Reviews, profiles and news about art in Chicago

Review: Medley/Chicago Urban Art Society

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What first comes to mind when I think of collage? I picture adhesives and ephemera being used in a two-dimensional scale. Unfortunately, I also think about Pinterest and capitalism, and how the general population has hijacked the collage, turning the medium into a selfish “board” of desires. Chicago Urban Art Society’s second installment of the group show “Medley” is a much needed palate cleanse for me. It reminds that collage is much more than nostalgia and ephemera ((I promised (promised!) myself I wouldn’t use the word “ephemera” in this review, and now I’ve already done it twice.)). “Medley” shows that the art form of assemblage is amorphous and untethered. This is the good side of collage.

Here, there are three-dimensional artworks composed of bike reflectors, destroyed iPhones, nuts and bolts, and metal springs. There are unframed collages where cutout photographs of animals project outward like a pop-up book. Some of the artwork has been coated in resin, giving it the sheen of a tabletop in a diner. There are collages that step away from analog techniques, digitally printed pieces that are surreal and meticulously detailed. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Lou Beach/AdventureLand Works on Paper

Collage, Wicker Park/Bucktown No Comments »
"Ring Ring, Too Fat Me (The Japanese Corner)"

“Ring Ring, Too Fat Me (The Japanese Corner)”


Collage artist Lou Beach—whose nom de guerre is a clever Anglicization of the Polish surname Lubicz—has a great sense of humor. A longtime illustrator with a client list that includes the New York Times, Wired and Time, Beach’s humble beginnings (a child of immigrants) and youthful sojourns across the continent have endowed him with a sagacious insight into the American character. His gaze, like his wit, is razor sharp.

For his new solo show at AdventureLand, the Los Angeles-based artist has assembled a fine assortment of biting, surrealist-inspired works. Culled from the pages of the past, Beach’s source material is part Little Golden Book, part Sunday missal, combined in striking, and sometimes disturbing ways. Careful inspection yields numerous visual delights, such as the figure in “Honey, Please” whose Cigar-Indian head nose and landscape mouth elicit laughter and revulsion. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Mark Wagner/Western Exhibitions

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Mark Wagner, “Mr. Handshake’s Last Gasp,” 2010


While the rest of the country was completely consumed by a bitter election that gained the dubious honor of being the most expensive ever at the cost of over six billion dollars, you would never know it if you took a trip around the West Loop galleries a weekend or two before the election. The art on view seemed blissfully unaware of the outside world to the point of bordering on irrelevancy.

The exception was Mark Wagner’s “Voting with Your Pocketbook” at Western Exhibitions, where the simple acknowledgment of the events beyond the gallery walls felt like a breath of fresh air. Framing itself as “an exhibition of money art,” the work uses the dollar bill as its medium, which Wagner then collages, paints or draws over.

At other times and in other situations using the dollar might feel a bit facile and gimmicky; and though doubt never entirely disappears, against the backdrop of the election and disinterest of other galleries in current events, Wagner’s gesture comes off as both relevant and urgent. Indeed, the artist winks at art’s perennial detachment in several works. Looking like a conceptualist work from the seventies, “Ink Value Study” builds to full black-and-white over a sequence of six bills. Elsewhere, Twombly-esque scribbles and strokes appear atop their money medium.

Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Medley/Chicago Urban Art Society

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"Hot Dog" by Peter Kepha


When he conceived of a collage exhibition seven months ago, Peter Kepha, co-founder of Chicago Urban Art Society (CUAS), had three artists from Chicago in mind and wanted to bring together talent from around the country to show how diverse roots in media like design, graffiti, illustration and typography can apply to approaches in collage, creating a rich push-and-pull between structure and balance and the messiness of life evident in our ephemera.

The works in “Medley” are like a melodic composition, arranged yet providing a feeling of immediacy. While some of the works hint at cultural critique, the tone of the exhibition is not of critical image appropriation but rather engagement with source materials. Often it’s the dissonance between the property of the material and the image created that energizes these works. Read the rest of this entry »

Eye Exam: Borrowing Time

Collage, Sculpture, Video No Comments »

Stacia Yeapanis, "Stairway to Heaven" (detail)

By Jason Foumberg

We are given time but it should be hard won. That is the reigning philosophy of artists who fill time with traces of their existence, with towering piles of process-laden materials. When an artist accumulates time and produces a labor-rich object, that object can be sent out into the world to do the work of time—a proxy self who, if it can stand up, succeeds in not just measuring and filling one’s time but extending it.

A standard wall clock is placed in Stacia Yeapanis’ solo exhibition as a reminder that art spaces, like failed time machines, are not time-exempt. Time is an insistent collaborator in “Over and Over Again,” Yeapanis’ showing of eight durational sculptures, collages and videos from a recent studio residency. The studio is certainly one place where time is dense, and Yeapanis treats it like a sculptural material, and questioningly, for she positions food and entertainment distractions into stacked columns, swirled patterns, loops and grids, evincing the emptiness that can come from so much accumulation. If ritual is supposed to give meaning to life, it is obsession that wears it down. Yeapanis inhabits this void to see if it can be a positive, productive space. Loneliness is a major theme here, manifest not only in the solo clock (an imperfect lover?) but also excellently in a pop-TV montage in the style of Christian Marclay. Titled “Solace Supercut,” dozens of fictional characters repeat the sobering phrase, “You don’t have to go through this alone,” and it is looped so that the lone warrior’s quest of self is eventually revealed to be absurd, even clichéd. Yeapanis toys with re-arranging familiar objects to transcend their sad banality—she stacks McNuggets into a “Stairway to Heaven”—confessing the fun of self-transformation burnout. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Stephen Eichhorn/Ebersmoore Gallery

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"Orchid Circle IV (Black)," collage on acrylic coated paper


If you’re reading this, I probably don’t have to introduce Stephen Eichhorn. The much-buzzed-about collage artist has been everywhere these past few years, appearing in group shows, solo shows, printed matter, residencies, and “Best Of” lists across the board. In his latest solo show, “Flowers, Eichhorn presents more of the same: botanical collages of images painstakingly extracted from books, magazines and vintage wallpaper to create gentle yet compelling Ikebana-esque arrangements. And while some of these images have been seen before, the vibrancy of these works is somehow amplified by the ability to see Eichhorn’s garden grow, incorporating richer images which, flawless in their construction, emerge specter-like from the vastness of their monochrome backgrounds. Eichhorn’s penchant for orchids is particularly fitting considering the flower’s parole of both virility and delicacy, of history and evolution. In “Yellow Orchid, these botanical assemblages exude a sense of control and deliberation that demand the viewer’s attention—not because of their forcefulness, but rather for their balance, the thoughtful coupling of the natural world with the void of space. “Floral Burst 1” calls to mind supernovas, lush bursts simultaneously chaotic and structural, reaching to the far edges of the paper. Such effects are likely the truest testament to Eichhorn’s ability as an artist: the power to infuse an image with such vibrancy that not only does it live, but indeed, it thrives. (Jaime Calder)

Through April 2 at Ebersmoore, 213 North Morgan, #3C.

Review: Richard Hawkins/Art Institute of Chicago

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"Urbis Paganus IV.9.I. (Posterity title)," 2009, Mixed media on matte board. Courtesy of Greene Naftali Gallery, New York


“Third Mind,” a mid-career survey of LA-based artist Richard Hawkins’ art work, opened this October at the Art Institute of Chicago, and will travel in early spring to the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles. The exhibition reveals Hawkins’ breadth and variety of media, including drawing, collage, assemblage, inkjet prints and painting. Two abstract paintings, “Pink Feather” and “Bad Medicine,” are collages of used clothes and towels covered in thick swaths of color. Each canvas dawns a feather protruding from their sides reminiscent of Joan Miró’s “Man, Women, and Bull” of 1935 in the Art Institute’s collection.

Hawkins’ works deals insightfully with male queerness by representing its negotiation with a system that encourages both its assimilation and its exploitation in media imagery. Hawkins moves through various cultural examples, from John Wayne Gacy (a painting by the incarcerated killer sent to Hawkins is shown in the museum’s library), to male heavy-metal icons, to native peoples in various states of cultural loss, to the puritanically censored sexuality within classical sculpture. In this task the methods of his collage, bluntly combining handwritten text, abstract mark-making and printed images, serve him well. The slipshod quality of magazine cutouts brazenly paperclipped to their destination affects a directness that reads as the unmitigated activity of an individual, thereby reclaiming the subject matter as the act of an actual human being. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: John Parot/Western Exhibitions

Collage, Drawings, Painting, West Loop No Comments »


John Parot’s exhibition, “Hobbies,” addresses the game of pursuit in gay online dating. In his figurative and abstract works on paper, panel and canvas, Parot makes a sardonic jab at the homogeneity of online dating profiles.

In his collage piece, “Total Eclipse,” Parot combines magazine cutouts in a composition reminiscent of online profiles. Heads float on a flat black background, magazine cutouts allude to common idols and makeshift horoscopes identify a popular cast of gay characters like “the disco dreamer missing brunch” and the “Faux Hawk forever on trend.” Yet his work goes beyond a play on stereotypes. Sculptural work, such as a wooden striped black-and-white paddle, “Haze Him,” pushes the viewer to consider not only the characters associated with online dating but also the possible commodities and behaviors of its players. Parot’s pieces, riddled with allusions to whiskey and nights spent bar hopping, may exclude other possible romantic interactions, taking on the it-is-what-it-is approach to online dating.

Undercut with Parot’s own profile is a more poetic, if not romantic piece, “Self-Portrait, Infrared.” Here, Parot charts minute lists of personal likes on black triangular canvas:  “six pack of Diet Coke and a bottle of Jack,” “tacos after midnight,” “late night bike rides.” Although mostly common and unrevealing, the confessions point to a desire for a romantic connection regardless of the flawed medium. (Beatrice Smigasiewicz)

Through June 12 at Western Exhibitions, 119 North Peoria.

Review: Get It Together Again/Chicago Tourism Center Gallery

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Peter Skvara, "Asteroids #8"


Co-curators Chad Kouri and Ed Marszewski successfully “get it together” for their second group show focusing on collage, assemblage and collaboration. Inviting artists from their 2009 show at the Co-Prosperity Sphere, they extended their lineup to include national and international artists as well. “We curated the artists, not the work,” said Kouri, referring to the fact that many of the pieces were created specifically for the show. “These are the kind of people you don’t have to micromanage.” The result is an enjoyable blend of contemporary two-dimensional and three-dimensional work ranging from traditional paper collage to mixed media, installation and sculpture. The works’ arrangement emphasizes its diversity while retaining continuity. A show featuring collage might overwhelm visitors with imagery overload; instead the space is open and inviting, and a nice visual balance exists between pieces. Matthew Rich’s colorful geometric abstracts provide relief after viewers finish scrutinizing the many details of Jordan Martins’ collage works; a linear work by Ron Ewert uses empty space to create a “corner” in the middle of the room. The show’s collaborative aspect might be the least perceptible. The majority of pieces are created by single artists (one notable exception being an entire “grocery store” shelf facsimile by Adrianne Goodrich and Ellen Kirk displaying well-known food products constructed of paper and color pencil) and the majority of the work doesn’t lend itself to contextual readings of collaboration. However, viewers are encouraged to collaborate as well by creating their own work using collage materials provided. (Patrice Connelly)

Through April 6 at the Chicago Tourism Center Gallery, 72 E. Randolph.

Review: John Fraser/Roy Boyd Gallery

Collage, Drawings, River North No Comments »

"Form with Suggested Content"


In the exhibition “Object Lesson,” John Fraser treats his own oeuvre, spanning twenty-something years, like a series of found objects from which to assemble a collage, offering a palimpsest of his career, revisiting past trends and former concerns in linen, mosaic and book-binding fragments. There is a haunting quality to many pieces—puttied-over traces of pulled staples, mottled glue along an eviscerated book spine)—but the show centers around “Form with Suggested Content,” a framed collage featuring a closed envelope. Here we have the unspoken enticement of narrative inherent in a found object, the jarring balance of collage, the shades of bottomless neutral washing from monochrome into subtle color play and, of course, the inlaid envelope itself, waiting for our response.

Fraser’s pieces sometimes pull optical tricks, oscillating positive and negative space. The inner edges of otherwise blank pages float to the foreground in “Westport Island Memory” while in “Composition with Similar Forms I” the sense of the immediately physical fades, leaving work more akin to landscape painting than collage. “(In The) Absense of Rhetoric,” a diptych of aligned canvas panels, achieves tricks through the stitching and asymmetry of affixed pieces of fabric. But this piece, with its weeping pigment and ghostly squares, striped in slate-blue, transfixes also because it is so elusively allusive. Is this a reference to the uniforms of the death camps or swatches of aprons from a lost childhood? The absence, here, of “sense,” of anything like “rhetoric” casts a heavy presence. A quiet painting, it whispers insistently.

“Object Lesson,” as a whole, tantalizes, like an unexpected letter of such promise, such possibility, that one keeps it sealed as long as possible, just to increase the anticipation. (Spencer Dew)

Through March 2 at Roy Boyd Gallery, 739 N. Wells.