Reviews, profiles and news about art in Chicago

Review: Abigail DeVille/Iceberg Projects

Installation, Rogers Park No Comments »

ICEBERGPROJECTS-AbigailDeVille-XXXXXXX-9089

RECOMMENDED

Abigail DeVille wages war upon space with all the multifariousness of Rogers Park in her exhibition, titled “XXXXXX.” The gallery’s location in Rogers Park is a stone’s throw from the original delineation between settlers and Native American tribes, and is set amidst the most heterogeneous neighborhood in a city whose dividing lines shine bright enough to be seen from outer space. “XXXXXX” is culled from the detritus of a disparate place, pieces thrown against one another in a display of beautiful violence that evokes both the fury and haunting pulchritude that is the inevitable result of the gnashing, bloody entropy and fornication of so many moving parts; creation is, by definition, a messy process, and DeVille does not shy away from the gore. Read the rest of this entry »

Art Break: Mess Hall Memories

News etc., Rogers Park 2 Comments »

messhallstorefrontLauren Weinberg did a fine job in Time Out documenting the basic facts around the shuttering this month of storefront community arts center Mess Hall’s decade of free offerings to the Rogers Park neighborhood and innumerable points beyond. Dan S. Wang gave a philosophical insider’s perspective on his Propositions Press blog. But, for someone who dragged my sorry carcass up north a paltry few times a year to a space that offered multiple unique events on most weekends, there are just so many memories that I associate with that tiny distant nook, that I am compelled, by way of elegy, to just indulge in something of a freeform brain-dump.

The first time I visited Mess Hall may have been for Thai activist-artist Vasan Sitthiket’s display of T-shirts; there were a series of presenters who talked about his work, which I witnessed mostly via audio while sitting on the floor within the clothesline-suspended forest of shirts. Alternately, it may have been when Temporary Services member Marc Fischer invited me to come and do a presentation about the hostile yet visionary 1980s Michigan hardcore band The Crucifucks, which accompanied Marc’s sermon on French punks Les Thugs. And there was Mike Wolf doing a slide show for perhaps over two hours on his experiences on foot wandering the Midwest during the summertime. I really regret missing Seattle artist and urban planner Sarah Kavage’s presentations on her “Industrial Harvest” project, where she bought and gave away one-thousand bushels of wheat. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Zoe Strauss/Iceberg Projects

Photography, Rogers Park No Comments »

RECOMMENDED

Appalled and infuriated by what she saw on the shoreline and in the waters abutting the Gulf Coast in the wake of the 2010 BP oil disaster, photographer Zoe Strauss was moved to document the scene in color so that no one who looked would fail to see that those who caused the debacle should be held responsible. An accomplished art photographer, Strauss had to avoid aestheticizing her subject if she wanted to get her message across; yet she also needed to and could not help but take strongly composed images that attract and even arrest the eye. The oil solves the problem for Strauss; in its various brownish-black hues, and through its slimy, viscous clumps and pools and spots, it seeps and spreads and oozes without discernible rhyme or reason, staining and splotching whatever it touches—it cannot evoke a sense of beauty, and Strauss makes sure it stays that way. In order to deliver a one-two punch, Strauss puts her images into a slide show and also displays them separately in large-format banner prints. Either way she drives her point home: it’s an abomination, just look. (Michael Weinstein)

Through August 20 at Iceberg Projects, 7714 North Sheridan

The Far-Flung Scene: Drawing Out the Chicago Art Landscape

Bronzeville, News etc., Pilsen, Rogers Park No Comments »

Cover art by Andre Guichard

By Jason Foumberg

A chronic criticism of Chicago’s art landscape is that, for a thriving urban center, its art venues and exhibitions spaces are too farflung across the city’s grid, and therefore largely inaccessible. A Chelsea-type stroll just isn’t possible in Chicago, and even if there are concentrated gallery districts in River North and the West Loop, they scarcely represent the full spectrum of the city’s visual art production. Our art scene has multiple centers with as many margins, and therefore many frontiers. Diane Grams’ new book, “Producing Local Color: Art Networks in Ethnic Chicago,” argues that Chicago’s island neighborhoods benefit from autonomous art production and consumption. The book offers three case studies—the Chicago neighborhoods of Bronzeville, Pilsen and Rogers Park—to describe how locally cultivated art scenes exist in relation to specific local issues, from real estate to crime, and to larger concerns of politics, civil rights and economic access.

For many years a common tactic in Chicago has been the domestic gallery. In 1961, several people decided to start a “home-based museum” on the South Side and called it the Ebony Museum to represent black history in Chicago. Twelve years later they moved locations and changed the name to the DuSable Museum of African American History. This boldly innovative domestic space only became culturally legitimate and publicly influential, writes Grams, when the institution was relocated into the city’s parkland alongside other major cultural institutions. Read the rest of this entry »

Eye Exam: Open House: Art Collectors as Curators

Hyde Park, News etc., Rogers Park No Comments »

"Living Room" at Swimming Pool Project Space

By Jason Foumberg

A new breed of curator is emerging: the art collector. It’s almost standard practice for private collections to make their way into public museums by way of vanity exhibitions, even if they sometimes cause controversy, such as the Greek entrepreneur Dakis Joannou’s current collection show at New York’s New Museum. More often than not, though, such shows barely register on the critical radar even though they (seemingly) violate some ethical boundary of public trust.

In Chicago, the city of alternatives, private exhibition spaces in domestic settings abound. This is the reverse of the Joannou conflict—inviting the public into private spaces—but it may mark a relaxing of those taut and fraught lines of art ownership.

On the grand scale, there’s The Richard H. Driehaus Museum in a River North mansion that houses its namesake’s decorative arts collection. On a smaller scale, but more profuse, are the dozens of citywide temporary art spaces found in apartments and homes. A couple of surprising new art spaces, in collectors’ homes, opens the door to a deeper understanding of the collector as curator. Read the rest of this entry »

Eye Exam: A Modern Nun

Prints, Rogers Park 2 Comments »
1963

1963

By Bert Stabler

This year marks the centennial of F. T. Marinetti’s Futurist Manifesto, as many art fans probably know. Somewhat fewer art fans may be counting down to next year’s anniversary of Pope Pius X’s 1910 encyclical, the “Oath Against Modernity,” which, while diametrically opposed to Marinetti in attitude, shares much of his fierce vision of an absolute and triumphant Reason. And, caught between (and somewhat after) these two grand phallic statements of the cultural epoch, we find the colorful, thoughtful, and humane artwork of Corita Kent, also known as Sister Mary Corita.

Kent was born in 1918, and attended Catholic schools in Los Angeles, joining the Order of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in 1938. She learned silkscreen printing while in graduate school for art history at the University of Southern California, and won a local art contest in 1952 held by the Los Angeles County Museum with a print titled “The Lord is with Thee.” In her work of this period, she used bold colors and a Picasso-esque appropriation of simplified gestural renderings of sacred illuminations and calligraphy.

1964

1964

She was eventually censured by the Los Angeles Archbishop, in keeping with the aforementioned “Oath Against Modernity,” and was told to stop rendering the human form in a contemporary style. In the 1960s, inspired by the civil rights movement and the progressive statements made in the Second Vatican Council, an expression of liberation theology that ran directly counter to the reactionary approach exemplified by Pius X, Sister Corita began making prints that combined large cropped commercial text, reminiscent of Pop Art, with handwritten quotes from literature, Scripture and politics that expressed her opposition to war, racism and economic inequality. In 1968 she left her order. She ended up leaving the Church, as well as the West Coast. She moved to Boston, where she made much more subdued work, and came to identify herself as a Jungian and a Buddhist. In 1985 one of her prints kicked off a long series of U.S. postage stamps, simply titled “Love”; she died of cancer the next year. Read the rest of this entry »

Eye Exam: A Night in Bohemia

Prints, Rogers Park 3 Comments »
Anti-War Dance poster, Artist Unknown, Undated Dill Pickle Club Records, Newberry Library

Anti-War Dance poster, Artist Unknown, Undated Dill Pickle Club Records, Newberry Library

By Jason Foumberg

In photographs from the nineteen-teens and twenties, all the men wear blazers, ties and hats, so it can be difficult to tell which are the young gentlemen and which are the hoboes, but one group shot, labeled “Typical Young Hoboes,” makes it clear that the room of fresh-faced men in black garb are not the high society set. One hundred or so years ago Chicago was a major stopping point for hoboes (migrant workers), tramps (migrant non-working) and bums (both non-migratory and non-workers), filling nickel-a-night flophouses on Madison Street and congregating in speakeasies in the evening.

Today the term “hobo” may simply mean a beggar or homeless person, but back then hobohemia was a lifestyle, and Chicago embraced its tramps. Although they are not as romanticized as the beat poets of the fifties and sixties, the hoboes of the twenties and thirties (really, the beats’ protégés) formed a subculture—perhaps America’s first counter-culture—by actively engaging such outlaw topics as women’s rights, birth control, homosexuality, vegetarianism, labor laws, World War I protests and other socially aware topics. At venues such as the Dill Pickle Club a lecture would be followed by dancing, dinner, an art show and some theater. “Do you like to be Preached to? Do Statistics appeal to you?” reads one poster announcing a lecture by Dr. Ben Reitman, the Dill Pickle Club’s publicist, historian, frequent lecturer and physician. “Tuesday Nov. 6 the subject is VIOLENCE,” says the handbill, which also lists the most common methods of suicide (number seven is “run over by trains”). Such self-help seminars would not have been rare, especially for the free-thinking Dr. Reitman.
Read the rest of this entry »

Beyond Bondage

Andersonville, Multimedia, Rogers Park No Comments »

By Jason Foumberg 

Gay leather subculture defies mass appeal, so it’s a wonder that uniforms are de facto. Black leather jackets and pants, black boots and leather muir caps define the “old guard,” or the traditional leather scene—a community of bars with backrooms, masters, slaves and slings. Think iconic early-1950s Marlon Brando on a Harley, and you’ll get a sense of the leather community’s adopted uniform. Many took it even further by branding their leather jackets with patches and pins specific to their bands of brothers and clubs.

That which was worn to originally evade camp has since become a symbol of it—yet another costume in the pantheon of gay masquerading (see drag; the Village People). The Brando attire, now complemented by metal spikes and chains, no longer bespeaks the hyper-masculine outlaw attitude that it intended to claim. Surely it was productively rebellious at one time; now it is on view as historical document in Chicago’s Leather Archives & Museum (LAM).

What is the face of the new gay avant-garde? The “new guard,” according to Scott Ian Ray, artist and curator of “Yes,” an exhibit at the LAM timed to coincide with the thirtieth-annual International Mr. Leather festival, embraces wearable kink just as the old did, but the uniform has been shed in favor of multitude fashions, from gas masks to latex to superhero costumes. A permanent exhibit at LAM in the dungeon room examines “pervertibles,” which are everyday objects converted into sex toys, including a meat tenderizer and a citrus juicer. Perhaps the new guard exemplifies this attitude to claim any object, “queer” it, wear it, use it and uphold it as the marker of a community solidified not by its uniformity, but by its diversity of means. “We don’t have to wear the same old leather our daddies did,” says artist and friend of the curator, Scott Nash.

The new guard’s extreme fetishes make the old guard seem mainstream. In a print by Axel, a Mr. Universal Pig character stands triumphant over a Tom of Finland-type character, classic old-school erotica rendered in shades of gray, and sitting on a toilet—the throne. Masks prevail, such as a nude self-portrait by Thistle Harlequin in pig mask and high heels, again on a toilet, and a print by Sean Fader of the artist in a bear mask and underwear in a hotel room. It seems the pig becomes a ubiquitous symbol, likely appropriated from the “squeal like a pig” rape scene in “Deliverance,” yet the new guard isn’t in search of a new iconic depiction or hero. The well-worn fetishes of old are giving way to the anything goes attitude where it may not even be necessary for the wearer of leather chaps to even be “into” such a scene.

Leather gear and the complex system of colored handkerchiefs provided a visual breakout. It’s a community that loves to see itself. The new guard multiplies the effect of seeing and being seen, but no clear signifiers remain. One could be into urine games one weekend and superheroes the next without breaking any codes, and the exact clothing to symbolize these fetishes may or may not be worn. The monumentalized depiction of gay leather, upheld by the LAM, is changing.

Another exhibition on the theme of contemporary representations of homosexuality is less than two miles away from the LAM at estudiotres gallery, in Andersonville. Whereas “Yes” at LAM is all about fringe culture and extremes, “Everyday People” considers homosexuality in the terms of “normal” lovemaking and common culture. Being gay may not have a look; being gay might mean shopping at Ikea or hanging out with one’s lover. The embrace of the disgusting in the LAM show is here pushed out of the frame. Instead, loving relationships take center stage in paintings by Brooke Barnett and photographs by Doug Ischar, Molly Landreth and Sean Fader, who is coincidentally featured in both exhibitions.

Barnett and Landreth show domestic scenes of gay intimacy, thus downplaying any notion of sexuality as difference; tenderness is tenderness. Ischar shows documentary photographs from 1984 of gay cruising on the Belmont beach cliffs. On the surface the scene could very well be a crowded beach of sunbathers. The subject is highly relatable because a hot body is, well, hot.

In Sean Fader’s photographs, self-portraits are manipulated so that each frame contains multiple selves, and sometimes the artist is pictured as wearing a false body, such as a pre-adolescent or an overweight man. His skin has a zipper in the front, revealing his real body beneath. Fader’s self-love affair, combined with his always expressionless stare, seems to be an honest portrayal even if it looks like acting. Playing the part just comes naturally.

“Yes” shows at Leather Archives & Museum, 6418 North Greenview, (773)761-9200, through October 18. “Everyday People” shows at estudiotres gallery, 5205 North Clark (773)271-0533, through June 27.

The Bookish Type

Multimedia, River North, Rogers Park No Comments »

By Jason Foumberg with Lisa Larson-Walker

Is the act of reading a book on par with using candles instead of lightbulbs, or as George Orwell terms it, a “sentimental archaism”? There’s a charm to reading a novel, poem or essay that isn’t felt when glancing at images, our days’ true medium of meaning. It’s as if to read is to lift the lines off the page with the eyes, thus to receive a transmission from the past and bring it to life in the present. Sentimental, indeed.

In fact there really isn’t anything much less contemporary than reading a book, no matter the vogue of antiquing or retro-fashions. Books, like deep containers of a distant past, are fairly emblematic of the search for cosmic order, universal emotions, Truth and eternity—values that barely make any sense today. We are no longer a literary breed—does that mean we no longer care to knock on the door of posterity? “Remember me is all I ask/And if to remember be a task: Forget me,” mournfully sings Laurie Anderson. It’s okay to resign yourself to oblivion, safe in the knowledge that today’s actions are important—but only for today.

Every dying breed has its share of enthusiasts. Buzz Spector is widely regarded as an upholder of the faith. The Chicago-born artist often makes sculptural stacks using books as building blocks, then photographs them. In one, a semi-circle of stacked books invites the viewer into its center like a fortification or safe room against fast-paced culture. Another work is a simple stack of books opened to their middle and placed atop each other. The curvaceous form is a small monument to the very thing it is produced of. It is not reference-desk librarian elitism that composes the general feeling of Spector’s book works, but, as a (shirtless!) self-portrait amid his own collection of books attests, it’s the charming nerdiness of the bookworm.

One work, a structural stack of books all by and about the poet W.H. Auden, evokes the book collector’s delight in hoarding and displaying his favorite author. In his famous essay “Unpacking my Library,” Walter Benjamin writes that the unique cross-section of titles in his collection defines himself as a collector and a reader. Arcimboldo’s portrait comes to mind, where a pink chapbook is a man’s cheek, the spine of a big red book is an arm, bookmarks compose the fingers, and so on. Writes Benjamin: “The most profound enchantment for the collector is the locking of individual items within a magic circle…” In the early history of art, a picture served as the perfect illustration of a text, Biblical or otherwise, for an illiterate audience. Here, now, Spector’s magic semi-circle uses the book itself to illustrate a bookish concept.

Sandra Perlow’s new painting cycle gains inspiration from TS Eliot’s poem “Ash Wednesday” from 1930, written after the poet’s conversion to the Church of England. The poem is laden with the conflicts of finding oneself in religion and the subtle harmonies that emerge from a wrecked self. So, too, in Perlow’s paintings. They are composed of old decorative papers and pieces of painted paper collaged together, all painted over again, often with a central symbolic motif, such as saltimbanque-like hats or a geodesic structure. Abstract meanings build up to an un-definitive result, and that’s their power: they are personal in the search for the universal.

Perlow has been painting for over forty years. She is of the same generation as the Chicago Imagists, so personal iconography is second nature for her. Over time she developed a collage/painting style that blends the trickiness of paint (its ability to cover any surface) and the good nature of collage (its ability to play well with others). As if by luck or by faith, the parts click. Is it possible for abstract painting to contain narrative elements? “What is actual is actual only for one time/And only for one place,” writes Eliot. In one “scene” Perlow fits many elements of the time-based art of story telling so that both process and product are simultaneously visible.

On Saturday, January 12, Marc Fischer will allow viewers to explore a decade worth of correspondence shared with French artist Bruno Richard. Artwork is so abundant that the sum of the exhibition is only quantifiable by weight—over sixty pounds of writing, CDRs, magazines, photocopied drawings and whatever other errata Richard could fit into an envelope are fully accessible. Some materials on view had been included in last year’s “Exalted Trash” at Columbia College, but only within untouchable vitrines. Richard’s letters, often featuring adult content and taboo subjects like suicide, torture and talking about one’s income, will surely provide generous access to the world of friendship shared between himself and Fischer.

Buzz Spector shows at Zolla/Lieberman, 325 West Huron, (312)944-1990, through February 2. Sandra Perlow shows at Alfedena, 434 West Ontario, (312)944-4340. Bruno Richard and Marc Fischer show at Mess Hall, 6932 North Glenwood, (773)465-4033, January 12, 1pm-6pm.