Giulio Cesare Casseri, “Tabulae anatomicae” (detail), 1627
Representations of the human body can never exist apart from the cultures and technologies that produce them. Two physicians—Mindy Schwartz and Brian Callender— mined the University of Chicago’s impressive collections to produce a compelling history of anatomical and medical imaging. Their findings stress the idea that medical illustrations are products of collaboration between physicians who need visualizations as guides to their practice and for teaching, and the artists who produce them. Although the exhibit begins with a woodcut in a book by the second-century Roman physician Galen, medical illustration really flourished in France because the technologies for reproduction—etching, lithography, the workshops and the craftspeople that produced and disseminated books and fine prints—were in place to record the progress of science.
Where there are artists, imagination will creep into the territories science might like to claim for observation. A large, haunting three-color engraving by Gautier D’Agoty from 1746 of the flayed back of a woman whose head is slightly turned to be available to the viewer was called the “flayed angel” by the Surrealists. The print reveals a woman’s back, and her muscle structure, while vividly dramatizing the complications of the medical gaze. Read the rest of this entry »
John Preus has brought into being a “Beast” at the Hyde Park Art Center; a two-story, wooden construction shaped in the form of a bull and designed to swallow incoming visitors into its large hollow belly. This massive site-specific installation, modeled after the grand interiors of a cathedral structure and composed mostly of old furniture from Chicago Public Schools, is to function as a new platform for public dialogue. The product of a yearlong residency at the center, “The Beast” will host many educational and cultural activities over the coming months. This is Preus’ first solo museum exhibition.
With this project, Preus was firstly and largely influenced by the most unique feature of Hyde Park Art Center’s building: the garage doors located on the side of its main gallery. These shutters, which remain closed for most exhibitions, will be pulled up for the duration of this show and lead directly to the belly of “The Beast,” an interior communal space that will house hanging sculptures, rocking chairs, a ping pong table, a piano and even a porch swing made of old CPS desks. “I like to treat the materials I use as archeological objects and transform them to become useful in a new way, while revealing the history embedded within them,” says Preus. Read the rest of this entry »
Jeroen Nelemans, “Mondrian 2,” 2011
“SpotLight” casts a wide net to emphasize how light plays a varied role in several contemporary artists’ practices. This exhibition presents light as its subject while employing it as its medium to comment on art history, memory, the artistic process and transformation. At a time when technology and materials are overabundant, the goal of “SpotLight” is to use one of the simplest tools to speak to our contemporary moment. Light is a critical tool to any art form, whether it is used as a tool to examine a subject or as a means to produce an image.
Jeroen Nelemans’ laser light interpretations of two well-known Piet Mondrian paintings are perhaps the most striking examples of the ephemeral nature of light, even if in this case the light is completely artificial. Employing a small army of laser levels, Nelemans recreates the paintings’ angles using nothing more than the red beam of light. The pieces hover above the surface of the gallery wall, giving the works a false sense of dimension and depth. As the batteries wear down in each laser level, the lines connecting the work together slowly dissipate, and the relationship to the original painting dissolves as well.
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Untitled, 1950s, oil on canvas
Like his friend and mentor, Hans Hofmann, Sam Feinstein (1915-2003) was a teacher and practitioner of what Hofmann called “pure painting—the rhythmic interweavings of color scales.” His work is gestural, but all those dabs of thick paint that have been drawn, scraped or pushed across the canvas seem to be less about personal expression and more like a survey of paint-based ecosystems, where each shade of color has a life and a voice of its own. There is no anxiety, semiotic inquiry or reference to popular culture. There is nothing dark and disturbed, and nothing tedious or banal. There is just the seemingly endless variety of ever-emerging and ever-beautiful creation. These are not paintings that require market validation to be recognized as valuable, and the leading American galleries at the time were moving beyond Abstract Expression. So, it’s not surprising that Feinstein no longer offered his work to galleries after 1958, and even refused to sell anything at the only exhibit he had thereafter. Read the rest of this entry »
Trailing characters involved in the establishment of an aspirational interdisciplinary research site in a late 1960s pioneering Southern California, we enter the world behind the new book by Robert Kett and Anna Kryczka, “Learning by Doing at the Farm.” Students, researchers and indigenous “informants” coalesce and cohabitate space on an off-site ranch of the University of California, Irvine. Goals of the experiment include simulating native environments and possible realities. Rooted in the research of research, “Learning by Doing at the Farm” elevates the historical narrative of the loosely engineered engagements of the Farm to near sublime status, offering an aerial view that hovers between waxing counter-culture poetic and a just-out-of-reach synthesis of the relevance of events taking place there.
Having approached the book with a budding assumption that the insides reflected motivations of a new farmers movement—a personal projection of dreamed alternative living—I’m left with the word Farm ringing in my ear. Its application stands rooted in an echoed yearning for a pastoral life beyond societal confines. Its use offers cultural insight to an era when intellectualism assumed the foreminds of the dominant class, and actual farming had fallen out of sight and out of mind. Read the rest of this entry »
Andre Kertész, “New York City,” 1963
The epitome of modernist photography, André Kertész embraced and mastered every genre of his time, from the realist document to the surrealist fantasia, in a career spanning the decades between World War I and the 1960s, first in Budapest, then in Paris and finally ending up in New York City, where he remained, as World War II loomed and then the years passed. We now get a rare chance to see forty of Kertész’s images from the group that he contributed to the landmark 1967 “Concerned Photographer” show, constituting his self-chosen retrospective. In a welcome touch, the gallery has included the wall text that Kertész wrote for each of the photographs on display. Beyond the scope of the kinds of photography in which Kertész engaged was his exceptional gift of fusing divergent sensibilities into integral images; in the same work he could be at once formal, geometrical and sculptural as well as emotional, flowing and dynamic. Although it is arguable that Kertész achieved perfections of the photography of his time in each of his periods, the late New York images are his most philosophically profound, where he plumbed the depths of existential isolation, crystallizing the harsh response to life in concentrated visual metaphors. Nowhere is that effort more pronounced than in “New York City,” from 1963, in which a man, taken from behind, stands before a park bench, one of the slats of its back having fallen onto the seat and the other, at a slant, barely hanging on. Read the rest of this entry »
“Garden Plots” (design proposal) for West Chicago Branch Library, 6140 West North, 2007.
“What are the first three things you think of when you think of Chicago?” asked artist Zack Wirsum, as part of his public art proposal, of one hundred Chicagoans in 2008. The answers averaged out to hot dogs, pigeons, skyscrapers and Old Style beer. Can public art ever relate to civic identity without being utterly banal?
The exhibition “35 Years of Public Art” offers many attempts to thread that needle subsequent to the 1978 “Percent for Art Ordinance” which earmarked 1.33 percent of municipal construction costs be devoted to original public artwork. Most of the pieces on display are the proposals or scale models that the artists submitted for approval, and often it’s difficult to imagine the final results.
The pencil sketch that Irene Siegel submitted for a 1985 mural in the Sulzer Library looks like it might lead to a fresh, intriguing vision of Virgil’s epic “Aeneid,” but immediate public outcry over it in the Chicago Tribune, of “elements of graffiti and horror,” led to a lawsuit and the complaint that “full and complete description of the work” had not been submitted. Read the rest of this entry »
“Salomon,” acrylic and pigmented silicone on glass-less mirror, 2014
Occupy Wall Street may have fizzled out, but that doesn’t mean José Lerma isn’t still paranoid about the financial industry. In one installation, a ten-percent slice of a brightly colored circular stage is multiplied by kaleidoscopic mirrors to give the illusion of all 360 degrees. He’s titled it “A Critical Analysis of Central Banks and Fractional-Reserve Banking from the Austrian School Perspective.” What it demonstrates is that banks lend money that isn’t theirs. Like a carnival fun house, you need only view it once and laugh.
But his second installation, “Gloriosa Superba,” is both more ominous and more appealing, with some of the most exuberant painting that I have ever seen. Floral patterns of rubbery, sharp-edged shapes have been laid upon, and sometimes extend beyond, five-by-six-foot mirrors that reflect everything in the gallery. Each piece is supposed to represent one of the seven founders of the Rothschild banking dynasty hiding within the bloom of a tropical flower named in their honor. If you look closely, you just might recognize them, and something like a column hanging from the ceiling, representing the pillar at the London Stock Exchange where Nathan Mayer Rothschild plotted to crash and then bought up the British economy after the battle of Waterloo. Or, at least that’s the conspiracy theory published in 1887, drawn from unspecified sources. Read the rest of this entry »
Robert and Shana ParkeHarrison, “Thief of Paris,” 2013
Among the top scenario photographers on today’s scene, the team of Robert (the actor in the still dramas) and Shana (who “choreographs” the performance and takes the shots in black and white) ParkeHarrison impressively combine wit, whimsy and deep-cutting visual commentary in their crowded yet compact images. In their latest series, “Gautier’s Dream” (a bow to French artist Theophile Gautier, who “inspired” them), the ParkeHarrisons continue their reflection on the human puzzlement with nature, but this time they are no longer out to pinpoint the ironies attending “saving” our benighted planet; they are now at a more fundamental level of problematizing conventional beauty—in this case, flowers and butterflies. You’ll experience the Notebaert Nature Museum’s living butterfly wing differently than you might have after you have seen Robert, legs askew and hands outstretched, struggling on the floor after falling off a chair, besieged by a cloud of Lepidoptera. Or your botanical proclivities might be disturbed by the sight of Robert sporting a daisy in the lapel of his jacket, his head replaced by an unkempt bouquet of wild flowers that turn him into an ominous floral monster. Read the rest of this entry »
“Self Portrait (Ecco L’uomo),” oil on linen, 2013.
Modern life is more like a problem than an opportunity in “Modern Metaphors,” a showcase for four makers of imaginary worlds from Chicago. David Kroll retreats into the stuffy, quiet serenity of a seventeenth-century drawing room, while Katherine Ace withdraws to the scary-safe fantasies of medieval fairytales. The other two artists also look backward, but are more confrontational. Bruno Surdo’s Pop-Baroque-realism seems to say: “Our world is a madhouse, but I can take it!” while Sergio Fasola’s photo-surreal conglomerations are too visually disruptive to think about anything else.
There are some amazing paintings here, beginning with Surdo’s self-portrait as a churlish tagger sporting a seventeenth-century millstone ruff collar. He carries a dripping can of spray paint that hardly does justice to this artist’s incredible facility with a brush. When he depicts a face covered with hands, the result might well be a “Penitent Magdalene” as done by Rubens or Van Dyck. He’s that good. The quality of design diminishes as he adds more figures, which might suggest that he’s more comfortable with solitude. Read the rest of this entry »