Reviews, profiles and news about art in Chicago

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

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Victor Skrebneski

Victor Skrebneski

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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

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Photo: City of Chicago

Photo: City of Chicago

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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

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Graffiti Mandala, 1999

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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 »

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“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 »

Eye Exam: The MCA’s New Design Force

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James Goggin

By Laura Fox

“In a way, this position is my first job,” James Goggin tells me, referring to his transition last August from running his own design studio in London to becoming the director of design, publications and digital media at the Museum of Contemporary Art. Goggin’s approach to design is transgressive; he explores ideas across supposed boundaries, like museum departments and mediums ranging from print and digital to spatial and architectural. With other past roles as a magazine art director, university visiting critic, lecturer and even writer, Goggin’s expansive mindset dovetails neatly with the new models for audience engagement and institutional innovation currently pursued by the MCA. We talked about his role in further extending the MCA’s reach into the city.

One of the main reasons Madeleine Grynsztejn recruited you to the MCA was to create a new visual identity. What’s happened so far?  

This new identity isn’t window dressing. I didn’t want to just produce a new logo, color, or different font. We’re spending the year talking to every department, asking such questions as how do the databases work, how does the point of sales system in the store work, how does ticketing work. We have to know how everything functions before we can design a new identity. And, much of that is logistical rather than aesthetic design. It might not be something that’s tangibly visible as design to the public, but it can be seen in the overall visitor experience.

The release of the new identity will coincide with the culmination of Michael Darling’s curatorial planning, the restructuring of the building and galleries, new people arriving, and all of the programming started by Madeleine Grynsztejn more than three years ago. As a designer, I want to be working with the overall context—here, it’s the city of Chicago and our links with the community. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Avant-Garde Art in Everyday Life/Art Institute of Chicago

Design, Michigan Avenue, Prints 1 Comment »

Gustav Klutsis, "Worker Men and Women: Everyone Vote in the Soviet Elections," 1930

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The separation between everyday life and the visionary designers of the avant-garde is one of the ongoing ironies or misrepresentations of the twentieth century. An exhibition at the Art Institute retrieves the connections among graphic design, designed objects, art and “everyday life,” displaying book covers, teapots, postcards and the dynamic graphic work of six visual artists. What we now take for granted as industrial design was just beginning in the early years of the century when Ladislav Sutnar was designing dinnerware and posters celebrating commerce and industry. His sculptural china embodies the restrained play of spherical volumes, while Piet Zwart’s apple-green pressed glassware is more compact as tubular tea cups sit in hexagonal saucers. The emphasis on form rather than decoration not only severs ties with the clutter of the Victorian past but identifies everyday items with the values—efficiency, durability, mass distribution—of emerging industrial and communications technologies. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Konstantin Grcic/Art Institute of Chicago

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With Konstantin Grcic, it’s all about probjects. That is, the project-based design of an object. In the first major American exhibition of Grcic’s work, the Art Institute brings together a collection of the designer’s chairs, pens, shelving, tables, silverware, serving ware, stools and fixtures. The collection illustrates the energetic output of the German designer, who reinvents his design approach for each project/object (or probject).

Grcic started out as a cabinetmaker. But his curiosity outgrew the narrow design questions posed by cabinets and perhaps it was because he built so many empty ones that Grcic began dreaming up new things to fill them with. He writes, “We can never speak about objects without imagining people using them.” And how else do you use a cabinet except to fill it with things? Read the rest of this entry »

Design of the Times: Schubas hosts a show and tell

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SNTSaMy drink leaves a moisture ring on Schubas wood floor. It’s Sunday night, and the cream of Chicago’s creative crop mingle around me. Boys with glasses far exceed those without; the beard-to-clean-shaven ratio is equally disproportionate. It’s a packed house, populated with the sort of people who burst into laughter when guest Davey Sommers of ColourLovers.com makes a joke about Rotoscoping and Roto-“tilling.”

It is the “The Show ‘n Tell Show,” a late-night-style talk show featuring the city’s most dynamic illustrators, designers, cartoonists, poster-makers and photographers. Co-host Michael Renaud says it is an exciting time to be a graphic designer in Chicago; there’s a centralized creative community of studios doing mind-blowing work… a fact most non-designers are unaware of. The “Show” hopes to bridge that gap and bring design work to the masses. Read the rest of this entry »