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The thing that was sent to me in its intended but unsettling orientation.
By Elliot J. Reichert
The above image was sent to me anonymously in the middle of the night. Shocking as it appears, I was relieved to receive it. You see, weeks ago I had contacted a few artist friends to ask them to reflect on the upcoming fall art season in Chicago and to ask one to “take over” the task of appraising it. To my surprise, they were reluctant to describe it, even those who had exhibitions of their work opening in the coming weeks. Later, I realized that their silence was my doing, having asked a question that could produce no coherent answer.
Much like the drawing game made famous by the Surrealists, Chicago’s 2015 fall art season is an exquisite corpse—a thing of grotesque beauty that is the dream of no one, but the creation of many. At first glance, it appears sinister, like the Block Museum’s solo show of newly commissioned works by Chicago artist Geof Oppenheimer. Rumor has it that the sculptor has filled the museum’s ample galleries with austere and foreboding installations resembling the cinderblock constructions of grim institutions, like prison, or perhaps your corporate office. Even more menacing, Irena Haiduk, also Chicago-based and also exhibiting new work, will haunt the eaves of the Renaissance Society’s transformed gallery with the Sirens of Greek mythology, luring visitors unexpectedly into a debate on the revolutionary possibilities of art and social change amidst current political upheaval worldwide. Read the rest of this entry »
Ben Eine at the site of his mural on South Wabash
The sky is clear and the sun is hot. Two figures stand inside a lift that reaches the top of a two-story parking garage in the South Loop. Dipping and stretching their dripping rollers, they carefully paint around a twenty-four-foot-tall letter “A.” As I get closer, I notice a third figure standing below them. Feet pacing and eyes looking up, he squints into the sun and lights a cigarette.
“Ben?” I ask. The artist turns around quickly, smiles and shakes my hand. Beads of sweat glisten on his forehead, and his hands and face are covered in orange paint. Despite my surprise visit, he is welcoming and good-humored. Motioning upwards, he wastes no time in explaining his current project. “So, seven letters. I wanted it to be positive, I wanted it to be happy—” He is interrupted by a parking attendant who’s asking the status of the lift’s next move. As he walks off to instruct, I make note of his attire: the bold décor of his countless tattoos, Hawaiian print shorts and bright blue sneakers complements the colorful 240-foot long mural-in-progress, which spells out “HARMONY” in swirls of neon paint. Read the rest of this entry »
Nina Chanel Abney
Nina Chanel Abney stands in front of a large auditorium full of people. It’s 2011, and she’s just been welcomed to the stage of Washington D.C.’s Corcoran Gallery of Art, where she’s giving a visiting-artist lecture. “I’m a little nervous, but it’s been very humbling to be a part of the ‘30 Americans’ exhibition,” she begins. “Just four years ago, I was in school and I signed up for an artist studio tour and we went to Kehinde Wiley and Wangechi Mutu’s studios—and now I’m in a show with them and it’s a little bit weird.” With a smiling mouth and quivering voice, she continues. “This is my first lecture, so I hope I do a good job for you guys.”
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Brandon Anschultz. “Spearmint,” 2015
oil, watercolor, gouache on canvas, 11″ x 8.5″/Photo: Eileen Mueller
Contemporary art so often pursues the aesthetics of surprise that it takes a willful suspension of disbelief to find anything unexpected. In this way, the curation of the Brandon Anschultz exhibition is not especially surprising. A large wooden plank hangs casually over a balcony as if it had not yet been installed. A small sculpture is hidden away on a remote window sill; another has been placed in a dark corner on the floor, though an attached wire indicates that it was fabricated to hang from above. None of this seems unusual, nor do the drippy-glob sculptures that were made by dipping ordinary objects, like shoes, repeatedly into buckets of thick paint. So much of the world is messy and chaotic, there is nothing strange about one more room of it.
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Art Paul. “Cheers,” 1987, colored pencil on paper, “8 x 11.5”
Whether or not you ever found the intellectual content of Playboy magazine as thrilling as its cheesecake, you had to be impressed by the way it incorporated image and text to create excitement on every page. As art director for its first thirty years, Art Paul (born 1925) was responsible for that graphic design as well as the Playboy Bunny logo, so it’s no surprise that soon after retirement in 1982, he was inducted into the Art Directors Club Hall of Fame. Read the rest of this entry »
Albert Oehlen. “Untitled (cow 4),” 2011
paper on canvas, 59″ x 72 3/4″
Cutting and collaging advertisements to fill the gallery with a herd of cattle—bright, cacophonous and just on the edge of perception—Oehlen’s new show at Corbett vs. Dempsey is called “Rawhide.” The cows-on-canvas (which seem intimidatingly large, though they’re almost all just shy of five feet by six) are rounded up for market, but Oehlen has confused the juxtaposed advertisements to the point of mere decoration, so they can’t sell us anything beyond themselves. True to “Rawhide,” the 1959-1966 TV series that saw cowboys lead a cattle drive to market, Oehlen is giving us cows neither here nor there: the bovines shimmer in and out of view, competing with the flashiness of billboards. The theme song incites us, like the collagist headed to market, to “Cut ’em out/ Ride ’em in.” Read the rest of this entry »
Maximilian Feuerring. “The Artist’s Studio,” c. 1955 – 60,
oil on board, 21” x 30”
With its wavy ribbons of flagrant magenta, hot orange and cool aqua, only one of these paintings feels typically Australian. With its flat, Byzantine, icon-like figuration, only one feels especially Ukrainian. But all twenty-seven have a luminosity, an intensity of craftsmanship, and a sense of looking out, rather than within, to celebrate the modern world. There’s often a feeling of tumult, but it’s never grim, and it’s always overcome. There’s never a sense of being overwhelmed or lost in self-doubt. Ludwik Dutkiewicz has the one piece that’s closest to Abstract Expression—but still it’s basically a landscape, its defiant gestures depicting the sky above, the earth below. Like the Ukrainian-American artists in the UIMA permanent collection, they appear unaffected by Surrealism and the irony-inflected trends of the New York art world, though all these paintings were done between 1950 and 1980. Like many of the early modernists, they are building a modern world in which they would like to live—as far from the horrors of the 1940s as Australia is from central Europe, a world somewhere in between the Arcadian sensuality of Matisse, and the neo-Medieval piety of Rouault. Read the rest of this entry »
Jackie Saccoccio. “Square in Hole,” 2014
oil and mica on linen, 79″ x 79″
Part of their “March Trifecta” of exhibitions, Jackie Saccoccio’s new all-over paintings are unified by a concentrated hovering apparition. The subtractive process of layering paint passages evoke openly flayed nervous systems in controlled pours, drips and squeegeed treatments of indulgent color palettes. Saccoccio’s “Square in Hole” is an enthralling break from negotiating potentially formulaic x and y-axis of “portraits.” Vectors of negative space between drips are exuberantly dashed-in. Paintings hung strategically in succession push the threshold of what one wall should be made to carry. Expansiveness and restraint are emphasized. Read the rest of this entry »
Mariana Sissia. “Mental Landscape #1,” 2015
graphite on rice paper
98.5″ x 27″ each
Delicate, gauzy rice paper sheets and scrolls hang throughout the compact storefront gallery. From a slight distance, the sheets appear to be topographical maps or, more likely, aerial black-and-white photographs of ambiguous terrain. Patterns of lightness and darkness roil over the soft surfaces of the rice paper, resolving into firm peaks of dense graphite just as easily as they dissolve into faint valleys of dull metallic traces. Do they represent mountains or deserts, hazy cloud cover or the surface of an ocean? The scale and materials recall Chinese scroll painting, but other associations just as easily come to mind. Last summer, the Art Institute exhibited World War I reconnaissance photographs of the Allied front in France taken by an American military brigade commanded by Edward Steichen. In their intransigent abstraction and grayscale gradients, Mariana Sissia’s drawings appear much the same. How to discern anything of use from such immaterial forms? Steichen’s problem became our pleasure, and Sissia yields all the more fully to the tactile and sensate in the matter of abstract geographies. Read the rest of this entry »
Nick Bastis. “When you don’t find what you’re looking for, sleep (Gemini Bauce),” 2015
vinyl padding, Helix aspersa snails
Nick Bastis stokes and redirects the familiar to generate synaptic points of overlap that hint at subversion and untapped latent potential that extend between objects, architecture and the viewer’s body. The vastness of space between objects in this exhibition is symbolic of the immaterial intellectual labor that produced these variations. Read the rest of this entry »