Reviews, profiles and news about art in Chicago

Review: Edra Soto/Terrain

Oak Park, Sculpture No Comments »


Quoting British artist Liam Gillick: “Art is a convenient term for a mid-space location where you don’t need cultural permission to carry out certain corrective tasks in relation to society in general.” As an artist known for his fences and screens, as well as public interventions, his work seems like a worthwhile point of departure for a high-art take on Edra Soto’s magnificent iron porch-screen, “Graft,” an outdoor re-creation at Oak Park’s Terrain space of similar decorative security fences on porches throughout Soto’s native Puerto Rico. The “corrective task” might be the integration of this semi-diverse neighborhood in a highly segregated region. And yet a fence, especially one that evokes a filigreed cage, clearly sends a message about boundaries. Thus the term “graft,” probably intended horticulturally, resonates nicely in a town where corruption perpetuates inequity. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Sheila Pepe/He Said She Said

Oak Park, Sculpture 1 Comment »

photo by Paul Germanos


In what has turned out to be domestic art space He Said She Said’s last exhibition, Sheila Pepe presents the ongoing project “Common Sense.” In it Pepe exhibits an especially sensitive intervention into the living space. Her work suspends looping strands of crochet and shoelace from the living room, entryway and dining room. The low-hanging web physically connects the spaces with its languid gesture. In her recent projects, the artist has involved the participants in the creation of the work. For He Said She Said, part of the looping installation links up with a collection of playful art objects created by the child of the house.

Elsewhere, the shoelace and crochet intersect in connections that support, uphold and create the structure of the form. These connections are frequently tied in ways similar to shoes, where it is apparent that a single pull would release the tension and collapse the shape. As such, there is an air of contingency in the work, aside from its corporeal, weighted quality. Adding to this transient feeling, Pepe encourages participants at the end of each installation of “Common Sense” to unravel part of the work and take away the material for their own purposes.

Drawing significant inspiration from an artistic matrilineage that includes works like Faith Wilding’s crocheted environments, Sheila Pepe’s architectural intervention updates and extends their concerns. Here the notion of communal connectivity, of material poised sympathetically amongst spaces inhabited by living bodies, yet without the rising to the coercive force of solidified architecture, is posited as an ideal. What better way to celebrate (though perhaps unintentionally on the artist’s part) the life of an exhibition and conversation space that was itself temporary, inhabited and bred new forms of connectivity across disciplinary boundaries. (Dan Gunn)

Through May 14 at He Said She Said, 216 North Harvey, Oak Park. Open by appointment.

Review: Carroll Dunham/He Said-She Said

Drawings, Oak Park 1 Comment »


The naked bathing woman, like the wine-and-bread still life, is one of those enduring standards of modern painting. Presumably it has been just a matter of multitasking necessity, as the artist likely consumes his subject after completing the painting. Naked bathers have shed their clothes in front of Picasso, Cezanne, Degas, Renoir and so many others. The bather got a major update in the sixties, in the hands of Tom Wesselmann, and now, as taken up by Carroll Dunham, the bather gets wet and nasty. Neither perverse not pornographic, Dunham presents the traditional bather subject as a straightforward, monumental picture of sex, undressed. Dunham’s bathing woman is not Venus, nor weepy muse, nor Nature personified; she is all tit and cunt, like an animal. The genitals are tightly cropped, depicted with energetic strokes in pencil, watercolor and oil pastel on small sheets of paper. These are sketches for large paintings, concurrently hanging at Gladstone Gallery in New York. Here, fifty or so drawings hang in clusters on the living-room and dining-room walls of artist Pamela Fraser’s home in Oak Park. It’s almost impossible to disconnect the setting from the subject; a single-family home on this broad, tree-lined residential street houses rough and ripe depictions of sexuality. To encounter each is an entirely intimate matter. (Jason Foumberg)

Through November 14 at He Said-She Said, 216 N. Harvey, Oak Park, by appointment.

Review: Guy Richards Smit/He Said-She Said

Drawings, Oak Park, Painting No Comments »


Guy Richards Smit’s new videos are compelling to watch, even though nothing much happens during any of them. In “Urinal Girl,” a very adult-looking “schoolgirl” looks on dreamily as a young man pees. Eyebrows cocked, he looks back at her, clearly getting off on being watched. Toward the end, she appears bored, and the guy wipes flop-sweat from his brow. In another video, a physician communicates bad news to a patient by donning a red clown nose and dancing a halfhearted jig, while a third depicts a painter, her elaborately costumed female model and a mysterious dominatrix-like figure surveying the proceedings. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Michael Stickrod/He Said/She Said

Multimedia, Oak Park 1 Comment »


He Said/She Said is a project space devoted to the exchange of ideas between art and daily life, so it’s hard to imagine a better setting for Michael Stickrod’s work. It’s located in the Oak Park home of artists Pamela Fraser and Randall Szott, who take turns curating in a back-and-forth manner. Fraser gravitates toward contemporary art practice, while Szott pushes those boundaries by focusing on cultural phenomena that may fall outside the realm of art proper, such as found grocery list collections or lectures on eating locally.  Stickrod represents a convergence of the two perspectives: he’s a young artist who has shown at various galleries and at the New Museum, but his work focuses mostly on his personal life, often taking the form of vacation movies, family photographs, painted ceramic plates and other “amateur” practices that tend to be relegated to attics and basements. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Shane Aslan Selzer/The Suburban

Installation, Oak Park No Comments »


Self-loathing and the sensual caress of hard against soft, flesh against flesh, are starkly juxtaposed in Shane Aslan Selzer’s ultra-cryptic video installation titled “Here is Where it Is, Between Us,” at The Suburban. Selzer’s piece relies on a broken-down clothes rack as its main armature, a structure from which hangs a thing called a snaffle which is used as a taming bit, along with a scuffed-up gold strap, a knot of cheap jewelry, a pair of busted sunglasses, and three repellent strips of well-populated flypaper. A small gold foil-paneled screen creates a partially obscured space suggestive of a dressing room or stage wing. The stop-motion video depicts two hands, one small, female and white, the other larger, male and black, tossing objects (a paintbrush, a hammer, an open switchblade) that appear deceptively feather-light as they float downwards. Occasionally the hands brush against each other as the objects are exchanged.

Selzer’s installation is an intuitive and self-reflective exercise in looking, seeing and, yes, in feeling, a soiled and vaguely sadomasochistic apparatus that encompasses the entire room, from the coiled electrical cord powering the projection to the cold, hard floor you’re standing on. It’s incredibly off-putting and intractable, a conceptual tease that refuses to deliver the goods. But if we quit trying to make it all add up and instead let the contradictory associations and affects it evokes wash over us, the piece becomes strangely liberating, too. It’s in the combustive abrasion of expectation and experience that the “Where” of Selzer’s title is found. (Claudine Isé)

Through March 12 at The Suburban, 125 North Harvey Avenue, Oak Park. By appointment.

Review: Andrew Falkowski and Karl Erickson/The Suburban

Multimedia, Oak Park No Comments »


Titled “Give the Past the Slip of La Mancha,” Andrew Falkowski and Karl Erickson’s collaborative project at The Suburban slices through masculine stereotypes, idealized historical myths and authoritative language systems with a keen eye for how time’s passage reduces even the most hallowed cultural icons into figures of kitsch. The drawings and text-and-image collages that form the show’s bulk feature nerd-mascot Booji Boy, cut-out knights in ornamental armor, and quotations drawn in billboard block or ransom-style lettering. And yet, despite the freewheeling mix of cultural references from DEVO to Don Quioxte to the Who, Falkowski and Erickson’s collaboration lacks the visual pleasure and ironic punch that each delivers on his own or occasionally together, as in their series of competing Hogans Heroes and M*A*S*H portraits.  Both artists use tropes of failed boomer idealism to make visually compelling and conceptually convincing works—Erickson’s latch hook rug portraits and Falkowski’s colorful hostage-note text paintings come foremost to mind—but their project here never quite transcends a stilted cut and paste aesthetic. It feels like the artists are working out ideas to be fleshed out later—and maybe separately. That think-tank aspect is fine, and appropriate for a space devoted to experimentation. But it may disappoint those expecting more from these provocative cultural ransackers. (Claudine Isé)

Through March 12 at The Suburban, 125 North Harvey Avenue, Oak Park. By appointment.

Fall Openings: Art Not Necessarily for Sale

Oak Park, Pilsen No Comments »
John Riepenhoff's poster design at Suburban

John Riepenhoff's poster design at Suburban

Many new and established art galleries function as gallery spaces and homes. Outside the clusters of galleries, these spaces, such as Pilsen’s Antena, Oak Park’s Suburban and Albany Park’s Swimming Pool Project Space make room for art beside the furniture. Profit is not the motive; rather, it’s all about exposure, for artists and viewers, and creative expression. “We have an art world that doesn’t value artists,” notes Michelle Grabner, co-owner of the nine-year-old Suburban gallery. “Dealers and curators are running the shots, artists really don’t have the kind of control and decision making they once had.”

Filling that void, art spaces such as Suburban and Antena allow artists free reign in terms of artistic and curatorial control. Antena, a new space that opened in March, is run out of founder Miguel Cortez’s apartment. “Artists are allowed to repaint the walls, transform the space for a show,” Cortez says, who shifted focus to his new space after running Pilsen’s Polvo gallery for years. Polvo continues to publish a quarterly magazine with artist profiles.

Art openings at both Suburban and Antena provide a gathering spot for the arts community. At Suburban, openings now take place on Sunday afternoons in the yard of Grabner’s house, with bratwurst and beer during the warm months, coffee and sweets during the winter. Antena’s openings, which take place in Cortez’s apartment, are equally informal. And through these events artists gain access to networks and visibility.

“We are neither a commercial nor a non-profit space,” notes Grabner. And the same goes for Antena, which aims to be a forum for artists in need of a middle ground alternative space.

Swimming Pool Project Space, opened July 2008, appearing as a commercial storefront, provides a springboard for emerging contemporary artists from Chicago and abroad. Pool parties—openings that take place around the glossy blue wooden floor that resembles a swimming pool—provide a place for artists and community members to interact. “This where people meet, artists or not, it’s public space where conversation occurs, not a bar but an art space,” says co-owner Liz Nielsen. The next exhibition, “Video as Video: Rewind to Form,” is curated by art critic Alicia Eler and artist Peregrine Honig, and opens September 20. (Marla Seidell)

Review: Danny Mansmith/Ridge Art

Multimedia, Oak Park 1 Comment »


Chicago’s Danny Mansmith shines in a perplexing and strange light in this eclectic collection of four fabric artists. The initially endearing story of Mansmith’s mom and grandmother teaching the young suburban boy to sew takes a darker tone when realization hits that this little boy wearing hand-sewn clothes was the ill-fated societal outcast. Though Mansmith’s wall-hung pieces like “Sewnland” breathe love and warmth, his large yarn human form, “Dark Doll,” is simply terrifying in a deliciously frightening and wonderful way. Also from Chicago, Deb Herman creates exceedingly intricate pieces—her tribute to 9/11 being the standout of her collection. Natividad Amador, famed Mexican fabricist, rarely shows north of the border so this could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see her colorful skills. The unusual fabric sculptures of Veronique Leriche Fischetti depict Haitian Vodou stories. Knowledgeable gallery founder Laurie Beasley can retell each of the extraordinary tales behind the baby doll and fabric sculptures. There isn’t anything amiss among these four textile artists—a refreshing occurrence at a group show. (Rachel Turney)

“Fabrics and Fabricators” shows at Ridge Art, 21 Harrison Street, Oak Park, (708)848-4062, through September 14.

Review: I Draw Pictures/The Nerve Gallery

Multimedia, Oak Park No Comments »


The Nerve Gallery sits in the original location of the first gallery to open in the Oak Park Arts District twelve years ago. Ten artists are part of the Nerve Gallery cooperative and “I Draw Pictures” features works from the members and the mixed media of eleven guest artists. The exhibit is extremely diverse, but there are a few standouts. Ann Pasteur, a local teacher and member of the cooperative, shows a collection of large watercolors depicting strong and beautiful imagery on women’s issues, incorporating visions of the womb and fetus. Her pieces have all the power of a Frida Kahlo, but Pasteur uses muted colors and soft lines. Pasteur also sells small, single character paintings for an obtainable $25-$35. Bruce MacMartin uses the inner workings of mechanical devices such as phones and clocks to create unique sculpture pieces. MacMartin creates wall-hung pieces as well as freestanding sculptures in the likeness of humans. Steve Perkins, primarily a comic-book artist, shows a beautiful group of digitally arranged pieces. Sara Jones exhibits a collection of portraits of the victims of Jack the Ripper and Sarah McNeil uses punched paper to layer her pieces and create a distinctive textured look to her drawings. There are dozens of other drawings, paintings and sculptures on display at The Nerve Gallery, the best time to visit is the third Friday of every month when Oak Park hosts The Third Friday Gallery Walk. (Rachel Turney)

Through August 15 at The Nerve Gallery, 43 Harrison St., Oak Park. (708)383-0027.