“The Old Guitarist,” 1902–04.
In 1926, the Art Institute of Chicago was the first American museum to place a painting by Pablo Picasso (“The Old Guitarist”) on permanent display, so it’s a bit surprising that forty years after his death “Picasso and Chicago” is the first major retrospective for what the museum’s director calls “the most transformative artist of the twentieth century.” The current show is mostly items from the museum’s own collection, enhanced by several loaned artworks from private Chicago collections. But with more than four-hundred pieces to draw from, it still offers a memorable stroll through that exceptional artist’s seventy-year career. Read the rest of this entry »
“Planting and Maintaining a Perennial Garden III,” Faheem Majeed’s contribution to the Industry of the Ordinary’s collaborative exhibition, uncovers a significant artifact of Chicago art history. Majeed presents a striking but deteriorating mural by Bill Walker from the 1960s, titled “Hate and Confrontation,” and contributes a set of bleachers made from repurposed cedar boards from which to survey the work.
Bill Walker worked from the 1960s until the eighties and has murals all over the South Side. Many have been destroyed but several have been restored. Walker was an ordinary man who worked in the post office yet did what we might call extraordinary things. He founded the Organization for Black American Culture and participated in the founding of the Chicago Public Art Group. The wall-sized graphic mural depicts a series of receding black profiles lit by the harsh light of anger, recalling representational work by Charles White, Elizabeth Catlett and Margaret Burroughs. It is a stirring, authentic expression of an African-American artist’s direct, untheorized engagement with the turmoil of race relations in Chicago, a fragment of social and overlooked aesthetic history, which does not seem at all ordinary. Read the rest of this entry »
Bust of Athena (detail), c. 2nd century a.d.
As the earliest visual expression of rational and democratic ideals, the art of the Greco-Roman world was cherished by the European civilization that overran North America a thousand years later and built the Neo-Classical temple of culture that’s called the Art Institute of Chicago. The Periclean golden age was well represented by casts of the sculptural frieze that once encircled the Parthenon—they can still be seen up near the ceiling above the grand staircase. A plaster bust of Athena was hung above the front entrance on Michigan Avenue. Read the rest of this entry »
The Magnificent Mile is not what it used to be. Although the site of prestigious and historic architecture like the Wrigley Building, Tribune Tower and Drake Hotel, the pseudo-boulevard now seems more suburban than urban, with so many inward-turned shopping malls. In the mid-1990s, architecture critic Blair Kamin lamented the avenue’s “descent from exquisite ensemble of beaux-arts buildings to a crass visual jumble,” dubbing it the “Mediocre Mile.” Today, there is a budding renaissance happening on the strip, most vividly illustrated by the new Burberry flagship store, the best architectural addition to the district since the John Hancock Center nearly forty years ago.
The Burberry building is stunning, in that it fuses fashion with architecture. At five stories tall, dressed in black with an ornamental chrome tartan check, it stands like a model on the runway of Michigan Avenue. In contrast to the blank facades and anonymous awnings of neighboring competitors like Chanel and Gucci, the Burberry store demands attention and draws the eye—like anything exemplary among the ordinary. The structure has two massive, forty-foot vertical windows set back into the face, breaking up its mass and offering glimpses inside. A waterfall of light serves as backdrop for a sleek minimalist staircase rising on Ontario Street. The building’s elegance escalates when darkness falls as LED lights softly illuminate the chrome plaid from the rear, producing an outfit change into the enduring black-on-black. Read the rest of this entry »
Anonymous Los Angeles-based street artist HOMO RIOT got on a plane from Los Angeles to Chicago. Once he landed, he began roaming the streets, pasting stickers of two bearded, bearish men with masks over their eyes kissing, onto newspaper stands and streetlight poles everywhere. I came across one in my not-so-radical gay neighborhood Andersonville, took a photo of it with my “It Gets Better”-endorsed Apple iPhone, and picture-texted it to a fellow queer friend. “Cool!” she texted back. What happened afterward involves normal day-to-day activities like writing, drinking coffee and paying bills. Not really a radical intervention, but at least it broke up the monotony. Read the rest of this entry »
As a child growing up in London, Steve McQueen—not the deceased film star, but the contemporary film artist—says that seeing the 1981 Irish hunger strike on television was one of those “impressionable moments,” the kind that carries with you into adulthood. In 2008, seventeen years after that initial haunting, he released his first feature-length film “Hunger,” a hyperrealistic, oft-times completely gruesome look at the 1981 hunger strike inside the HM Prison Maze. McQueen captures the demise of Bobby Sands, a member of the British Parliament and volunteer of the Provisional Irish Republican Army who starved himself to death between the prison’s cinder walls. McQueen followed up on this breakout movie with his 2011 film “Shame,” about an attractive thirty-something New Yorker named Brandon through the tunnels of his sex addiction. But McQueen did not start out as a feature-length filmmaker; rather, this newfound vision came out of more than twenty years of shorter works in mediums such as 8mm film, 16mm, 35mm slides and color video, all of which are represented in this stunning survey of his work to date. Read the rest of this entry »
British-educated Canadian Janice Kerbel makes abstract, analytic and philosophical artworks. And it’s not warm and fuzzy philosophy, like Socrates in the agora asking questions; it is rigorous and linear, more akin to Charles Peirce, the early investigator of semiotics. At first there seems to be not a shred of subjectivity, nothing remotely like the mark of a hand or the palest shadow of the drift of an individual consciousness in Kerbel’s works on paper. Neither is the work particularly visual, but it looks very good. The play of the mind, it turns out, is clean and minimal. Read the rest of this entry »
If not for one offhand mention of Marcel Duchamp, I wouldn’t be sure that Eric Felten, the Wall Street Journal art critic who wrote a pooh-poohing preview on August 9 of Industry of the Ordinary’s retrospective, titled “Sic Transit Gloria Mundi,” had heard of conceptual art. Which is fair, since until then I hadn’t heard of art criticism in the Wall Street Journal. “We long to be astonished,” Felten writes, echoing the Ayn Rand ethos of his masthead. A participatory fishing tank, photographs of urine, pfaugh! Felten doesn’t want ordinary, he wants winners. Like a Bernini sculpture, he suggests, or the Olympics. Sadly for him, the Chicago Cultural Center show promotes group effort over individual excellence. Not only is Industry of the Ordinary a collaboration between Adam Brooks and Matthew Wilson, with the bulk of their lighthearted, ephemeral work based on interacting, borrowing, cooperating, or delegating, but the exhibition itself consists of dozens of objects, projects and events from creators throughout the local art world. The success of their populist approach was evident at the opening, which was the most thronged affair I’ve ever attended at the Chicago Cultural Center. Read the rest of this entry »
Cauleen Smith, film still from “Nicolai and Regina Series 01″
Cauleen Smith’s solo show at the MCA is the best contemporary art exhibition in Chicago this summer. While watching her short videos, which feature Chicago cityscapes and local musicians, I easily mistook Smith as a Chicago-based artist. I’m used to seeing only Chicago artists mine the city’s cultural history with such deeply personal insights. In fact Smith lives and teaches in San Diego, and has spent considerable time in Chicago doing research on local music history, facilitated by Threewalls in 2010 and a Black Metropolis Research Consortium grant in 2011. The fruit of her Chicago residency is a series of new videos and a multimedia installation that waken civic pride. Before the MCA exhibition closes in mid-September, Smith will open a solo show at Threewalls, a spot usually reserved for Midwestern artists. Read the rest of this entry »
Jeff Gillette likes to go slumming in our planet’s most congested sites of improvisational housing, and then he returns back home to paint them. His studio is in Orange County, California, home of Disneyland, as well as some of the wealthiest suburbs in America. So it’s no surprise that he sees slums as theme parks of depravation, occasionally enhanced with some cartoonish relics of Mickey Mouse. All of this sounds rather depressing, but actually these paintings feel upbeat, perhaps in response to the irrepressible, universal human ability to adapt to adverse circumstances, and we might recall that many first-generation Americans lived in shacks or tenements. Read the rest of this entry »