Reviews, profiles and news about art in Chicago

Review: Chicago, Europe, and the Great War/Newberry Library

Design, Multimedia, Prints No Comments »
"Neutrality Rag," 1915, monographic, Frank K. Root & Co., Chicago

“Neutrality Rag,” 1915, monographic, Frank K. Root & Co., Chicago

With intriguing visual and printed matter documenting the first global war from a Chicago perspective, the Newberry once again demonstrates how world events played out at home. In this centennial year, most Americans still know woefully little about WWI. Visitors learn that more than a hundred thousand American soldiers died—the U.S. entered late in the war—but millions more in the European countries. Battlefield horrors are not emphasized here. Rather, soldiers’ letters and camp photographs, as well as civic organizations’ pamphlets and broadsides, indicate the vastness of the enterprise. Read the rest of this entry »

News: Milton Glaser’s Dying Planet Now Produced by Chicago Button Makers

Activist Art, Design, Logan Square, News etc. No Comments »


At the beginning of August, a striking new environmentalist campaign was launched by Milton Glaser, the indelible graphic designer responsible for such iconic works as the I heart NY logo. The stark new design of a black circle shaded a dimming green across its bottom edge connotes the earth’s present environmental changes and is accompanied by the tagline: “IT’S NOT WARMING, IT’S DYING.” Now the Chicago based Busy Beaver Button Co. has partnered with Glaser to create and widely distribute one-inch buttons of the logo through the website Read the rest of this entry »

News: Medium Cool Book Fair Returns This Weekend

Art Books, Design, News etc., Prints, West Loop No Comments »
Andrew Holmquist.  Ten books in the conXion box set, offset printed books, 2014

Andrew Holmquist.
Ten books in the conXion box set, offset printed books, 2014

Now in its second year, Chicago’s young art book fair has expanded for its latest iteration this weekend, spread across two days, at two sites, with two different focuses. Founded by designer Ria Roberts, Medium Cool is one of the most recent additions to Chicago’s literati culture of fairs, independent presses and book-minded artist projects. Read the rest of this entry »

News: Chicago Design Museum Opens New Home in the Loop

Design, Loop, News etc. No Comments »
Gallery view of a pop-up exhibition by the Chicago Design Museum

Gallery view of a pop-up exhibition by the Chicago Design Museum

The Chicago Design Museum (ChiDM), an organization that began in Phoenix, Arizona, and evolved when co-founder Tanner Woodford relocated to Chicago, is opening a 5,000-square-foot permanent space on the third floor of the Block Thirty Seven building at 108 North State. For the past two years, ChiDM has held annual exhibitions in pop-up locations that have explored themes like dynamic uses of typography in Chicago’s urban landscape, and the ways that work and play are blurred within design as a professional field. With the opening of a permanent space, they also open their first exhibition of 2014, “Starts/Speculations: Graphic Design in Chicago Past and Future,” which runs from June 12 through September 30.

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Review: Chicago’s Bauhaus Legacy/Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art

Design, Ukrainian Village/East Village No Comments »
Victor Skrebneski

Victor Skrebneski


Modernism was about fifty-years-old when Laszlo Moholy-Nagy reconvened the Bauhaus school of design on the shores of Lake Michigan in 1937, but he still was promoting a dynamic, fearless, forward-looking “new vision” for the modern age, a vision that continued through the first decade of that institution as it was reconstituted in 1944 as the Institute of Design. But now, nearly seventy years later, it does feel safely buried in the past, especially in this current exhibition. Organized by the Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art together with the Bauhaus Chicago Committee, no attempt has been made at an innovative, provocative design for the exhibit itself. The walls are cluttered with furniture, pictures and photographs, while assorted catalogs, magazines, knick-knacks and jewelry are spread out on long folding tables. It feels more like a flea market than an art museum gallery. It also seems that diversity, rather than quality, was the guiding principle in selection. But, as flea markets go, this is a very good one, including some of the very first covers of Playboy magazine, whose first art director, Art Paul, a graduate of I.D., also designed the Playboy rabbit logo. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Stefan Sagmeister/Chicago Cultural Center

Design No Comments »
Photo: City of Chicago

Photo: City of Chicago


Light, melodic music reaches the ear while you are still ascending Chicago Cultural Center’s grand staircase to “The Happy Show.” The Austrian-born, New York-based designer Stefan Sagmeister, famous for designing album covers for Aerosmith and the Rolling Stones, has been ruminating happiness for over a decade, and he presents his findings inside. At the exhibition entrance, Sagmeister warns in a handwritten text that you will not find happiness here, but he does provide a hint, one of his discovered wisdoms on reaching happiness: “Low expectations are a good strategy.” Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Chaz Bojorquez/National Museum of Mexican Art

Design, Painting, Pilsen No Comments »

Graffiti Mandala, 1999


Chaz Bojorquez, born in 1949, was a cholo tagger in the 1960s, but he wasn’t just marking territory for street gangs in East L.A. He also developed a skull-in-fedora icon, Señor Suerte, that became a badge of honor for many young men whose prospects were limited to death or prison. Over the past decade, Bojorquez has applied that same talent to niche-marketed consumer goods, creating distinctive designs for wine bottle labels, skateboards, running shoes, headgear and such. But as this exhibition demonstrates, he has also made some very exciting paintings, especially in the 1980s and early 1990s when his calligraphy created a dramatic vision suitable for the popular science fiction or video games that pit a heroic, indefatigable individual against a cruel, over-industrialized dystopian world. This was all done with lettering, in the foreground or background, creating a tempestuous, atmospheric stage for life and death. The feeling is dark and heavy. If the artist himself does not suffer from PTSD, his paintings certainly do. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Josef Frank/Swedish American Museum

Andersonville, Design, Textiles No Comments »


“Frank has designed a brothel” was one response to Josef Frank’s contribution to the Die Wohnung housing fair in Stuttgart in 1927. Like many progressive architects and designers, Josef Frank (1885-1967) was strongly opposed to the heavy opulence that we associate with the Victorian age. But unlike the Bauhaus designers, he did not eschew fantastic ornament, and indeed, the generous, diverse, out-sized sensuality of his fabrics would have served quite well in that capacity. This exhibition samples some of the 170 patterns that he designed until 1950, and you can see why so many of them remain in print. They’re wild and crazy, with a feeling of whimsical excitement and discovery meandering off into infinity. As Frank once declared, “one should design their surroundings as if they originated by chance,” and indeed, some of these designs do seem to have originated with a chance encounter the artist had with a book of American birds or a Chinese landscape seen while visiting the Metropolitan Museum. Frank only spent a few years in Manhattan, but it made quite an impression on his imagination. Read the rest of this entry »

Art Break: In the Neighborhood

Artist Profiles, Design, Ravenswood No Comments »

Photo: Nolan Feeney

That’s one small step for Ravenswood, one giant leap for Ork Posters.

The company behind the typographic neighborhood posters of Chicago opened its new studio at the end of September—and it’s about four blocks away from its last home.

“We were basically at capacity over there,” says founder and designer Jenny Beorkrem, who plans to open her old Ravenswood location as a retail store in November. “We couldn’t add more shelving.”

Ork Posters has come a long way since Beorkrem first started making prints in 2007. When she began, Chicago was her only design, and she learned to screen print so she could produce prints in small quantities, like her inaugural run of twenty posters. Now with twice the square footage of her old place, the twenty-nine-year-old sells more than twenty posters a day and has nearly two-dozen designs. Read the rest of this entry »

Art Break: The One-Month Lifespan of the Chicago Design Museum

Design, Humboldt Park, Prints No Comments »

Le's Signs

One thinks of a museum as a permanent civic fixture, existing to preserve its rare treasures for eternity. But the organizers of the newly hatched Chicago Design Museum understand that contemporary media is ephemeral, ubiquitous, and alive in the world, so their museum will have a temporary physical existence, from June 1-30, in a Humboldt Park loft space. The CHIDM takes cues from the modern museum exhibition format, as its five curated exhibits present poster designs in clean, neat arrangements. To isolate designed works in this way, as purely visual artifacts, diminishes their functional roles and contexts. Where an exhibition at MoMA might explore design’s influence on the way we live, the CHIDM seeks to momentarily dissociate design as an applied art, and to herald the visual creativity of designers. Although it will host many events during this month’s AIGA annual Design Week, the CHIDM is poised to attract the attention of artists and others who routinely visit art museums. Read the rest of this entry »