Reviews, profiles and news about art in Chicago

News: 2nd Terrain Biennial Sprawls Far Beyond the Suburbs

Architecture, Design, Galleries & Museums, Installation, Media & Genres, Multimedia, News etc., Oak Park, Performance, Public Art, Sculpture 1 Comment »
"Night Terrain" by artist Kate McQuillen and curated by Claudine Ise for the 2nd Terrain Biennial. Located at 817 South Highland Avenue, Oak Park.

“Night Terrain” by artist Kate McQuillen and curated by Claudine Ise for the 2nd Terrain Biennial. Located at 817 South Highland Avenue, Oak Park.

Playfully eschewing stereotypes of pink flamingos and garden gnomes, the 2nd Terrain Biennial is dedicated to featuring interventions into the conventional landscape of front yards by emerging as well as established artists who have been invited to create site-specific works. Founded in 2011 by Chicago artist Sabina Ott, contributing artists are selected for their ability to challenge the space between public and private, function and decoration and figure and ground.

This year’s biennial takes an international scale, but remains centered in the Chicago suburb of Oak Park across from Longfellow Middle School on Highland Avenue. Unlike many alternative exhibitions, these public artworks will be accessible at all times. According to Ott, one of the goals of the exhibition was to engage pedestrians, visitors, teachers, students and neighbors with myriad forms of contemporary art. Another goal with “Terrain 2.0” was to expand the scope beyond Oak Park. Read the rest of this entry »

Eye Exam: Authority, Affirmations and Other Nomenclature

Ceramics, Drawings, Installation, Multimedia, Oak Park, Painting, Sculpture, West Loop, Wicker Park/Bucktown 2 Comments »
Nate Young. Installation view of "Untitled (Pulpit No. 1)," 2014, and "Untitled (Altar No. 1)," 2015

Nate Young. Installation view of “Untitled (Pulpit No. 1),” 2014, and “Untitled (Altar No. 1),” 2015

By Matt Morris

Is art that appears to be “about art” ever only limited to that scope of investigation? I’d say it’s doubtful, mostly because mechanisms of power reproduce themselves throughout social institutions, so to reflect upon the constitutive components of an artistic medium (as well as its historical and contemporary contexts) possesses at least the potential of a transferrable method by which one might fashion new freedoms—not through a rebellion from upheld traditional forms but through critical relationships to them. The monochrome continues to do this. Distilled to an uninterrupted plane, color, texture, scale and the tools for applying material (all usually in some way present in most artworks) are amplified, inviting investigation into the parts that comprise the art. In the best of cases, consideration of the conditions of display is inspired as well. The monochrome as a form also holds up under projections: historically used for such diverse conceptual conceits as Suprematism, color field painting, the “radical painting group,” and most recently one of several working modes bizarrely attributed by Ken Johnson to “soccer mom” aesthetics. A century after Kazimir Malevich painted his canvas “Black Square” in 1915, artists continue figuring out how to take apart the language of art-making so that the parsed vocabulary can speak to the power of the entire system. Read the rest of this entry »

News: The Suburban Reopens Gallery Space This Weekend

News etc., Oak Park No Comments »
The newly mended structure of the Suburban in Oak Park

The newly mended structure of the Suburban in Oak Park

Over the past two weeks, Michelle Grabner has been sending me image updates on the reconstruction taking place on the small freestanding building that serves as one of the two gallery spaces for the Suburban, the prominent humble-but-mighty exhibition space she operates in her backyard with her husband and collaborator, the painter Brad Killam. I’ve received word that the building has been refurbished just in time to resume being used in presenting artwork this weekend. On Sunday, November 2, they will open exhibitions of work by Alan Belcher and Joel Otterson with a reception from 2pm-4pm. The Green Gallery Oak Park, a third small room in the architectural cluster in which the smartly curated Milwaukee space presents artist projects, will open an exhibition with Jennifer Bolande. These exhibitions will remain on display through December 12, viewable by appointment after the opening.
Read the rest of this entry »

Lise Haller Baggesen’s Mothernism: Extended Web Exclusive Interview

Activist Art, Installation, Multimedia, Oak Park, Painting, Pilsen 1 Comment »
Lise Haller Baggesen. "Mothernism," 2013-14, mixed media audio installation, during one of the artist's readings at Ordinary Projects

Lise Haller Baggesen. “Mothernism,” 2013-14,
mixed media audio installation,
during one of the artist’s readings at Ordinary Projects

On October 2, I previewed Lise Baggesen’s “Mothernism” installation at Ordinary Projects in the Mana Contemporary building (2233 South Throop in Pilsen). We took off our shoes and climbed into the tent that serves as an interactive centerpiece to the exhibition. What follows is an abridged version of our rich conversation about “Mothernism” the book and the artwork. (Matt Morris)

Newcity: What compelled you to write “Mothernism”?

Lise Baggesen: The book grew out of my thesis project, and the funny thing was that actually at the time the book was not supposed to have been written, because I was trying to escape making a formal written thesis. Visual and Critical Studies is a part of Art History [at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago], so a lot of the people in it, probably half of the group, went through it in a purely theoretical, academic track, and a lot of them have moved on to PhDs now. The other half of us had studio practices, but I think I was the only one in the group with a really long studio practice before I came to VCS.

At some point I got really frustrated, particularly in the first year there was so much emphasis on the theory. They were still talking about this post-disciplinary and inter-disciplinary way, but they were more talking the talk than walking the walk, I found. And so I did a project in Joseph [Grigely]’s Research and Production class where I started using this alter ego. The first one was Alice B. Ross, and she’s more of a loner than the subsequent Queen Leeba. Leeba is more family-oriented than Alice is. Alice is more of a hermit recluse who will go back to the studio and make love only once, but dream and dream. Her notes to self really became about the studio practice as this space where your voices can live. She dabbles in theories about quantum physics and David Bowie and Doctor Seuss and ‘un-slumping’ yourself and how the studio practice can be that un-slumping’ and how it can also be the slump that you find yourself in.

That project really became an eye opener for me about how writing could become a part of my studio practice rather than just being the writing you do about your studio practice, through writing artist statements and all this stuff. Suddenly it was a point when the writing informed the work while it was being made and dared me to go places where I wouldn’t have done. For instance, Alice made these really big velvet Morris Louis glitter paintings. I was not sure about that, but Alice would totally do it. I was in conversation with this voice I’d put into the world that then became a type of daring.

The first half of writing the thesis in VCS is a lot of group talk, you know, group think—throwing it out there, pulling it apart. Kind of rigorous… I’ve just said ‘kind of rigorous’ which is terrible. What happened was that every time I brought motherhood into this kind of conversation, there were a lot of people among my peers that really wanted to shut the conversation down. They were like, ‘We don’t want to hear about this mothering here. You can’t bring it up as a feminist in art discourse. We don’t want to hear about it, and we don’t want to talk about it.’ Read the rest of this entry »

Portrait of the Artist: Tim Leeming

Artist Profiles, Oak Park, Painting No Comments »
Ted Leeming at a recent exhibition opening. Photo by Kelcey Leeming.

Tim Leeming at a recent exhibition opening/Photo: Kelcey Leeming

Tim Leeming paints to accommodate the world rather than escape or celebrate it. Though he shows with the Plein Air Painters of Chicago, his depictions of festering dumpsters beneath a gunmetal sky really don’t fit there. Rather than the qualities of sunlight and a nostalgic sense of place, he’s more about how life feels, and for the past five years he’s felt immersed in Chicago alleys, teeming with the energy of urban life, but not its bright and shiny side. As an attorney in the office of Cook County Public Defender, he’s more familiar with the world of drugs, murder, rape, robbery and mayhem.

While walking or driving through the city, Leeming hunts for views that satisfy his pursuit of compositional balance. When he can’t work on site, he snaps a photo, taking it back to the studio, a small corner in the basement of his family home, marked off by a strip of blue tape on the cement floor. He selects a limited, muted palette for each painting and then applies it in gutsy, calligraphic brush strokes to resolve whatever compositional elements are involved. Read the rest of this entry »

Expo Dispatches: Time To Go Home

Art Fairs, Oak Park, Photography, Public Art, Sculpture No Comments »
Karen Kilimnik. "the summer house," 2011, water soluble oil color on canvas (Barbara Mathes Gallery, Booth #312)

Karen Kilimnik. “the summer house,” 2011, water soluble oil color on canvas (Barbara Mathes Gallery, Booth #312)

I won’t be going out to the fair today. I imagine, though, that some of the Expo population will find their way out to Oak Park for an opening at the Suburban, for brats, beer, backyard chatter that just might be more about the Packers than an art fair packed to its rafters with haute consumption. From 2pm-4pm, the Chicago area’s favorite run-from-home alt gallery will present Pat Collier, Dennis Kowalski and Drew Heitzler’s work. I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to those proportions, that scale, this town.

By late morning on Wednesday, after the unveiling of Judy Ledgerwood’s Florida-inspired billboards, I was enjoying asking “So are you from Chicago?” much more than “Where are you traveling from?” Asked the former, many a gallerina or vaguely multi-ethnic fellow in a flamboyantly patterned shirt would scoff, grunt, answer quickly, “No, I live in New York/LA/not here.” Zachary Cahill told me Friday night that a favorite part of Expo, a quintessential Chicago aspect, is that hike through the mini-mall ruckus that comprises a typical day at Navy Pier. And definitely that stretch before reaching the exhibition hall is a great way to check yourself on how seriously you take any of this. Read the rest of this entry »

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 »