Reviews, profiles and news about art in Chicago

Review: Body and Soul/Addington Gallery, Jennifer Norback Fine Art, and Hilton/Asmus Contemporary

River Forest No Comments »

William Utermohlen

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“How does an artist visually translate soul?” asks artist/gallerist/poet Arica Hilton. It’s a difficult question in an era when everyone can be an artist and nobody has a soul unless she believes in one. Most of the work now showing in the three collaborating galleries is what one would expect to find in a juried summer art fair. It’s utterly outside the contemporary text-centered art world, but still it never moves beyond concept to command the visual. It offers the hint of a spiritual life beneath the surface rather than believable evidence of something more profound. Nothing miraculous will ever descend from Arica Hilton’s fragrant skyscapes, and Dan Addington’s awkward angels will never rise upward. The other work in these two artist-run galleries also seem to be more about ideas than visuality. Does modern man often feel lonely, empty, or absurd? Yes, he does, but didn’t we already know that? Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Fictional Landscapes/O’Connor Gallery at Dominican University

Drawings, River Forest, Sculpture 1 Comment »

Amy Honchell

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As fiber-based artists Amy Honchell and Young Cho reveal in statements about their respective practices, their works are shot through with personal meanings and associations: Honchell recalls the mountainous Pennsylvania landscapes of her childhood, and Cho elaborates an intimate mythology revolving around a recurring imaginary character. But the private origins of the pieces in “Fictional Landscapes,” now up at Dominican University’s O’Connor Gallery, are given over to something immediately accessible to viewers, thanks in part to the manner in which both artists use narrative elements to solicit audience engagement.

In one series of drawings, Honchell creates studies in postindustrial abstraction that exhibit an insectile elegance, the dark lineaments of skeletal machineries contrasting with brightly colored backgrounds. “Murmur, Sigh, Whisper,” meanwhile, is a sophisticated gesture of childhood delight in which the artist shapes ultrafine glitter into a scintillating hill topped by an ethereal structure—a dreamy vision of shimmering, granular materiality. Cho’s precisely rendered pencil drawings are spare, delicate and minutely detailed. The childlike figure that inhabits them—an intimidated everyman whose face is always hidden—engages in private rituals of loneliness against a vacuous white background. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: William Gropper & Milton Horn/Temple Har Zion

Multimedia, River Forest 1 Comment »

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It’s less than a mile north of the western terminus of the Green Line and it’s worth a visit to see two secular artists who discovered their Jewish spirituality in the wake of the Holocaust. The special exhibit here is of William Gropper (1897-1977), a hard-hitting political cartoonist for publications like “The New Masses” and “Daily Worker” as well as a worthy student of the Ash Can School of George Bellows and Robert Henri. The show includes some of his rare paintings on Jewish themes that he began to create, on an annual basis, after visiting a memorial to the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, as well as his illustrated map of American folklore that got him in big trouble with Joseph McCarthy and the HUAC. But especially it marks the fiftieth anniversary of the five stained-glass windows that he designed for this Conservative Temple in River Forest in 1966. Their creation is a fascinating story because this artist was much more a political activist than a pious Jew and he never made liturgical art before or after this project. And yet, there they are—an entire wall of luminescent glass telling the dramatic stories of Genesis from floor to ceiling, as the struggles of Abraham, Isaac and Joseph come to life. Also to be seen are the figurative relief sculptures that Milton Horn made for the temple a decade earlier. They were, and still are, highly controversial since they resemble the medieval Christian sculpture that Horn himself collected. But still, like Gropper, his figures are more about passionate human struggle than they are about the serene, celestial order of the great cathedrals. In the twentieth century, the Jewish faith has been much more comfortable with iconoclastic modernism, but here are some wonderful, and maybe unique, examples of another path taken by two very skilled Jewish artists. (Chris Miller)

Through November 30 at Temple Har Zion, 1040 N. Harlem, River Forest, (708)366-9000.

Cityscapes

Multimedia, River Forest, Wicker Park/Bucktown No Comments »

By Jason Foumberg

Gordon Matta-Clark cut up old buildings with a chainsaw. In 1974 he sliced a suburban house in half; in 1977 he cut teardrop-shaped openings in an office complex in Antwerp; in 1978 he bore circular holes through the soon-to-be renovated Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. All of these buildings were slated for demolition, and Matta-Clark capitalized on their demise to make his sculptures. As such, none of the artist’s ephemeral projects exist as they were made; one can only imagine what it might have been like to stand inside the cut-up structure and look down a hole through several floors below, or through telescoping holes in the walls that pointed skyward.

The collapse of inside and outside, ground and floor, was no doubt a dizzying experience, creating a view of architectural space like an architect’s nightmare. While fragments of the buildings are collected and exhibited, such as shingled roof corners or wall-papered drywall, it is the artist’s photo-collages that really capture the sensation of eye-tripping in a wholly new way. The photo-collages are not merely documentation, like most performance photography, for they mirror the experience of falling down the stairs, or of a foot momentarily upended by a lapse of gravity. It’s a struggle to see exactly how one room flows into another. Useful architectural design—bedroom, office, hallway—is destroyed. These three-dimensional exercises in deconstruction glorify apocalypse culture and violence, which were problems in Matta-Clark’s decade as well as ours. They also respond to specific problems of gentrification: what part of the old city will be forgotten when the new concrete is poured? Matta-Clark’s practice is often referred to as “cutting,” similar to a behavior found in adolescents with deep psychological problems. Self-inflicted, physical wounds bring traumatic pain to the surface. For cutters, the bloodbath replaces stranger pains. In Matta-Clark’s hands, destruction never looked so elegant.

The view of the city and its architecture is also at the heart of Caroline Picard’s collages. Here, a bird’s-eye view of highway interchanges and telephone wires serve as curvilinear arrangements, and layers of sharp-edged, colored cut-outs add up to a view from a vibrant stained-glass window. Art-historical references abound: shards of Futurism’s visionary modernism spin and glow; Robert Delaunay’s lyrical jazz aesthetic throbs and wails. Picard makes use of the city’s readymade Cubism, its jagged angles and swirling mobs, but like Henri Matisse’s paper cut-outs, never quite reach full abstraction. Here the head of the Hancock tower peeks out and there a Hokusai wave sputters forth. Where Matta-Clark sought to give form to emptiness in his city, Picard sees it filling up and blooming.

Perhaps no one exemplifies a taste for the skyline more than Wesley Willis, RIP. Alongside Matta-Clark and Picard, Willis’ view is the most traditional and straightforward. As is well known, he often perched atop freeway overpasses and sketched with colored pens. Buildings are rendered in simple cross-hatching, and the eye is led swiftly along highways and railways into downtown Chicago. Willis didn’t seem interested in early Chicago architecture, such as the quirky ornamentation found on the Fisher building or the subtle, graceful curves of the Monadnock. Rather, he preferred to move his hand in the straight lines of iconic modernism, all latitudes and longitudes, up and down, side to side. In this rote gesture he is caressing the city, and his respect for its thrust toward streamlined progress is apparent in every line.

Gordon Matta-Clark shows at the Museum of Contemporary Art, 220 East Chicago, (312)280-2660, through May 4. Caroline Picard shows at Around the Coyote, 1935 West North, (773)342-6777, through March 1. Wesley Willis shows at Dominican University’s O’Connor Art Gallery, 7900 Division Street, Lewis Hall, fourth floor, River Forest, (708)524-6597, through February 29.