Reviews, profiles and news about art in Chicago

Review: Cyrus Tang Hall of China/Field Museum of Natural History

Ceramics, Craft Work, Design, Galleries & Museums, Museum Campus, Sculpture No Comments »

Statue of Wei Tuo/The Field Museum


Museums such as the Field face significant challenges in their efforts to liven up old collections while accounting for significant developments in historical and anthropological scholarship. The 9,000 square feet of exhibition space in the newly opened Cyrus Tang Hall of China is entertaining enough to captivate visitors of all ages, but it can only provide a cursory introduction to 5,000 years of Chinese civilization, though a much more serious and informative story about earth and its creatures might be told online, where there is infinite space for interactive audios, visuals and texts. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Kera MacKenzie and Andrew Mausert-Mooney/Roman Susan Gallery

Craft Work, Design, Drawings, Galleries & Museums, Installation, Media & Genres, Performance, Rogers Park No Comments »
Kera MacKenzie and Andrew Mausert-Mooney, Installation view, "Havoc and Tumbled, 2015. Courtesy of Roman Susan.

Kera MacKenzie and Andrew Mausert-Mooney, Installation view, “Havoc and Tumbled,” 2015.
Courtesy of Roman Susan.


In “Havoc and Tumbled,” collaborators Kera MacKenzie and Andrew Mausert-Mooney packed Roman Susan’s little room with TVs and plants. Each monitor is different, ranging from 1970s-style sets to slick, hi-def screens. While each video has its own content, bits of scenes and clips bleed into other TVs, establishing them as parts of the same filmic project. Each screen is different, so things shift in quality, creating a fluctuation in visual textures in this glimpse of wildlife in this Rogers Park gallery.

Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Manish Nai/Kavi Gupta Gallery

Architecture, Collage, Craft Work, Digital Art, Galleries & Museums, Installation, Multimedia, Sculpture, Textiles, West Loop No Comments »
Manish Nai. "Untitled," 2015 Dyed burlap, 90" x 4"

Manish Nai. “Untitled,” 2015
Dyed burlap, 90″ x 4″


The work of Mumbai-based Manish Nai makes a viewer reconsider the limits of an artistic medium. He doesn’t use traditional media, such as heavy metals and wood, oil or acrylic. Instead, Nai uses everyday materials—cardboard, jute, newspaper and even his family’s used clothing—to sculpt, mark and render.

For his first solo exhibition in the United States, Nai has created wall hangings, photographic prints, sculptures and four site-specific works, including a gallery pillar wrapped in jute, a burlap-like material that is abundant in India, and a heat-transferred mural that will slowly disappear during the course of the exhibition. His use of traditional artistic processes, such as weaving or drawing and sculpting by hand, in conjunction with contemporary rendering techniques borrowed from digital and new media art, design and architecture give these objects a surprising new dynamism. By combining the old and the new, Nai’s work is thoroughly international even as it remains fully Indian.
Read the rest of this entry »

News: Motor Row Gallery Opens its Doors with a Group Exhibition

Craft Work, Galleries & Museums, News etc., Painting, Sculpture, South Loop No Comments »

Installation view of mixed media work in Motor Row Gallery’s inaugural group exhibition

The new Motor Row Gallery (MRG) has emerged on Chicago’s historic Near South Side in the heart of what is known as the Motor Row District. The fact that the gallery is sheltered in the unsuspecting venue of a U-Haul rental facility, well, that’s just the kind of inimitable type of beauty you’d expect to find in Chicago.

The gallery is cozily embedded inside of a Motor Row Lofts building owned by Suzanne Weaver, who has also been running a U-Haul business with her husband from there for the past two and a half years. Motor Row Gallery is an alternative gallery space curated by Weaver’s friend of thirteen years Pamela Staker with a special focus on pop-up art exhibitions and special events. For instance, Staker and Weaver have future plans to hold art expositions outdoors in the warmer months, making use of the extra U-Haul vans that aren’t rented out. Artists would rent a truck where they could display anything from paintings and sculptures to functional and installation work. Since the space would ultimately belong to the artists, they would have free reign on how they chose to present their work in their creative space.

Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Mindy Rose Schwartz/Queer Thoughts

Craft Work, Installation, Pilsen 1 Comment »
“You will live each day in Springtime,”  potter's wheel, wood, paper, papier-mâché, nylon, gold thread, linen cord, iridescent paint, song, 2014

“You will live each day in Springtime,” potter’s wheel, wood, paper, papier-mâché, nylon, gold thread, linen cord, iridescent paint, song, 2014


Mindy Rose Schwartz’s recent exhibition of sculptures at Pilsen’s Queer Thoughts walks the messy border between the fine arts and craft. Schwartz, who teaches the Extreme Craft course at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, has a history of complicating this border, teasing exciting formal, historical and affective possibilities out of parallel craft and fine arts practice. “Windsong stays on my mind,” a dream catcher in which one spies the outlines of birds, faces, evil-eyes and popsicle-stick musings is dotted with costume jewelry, rhinestones and false flowers. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: From Heart to Hand: African American Quilts from the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts/DePaul Art Museum

Craft Work No Comments »
Yvonne Wells, "Rosa Parks I," cotton, polyester and plastic buttons, 2005

Yvonne Wells, “Rosa Parks I,” cotton, polyester and plastic buttons, 2005


This collection of quilts from the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts is hardly a random sampling from African-American communities in Alabama. But still, the question arises, why were so many twentieth-century Alabama quilters so good? Even when their work is reproduced as postage stamps (which is how I first saw them), their designs are eye-catching. The pieces are impressive in their original wall-size dimensions, which is surprising because hanging fabric cannot hold tension in edges or lines. The dynamic of the overall design is so overwhelming that the eye must visually compensate to make lines seem straighter than they really are.

Only one quilt (and the only one that’s anonymous) is consistently and painstakingly symmetric. All the others encourage the eyes to ramble, seeking various rhythms and patterns among similar shapes, colors and sizes. There’s usually a feel-good sense of slowly spinning outward from the center. The robust inventiveness suggests that these women might have been competing to entertain each other in their small, quiet towns of Pink Lily, Boligee and Gee’s Bend, Alabama. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Fifty Years: Contemporary American Glass from Illinois Collections/Krannert Art Museum

Craft Work, Sculpture No Comments »

Marvin Lipofsky


In 1962, Harvey Littleton, a ceramic instructor at the University of Wisconsin, and Dominick Labino, a visionary industrial engineer, collaborated to assemble a glass-blowing workshop at the Toledo Museum of Art, training students like Dale Chihuly and Marvin Lipofsky, and thus beginning the American Studio Glass Movement. To mark its fiftieth anniversary, the Krannert Museum has assembled thirty-six pieces representing both its origins and diversity of practice.

That diversity is more than a little mind-boggling. Like the creative people who made them, these pieces are defiantly individualistic, and every kind of glass technique seems to have been included: casting, laminating, blowing, enameling, etching and others. A wide variety of artistic discourse is present as well, from classical figuration to abstract expression, folk art, ethnic art and modern decorative design. 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:

Portrait of the Artist: Kristin Mariani Frieman

Craft Work, West Loop No Comments »

Chicago-based clothing designer Kristin Mariani Frieman’s new show at Spoke, “A Sample of Making,” is the artistic result of her clothing line Redshift, founded in 2000. Redshift is a line that creates its own distinct mark in the fashion world through its use of salvaged materials and found garments. Prior to starting her own clothing line, her professional experience included five years as a clothing and textile designer in New York and Milan. A graduate of The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Frieman received numerous awards, such as the Steckl Fellowship and the Lord & Taylor National Dress Design Award, for her pioneering designs. She has made her presence known as an independent designer through her collaboration with artists from other disciplines and has created garments for dance, performance and installation.

After sitting down and talking with Frieman, I found that her current artistic endeavor is a “non-performance” performance piece engaging Spoke’s visitors in her creative and constructive processes. As an in-progress piece, Frieman is constantly working to portray her creative wants through the labor of making clothing. Similar to her clothing line, “A Sample of Making” repurposes found wools and creates one-of-a-kind ready-to-wear, size-varying garments. Coming from a design background, Frieman is heavily focused on building layers with her materials. Her show is organized by fabric content (100-percent wool only because it is easier to manipulate and reshape through washing and drying) and color gradation. Her project integrates Josef Albers’ fundamental color theories and gradation studies from his book “Interaction of Color.” She references Albers and his studies to constantly remind us of the colors we see, their relationships and how we view them. Read the rest of this entry »

Day One, Miami Art Fairs: When bigger is better

Art Fairs, Craft Work, Performance, Photography, Street Art, Textiles, Video 1 Comment »

By Alicia Eler

Dresses swish as fast as palm tree leaves in Miami, where the entire art world gathers for the annual spending spree. Alicia Eler’s daily blog clues you in on finds at the fairs, from the established Art Basel Miami Beach (the mother of all the Miami art fairs) to Chicago’s born-and-bred emerging art fair, Bridge. Tips of the day provided by Kansas City-based artist Peregrine Honig.

Monumental Art:

When bigger is better

Should you pull out the big guns at the beginning, or wait till later? Do it now while viewers still have energy and open eyes, because after a week of looking at thousands of booths filled with art, even a Gerhard Richter might start to look like an Andy Warhol soup can.

Sies + Höke Galerie must have had that same thought when they decided to bring Kris Martin’s “For Whom…” (2008), which takes up the entire Düsseldorf-based gallery’s booth at Art Basel Miami Beach. Borrowing from John Donnes’ eponymous line, Martin’s bell swings, hitting hard metaphorically but not literally precisely because of what it lacks: the pendulum. The nearly 100-year-old bronze bell, originally built in 1929, hangs from the top of a 216.54-inch tall steel support. In its original church context, this bell wouldn’t serve its purpose of keeping track of time, signaling a call to prayer or signaling ceremony commencements. In the white-cube context, one watches the bell swing back and forth, hearing only its whistling movements drift through the air. Posing existential questions about our own mortality and the fate of a flawed system that keeps going despite its lack of working parts, Martin’s piece stuns like a Jenny Holzer truism.

Monumental takes on another form at SCOPE’s grown-up carnival land installation “Fun House” by Miami-based collective FriendsWithYou. One merely slips off their shows and enters the giant inflatable bouncy house through a large circle entrance. Jumping up and down releases any stress and channels the oft-forgotten inner child.

Smiles begone, however, once one sees the installation of an oversized horse three-way scene by Gregory de la Haba (Gallery Privee at Bridge Wynwood). As a giant brown male horse stands on its hind legs—his large cock in mid-air, heading toward the vagina of a white female horse who is adorned with a red feather hat and glittery red harness—a second identical white female horse, floating on her backside, flings her mouth toward the brown horse’s membrane. A child-size doll stands nearby, her back to the scene. It’s questionable as to why a horse three-way would happen directly behind an innocent-looking girl, but thankfully she doesn’t notice the spectacle. A steady stream of viewers do, however; crowds gathered around the horses, muttering stunned remarks to one another. At once intriguing and disturbing, this installation provides an unusual foray into the world of horse sex. I suggest keeping your My Little Ponies at home.

Friendlier beasts abound in a wall-size mural by New York-based artist collective Antistrot, conveniently visible onto the exterior of Aqua Wynwood’s warehouse-like façade. Large-scale creatures and characters spew forth cartoon and comic book-flavored pop culture: A wary gorilla peers to his right, a sense of sadness emanating from his with eerily human eyeballs, while a light-brown-skinned Muslim girl, her big brown eyes distant, solemnly carries a neon pink machine gun.

Though all of these pieces are either large in scale or in message, the monumental theme best applies to a portrait of Barack Obama, arguably the most important man alive today. German photographer Martin Schoeller, whose large-scale 2004 portrait “Barack Obama” on display at Hasted + Hunt’s Art Miami booth, honestly captures the now-president-elect while he was still a state senator. Schoeller, who studied under Annie Leibovitz, uses his detailed lens to take crisp, straight-forward, large-scale portraits of celebrities, including Heath Ledger and Justin Timberlake. For example, in the Obama portrait, he illuminates Obama’s glowing brown eyes, and focuses details on the soon-to-be-president’s nose, cheeks and lips, exposing a feeling of gentle honesty that one can sometimes only see through a frozen moment in time.

With Obama peering out from at least one wall of every fair, the German church bell keeps swinging, never tolling. And so we arrive at Peregrine’s Miami tip of the day: German comes in handy. Learn it, especially if you recognize for whom the bell tolls.