Reviews, profiles and news about art in Chicago

Portrait of the Artists: Miller & Shellabarger

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Miller & Shellabarger. "Again Gone," installation view

Miller & Shellabarger. “Again Gone,” installation view

“Western Exhibitions shows all three of us,” say Dutes Miller and Stan Shellabarger, meaning the Chicago gallery separately represents Dutes, Stan and S&M, their collaborative practice as Miller & Shellabarger. The two met as undergraduates studying ceramics and organically began to work together on artistic projects. Twenty-one years later, the couple shares an Irving Park home and studio where individual art practices continue to grow alongside joint projects. Teaming up as Miller & Shellabarger periodically dominates their individual practices, while at other times independent work demands a hiatus from the collaborative. They have found an effortless ebb-and-flow, and three is not a crowd in this household.

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Review: Matthew Girson/Chicago Cultural Center

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Matthew Girson. "The Painter's Other Library," installation view

Matthew Girson. “The Painter’s Other Library,” installation view

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A vexatious cloud hangs low over Matthew Girson’s new exhibition “The Painter’s Other Library.” Depicting endless shelves of meticulously placed books, the artist’s many compositions are executed in a brooding, almost impenetrable palette. At first blush, they read simply as black. As the eyes adjust to the paintings’ hushed tones, book after book, arranged to echo the precision and symmetry of modernist geometric abstraction, slowly emerge from the oleaginous mire. The beguiling tension within these works is heightened by the stark white walls and cathedral-like atmosphere of the Chicago Cultural Center. Read the rest of this entry »

News: Chicago Cultural Center Launches Residency for Artists and Curators

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CCC

Applications became available on July 11 for the Chicago Cultural Center’s Studio Artist and Curatorial Residency Program. It is the first program of its kind administered by the city. Six artists will be given a studio for the three-month residencies in the Cultural Center and a $2,000 per month, restriction-free stipend. Applications are due July 31. Emerging curators selected for the fellowship will work with DCASE staff to produce exhibitions in the Cultural Center. “It’s very much an experiment and a new program for us,” says Daniel Schulman, director of visual art, when reached for comment by phone. “There are a few goals with the program,” says Schulman. “It’s a way of bringing artists to us, it increases our interaction with artists, and it allows the Cultural Center to be more of an active hub.”

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Review: René Magritte/Art Institute of Chicago

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René Magritte. "Clairvoyance (La Clairvoyance)," oil on canvas, 1936

René Magritte. “Clairvoyance (La Clairvoyance),” oil on canvas, 1936

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A girl devours a bird; feet morph into shoes; a nude female torso reads as a face. “René Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926-1938,” the Art Institute of Chicago’s summer blockbuster, showcases the most important period of the Surrealist who precisely painted a new and disturbing reality. The exhibition is a collaboration between Houston’s Menil Collection, MoMA and the AIC.

It has a narrow focus—just a dozen years—when Magritte painted his “breakthrough” images. (The floating bowler-hatted men with umbrellas were later.) But many of his most famous pictures are here: ones that defined Surrealism and modern art, such as “The Treachery of Images” (“Ceci n’est-pas une pipe”) and “The Lovers” (a kissing couple with shrouded heads). Even though Magritte’s paintings operate as illustrations—he was a professional illustrator, after all—this show restores their status as paintings rather than as posters or jpegs. The works’ scale may surprise, as will the immaculate strokes and the saturated colors.

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News: Chicago Design Museum Opens New Home in the Loop

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Gallery view of a pop-up exhibition by the Chicago Design Museum

Gallery view of a pop-up exhibition by the Chicago Design Museum

The Chicago Design Museum (ChiDM), an organization that began in Phoenix, Arizona, and evolved when co-founder Tanner Woodford relocated to Chicago, is opening a 5,000-square-foot permanent space on the third floor of the Block Thirty Seven building at 108 North State. For the past two years, ChiDM has held annual exhibitions in pop-up locations that have explored themes like dynamic uses of typography in Chicago’s urban landscape, and the ways that work and play are blurred within design as a professional field. With the opening of a permanent space, they also open their first exhibition of 2014, “Starts/Speculations: Graphic Design in Chicago Past and Future,” which runs from June 12 through September 30.

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Portrait of the Artist: Rebecca Gray Smith

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"L - Legal, Law," intaglio print on Somerset cream paper, 2014

“L – Legal, Law,” intaglio print on Somerset cream paper, 2014

Rebecca Gray Smith’s suite of black-and-white etchings currently on display at Bert Green Fine Art took nearly twenty-five years to complete. Personal histories, comedy and spirituality are infused into each of the intricate prints that feature a letter of the alphabet along with skeletal beings that act out foreboding narratives. The engravings, originally intended as a response to the AIDS crisis, evolved over time into an examination of all death and became a cathartic process for Smith’s grief after losing her husband to lung cancer. “The whole fact of death is absurd to me,” she says. “I still can’t believe that these people I loved so much aren’t here any more.” Smith also grapples with her father’s death and mother’s suicide in her work.

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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 »