Reviews, profiles and news about art in Chicago

Art Break: New Books by Artists

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Even though we often see artworks by artists, it is also good to hear their voices. Print is alive and well; artists help make it so.


Shifter, issue 20
Edited by Sreshta Rit Premnath and Matthew Metzger

The special theme of Shifter issue 20 is “What We Can Knot.” (It puts a positive spin on the cliché “he who cannot, teaches,” and offers anecdotal antidotes to James Elkins’ 2001 book, “Why Art Cannot Be Taught.”) What are art instructors thinking about today? What is the current state of art education? More than fifty contributors discuss the roles of professors, mentors, pupils, muses and Top Chef challenges. Many of the statements are formatted as conversations through which a collective understanding is talked out (this is an ideal of the classroom seminar) on timely topics such as de-skilling, re-skilling, friendship versus mentorship, CalArts versus SAIC, and the fate of the adjunct teacher. “Do part-time teachers work craft-services in the edu-tainment business?” asks Andrew Falkowski in his essay. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Structures for Reading/Center for Book and Paper Arts

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from Silvio Lorusso and Sebastian Schmieg’s “56 Broken Kindle Screens”

from Silvio Lorusso and Sebastian Schmieg’s “56 Broken Kindle Screens”


Visual and literary artists often partner, resulting in beautiful works like “Prose of the Trans-Siberian and of Little Joan of France” currently on view in MoMA’s “Inventing Abstraction,” in which Sonia Delaunay’s Orphic, abstract shapes literally bleed into Blaise Cendrars’ poetry, or becoming one and the same in the case of the Conceptual group Art+Language. A current exhibition curated by Jessica Cochran at Columbia College Chicago’s Center for Book and Paper Arts, “Structures for Reading,” considers a refreshingly novel aspect of the interplay between literary and visual arts: the relationship between book and human body as well as the physical exercise of reading.

New possibilities for reading are presented by Gareth Long’s “Invented Desk for Copying,” a wood desk in an S-shape with two facing working spaces, from Flaubert’s last novel, or Johana Moscoso’s “Delirio/Delirium,” a bean-shaped pillow that sits on the ground and provides a huggable support for readers’ contemplative heads. Czech artist Eva Kotatkova imagines an apparatus for attaching books to the body, either a medieval torture-device or a multi-functional spider Halloween costume and book carrier in one. These alternative structures spark curiosity: why are desks shaped that way, and why have their shapes remained unchanged through the years? Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Johanna Drucker/Center for Book and Paper Arts

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page 6 from “Simulant Portrait”


Book artist extraordinaire Johanna Drucker, who has done more than perhaps any other contemporary artist to increase the critical recognition of book as art form, is often most closely associated with language/concrete poetry and the avant-garde of the Bay Area scene in the 1970s and eighties; but her retrospective, “Druckworks,” at Columbia College’s Center for Book and Paper Arts evidences the astonishing depth and breadth of Drucker’s creative and critical work—and shows the artist and scholar deeply engaging with current aporias and future incarnations of the book as form. Some wall text—“We think we know what a book is… but a book is a snapshot, a slice across networked streams of conversations, ideas… a temporarily configured intervention in a living field”—could stand in for Drucker’s prolific career over the past forty years as she has been in conversation with poets, book artists, scholars, printers, graphic designers and cartographers nationally and internationally. Throughout, her primary concern with the visual and material dimension of text anchors the show as different threads (unreadable writing, ekphrasis, synesthesia, digital poetry, post-alphabetic writing in digital media) emerge from the dozens of books and works on paper, interrogating the relation between image and meaning from seemingly endless angles. Read the rest of this entry »

Eye Exam: Not-Bestsellers Inspire Anyway

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Molly Springfield, from “The Proto-History of the Internet”

By Jason Foumberg

If there was an awkward reveal during “Publication in the Expanded Field,” Triple Canopy’s presentation this past March (as part of Columbia College’s Interdisciplinary Arts Department visiting artist program) of their Internet art magazine, it didn’t come via their slogan, “Slowing down the Internet,” nor in their ability to convince writers and artists to transform their materials into purely digital terms, such as a downloadable program that randomly casts shadows across your desktop, nor in their conviction that technology is finally satisfying both the archival impulse and the creative drive. No, the eye-opening moment arrived as an aside during the Q&A: Triple Canopy, the art magazine on the cutting edge of the digital divide, confessed the hope to one day anthologize its online magazine into a printed book. It’s too expensive to keep up with ever-evolving technology, said their web developer, so a book would be permanent, a safeguard against the dematerialization of electronic content. This reversal, this coveting of the physical, ink-and-paper format by a new media group, turns the crisis of the publishing industry on its head. We have experienced the future of the published page, and it is inadequate.

If Triple Canopy were a book, it might read like “Blast Counterblast,” a newly published collection of artists’ writings and short fiction from the WhiteWalls imprint, edited by Anthony Elms and Steve Reinke. Both Triple Canopy and “Blast Counterblast” envision an ideal reader who wants to be educated, inspired and surprised, all at once—and they push readers through exciting interfaces and design enhancements. Triple Canopy presents text as a multimedia experience, and the essays in “Blast Counterblast” have words heightened with colored ink, like suggestions for hyperlinks that the reader must connect. These modifications are subtle, respecting the fact that content should ensnare readers too. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Jindrich Heisler/Art Institute of Chicago

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Jindrich Heisler. Untitled, 1944.


This first museum retrospective brings together seventy works that Jindrich Heisler (1914–1953) made between 1938, when he joined the Czechoslovakia Surrealist Group, and his death, in 1953. Disobeying a summons to deportation to a concentration camp in 1941, Heisler remained in hiding until the war’s end. Undeterred by the suppression of surrealism in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia, Heisler made much of the work in the exhibition while in hiding.

In a series of photographs from 1944-1945 titled “From the Same Ilk (De la meme farine),” the moth-eaten bodies of figures form inverted silhouettes against black backdrops. Stretched into being across stark landscapes, cobwebby striations connect hand to hand, hand to face. The hues and rough textures recall Alberto Giacometti’s painted bronze sculptures. Heisler achieved these existentially wrought images through an inventive process of drawing, possibly with petroleum jelly on a glass photo plate or through image transfers, then printing the results on photosensitive paper, often applying color by hand. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Living Book/Carrie Secrist Gallery

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Designed to represent an automated book-production facility, “Living Book” is a collaboration by Plural (the graphic design duo Jeremiah Chiu and Renata Graw) and Jonathan Krohn of The Center for Book Technology. The exhibition uses custom software designed by Michael Bingaman to capture images via an overhead camera, which are projected on a wall. Viewers may use an accompanying keyboard to make text appear over the projected images. In theory, a nearby printer would print out a page of the resulting text and images every sixty seconds for five hours a day, five days a week. However, a sound concept doesn’t always lead to flawless execution.

On a recent Saturday, the camera and keyboard were working with the images projected against the blank white wall, but the printer spat out blank page after blank page. A gallery attendant had to refill the paper tray just to demonstrate how the exhibit was intended to work. Read the rest of this entry »

Art Break: The Old New Art Examiner

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It is tempting to take the temperature of today’s cultural climate by sticking a finger in the cold past. How do we compare to those who triumphed before us? Is the past our tradition, our culture? But the things that grow in shadows are strange, and there is no darker shadow than the one cast from someone else’s departed golden age.

The New Art Examiner, an art-criticism newspaper and then a magazine published in Chicago from 1973 to 2002, has recently been collected into an edited anthology called “The Essential New Art Examiner,” which contains thirty-seven selections from its roller-coaster run through Chicago’s contemporary art landscape and insightful reflections from five of the publication’s editors. This King James version of the New Art Examiner condenses the battles of the old guard into a doctrine of Chicago’s signature art styles and controversies. Read the rest of this entry »

Exit Interview: End of the Golden Age

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Marco and Martine. photo by Jessica Williams.

By Jason Foumberg

Golden Age, Chicago’s only venue dedicated to selling artists’ books and printed matter, is closing this November. Artists Marco Kane Braunschweiler and Martine Syms opened the shop in Pilsen in 2007, with a focus on affordable art publications by emerging artists, and moved to the West Loop in January 2010, where they hosted exhibition, lecture and performance programs among their well-stocked tables and shelves of printed projects from international artists. Golden Age also had a publishing arm, producing ten titles from emerging American artists, and they participated in events such as the NY Art Book Fair. Golden Age was more than a traditional shop with unusual product; it was also a place where people hung out, browsed books, and chatted with the always-enthusiastic owners, Marco and Martine, about new ideas and trends in contemporary art. But “Golden Age is completely over,” they told me. “We will not resuscitate the brand under any conditions. It’s a done deal.” Read the rest of this entry »

Eye Exam: Girls on the Verge

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By Regan Golden-McNerney

One of my favorite characters in American literature is Pearl, the rambunctious daughter of Hester Prynne and Reverend Dimmesdale in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter.” Pearl is as lustrous and elusive as her namesake; she is alternately demonic and angelic as she flits through the forest taunting her mother and dancing in the sparkling sunshine. Many “Pearls” are uncovered by the artists and authors in “Girls! Girls! Girls!”—a collection of eight essays on the figure of the girl in contemporary art. This book draws attention to the transformative, almost chimerical, power of girls. As the two editors, Lori Waxman and Catherine Grant, explain in their introduction, the girl, nearing the end of adolescence, can be a potent symbol of the fluidity of gender identity and also expand cultural definitions of the feminine. Read the rest of this entry »

Eye Exam: Be a Professional Artist Today!

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By Jason Foumberg

A self-identified “second-generation collector” admitted, “I have never heard of a small artist group that’s having something [an exhibition] where anybody’s reached out to me.” This was in the MCA’s auditorium at a well-attended panel discussion on Chicago’s local art scene in November. The collector, who was seated in the audience, chose to respond to the topic of how emerging artists can connect with emerging collectors. The collector, who presumably lives in Chicago, admitted to not shopping locally (and only at art fairs) because artists don’t invite him to their exhibitions. As a caveat, he bluntly told the audience, “What we see [in Chicago] is generally not appealing.”

Most artists need collectors if they’re expecting to be career artists, but this collector did not toss out calling cards to the hundreds in attendance, nor identify his name. It’s likely that this collector, and many others, enjoy the prestige of collecting art, yet collectors are not public figures. (The highest echelon of philanthropy is the “anonymous” donor). If you are an artist in Chicago you can probably name fifty fellow artists, twenty art galleries, and maybe one art collector. This collector revealed a double-edged secret: collectors don’t need artists.

“Each and every month commit to identifying a minimum of fifty potential collectors and make at least one sale,” writes Katharine T. Carter in her new book, “Accelerating on the Curves: The Artist’s Roadmap to Success.” Her other advice for an artist to maintain good collector relations is to host an annual holiday cocktail party at your studio, send a glass of champagne to a collector’s table if you spot them at a restaurant, always thank them for a sale with a handwritten note, and update them with news about your current exhibitions. This last bit mirrors the complaint of the unidentified Chicago collector. Carter’s words of wisdom are not, in fact, unrealistic, but how does an artist who is not represented by a gallery connect with collectors in the first place? “Get creative,” she says. Collectors are not just museum aristocrats, but also your dentist, accountant, realtor, or friend who is an interior designer. These folks, who don’t shop at art galleries, have the power to purchase your art if they only knew you were an artist, she writes. Read the rest of this entry »