Home connotes familiarity, relaxation, comfort: a place where robes and sweatpants are appropriate attire. Alberto Aguilar’s art practice stirs that lull of relaxation as he transforms quotidian domestic objects into sculpture, and activities into performance. As part of his Elmhurst Art Museum residency, the artist borrowed objects from neighborhood homes to create compounded readymades. Each sculptural assemblage provides a glimpse into the household of their origin: a library of vintage books, kids’ hockey sticks, a wooden bread keeper and a quirky birdcage. Aguilar’s use of life as the material for his art points out artistic and performative possibilities of the everyday, and at Elmhurst, emphasizes the cultural predetermination of our own materials.
Stemming from the resident-artist’s interest in home life, the Elmhurst Art Museum’s winter exhibition, “Open House: Art About Home” gathers five other artists interested in the subject of home, supplementing the pre-existing conversation created by the nearby iconic Mies van der Rohe “McCormick House,” which the museum owns. In contrast to Aguilar’s multidimensional practice, the artwork curator Staci Boris has placed in contiguous galleries consist of two-dimensional painting and photography. In meticulously painted scenes of remembered interior spaces, Ann Toebbe employs the artistic conventions found in Ancient Egyptian art, privileging directness and detail over realistic depiction of space. In turn, Gabrielle Garland’s paintings could be Toebbe’s remembrances on acid, with skewed lighting and bulging forms. Read the rest of this entry »
These are really two separate shows: J Clayton in the front gallery and Michelle Bolinger in the smaller project space behind it. But the two abstract painters have so much in common while complementing each other so well, they beg to be considered together. Both of them are painting the good life. There’s no angst, anger, bad memories, self-loathing, or really any drama at all. Nor are there conceptual puzzles for a theory of art to explain. These are visualizations of a pleasant, sufficiently prosperous life in a peaceful country. That’s what most clients expect from architectural design, so this kind of painting is probably an extension of J Clayton’s earlier career in that field. Her large paintings feel less like paint on canvas and more like a symphony of colored light in space. Read the rest of this entry »
Michael Fujita, “iBlock”
As this exhibition demonstrates, the non-traditional practice of ceramics in our age continues to spin centrifugally away from formal expression or a sense of clay’s unique plastic qualities. Instead, it’s all about ideas, the quick and clever kind like sound bites or thirty-second commercials, transforming the gallery into a kind of Halloween funhouse where the viewer can be expected to get one joke and then move on to another. And just like those seasonal displays, most of these pieces tend toward the dark and eerie, especially with the “family heirlooms” that Blake Jamison Williams has knit out of ceramic pieces shaped like human finger bones. Often there’s a lingering anxiety, characteristic of contemporary art, that something in the world has gone terribly wrong. That’s the feeling that accompanies the large head-like pots of Xavier Toubes that may function simultaneously as attractive home furnishings, science-fiction aliens, folk-art face-jugs, and tributes to the monster heads of Leon Golub. Read the rest of this entry »
“puerto rico ? 25796″
At first, it was just as painful to see all these ornate, delicately colored 9×12-inch sheets of vellum pinned to the gallery walls like butterflies as it was to see body piercings in sensitive places. But eventually, it all made sense: this was Candida Alvarez’s invitation to a world of personal experience. It was like visiting the artist in her kitchen as she tells you about her various experiences in Puerto Rico, Ireland and Chicago. It’s just you and her—other people and things are not depicted, even in the wall full of photographs where everything dissolves into patterns. The patterns of her drawings are especially intense, wonderful and obviously relate to the places to which they refer. Read the rest of this entry »
A perceived relevance to “big questions” distinguishes serious art from all the other entertaining, decorative or otherwise useful things that people make for each other, and that was exactly the title of the 658-page graphic novel by Anders Nilsen that was published last summer. It has been acclaimed for its fresh, honest take on the human condition, as well as some very good drawing, and now some larger, even wall-size, versions of his work are on display in the Elmhurst Art Museum.
Though some are quite large, these still seem to be small, personal, child-like views, and though some characters are identified as Adam and Eve, they seem to have been placed into a small, suburban back yard cluttered with animal toys instead of upon a cosmic stage inhabited by mythic creatures. Read the rest of this entry »
This group exhibition of paintings “explores the ongoing dialogue between abstraction and representation,” according to its curator. The potential scope for such an exploration is vast, but curiously, most kinds of realistic or observational painting have been left out. Still, the variety included is too great for any of the pieces to communicate with each other, so the gallery feels like a waiting room in a health clinic where each patient is quietly keeping her own problems to herself. Or it is like an MFA show at a large contemporary art school, such as SAIC, from which eight of the twelve artists, including the curator herself, have graduated, mostly within the last decade. As in an art school, mostly what’s being represented here are current strategies for making contemporary art, but there are a few exceptions, where two women have stepped back to earlier narrative forms of Modernism to express how they are enjoying their lives today. Read the rest of this entry »
"I Defy You," archival ink, enamel on panel , 24 x 18 , 2012 courtesy Roy Boyd Gallery
Mario Trejo does not practice science, but he certainly shares its devotion to explore the infinities of time and space as he pushes the limits of human endurance, both mental and physical, to make as many marks as he possibly can, as if in response to the “I defy you” title of his current exhibition at the Elmhurst Art Museum. If all this mark-making were nothing more than compulsive, only the outsider or conceptual art worlds might have any interest in the results, especially in his wall-size installation hung with thousands of mark-filled photo copies. But Trejo is also quite concerned with the patterns that his millions of marks build into, and they are eye-popping gorgeous. Using archival materials that are much like scratchboard, he scratches or rubs through an ink-black surface to reveal the enamel-bright-white beneath it. It’s a technique that an illustrator might use to depict every single hair in the fur of a rabbit. But unlike most illustration, there’s a sense of infinity, not just in the number of marks, but also in the energy of the entire pattern, and Trejo is not content to repeat them. Read the rest of this entry »
The natural world is so full of wonders it’s a wonder that more artists don’t become obsessed by it. There’s no better place to feed that obsession than the Field Museum of Natural History, where Peggy Macnamara spent a decade sketching exhibits before she was eventually taken on as artist-in-residence, helping to create some of the visual material associated with the displays. Her current exhibition at the Elmhurst Art Museum samples some of her work, as well as bringing over some of the biological specimens, eggs, nests and such, that have inspired it. She has developed a system of watercolor painting that builds up dozens of layers of complementary and variant colors to create a rich and glowing pattern that’s cheerful and engaging as it narrates the stories of natural cycles—but not completely satisfying. Read the rest of this entry »
Forty years of teaching at the Kansas City Art Institute gave Lester Goldman (1942-2005) the opportunity as well as incentive to traverse the history of twentieth-century American painting. He started out with a style of figure painting similar to the public and commercial art of earlier decades, just as narrative as the work of his teacher, Leland Bell, but more solemn and statuesque, presenting family values that would have played well in Kansas when he moved there in 1966. In his final decades, all social content was gone, as well as figures, volume and pictorial space, leaving his painting with a kind of flat, monumental, slithering, funky abstraction that reached down to discover the very foundations of human life, i.e., protoplasm, with the mind as a bowl of cosmic soup, containing everything that’s ever entered it, in no particular order as it floats to the surface. Read the rest of this entry »
Carol Hummel, “Lichen it”
As its name suggests, the Morton Arboretum is more about science than aesthetics. It’s a better destination to learn about trees than to enjoy magnificent views. So, it’s an appropriate setting for conceptual art, where the information on the label is at least as important as the artworks.
Whereas the exhibits of trees and eco-systems teach us about the variety of life on our planet, just what can be learned from this collection of art installations interspersed throughout the Arboretum’s grounds? The target audience seems to be eight-year-olds. A stack of logs is wrapped with a giant bow ribbon and the brochure asks us, “What is the best gift trees give us?” A large kaleidoscope is installed facing a shoreline and we are asked, “How do the colors and shapes make you feel?” The artists, of course, have put their ideas into artspeak. Writes Letha Wilson, “My work creates relationships between architecture and nature, and the gallery space and the American wilderness.” But has that really told us anything more? Read the rest of this entry »