Lynn Saville, “West 125th St, NYC”
The accent is on the aesthetic surface rather than the depiction of the subject in the contrasting approaches of architectural photographers Lynn Saville and Reuben Wu, both of whom shoot structures at middle distance and in color, and each investing their subjects with a distinct sensibility.
A visual commentator on the great recession and its ravages, Saville goes out at night to capture eviscerated stores through their plate-glass fronts, bathed in glowing electric light verging on garish neon; her subjects are not yet ruins, but they could become so if economic recovery does not reach them. The play between the dazzling come-on of the light show and the abandoned commercial spaces creates a pure seductive effect; there is nothing behind the gleaming visual wrapping, no baubles to buy.
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“Bottles and Jars XXXIII,” oil on canvas, 2013
Peri Schwartz likes to paint bottles—not the curvaceous, off-white, mysterious kind painted by Giorgio Morandi, but the straight-edged, clear glass kind that reveals the solid bright colors of the liquid within—predominantly red, orange and yellow. She began her career with confrontational self-portraits back in the 1970s, and she seems to be continuing that project without the outer anatomy. Isn’t each human body an assembly of liquid filled containers? Schwartz’s rectangular containers are tightly ordered, but still there’s a restless quality suggesting that she’s never quite satisfied with them. Read the rest of this entry »
“Portrait of Kenneth Koch,” oil on linen, c. 1966
Jane Freilicher is a poet’s painter or at least that’s how her poet friends from the 1950s have characterized her. As the current exhibit at the Poetry Foundation demonstrates, Freilicher returned the favor, rendering portraits of each of them, beginning with a full-figure oil portrait of Frank O’Hara. The year was 1951. Freilicher was twenty seven, O’Hara was twenty five, and avant-garde poetry, jazz and painting were erupting all over the Lower East Side of postwar New York. Frank wrote Jane a letter about an essay that was “really lucid about what’s bothering us both besides sex.” It was Paul Goodman’s manifesto that summer in the Kenyon Review, touting the “advance-guard artist” who is “especially concerned with dissolving the introjected (imperfect, unsatisfactory) society.” That letter, as well as other correspondence and collaborations with poet friends, is now also on display at the Poetry Foundation. Read the rest of this entry »
“Snake Girl,” circa 1960
Back in the day when Detroit was Motown, making Thunderbirds and coating the cosmos with pop soul, Bill Rauhauser was out on the streets with his camera, funky as one can get, shooting freak-show signage, a Shriners parade, teenagers cavorting in the lake, ordinary undignified people and musicians plying their trade, all in black and white, and all with an indulgent tongue-in-cheek smile. Those were the days, it would seem, although the other sixties—the riots and the protests—presaged the post-industrial pit into which the city has fallen, at least in the public mind. Read the rest of this entry »
Clarissa Bonet, untitled, 2013
“Chicago Style,” curated by Matthew Avignone (of The Coat Check gallery), this group show of sixty-eight images by thirty-four emerging photographers from Chicago and its surrounding region packs a hard visual punch—never easy, comfortable or conventional, but also never mordant, preachy, sentimental, nostalgic or horrific. There is no common sensibility; there is a shared vitality that left this viewer with a lasting infusion of energy, and an edge that is never softened by pictorialist dreaminess: This is Chicago as we often like to think of it. Ranging from straight realism to abstraction, all of the images are technically accomplished and most of all have involving and freshly rendered subjects that we have seen before but never as they appear here. The abstractions dominate the show, because they communicate the intensity that unifies it without diluting the impact with ordinary associations. Read the rest of this entry »
“09 11 19, 2010,” from the series “Mum”
Straight out of the Lone Star State, hyper-postmodern Texas photographer Nancy Newberry turns her sophistication back on its kitschy roots, offering staged color scenario portraits of subjects enacting the ritual of wearing American-pop-baroque ornamented garb or crowded-collaged corsages dominated by mums for events like homecoming day. The enactment of Newberry’s concept could take myriad forms: a dignifying humanist treatment (impossible for her), the former with tongue in cheek, a sarcastic stereotyped put down, and so on. Newberry’s particular sensibility is centered in a gentle sense of the ridiculous that allows her to save her postmodern conscience and creds, and to stay on the nice side of the line between irony and mockery. A good example of Newberry’s brand of visual wit is her scenario of a young adolescent girl standing erect on a sloping shingled roof, barefooted and draped in her flowing, consuming corsage with its copious ribbons covering her; the expression on her face betrays some apprehension that has not yet become panic, a sense of unsteadiness that is quite understandable given her situation. With that image, Newberry alerts us that she has placed herself at the antipodes of the cultural documentary and the humanist portrait, opting for postmodern play with the cultural practice, emptied of reverence and nostalgia. Read the rest of this entry »
“My dreams came true the day I did hair for a fashion show,” 2013
Jennifer Greenburg is the Cindy Sherman of our post-feminist times. A consummate performance photographer, Greenburg has all of Sherman’s wit and irony, put to the purpose of a girl just trying to have fun. Of course, post-feminism was around way before that term came into fashion; think Cyndi Lauper. Greenburg has a different and decidedly visually delectable way of parading her seemingly inexhaustible personae. Make no mistake, the black-and-white images in her project of “revising history” put her as the star in her scenarios, with the other members of the cast playing supporting roles, though they never would have known that they would be drafted for that duty. What Greenburg has done is Read the rest of this entry »
“Composition 10,” 2012. 4 x 4 inches, gouache on paperboard.
Even in the world of miniature paintings, the work of Nicholas Sistler is rather small. Every piece in his current exhibition measures four inches on a side. There’s no way his paintings are going to enter your world; you’ve got to focus in on his. As gallery trippers may recall, his 2012 show at Firecat Projects featured interior scenes with suggestions of sexual anxiety. The neat, nondescript, smooth surfaces in strong primary colors echoed the décor of fast-food restaurants, and human figures appeared as flat images tacked up on the imaginary walls, often suggesting furtive sexual obsession, depicted with the off-kilter angularity of a comic-book crime scene. Oh, for a breath of fresh air!
Such representational imagery is mostly absent from this exhibition, but the intensity is still there. The artist has moved into a kind of geo-form abstraction where a community of distinct patterns, sometimes more suggested than completed, happily coexist even as they move outward toward the edges to escape their confinement. Isn’t this a fine metaphor for modern, secular, creative urban life? Read the rest of this entry »
Bill Traylor (1854-1949) may be the most accidental of accidental artists. Born into slavery on the Traylor plantation of Alabama, at the age of eighty-five he was homeless in Montgomery, spending his days on the street, making drawings with found materials. Eventually, some artists, dealers and folklorists found him, and posthumously he became an iconic figure in American outsider art. I’m not sure that the pieces now being shown at Carl Hammer Gallery, who first brought his work to Chicago thirty years ago, would have established that reputation. They’re mostly simple, quick sketches of one or two figures, less complex than his multi-figure narratives. Read the rest of this entry »
“Red Eye,” 2012
Outside the gallery world, graffiti is a common visual expression of youthful exuberance. Its isolated, calligraphic intensity is just like the young person who made it—demanding the recognition of personal self-expression, context be damned. That same reckless and almost unbearable intensity can be found in the first Chicago solo exhibition of Sarah Sohn, a recent MFA graduate from SAIC. Her brushwork is calligraphic, with a single, ornate character smack in the middle of a blank canvas, overwhelming the edges. But the aggressiveness is quite different. It’s less like the angry waving of an arm than the healthy, happy, slithering convolutions of an intestinal tract. The results are a bit disgusting, but her bravura brushwork is so suggestive and translucent, you can’t stop following it. It’s the love song of the inner organs. Read the rest of this entry »