Reviews, profiles and news about art in Chicago

Review: Joseph E. Yoakum/Carl Hammer Gallery

Drawings, Galleries & Museums, Media & Genres, River North No Comments »

Joseph E. Yoakum. "Paradice [sic] Range near Damascus Syria South East Asia 4/23-69," 1969. Colored pencil and ballpoint pen on paper, 11 3/4 x 19 inches.

Joseph E. Yoakum. “Paradice [sic] Range near Damascus Syria South East Asia 4/23-69,” 1969.
Colored pencil and ballpoint pen on paper, 11 3/4 x 19 inches.


Yoakum began making art at the age of seventy-six, when God told him to pick up a pen and begin drawing. Living on Chicago’s South Side, he made some two-thousand works before his death in 1972. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Marguerite Hohenberg and Medard Klein/Richard Norton Gallery

Drawings, Galleries & Museums, Painting, Prints, River North No Comments »
Marguerite Hohenberg. "Chronological #255," ca. 1945. Gouache on paper 21 x 21 inches.

Marguerite Hohenberg. “Chronological #255,” ca. 1945.
Gouache on paper, 21 x 21 inches.


Social Realism wasn’t the only artistic practice pushed to the curb by the onslaught of Abstract Expressionism in postwar America. The earlier styles of non-objective painting also became less fashionable, focusing more on making a modern world rather than on how dismayed or thrilled they felt to live in it. Marguerite Hohenberg (1883-1972) and Medard Klein (1905-2002) were two Chicago abstract artists who enjoyed national recognition in their heydays but vanished from view soon thereafter. In this show of works on paper, it’s Hohenberg’s transcendent colorism that captures the attention. The wife of an aristocratic Austrian stock broker, she was a late bloomer in the arts. She became an interior designer at age fifty-one, first showed her paintings at age fifty-four, and opened her own art gallery on Oak Street at age sixty-seven. Her level of craftsmanship is high, and the intensity, buoyancy and variety of her work suggests that she was enthusiastically making up for lost time. She left Austria at age six, but recreated the elegant, sensual, dynamic world of the Viennese Secession fifty years later in Chicago. It’s as if she had discovered an exciting new world, and was sharing her sense of wonder.

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Review: Field Study/David Weinberg Photography

Galleries & Museums, Photography, River North No Comments »
William Harper. “Transmigration”

William Harper. “Transmigration”


Organized loosely around the theme of environmental conservation, this juried show including photographs by thirty-seven artists is intended to address the question of what images can “tell us about our connection to nature in an age of rapid mutation and climate change.” Too diverse in subjects and approaches to convey a coherent message, “Field Study” is more accurately a survey of the main contemporary ways in which the natural and cultural objects and scenes in the world around us are represented photographically. Culled from more than 1,000 submissions by more than 300 artists, the works—mostly color, chosen by curators Katherine Ware and Meg Noe—run the gamut from constructivist to realist, beautiful to socially critical photography, funky to serious and experimental to conventional. As they are mixed on the gallery walls, the viewer is impelled to consider each image on its own merits. This compels a primarily photographic evaluation of the works, rather than reading them as components of a broader aesthetic or social milieu. Read the rest of this entry »

Eye Exam: Chicago is an Exquisite Corpse

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The thing that was sent to me in it's intended but unsettling orientation.

The thing that was sent to me in its intended but unsettling orientation.

By Elliot J. Reichert

The above image was sent to me anonymously in the middle of the night. Shocking as it appears, I was relieved to receive it. You see, weeks ago I had contacted a few artist friends to ask them to reflect on the upcoming fall art season in Chicago and to ask one to “take over” the task of appraising it. To my surprise, they were reluctant to describe it, even those who had exhibitions of their work opening in the coming weeks. Later, I realized that their silence was my doing, having asked a question that could produce no coherent answer.

Much like the drawing game made famous by the Surrealists, Chicago’s 2015 fall art season is an exquisite corpse—a thing of grotesque beauty that is the dream of no one, but the creation of many. At first glance, it appears sinister, like the Block Museum’s solo show of newly commissioned works by Chicago artist Geof Oppenheimer. Rumor has it that the sculptor has filled the museum’s ample galleries with austere and foreboding installations resembling the cinderblock constructions of grim institutions, like prison, or perhaps your corporate office. Even more menacing, Irena Haiduk, also Chicago-based and also exhibiting new work, will haunt the eaves of the Renaissance Society’s transformed gallery with the Sirens of Greek mythology, luring visitors unexpectedly into a debate on the revolutionary possibilities of art and social change amidst current political upheaval worldwide. Read the rest of this entry »

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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