Reviews, profiles and news about art in Chicago

Review: Formal | Loose | Painting/Ralph Arnold Gallery

Installation, Painting, Rogers Park, Textiles No Comments »
Anna Kunz. "Peel," latex on all and fabric, latex and enamel on canvas

Anna Kunz. “Peel,” latex on all and fabric, latex and enamel on canvas


As evinced by the prevalence of “Zombie Formalism,” abstraction is currently coasting: reanimating movements without contributing new ideas. Paintings by Michelle Bolinger, Samantha Bittman and Anna Kunz are a refreshing contrast to lifeless painting that threatens visual communication itself in a hunger for conceptual novelty. Together they confirm that a voice can still be found in purely formal painting about the process of abstraction itself. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Alex Bradley Cohen and Marissa Neuman/Roman Susan

Ceramics, Installation, Painting, Rogers Park, Textiles No Comments »
Alex Bradley Cohen and Marissa Neuman. "Living to Work Together," installation view at Roman Susan

Alex Bradley Cohen and Marissa Neuman. “Living to Work Together,” installation view at Roman Susan


“Please take off your shoes” welcomes viewers as they enter Roman Susan to seek refuge from the barren cold. Playfully enhanced with black painted bubble letters and animated stick-like legs, the five words sprawl across the front wall of the gallery. Their placement is not only a polite request for compliance, but also an invitation to actively participate. Take off your shoes, as to not ruin the floor. Take off your shoes, so your feet may stand where ours have.

In Alex Bradley Cohen and Marissa Neurman’s collaborative room-sized installation piece, “Living to Work Together,” a mixture of primary colors and bold shapes have been stitched, painted, stapled and strung across all facades of the space, beginning with the floor. The carpeting has been transformed into a type of jigsaw puzzle composed of large triangular pieces of felt that have been first fitted and then visibly sewn together. The sharp shapes further reinforce the abnormal, angular floor plan of the gallery, as do a series of patterned ceramic pieces that politely form a line on a shelf that stretches diagonally in front of the gallery’s storefront window. In the window hang three large-scale felt tapestries that lack the calculated, flat appearance of the floor; instead their odd shapes and snippets of varying colors layer atop each other like unmixed paint on a canvas. Read the rest of this entry »

Portrait of the Artists: Ryan M Pfeiffer + Rebecca Walz

Artist Profiles, Collage, Drawings, Rogers Park No Comments »
Ryan M Pfeiffer and Rebecca Walz

Ryan M Pfeiffer and Rebecca Walz

Artists Ryan M Pfeiffer and Rebecca Walz’s focus falls emphatically on collaborative action. The duo draws simultaneously, sitting across from each other and working over the same sheet of paper, arranging a mélange of seductive archetypes from the visual history of the West. Their collaborative drawings register caprices and negotiations; marks intermingle and become impossible to assign to any single collaborator. Various mystical, religious and cultural icons coalesce in busy, textured cadres—woodcuts from volumes of Sade, archaeological records, Pietas and Venus idols, or Hans Bellmer’s fetishistic photographs. Their repurposed, blended imagery has all the tellings of an expert bibliography. The compositions are stages on which the duo’s investigations into alchemy, ancient art and eroticism are performed as drawing.

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Eye Exam: The Hustle of Multi-hyphenates

Garfield Park, Hyde Park, Rogers Park, West Loop 1 Comment »

By Matt Morris

“They hop between revolving scenes, juggle various professional identities, seek out and improvise ever-new situations and contexts for staging what can be recognized and evaluated by their peers as art, all squeezed into schedules already bloated with myriad non-art activity.” This is how art critic and Northwestern professor Lane Relyea depicts the contemporary art laborer in his 2014 essay “Afterthoughts on D.I.Y. Abstraction,” a digestible think piece that shares the concerns he investigated at length in his 2013 book “Your Everyday Art World.”

His take is poignantly accurate. Our town (and increasingly more of the art world) runs on multi-hyphenate cultural producers who not only make art but also curate, write, teach and run alternative galleries. We’re embedded in a pervasive labor economy that has mutated into part-time work status, short-term contracts (or no contracts) and a demand for flexibility, availability and diversified skill sets. I’ve been writing this text along with two other articles and a grossly overdue catalogue essay this week, while teaching two courses at SAIC, troubleshooting shipping and consignments for an exhibition I’m curating, and stubbornly insisting on the better part of two days in my studio because I’m falling behind in my production schedule for an exhibition next year. My workload isn’t extraordinary or even varied beyond the status quo. It’s not exceptional that I slip between myriad roles; in fact it’s all day, everyday for most of us.

While Relyea’s analysis is useful in symptomatizing our labor and, indeed, we may all be acting out tacit directives that guarantee even more insidious modes of capitalism and lifetimes of instability for a burgeoning “precaritariat,” I’ve wanted to better understand artists’ presumed motives for working across disciplines in personally attuned panoplies of creative output. I wrote to a number of other folks in Chicago to hopefully compare notes and maybe commiserate. Everyone who replied was frankly honest about diversification as a means to make a living while also holding to the possibilities that these hybrids allow (or at least once allowed) for nimble forms of criticality and subversion. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Nayland Blake and Claire Pentecost/Iceberg Projects

Installation, Photography, Rogers Park, Sculpture No Comments »
Installation view of Nayland Blake and Claire Pentecost's "Polypersephony" at Iceberg Projects

Installation view of Nayland Blake and Claire Pentecost’s “Polypersephony” at Iceberg Projects


A libidinous wit roils on the surface of “Polypersephony,” a collaborative installation by Nayland Blake and Claire Pentecost at Iceberg Projects. The title is a portmanteau combining the musical term “polyphony” (voice versus voice) with “Persephone,” the famous underworld abductee of myth.

The dimly lit space has an underworld feel, not of a cave but of the secret back room of a subterranean nightclub. Light strobes through a doorway hung with a curtain of tinsel, behind which transpires a bacchanalian gathering of garden gnomes. The tinsel allows perspective but not access, ensuring that viewers participate only in the (important) role of voyeur. The wall that encloses the space is violated by an intrusion and a protrusion. What appear at first as chthonic, genital proxies reveal themselves to be the molds from which the gnomes were cast. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Abigail DeVille/Iceberg Projects

Installation, Rogers Park No Comments »



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 »


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 »