Reviews, profiles and news about art in Chicago

Review: Gaylen Gerber/Museum of Contemporary Art

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Installation view. Image courtesy of the artist and Tom Van Eynde

Installation view. Image courtesy of the artist and Tom Van Eynde


For decades, Gaylen Gerber has rendered conspicuous the assumed neutrality—both perceptual and rhetorical—of exhibition spaces and the institutions that house them, through gray monochromatic paintings and wall-sized supports upon which other artists’ works are displayed. Expression is outsourced, and Gerber’s parenthetical interventions make note of the factors that contribute to an audience’s experience of the discrete works shown therein. In recent years, he has transitioned into sensory riots of color and light, such as the project now on view at the MCA. Bracing tangerine and sweltering yellow blast over the gathered artworks, recalling earlier MCA installations such as Rudolf Stingel’s “Untitled (Orange Carpet on Floor)” in 2007 and Olafur Eliasson’s hallway of intense yellow light in 2009. Remembrance and art-historical play are apropos here as Gerber has included works produced over the past fifty years by other artists living and deceased, men and women, drawn from the MCA’s collection and on loan. Read the rest of this entry »

Portrait of the Artist: Morgan Sims

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Morgan Sims grew up in a world of straight lines. As a teen he laid orderly rows of pipe with his father. His first exposure to art was his mother’s quilts, works of abstract blocking in careful grids. At the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Sims trained as a printmaker and found satisfaction in the process. “I really enjoy the steps in printmaking. The process is fun, I like that it’s hands-on.”

While he still makes prints, Sims is starting to become known for his rich, pixelated paintings and neon sculptures. He has been in well-received group shows at Heaven Gallery, and his tent-like neon sculpture “Palisade” was a standout at the MDW Fair last year. At Bert Green Fine Art, Sims is having his first solo show in three years. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Helen Maurene Cooper/City Gallery

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"Rocker," from "Jazzy Nails,"  2013

“Rocker,” from “Jazzy Nails,” 2013


Fascinated by the practice of adorning the human nail in the most elaborate, intricate, textured and glistening designs, Helen Maurene Cooper began by taking color photographic studies of these objects of body art at close range in lush settings, creating images of sumptuous eye candy. Now she has ventured into a nail salon, shooting sensitive formal portraits of its female patrons, showing off their decorations to be sure, but much more allowing them to express their personalities, indeed, so much so that the individuals dominate the images at the expense of their nails—a clear case of life trumping art. In one instance—the show’s banner image—Cooper brings together her early and present series in a portrait of “The Rocker,” a young, raven-haired fashionista inscribed with flowing tattoos, including “BABY DOLL” across her knuckles, in which her nails—each one strikingly different—are the culmination of her visual transfiguration. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Spectator Sports/Museum of Contemporary Photography

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Julie Henry, "You'll Never Walk Alone," 1999

Julie Henry, “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” 1999


In the world of sports, spectators are fanatics. And fanatics can only grasp the seemingly unexplainable psychical prowess of professional athletes as artful renditions of otherworldly beings. The media, on the other hand, is complicit in the creation of these false idols. Their job is to provoke a calculated emotional response on the spectator and to have them spend their hard-earned cash on trivialities worn or endorsed by their idols.

Canadian artist Brett Kashmere responds sarcastically to the ways in which spectators place their hopes on the shoulders of these false heroes. In “Anything But Us Is Who We Are,” from 2012, a diptych that consists of a burned LeBron James Cavaliers jersey and a flat screen displaying the video game NBA 2K10, we see LeBron’s digital clone acting like a puppet, locked in perpetual practice mode on the center of the court, dribbling the ball while giving his back to his fan base. Perhaps proof that money means much more to professional sports than civic pride and loyalty. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Rising Up: Hale Woodruff’s Murals at Talladega College/Chicago Cultural Center

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Founded by former slaves in 1867, Talladega College, in Alabama, commissioned six murals for their new library in 1939. Three panels tell the story of Africans aboard the slave ship Amistad, their successful revolt and legal aftermath. The other three panels commemorate the Underground Railroad, the founding of the college, and the building of the library in which the murals were installed. It’s an epic that begins with violence and ends with constructive cooperation toward higher education. The artist was Hale Woodruff (1900-1980), professor of art at a historically black college in Atlanta. He had attended art schools in Indianapolis, Chicago, Cambridge and Paris, and spent a summer in Mexico with Diego Rivera. Read the rest of this entry »

Portrait of the Artist: Shawn Decker

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photo by Soohyun Kim

photo by Soohyun Kim

The brass rods shudder as the wind sweeps through the prairie. Steel grasshoppers click in the tall grass. A small mole cricket snaps its wings. And rain falls metallic on black soil.

In the sound installation “Prairie,” currently on exhibit in the Yates Gallery at the Chicago Cultural Center, artist Shawn Decker composes an abstract symphony of microcontrollers, computers, motors and recycled cellphone speakers. Subtle algorithms echo the dynamic movement and rhythm of the Illinois grasslands.

Decker grew up at the end of a dirt road in Western Pennsylvania. He remembers canoeing down the Susquehanna River, camping in the hills of the Allegheny Plateau, and watching the flutter of cardinals and blue jays in the trees outside his window. His artistic practice involves making meticulous tape and phonograph recordings in order to deconstruct rhythmic and spatial patterns of sound. He says, “The algorithms I compose are derived from natural processes. I often use configurations of Brownian motion of particles or fluctuations of 1/f noise to translate and reimagine the sound of leaves falling on the ground or raindrops hitting a blade of grass.” Read the rest of this entry »

Review: They Seek a City: Chicago and the Art of Migration, 1910-1950/Art Institute of Chicago

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Walter Ellison, "Train Station," 1935

Walter Ellison, “Train Station,” 1935


The flight from oppression makes such a compelling, if predictable, story; it has been made the primary theme of this exhibition about the art of Chicago’s immigrants in the first half of the twentieth century. Since Jews have been fleeing oppressors ever since the time of Pharaoh, Chicago Jewish artists dominate the exhibition. Thanks to loans by local collectors, especially Bernard Friedman, there are many fascinating works by Todros Geller, Morris Topchevsky, Misch Kohn, Max Kahn, Aaron Bohrod, David Bekker, Rifka Angel, Fritzi Brod, Emil Armin, Leon Garland and Moholy-Nagy.

The eye-opener for me was the prints and paintings of Bernice Berkman. Her career in art was brief, but she really had a fiery spirit and a remarkable empathy not only for her own people but for displaced African Americans as well. (She ended up marrying one and running a wallpaper company with him in NYC). Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Herbert Ferber/Valerie Carberry Gallery

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HF123_lgYou might not guess that Herbert Ferber (1906–1991) was a dentist by looking at his paintings and sculptures, yet it’s not hard to see the impact of one career upon the other. His metal sculptures have twisting sharp edges that slice through space, and his ominous paintings feature large saw teeth that seem immersed in a viscous, red or yellow streaked liquid. You couldn’t call him a hobbyist. He pursued an education and practice in both careers simultaneously from the very beginning, and since he was interested in gestural, abstract sculpture decades before it could become lucrative, he needed another source of income. Read the rest of this entry »

Eye Exam: Train-of-Thought Curating

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Project Projects' "Test Fit"

Project Projects’ “Test Fit”

By Jason Foumberg

A new method of curating diverges from the standard model of curator-as-expert, but instead of watering down the practice by crowd-sourcing, this new train-of-thought curating culls from the seemingly endless stream of digital images in order to casually organize them. The exhibition is infinite. Image-sourced exhibitions, whether in real gallery spaces or online, tend to flatten the collected images and emphasize their logic of connections. It’s a loose logic. The organizational flow emphasizes the personality of the organizer, as well as the conditions of browsing and receiving images in a fast-paced viewing environment, rather than the slow contemplation of single images or masterpieces.

This is the case in “Test Fit,” an experimental exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago, facilitated by the museum’s curatorial department of design in which the NYC-based graphic design team Project Projects (composed of Rob Giampietro, Prem Krishnamurthy and Adam Michaels) plucked images from the museum’s permanent collection database and arranged reproductions of art objects—paintings, drawings, decorative objects and more—into an idiosyncratic display in the Modern Wing. No original art objects are included, the walls are painted mental-institution blue, and the reproduced images are all printed in black-and-white, at their original sizes. The effect of the associative image collection is almost convincing as a romp through Project Projects’ brain, but it’s their object labels that are most original. Accompanying Laszlo Moholy-Nagy’s “Nuclear 1, CH,” the label reads: “This is a painting of the end of the world. What is your strongest memory of the sky? In the city, it always looks like an illusion.” Each image is appended with these daydream narratives. The real Moholy-Nagy painting can be viewed downstairs, in another exhibition. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Picasso and Chicago/Art Institute of Chicago

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"The Old Guitarist," 1902–04.

“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 »