Reviews, profiles and news about art in Chicago

Review: Susan Burnstine/Berlanga Fine Art

Galleries & Museums, Photography, River North No Comments »
Susan Burnstine. "Impasse," 2010.

Susan Burnstine. “Impasse,” 2010.


A unique practitioner of straight photography, Susan Burnstine shoots her black-and-white cityscapes and landscapes using hand-made film cameras and lenses that she crafts out of plastic, parts from old cameras, and “random household objects.” The images made from these devices have some resemblance to those produced by the famous plastic Holga camera—imprecise, shadowed and clouded. They lack the fine gradations of gray scale and are slightly distorted, but they exude a great sense of solidity, belong firmly within the legacy of the Pictorialist tradition of the early twentieth century, which attempted to translate the aesthetics of Impressionist painting into photography. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Matthew Bender and Justin Nolan/Schneider Gallery

Galleries & Museums, Photography, River North No Comments »
Matthew Bender, "Piano, Penn Hills Resort," Archival Pigment Print, 24 x 30"

Matthew Bender. “Piano, Penn Hills Resort,” 2014
Archival Pigment Print, 24″ x 30″


In a self-conscious pairing of aesthetically similar bodies of photographic work with seemingly radically different sensibilities, this exhibit brings together Justin Nolan, who takes pictures of simulated faux nostalgic glamour (think of the interiors of Las Vegas commercial palaces—the very inspiration for postmodernism), and Matthew Bender, who shoots the insides of derelict buildings. The first impression upon entering the gallery space is that one is looking at a solo show. The images are all in color, limpid, clear and luscious, with elegant plays of light and shadow.  Read the rest of this entry »

Eye Exam: Remembering Ruth and Her Revolutionary Art Worlds

Collage, Drawings, Loop, Painting, River North, Sculpture No Comments »
Don Baum. "Untitled Silhouette/Cut Out Portrait of Ruth Horwich," ca. 1980, paint by number painting and other mixed media, 18" x 14.5" x 11" On view at Carl Hammer Gallery

Don Baum. “Untitled Silhouette/Cut Out Portrait of Ruth Horwich,” ca. 1980,
paint by number painting and other mixed media,
18″ x 14.5″ x 11″
On view at Carl Hammer Gallery

By Michael Weinstein

There is a tinge and twinge of sadness attending the viewing of the three concurrent exhibits showcasing the fabled collection of artworks amassed by Ruth Horwich and her husband Leonard over the last half century.

One cannot escape the sense that an era has ended. The Horwich collection is being broken up and cast to the four winds in the aftermath of Ruth Horwich’s death in July, 2014 at the age of ninety-four, preceded by Leonard’s passing in 1983. Her estate seeks to monetize the art. The choice pieces, from the viewpoint of marketability, by Alexander Calder and Andy Warhol, for example, have already been handled by Christie’s. Now we have an opportunity to see the rest of the collection, the non-Western indigenous artifacts at Douglas Dawson Gallery, and the works of the Chicago artists from the second half of the twentieth century—the backbone of the collection—at Carl Hammer Gallery and Russell Bowman Art Advisory. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Charles Swedlund/Stephen Daiter Gallery

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Charles Swedlund. "One Cent Antique Candy Bar Vending Machine (Four Figures)," ca. 1970, gelatin silver prints priced for a dime each, dispensed from vending machine

Charles Swedlund. “One Cent Antique Candy Bar Vending Machine (Four Figures),” ca. 1970,
gelatin silver prints priced for a dime each, dispensed from vending machine


In this overdue and welcome retrospective, we get to see a generous sampling of the multifarious bodies of experimental photographic work produced by the neglected master trickster, Charles Swedlund. Based in southern Illinois and schooled at the famed Institute of Design, Swedlund has plied his trades on the back roads. Had he been on the New York scene, he would have been a leading postmodern photo-artist, but obscurity fit better with his provincial temperament. He is ours. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Rim Lee/Japonais

Painting, Photography, River North No Comments »
Rim Lee. "Beyond Max Ernst No. 1."

Rim Lee. “Beyond Max Ernst No. 1.”

The subterranean “Blue Room Lounge” at Japonais is a dark, sleek, somewhat claustrophobic space, currently host to three photographs by Rim Lee, a project organized by Kasia Kay Gallery that shares in the space’s qualities. Each one centers on a pair of nude and nubile female torsos that sharply defines a sexual, but not a personal, identity. Like celebrants at a masked ball, their faces are not shown, so the various hips and breasts belong to a world of psychosexual fantasy more than to any particular person. In one image, the faces are turned away, staring at the artist’s own painting which depicts a disembodied, non-gendered human face emerging above a flaccid pillar. It’s an obvious reference to the work of Max Ernst, after whom this work, and the entire exhibition, has been named. But it may also represent an awkward self identity that hasn’t yet caught up with the sexual maturity of the figures staring at it. Indeed, there is something girlish about all three photographs that seem to rest between the comfortable, well-ordered world of a happy childhood—and the confusing, sometimes dangerous, world of adults. In the other two images, giant bird masks cover the heads of the two attractive nudes. Covered with fluffy down instead of feathers, the birds are more like oversized chicks than adults who have already flown the nest. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: European Edge/Berlanga Fine Art

Photography, River North No Comments »
Jan Saudek. "Ilary Make Up," 1983

Jan Saudek. “Ilary Make Up,” 1983


For the inaugural exhibition at his new photography gallery, Paul Berlanga has put together works of five leading European modernists: Lucien Clergue, György Kepes, Jan Saudek, Petra Skoupilová and Rutger ten Broeke, all in black and white, with the addition in Saudek’s case of subtle coloring. The “edge” referred to in the show’s title is decidedly surrealist, with the contributors using different strategies, approaches, and concepts to convey the visual strangeness, bordering and often falling into eeriness, that is surrealism’s hallmark.

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Review: Showcase/Schneider Gallery

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Rebecca Memoli. “The Mess We've Made,”  inkjet and acrylic on canvas, 15” x 10"

Rebecca Memoli. “The Mess We’ve Made,”
inkjet and acrylic on canvas, 15” x 10″


Among the nine photographers and photo-artists on display in Schneider Gallery’s clean new space, two newcomers, Rebecca Memoli and Doug McGoldrick, offer the most magnetic and arresting images by taking the timeworn move of painting or drawing on photos in new and provocative directions. Memoli, who does constructed tabletop still lifes, paints so finely and precisely on her base photographic image, which she has printed on canvas, that she succeeds in taking revenge on photo-realist painting, to the point of leaving indiscernible traces of the bare base image to show through the facade. The photo-realists simulated photography, whereas Memoli simulates painting. She also composes beguiling arrangements of objects, such as in “The Mess We’ve Made,” where we see a kitchen counter filled with dishes and utensils, some unwashed, lying on their sides in an elegant jumble, presided over by a poster of the bygone crooner, Mario Lanza. This is a scenario at which to stare in order to experience its humor. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Bill Frederick/Printworks Gallery

Painting, River North No Comments »
Bill Frederick. "Lightning, Port Austin," 2015 watercolor and ink, 38" x 71"

Bill Frederick. “Lightning, Port Austin,” 2015 watercolor and ink, 38″ x 71″


Bill Frederick takes us on a Midwestern road trip. But as in his previous shows, rather than showing us unusual or scenic vistas, we get the ordinary places that are impossible to avoid, like gas stations and strip-mall parking lots. Landscape painting usually offers an escape from the daily grind, where the human footprint, if any, fits smoothly into the natural order of things. But Frederick’s landscapes do not escape the jagged ends of human existence, and no matter how deep into the north woods he drives, he never gets far from the car. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Jungjin Lee/Andrew Bae Gallery

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Jungjin Lee. "Unnamed Road 014," 2011 archival pigment print  40 x 78.5 inches Ed. of 3

Jungjin Lee. “Unnamed Road 014,” 2011
archival pigment print, 40 x 78.5 inches, ed. of 3


Printing her large-format black-and-white landscape photographs on Korean rice paper, on which she has meticulously and elegantly brushed photographic emulsion, and then made digital prints of the images, Jungjin Lee produces haunting and faded yet distinct impressions of the deserts of Israel and the West Bank of Palestine in her “Unnamed Roads” series. There is not a hint of the political conflict that wracks the region in Lee’s work. Indeed, she has removed as much context as possible from her images by naming each one with only the exhibition’s title, although they sometimes depict cities, ruins and distinctive rock formations. Lee’s point is that current events are merely rippling sand swirls on the surface of an immovable human condition, in which past contingencies leave their marks that are subsumed under persistent particularized forms that she captures with her view camera. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: John Gossage/Stephen Daiter Gallery

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John Gossage. "Wihelmstr., (Berlin in the Time of the Wall)," 1988

John Gossage. “Wihelmstr., (Berlin in the Time of the Wall),” 1988


A visual poet, practicing photography in the classical modernist tradition of straight urban street studies, John Gossage has continued that line for more than three decades, not so much altering the genre as adding to its richness with technical embellishments and by projecting his particular sensibility into his images. Among Gossage’s many bodies of work, gallerist Stephen Daiter has chosen to display the artist’s black-and-white silver gelatin impressions of Berlin, Germany in the 1980s, and his current series of color photos, shot in Italy, of found arrangements of common objects—recalling still lifes—with a decidedly ramshackle and disordered look. Read the rest of this entry »