Reviews, profiles and news about art in Chicago

Review: Dan Devening/Tarble Arts Center

Painting, Suburban No Comments »



2013 is being canonized as abstract painting’s comeback year. In the past twelve months, Newcity alone has featured more than fifty articles related to abstract art and artists, and while this past fall’s EXPO Chicago was packed with painterly condo décor, the good stuff is getting harder and harder to find. Perhaps that’s why you’ll need to sojourn downstate to see one of this winter’s most compelling investigations of contemporary abstraction.

In “Kiosk” at Eastern Illinois University’s Tarble Arts Center in Charleston, artist Dan Devening—longtime professor of painting at SAIC, founder of Devening Projects + Editions and one of the minds behind the recently opened West Loop space Paris London Hong Kong—presents a series of twelve untitled colorful and loose (but decidedly conscious) abstractions that probe the limitations of conventional structure and illusory space. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Sandra Holubow and Judith Roth/Koehnline Museum of Art

Drawings, Painting, Suburban No Comments »
Judith Roth

Judith Roth


Sandra Holubow and Judith Roth are two old friends whose paintings of local middle-class life neatly complement each other.

Roth is a figure painter and draftsman, the kind who hires a model and then brings her to life on paper or canvas. She mostly paints women, and she presents them as strong individuals who overwhelm their backgrounds and enter the space of the room where the painting is hung. The women are ready to open up the office, drive the kids to school, or teach an aerobics class. They also overwhelm the background when Roth draws them nude, and her large, bold, voluptuous contour-lines proudly assert their fleshiness rather than offering it up for the delectation of voyeurs. Every image seems to say, “I am proud to be woman.” Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Sabina Ott/Riverside Arts Center Freeark Gallery

Sculpture, Suburban No Comments »

ott_pleasure for the poor

The exhibition begins outdoors with Sabina Ott’s fountain, a glittery, Styrofoam-encrusted circulating water tank the size of a bathtub, titled “Pleasure for the Poor” (2010). As its title suggests, it would be suitable for the landscape architecture of a place where people must live on impossible dreams. Defying any sense of space, form or proportion, the fountain is as comforting as a giant, melting, multi-flavor ice-cream sundae. That sense of down-scale comfort is projected by the rest of Ott’s pieces in this exhibit—all of them pastel-tinted conglomerations of glass and metal stuck together with sprayed Styrofoam. Absent any visual tension, and with a sweet, then more sweet esthetic, there’s a sense of fun that summons a hilarious party—which is exactly what the artist did, inviting other artist friends and colleagues to participate. Each were asked to contribute something that, like her pieces, is prominently colored white. The variety of responses is fascinating, but mostly they function like the strainer at the bottom of a kitchen sink, catching the random detritus of human experience. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Charles Szymkowicz/Koehnline Museum of Art

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Large, bold, expressive paintings of celebrities are the stuff of summer art fairs. But as these many pairs of large eyes stare out from the wall, the subject is more often the modern world they’re confronting rather than any recognizable celebrity. There’s the ordinary daily horror before the terrified eyes of Andy Warhol, the divine mystery before the eyes of Isaac Bashevis Singer and all the human foibles seen by the cool, analytical eyes of Woody Allen, Saul Bellow and Philip Roth. Not all of these famous people are Jewish men, but like the painter himself nearly half of them are. These are the famous writers, painters and politicians with whom the Belgian painter Charles Szymkowicz apparently most identifies. He also has a fascination with African Americans like Jimi Hendrix, Jean Michel Basquiat, Martin Luther King and especially Barack Obama.   There are five paintings of the current president; and four times he is looking away, presumably at that rat’s nest of American politics that has furrowed his brow in frustration. Only four women have been depicted, Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Open House: Art About Home/Elmhurst Art Museum

Painting, Photography, Sculpture, Suburban No Comments »

open house elmhurstRECOMMENDED

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 »

Review: J Clayton and Michelle Bolinger/Riverside Arts Center

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Michelle Bolinger


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 »

Review: No Rules: Contemporary Clay/Elmhurst Art Museum

Ceramics, Suburban No Comments »

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 »

Review: Candida Alvarez/Riverside Arts Center

Galleries & Museums, Suburban No Comments »

“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 »

Review: Anders Nilsen/Elmhurst Art Museum

Comics, Suburban No Comments »


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 »

Review: Push-Pull/Riverside Arts Center

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Kyle Staver

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 »