Allison Smith. “Hand Dyed Wool, Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia,” 2014
Smith is known for lovingly handcrafting Americana—costumes, furniture and artifacts—with which to interrogate the spectacle of historical recreation. In this she is indeed like a theatrical “set dresser,” someone who designs and arranges props.
Many of these recent works are photographs of objects of material culture from American living-history sites. Printed on fabric, the pictures take on a rustic look, akin to the objects they depict. But they contain powerful autobiographical elements, too. The lovely rainbow-colored skeins of yarn seen hanging in “Hand Dyed Wool, Colonial Williamsburg,” 2014, is a trenchant feminist statement on several levels while recalling Morris Louis’ stain paintings. Within a large, oval, walnut frame handcrafted by a master Massachusetts artisan, “Mirror,” 2014, shows a field of nubby linen on which a photograph of a mirror’s reflection has been printed. It’s a visual riddle, a twenty-first century version of the modern artist’s abiding fascination with mirrors. Less puzzling perhaps, but no less elegant, two tilt-top tables are covered in silk printed with photos of quilt patterns. Read the rest of this entry »
What if you’re an artist but nobody wants to show your work? Every artist has probably faced this challenge in the modern era, at some point in their career. It was especially challenging for early modernists in Chicago, who felt categorically excluded from commercial galleries. Thus was born the “No Jury” shows of the 1920s. Today’s version is called the Chicago Art Open, sponsored by the Chicago Artists Coalition, and this year the show is held at the elegant, recently developed River East Art Center. Unlike the earlier versions, the 2010 show does have a jury of local art experts (including an editor, a gallery owner, a former non-profit director and a university photography teacher). Their job was not to keep artists out, but to highlight the best work and give it a room of its own.
Meanwhile, stroll down the hall of the River East Art Center and discover how an artist can avoid getting cut from the selection process: just buy the gallery yourself! Read the rest of this entry »
Sigmar Polke’s series of “Lens Paintings,” which won the coveted Rubens Prize in 2007, seem more like experiments than masterworks. The German artist here developed a new surface for painting: a transparent, resin-based corrugated ‘screen’ that supports imagery both above and below, creating layers in flat relief. The technique is based on a lenticular optical device that allows still images to appear animated if either the image or the viewer changes position. While kitschy mass-produced postcards, and even the magic-eye posters that once hypnotized viewers in shopping malls, work more proficiently at creating a total optical illusion, Polke’s technique aids his painted philosophy—presumably his painting is far too serious to be entertaining; at one point in the show Polke negates the optical illusion by painting on the entire surface of the viewing device.
The oft-cited reference by both Polke’s historians and the artist himself is a 1685 Latin text on the telescope. Polke makes his privileged view into this text visible with illustrations of period-costumed gentlemen viewing a dragon. Their sight-lines extend from their eyes to the flying beast, mirroring the viewer’s own efforts to see the choppy images sandwiched in the resin. The corrugated dips and divots on the paintings’ surfaces split our eye into multiple lines of sight, and if we move to view the painting from an oblique angle, we’re rewarded with the otherwise invisible image below. This is a delight for anyone who enjoys optical tricks and holograms—although the pleasure is limited in Polke’s hands. The artist has little in common with the passionate Rubens, and more to do with fellow German painter Hans Holbein, whose 1533 oil painting “The Ambassadors” reveals a floating skull when viewers get on their knees—a reverential pose that viewers are often tricked into assuming. (Jason Foumberg)
Through April 17 at The Arts Club, 201 E. Ontario, (312)787-3997
A native of Romania, artist Costel Iarca is known for developing a textured application method. His distinctive patented technique leaves the canvas three-dimensional with depth and definition.
At what point did you start going against established norms?
I gave more meaning to modern art, and I started to fall in love. Look… classical artwork presents the outside world. Abstract means the inside of a man. It means the spirit of a man. And the spirit is in different color, different energy. So it has another dimension. When you look to abstract you have to think, even if it’s disturbing. You have to go many, many times. You achieve the right color next to the right line, the right movement. It’s like composing music. It’s kind of poetry.
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In conjunction with the citywide “Festival of Maps,” Chicago-based artist Sarah Schnadt has transformed the 12×12 gallery of the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago into a literalized vision of an especially intangible technological development—the Internet. On one side of the gallery, Schnadt has installed a world map, and on the other, a more abstracted map composed of search terms grouped according to country. Throughout December, the artist will stage performances twice a week in which she literally connects various words to the countries where they were most popular as search parameters. In addition to Schnadt’s literalization, connections are complicated by the fact that they are created with materials traditionally associated with craft, such as yarn and wire. The translation from the alienated to the hands-on is made quite clearly—perhaps too overtly for some—but the resulting installation is interesting to examine in a number of terms, including the information it contains regarding the online activity of widely varying cultures. Additionally, the continual development of the piece invites the viewer to question the completeness of the work as it, like the Internet, is highly amorphous, shifting in response to the artist’s occasional presence and interaction. (Britany L. Salsbury) Through December 30 at Museum of Contemporary Art
Pieter Ombregt, photography. Performance photographer Pieter Ombregt clad himself in an orange prison jumpsuit and then set out into the stark world of urban concrete and desert sand, placing himself alone and at a distance in forbidding environments to pose for his color scenario shots. A conceptual artist, Ombregt says that he wants us to see “the person in the orange suit”—these images are not self-portraits, but cultural icons—as “an orange flare, in a disconnected world crying out for help.” Ombregt’s cri-de-coeur is a silent scream, buried under the absolute impassivity that he shows standing straightly erect on an empty loading dock, in a doorway on a vacant street, or in a parched brown wasteland, always appearing as though he had been stuck there and did not belong to the scene. Is an apathetic front putting a lid on the scream, or is Ombregt beyond crying? (Michael Weinstein) Through February 3 at City Gallery.
The gallery housing Philip von Zweck’s current installation at the Museum of Contemporary Art is sparse, housing only two framed pieces, a wall label and a shelf. The project housed in these frames, however, is interesting enough for viewers to linger in the space, considering his work. The Chicago artist has designed a chain letter that was delivered at random to members of the museum’s mailing list, encouraging both recipients and visitors of the exhibition to explore and become aware of the nuances of communication and interaction. In the gallery, viewers are invited to address copies of the letter, which will then be sent out, further perpetuating Zweck’s mission. The artist demonstrates an obvious interest in the mail-art movement of the past decades, building upon this legacy in an innovative way that invites a reconsideration of the art object and the way we interact with both it and each other. (Britany L. Salsbury) Through October 28 at Museum of Contemporary Art
Recently an Oak Park middle school banned its students from hugging in the hallways, citing jammed byways and tardiness as an excuse to censor brotherly embraces. Similarly, Tino Seghal’s “Kiss,” a performance piece for two actors sited midway through the MCA’s collection highlights exhibition, expresses how the building block of coupling is a beautiful thing, yet uncomfortably inappropriate when publicly displayed. Read the rest of this entry »
No exhibit in Chicago this fall is likely to draw more visitors than “Sympathy for the Devil: Art and Rock and Roll Since 1967,” which just opened at the Museum of Contemporary Art and will remain on display until January 6. Forever linked with “sex” and “drugs” in the unholy trinity that is all the religion many require, the popular music of the last forty years has been more than a soundtrack or style guide: for its makers and most fervent fans, rock is a reason to live. Whether a devotee of this stripe or merely one of the politely interested, you won’t be disappointed by the show, for it’s a smash hit: go, clap your hands, and say “yeah.”
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In a tour de force of wall photography, Christopher Hauck has documented in 350 clear and contiguous color images the entire mile-long section of the east side of the Berlin Wall that was given over to artists from around the world after the fall of Communism in 1989. Over the years, the original works have weathered and been marked with graffiti and supplemented with text and images by visitors, providing an involving and seductive set of subjects. Working in the straight tradition of his genre pioneered by Aaron Siskind, Hauck is unassuming, letting his subjects body forth in their own rights. The effect is an overload of sheer visual pleasure as the viewer follows the kaleidoscopic display as it snakes around the gallery space, offering one splash of color and meaning after the other, from the sublime to the ridiculous, and—as Siskind put it—redeeming the ruins. (Michael Weinstein)
Christopher Hauck shows at Inspire Fine Art, 425 East Illinois, (312)595-9475, through September 7.