Reviews, profiles and news about art in Chicago

Review: Josef Strau/Renaissance Society

Ceramics, Hyde Park, Installation No Comments »
Josef Strau. "Raft," 2014

Josef Strau. “Raft,” 2014


The application referenced in the title of Josef Strau’s first museum exhibition in the United States, “The New World Application for Turtle Island,” is a fantastical art-and-text alternative to the formal procedures for a green card, and Turtle Island is a name given to the North American continent by its indigenous peoples. The Renaissance Society is filled with the Austrian-born nomad’s sensitively indulgent bricolage of Americana used to deconstruct histories of European invasion and colonization alongside his more personal accounts of exploring the United States and Mexico. Strau poses uneasy questions about the ethics and aesthetics that accompany cultural trade, not least of all his globetrotting presence as an after-effect of prior violent usurpations of place. His knowingly disjointed installation grapples with the conditions of being an outsider—and perhaps more confounding, an insider—in these places he holds dear. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Daniel Giles and Eliza Myrie/Roots & Culture

Ceramics, Drawings, Installation, Performance, Video, Wicker Park/Bucktown No Comments »
Eliza Myrie. "diamond, diamond, graphite," graphite and paper, dimensions variable

Eliza Myrie. “diamond, diamond, graphite,” graphite and paper, dimensions variable


In “go/figure,” Eliza Myrie and Daniel Giles converse over problems with abstraction, distortion and obfuscation of black bodies’ representations. Their respective historical research and process-based practices make manifest obscured features in histories of African mining and the craft objects of black slaves in the American South. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Paul Hopkin/Loo

Ceramics, Painting, Pilsen No Comments »
Paul Hopkin. Makgeolli Cups, 2014

Paul Hopkin. Makgeolli Cups, 2014


In the inaugural exhibition of Loo, Slow’s gallery within a bathroom, Paul Hopkin has his walls turned on his own work. Recently asked by a stranger to rent out Slow’s exhibition space in Pilsen, Hopkin was inspired to calculate how much of his building (in which he also lives) was dedicated to art space. Hopkin’s calculations led to a measurement of cost per square foot, and the silent partner of Slow, Jeffrey Grauel, immediately asked to lease the bathroom for one year—the decided lease at $19.42 a month. Because this is not technically Hopkin’s space, Grauel invited him to display his work for the first exhibition, highlighting the irony of Loo being a competitive gallery held within Slow’s walls, a space where the partners’ roles have been reversed.

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Review: Ceramic Sculpture/Rhona Hoffman Gallery

Ceramics, West Loop No Comments »


Ceramic art ain’t what it used to be. On a small table near the gallery entrance, six historic pots huddle together to remind us of the past. Though made by ancient hands from all over the planet (Rwanda, Peru, Cambodia and North America, among others), they all share a certain dignity. Rooted to the shelf beneath them, each stands tall and proud, asserting a simple though necessary function, and as strong, content, healthy, reliable, honest and handsome as one might wish sons and daughters to be. But don’t those qualities lead to a dead-end, low-pay job in today’s world? Ambition, cleverness, innovation, rule-breaking and unique virtuosity are required for success in our civilization, and are well represented by the five contemporary artists chosen to fill the rest of the gallery. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Xavier Toubes/Perimeter Gallery

Ceramics, River North No Comments »


More is more in contemporary American ceramics: more color, more shapes, more textures, more references, more audacity; subtle understatement and minimalism have been left to the Japanese and the modernists. Spanish-born Xavier Toubes fits right into this hyperactive art world—except that his work just does not feel American, despite having lived and worked here for two decades. And despite a palette of strong primary and metallic colors, and a slurpy sense of formlessness, he just hasn’t been able to abandon that traditional European elegance so successfully realized in the eighteenth century. 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: Stoked: Five Artists of Fire and Clay/Elmhurst Art Museum

Ceramics, Suburban No Comments »

Anne Meyer, “Tiger”


Thirty-five years ago, Sister Johanna Becker, OSB, of Saint Benedict’s College arranged for a graduating senior, Richard Bresnahan, to apprentice with Takashi Nakazato, a thirteenth-generation potter in Karatsu, a Japanese port city near the coast of Korea, that has been known as a ceramic center since the sixteenth century. Three years later, Bresnahan returned to Collegeville, Minnesota and built the eighty-seven-foot long “Johanna kiln,” the largest wood-fired kiln in America. And so a revered Japanese tradition took root in the upper Midwest.

But, as Bresnahan notes, though his work may seem Japanese to Americans, the Japanese say, ‘Boy, Richard, you sure make American-style pottery.” That unavoidable American-ness is what is so fascinating about this exhibition of work by Bresnahan and four of his former students, as selected by Matthew Welch, curator of Japanese and Korean Art at the Minneapolis Institute. While rooted in traditional Japanese technique and aesthetic, these Americans are chomping at the bit to express a louder, looser, more extroverted culture. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Creating What Has Never Been/Floating World Gallery

Ceramics, Lincoln Park, Painting No Comments »

Sadamasa Motonaga


When progressive young postwar Japanese artists followed their American colleagues into the brave new world of Abstract Expressionist painting, they were only expanding upon a tradition that had been putting expressive shapes, lines, colors and textures on the surfaces of pots for over a thousand years. The Gutai Group, founded in 1954, encouraged experimentation with materials and methods. As their manifesto declares, one member worked a large surface “in a single moment by firing a small, hand-made cannon filled with paint by means of an acetylene gas explosion.” The manifesto turns much more traditional when it declares, “We tried to combine human creative ability with the characteristics of the material in order to concretize the abstract space.” Despite their avant-garde mission of “creating a world that has never been,” the results, at least demonstrated by the two Gutai members in this exhibition, display the precise balance demanded by traditional Japanese aesthetics instead of exposing the self-destructive absurdity of the modern world. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Rebecca Warren/The Renaissance Society

Ceramics, Hyde Park 2 Comments »

Here Rebecca Warren exhibits two types of sculpture. Medium-sized steel planks with a corroded patina are propped in a vague Constructivist revival style, each adorned with a single pom-pom ball. The steel sculptures are, plainly, a one-line joke, parodies of historical Minimalism. Humor in art can be a great antidote to the junk of life, but these sculptures are jokes about art, as if invented during an art student’s drinking game.

The second type of sculpture presented here is a series of clay piles on pedestals. The formless piles are manhandled and sparsely painted with some colors. There are, unfortunately, about eight of these sculptures, each no different than another (although one clay sculpture, with female parts, is quite good, though not better than Hans Bellmer). Personally, I get a lot of pleasure from abject and “unmonumental” art, but these pieces of shit pack no punch. As pieces of shit go, they don’t stink at all. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The New Gallery of American Folk Art/Art Institute of Chicago

Ceramics, Craft Work, Outsider Art, Painting No Comments »

William Bonnell, "J. Ellis Bonham," March 5, 1825


If the Art Institute had an attic, it would look exactly like Gallery 227, a strange narrow hallway on the second floor that wraps around the brick dome of the Ryerson Library. Until last year, it held temporary exhibitions of architectural drawings and models. In the recent reinstallation of the museum’s permanent collection, architecture and design moved to the Modern Wing, and Gallery 227 now houses the American Folk Art collection—except that not all of it is American, and it’s only “folk” because it defines a period of American art before modern European styles dominated the scene.

For example, there are commercial ceramics from Stratfordshire and Mexico, which are only American in that Americans once collected them. There is a fine set of nested baskets made by a specialist on the New York Stock Exchange as “a release form Wall Street’s pressures.” There is also a perspective view of Roxbury, Massachusetts by John Penniman (1782-1841), a highly skilled former assistant to Gilbert Stuart. If these two are “folk artists,” then who isn’t? So, like an attic, this gallery is full of surprises, including some fine portraits by a local hero of the underground railroad, Sheldon Peck (1797-1868), a professional artist who lived in Lombard, Illinois. And, of course, there’s plenty of old furniture, though not every attic has a transcendent Shaker sewing desk like the one found here. There’s almost enough great wood carving to have a gallery of its own, including a crucifix by one of New Mexico’s famous Santeros, Jose Benito Ortega (1858-1941), and a newly acquired carving by Leslie Bolling (1898-1958), who was almost a star of the Harlem Renaissance. There are also some significant omissions. Where are the toys, dolls, rifles, tools, iron work, and silverware? Hopefully this gallery of surprising stuff will eventually go into permanent rotation. (Chris Miller)

On view at the Art Institute of Chicago, 111 S. Michigan. Digital catalogue of art on view in gallery 227: