Reviews, profiles and news about art in Chicago

Review: Johanna Drucker/Center for Book and Paper Arts

Art Books, South Loop No Comments »

page 6 from “Simulant Portrait”


Book artist extraordinaire Johanna Drucker, who has done more than perhaps any other contemporary artist to increase the critical recognition of book as art form, is often most closely associated with language/concrete poetry and the avant-garde of the Bay Area scene in the 1970s and eighties; but her retrospective, “Druckworks,” at Columbia College’s Center for Book and Paper Arts evidences the astonishing depth and breadth of Drucker’s creative and critical work—and shows the artist and scholar deeply engaging with current aporias and future incarnations of the book as form. Some wall text—“We think we know what a book is… but a book is a snapshot, a slice across networked streams of conversations, ideas… a temporarily configured intervention in a living field”—could stand in for Drucker’s prolific career over the past forty years as she has been in conversation with poets, book artists, scholars, printers, graphic designers and cartographers nationally and internationally. Throughout, her primary concern with the visual and material dimension of text anchors the show as different threads (unreadable writing, ekphrasis, synesthesia, digital poetry, post-alphabetic writing in digital media) emerge from the dozens of books and works on paper, interrogating the relation between image and meaning from seemingly endless angles. Read the rest of this entry »

Art Break: Field Day

Galleries & Museums, South Loop No Comments »

With its strong commitment to family entertainment, the Field Museum can hardly present cultural material as if it were an art museum. However, if you pick carefully through its current special exhibitions, you may find some worthwhile and even beautiful things, as I did in its “Opening the Vaults” exhibition of Egyptian and South American mummies. The focus of this show are CT-scans of corpses, and unfortunately, there is no historical context into which any of the material can be firmly placed, since it was all bought on the open market in 1893. Still, the cartoonish images on the three painted coffins are often whimsical and sometimes elegant, especially that of Lady Em-Hotep, which bears a strong resemblance to the twentieth-century Art Deco style that borrowed so heavily from ancient sources.

The exhibition focused on Genghis Khan is far more extensive, ambitious, and entertaining for children of all ages. It’s chock full of video, photographs and audio. None of the artists are identified, and most of the scene painting is subpar, but there is an exciting wall-sized image of the Mongolian fleet being destroyed by a storm off the coast of Japan. Typical for an exhibit aimed at twelve-year-olds, this episode is treated as a sound bite, and the fuller story of the protracted siege is not mentioned. A fascinating collection of objects made at Karakorum, the imperial city constructed to house the multinational skilled workers who served the ruling class, offers more detail. Whatever else might be said about these international marauders, they did have good taste in ceramic bowls and Buddhist paraphernalia. There are a few real treasures here from the Mongolian national museum, including a page from the precious sutra, Sanduin Jud, boasting solid gold calligraphy of the eight-thousand verses. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Our Origins/Museum of Contemporary Photography

Photography, South Loop No Comments »

Alison Ruttan, "Evered Is Interested (detail from Dean Sequence)," 2009


Taking on the time-honored conundrum of the meaning of human life, curator Allison Grant brings together sixteen photo-artists, each of whom approaches the question from a different angle and distinctive strategy. Some of the contributors are smitten with contemporary science, others with their fantasies about it; some are straight documentarians of the survivals of primeval ages in our world, others set their fancies free in constructions and scenarios. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Charlie Shobe/National Veterans Art Museum

Painting, South Loop No Comments »

“Class of ‘67”


In the 1960s, the baby boom generation was conscripted into a war in Southeast Asia that turned out to be as unnecessary as it was futile. In the early 1980s, some of those who served, especially artists who had seen combat, realized that they had unfinished business. Coming mostly from blue-collar backgrounds in small towns or inner-city neighborhoods, they had something to say about experiences that most Americans only knew as Hollywood entertainment. Exhibitions were organized to tour the country and eventually a national museum was established here in Chicago. One of the founders of that movement was Charlie Shobe (1940-2011), a Marine lieutenant from Petersburg, West Virginia. Shobe wrote, “My paintings are of the horror show that was Vietnam: butchery carried out for politicians, bureaucrats, and ambitious generals whose egos would not let them say ‘enough’; art for an indifferent public; art to honor those who lived and died there, and earned only a few hundred dollars a month. It would take a lifetime to paint it all.” And that’s what he did in the 1980s and nineties—not the romantic memorials that celebrate victory, but how it felt to have boots on the ground, and meditations on that ultimate insult to the invulnerability of youth: sudden and violent death. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Public Works/Museum of Contemporary Photography

Photography, South Loop No Comments »

Robert Frank, "A Monument to Electricity + Photography," 1976. Photo Lithograph


With a flood of 123 black-and-white and color, and large and small format images by fifty-six photographers (mostly American, with a smattering of Europeans and Asians, some renowned and some less known) covering the last eighty years, this visual torrent of an exhibition that celebrates and criticizes by turns modern industrial infrastructure is in need of one of the dams that pop up here and there on the walls. Given the lack of conceptual focus, viewers are advised to cut through the thickets of telephone poles and powerlines, and to hone in on particular shots, many of which are striking and worthy of long looks, and to pay particular attention to distinctive styles rather than subjects. A photographic eye will put one on an expressway directly to Robert Frank’s multi-photo color collage of those ubiquitous poles (festooned with photos of his dog), the segments of which are out of alignment. Frank’s “Monument to Electricity + Photography” is witty and wise, and is inadvertently a metaphor for the show. (Michael Weinstein)

Through July 17 at the Museum of Contemporary Photography, 600 South Michigan.

Eye Exam: A Thing and Its Other

Painting, South Loop, Ukrainian Village/East Village No Comments »

detail from Dana DeGiulio's installation at Devening Projects

By Jason Foumberg

In a 2003 interview, Jackie Winsor reminisced about New York City in the late 1960s: “The art world at the time was a tiny place. You could see every exhibition you wanted in about an hour and a half.” Although it smacks with a little nostalgia for simpler times in big New York, Winsor’s recollection seems to have its benefits. If everything is visible all at once, then there’s a shared vocabulary.

To put this another way, in a smart animation by Rob Bryanton he illustrates how to conceive, in layman’s terms, of the tenth dimension. Starting simply, he depicts the second dimension as an ant walking on a flat newspaper, and then rolls up the paper so that the ant can walk across the entire rolled up surface, and that’s the third. In the Chicago dimension, we are a little bit Winsor and a little Bryanton. Loopholes through space and time are just small flourishes of the hand. In this case it’s easy to see Lucas Samaras’ arrangement of magic knives, on view at the MCA, through the collection of sacrificial knives of the Northwest Coast Indians, on view at the Field Museum—although these two sets of objects have never met. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Tomboy/Glass Curtain Gallery

Multimedia, South Loop No Comments »

Leeza Meksin


Although the six artists in “Tomboy” are lesbians (according to the catalogue essay), the artworks in the exhibition don’t depict graphically charged lesbian imagery (there’s no pornography or strap-on dildos). Instead, the artworks are androgynous. They aren’t dogmatic or overtly political, but rather sing with visual self-assurance, and that’s a crowning achievement for art. “Tomboy” seems to be more about social attributes and characteristics than about the core of a person’s identity, more about clothing than vaginas.

The term “tomboy” doesn’t necessarily equate with lesbianism. A woman who acts like a man, and who loves other women, is better described as a butch lesbian, the opposite of a femme. Usage of the pejorative “tomboy” dates back to the mid-1500s, three centuries before the word “lesbian” was ever used to mean woman/woman love. Where “butch lesbianism” concerns sex, “tomboy” concerns gender-flipping, and a straight woman can be a tomboy—she may enjoy male-coded activities like football, fixing car engines, wearing suits and spitting on the sidewalk. This stringent terminology is the side effect of decades-long battles over identity politics and civil rights. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: La Frontera: The Cultural Impact of Mexican Migration/Museum of Contemporary Photography

Photography, South Loop No Comments »

David Hyatt, "El Diario De Anna Frank – Migrant Camp," 2004


In this comprehensive photo-documentary on the migration of Mexicans to the United States—seen from both sides of the border—curator Rod Slemmons succeeds in deconstructing the stereotypes pervading the current immigration debate. Bringing together ten U.S. and Mexican photographers, the exhibition takes us from a Mexican town where only women and children remain to do all the work, through the high-tech border-control apparatus, up the perilous paths taken by those who get through, down to the depths of the drug trade, and finally to destinations like West Liberty, Iowa and Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood where thriving communities take root. The nuance, subtlety, ironies and power of Slemmons’ approach is encapsulated in Michael Hyatt’s black-and-white shot of a Coca-Cola bottle and a dog-eared copy of “The Diary of Anne Frank” abandoned in the desert by an anonymous seeker for a better life. (Michael Weinstein)

Through December 22 at the Museum of Contemporary Photography, 600 South Michigan.

Review: The Grange Prize 2010/Museum of Contemporary Photography

Photography, South Loop No Comments »

Moyra Davey, "Copperhead #13," 1990. Courtesy of the artist and Murray Guy Gallery, New York


The four photo-artists on display here who were nominated for this year’s Grange Prize—an award presented annually to a photographer from Canada or a partner country (this year the United States)—all focus on everyday objects that they manipulate and/or re-contextualize to produce aesthetic effects beyond the mundane. Although the winner will be announced on November 3, Canadian Moyra Davey’s series of macro-photos of severely distressed Lincoln-head pennies that she gathered on the streets of New York City are particularly alluring because they pack the one-two punch of alerting us to the involved textured patterns that result from weathering, while throwing us into a reflection on the tattered legacy of Honest Abe. Although scarred and pocked, Lincoln is still present—in varying degrees of decay—as a figure of strength and dignity in five of Davey’s six images; but in the last, the copper has corroded to the point that the face has degraded into a shattered skull. (Michael Weinstein)

Through December 22 at the Museum of Contemporary Photography, 600 South Michigan.

Review: The Yes Men/Glass Curtain Gallery

Multimedia, South Loop 2 Comments »


Imagine you’re a busy exec with a huge staff of Nike-stitching slave labor in Sri Lanka to control. How to comfortably manage them from the beautiful Pebble Beach golf course? The Yes Men have answers. Step into their gold skin-tight Management Leisure Suit, equipped with an inflatable three-foot long phallus, at the end of which is embedded a computer screen so that you can monitor, communicate with and direct your off-site sweatshop, while still swinging your nine iron freely. You’re busy. You owe it to yourself.

Or consider this: if those silly militant “environmentalists” prove to be correct about the increasingly unstable climate, how might you guarantee your own survival in the wake of global catastrophe? Don the Halliburton SurvivaBall, a fully equipped self-sustaining six-armed ball that functions as a life-support system. It can even draw “resources” from other living organisms to keep itself powered, and will ensure your safety come hell or high water, which are certainly viable options. Read the rest of this entry »