practice of presenting culture by way of its advertising and visual materials. The installation in the Modern Wing’s photography galleries takes on the history of rock music (the title’s “R ‘n’ R”) from its birth to its death (the “B” and “D”). Ruppersberg selected, scanned and laminated rock ‘n’ roll memorabilia, including musicians’ obituaries, album covers, and snapshots. The mementos hang on brightly colored pegboards, reminiscent of a fan-club headquarters, while a black leather couch and music on the speakers invite viewers to follow the Rolling Stones’ advice to get “lost in your rock ‘n’ roll.” Yet something hinders; visitors behave in typical museum mode, quietly contemplating and plainly observing the presented materials. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Studio Gang/Art Institute of Chicago

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Despite Jeanne Gang’s reputation as inheritor of the mantle worn by Sullivan, Wright, and Mies, “Building: Inside Studio Gang Architects,” which opened last week in the Art Institute’s Modern Wing, emphasizes the collaborative energy and achievements of the studio over those of the individual. Drawings, plans and proposals diffuse the old model of the architectural genius and his great static monuments to reveal the actual teamwork of the creative process, but not only among the members of her practice; a wealth of materials in the exhibition visualize the crucial dialogues and fluid synergies between a building and its site, the clients who commission, and the buildings’ future inhabitants. Studio Gang and the curators at the AIC have created a dynamic, interactive and graceful space, papering the walls with information—photographs, plans, drawings and models of several finished and unfinished proposals. The viewer leaves with renewed insight into the complexity and excitement of Studio Gang’s engagement with the problems and possibilities of our moment, and importantly, the centrality of good design to the future of cities and urban life. Aqua Tower is featured prominently among projects far-flung and local, from Hyderabad, India to Glencoe, Illinois. The Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership, currently under construction at Kalamazoo College in Michigan, will make use of low-carbon, highly thermal construction materials and techniques. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Great Refusal: Taking On New Queer Aesthetics/SAIC Sullivan Galleries

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Michel Foucault opined that, in a gay affair, the “best moment is when the lover leaves in the taxi;” this nostalgic melancholia now typifies much queer theory. A preference for the backward view is central to Lee Edelman’s book “No Future,” and an overall gloom permeates Judith Halberstam’s “The Queer Art of Failure.” In the group show now at the Sullivan Galleries, “The Great Refusal: Taking On New Queer Aesthetics,” the negativity embedded in the title makes a thematic demand that much, but not all, of the work is equipped to address.   Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Michael Childers/Harold Washington Library Center

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Arianna Huffington

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Michael Childers knows that the works of even illustrious writers overshadow their personalities, and he is out to shift the balance by shooting black-and-white portraits of the literary lions and lionesses to “reveal what lies beyond their famous written works.” In most cases, he might have left well enough alone. Childers represents his subjects in conventional celebrity headshots, with a few scenarios thrown in. As a result, if the writers are schooled in their images, they trot them out; and if they are not, they look like so many aspiring actors. Sometimes the mold is broken, and that is when the subject overpowers the photographer. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Patty Carroll/Chicago Cultural Center

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Chicago’s very own global princess of pop photography, Patty Carroll, once gained her renown from her color shots of our sweet home’s hotdog stands, elevating them to the rank of Louis Sullivan’s or Frank Lloyd Wright’s landmarks. Now she has served up color “portraits” of “female forms” swathed and smothered in all manner of fabrics, from clothing to draperies and tapestries to blankets, so that we can’t imagine what the flesh inside the culture might look like if, indeed, there is any.  There is a feminist agenda here about how women have been reduced to anonymity by the oppressive social roles enforced by patriarchal society, but fortunately the political preaching is undercut by Carroll’s exuberant imagination, which guarantees that each of her images is so radically individualized and seductive that they collectively end up reeking of beauty power with a bit of tongue in the chic. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Wright’s Roots/Expo 72

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In this lavish, elegant and expertly curated exhibit, we get a chance to see Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture whole as we go from one alcove to the next, each replete with photographs and drawings of, and artifacts from, a different one of his famous and more neglected buildings. Wright’s houses and public buildings, with which we have become familiar, are on view here, but we are also treated to his attempts at creating “affordable” housing for the working class that incorporated touches that raised the structures above the drab tenement. Read the rest of this entry »