Reviews, profiles and news about art in Chicago

Review: Edward Gorey/Loyola University Museum of Art

Drawings No Comments »
Illustration (detail) from The Doubtful Guest, 1957, © The Edward Gorey Charitable Trust. All rights reserved.

Illustration (detail) from The Doubtful Guest, 1957, © The Edward Gorey Charitable Trust. All rights reserved.


My first introduction to Edward Gorey’s playfully delicate drawings came during my childhood in the form of an illustrated 1982 edition of T.S. Eliot’s “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.” Gorey’s drawings for the book jacket are included in the Loyola Museum of Art’s “Elegant Enigmas: The Art of Edward Gorey” and “G is for Gorey—C is for Chicago: The Collection of Thomas Michalak.” Taken together, LUMA triumphs in creating a rich, appealing total experience of Edward Gorey as an artist and the many roles he played in publishing. Gorey’s illustrated books are often coy treatments of sexuality and death, not so much intended for children as accessible to me and many others as an alternative to the more mainstream (and normative) comic-book culture of boyhood. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: William J. O’Brien/Museum of Contemporary Art

Drawings, Sculpture No Comments »
William J. O'Brien, untitled, ceramic, 2013

William J. O’Brien, untitled, ceramic, 2013


This, these 120-plus works, organized into stanzas and spanning four dimensions, is exhibition as Legion, as Leviathan, as Lil B mixtape; color, form and shape in biblical proportions, driving amphibian rains and sloughed scales and torn shrouds; most all of them are untitled—the impression one gets, wandering about, is that all of them are untitled—named only per annum; a smattering of untitled little drawings splashed against a corner; a long, L-shaped table of untitled ceramic; untitled cosmological/mathematical dreamscapes of tessellation and curvature and human feature, color pencil scored by incandescent glitter. One, “Untitled, 2010,” an ultramarine square of infinitely deep texture, is studded and glistening with brilliant points so deliriously fucking bright that one’s thoughts instantly race to the sidereal, then to the pragmatic; how did he grind the universe into this? Capture the canicular? There are totems, screamingly colored and tumorous, a sort of art brut atavistic minimalism, and paintings the color of cuttlefish ink, which, when viewed—read?—first, as in the order on the docent’s program, serve as stark juxtaposition to what is otherwise a manic chromatic panoply. A word of advice, for the lay observer: wander in, be drowned, flayed alive. (B. David Zarley)

Through May 18 at the Museum of Contemporary Art, 220 East Chicago.

Review: Faith Wilding/Threewalls

Drawings, Performance, West Loop No Comments »
Installation view. Photo: Clare Britt

Installation view. Photo: Clare Britt


The comedian Brian Regan once recalled describing his symptoms to the doctor: “It feels like everything on my inside wants to be on my outside.” Switch that from physical to emotional feelings and you have the work of prominent feminist, writer, teacher and artist, Faith Wilding, whose impressive sampling of her enormous life’s work is on display in a retrospective exhibition.

In 1972, Wilding participated in the groundbreaking feminist exhibition Womanhouse, the first public showcase of feminist art, in Los Angeles. There she performed “Waiting,” a highly influential piece that continues to have resonance today. Wilding’s work has been shown in major feminist art exhibitions over the last forty years and continues to hold sway in contemporary feminist discourse. Because of her accomplishments, the Women’s Caucus for Art is awarding her a Lifetime Achievement Award.

Inevitably, Wilding’s renowned feminist background coats the show with political and historical overtones. However, her artwork also stands tall on a separate stage: that of Faith Wilding’s impassioned journey through life. Bodies, plants, moths and horses memorialize loss, catharsis, transformation and renewal. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Sandra Holubow and Judith Roth/Koehnline Museum of Art

Drawings, Painting, Suburban No Comments »
Judith Roth

Judith Roth


Sandra Holubow and Judith Roth are two old friends whose paintings of local middle-class life neatly complement each other.

Roth is a figure painter and draftsman, the kind who hires a model and then brings her to life on paper or canvas. She mostly paints women, and she presents them as strong individuals who overwhelm their backgrounds and enter the space of the room where the painting is hung. The women are ready to open up the office, drive the kids to school, or teach an aerobics class. They also overwhelm the background when Roth draws them nude, and her large, bold, voluptuous contour-lines proudly assert their fleshiness rather than offering it up for the delectation of voyeurs. Every image seems to say, “I am proud to be woman.” Read the rest of this entry »

Review: To Live by Night: Mary Livoni and Robert Guinan/Frederick Baker Gallery

Drawings, Painting No Comments »
Robert Guinan, "At the Double Door," 2008

Robert Guinan, “At the Double Door,” 2008


“To Live by Night” invites comparison between two very different visions of night: the acrylic-on-canvas paintings of Robert Guinan, and the charcoal-on-paper drawings of Mary Livoni.

Guinan is a great action painter—not the action of an arm wielding a brush, but the narrative action of his subjects, depicted with strong, dynamic contour lines. The subject, often a nightclub entertainer or habitué, goes directly onto the canvas, but the thin paint and dusty colors suggest that we’re looking at memories rather than at the actual scene. What’s remarkable is that these memories feel so alive, even though some of them must date back to the artist’s youth. Flashes of bright color bring the feelings into the present, while the grayish backgrounds push them back into the past. Though sketchy, the surrounding pictorial space feels complex and real. The artist, having found some moments in his life to be intriguing, now lives comfortably with his memories of them. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Dreams and Echoes: Drawings and Sculpture in the David and Celia Hilliard Collection/Art Institute of Chicago

Drawings, Prints, Sculpture No Comments »
Jan Toorop, "A Mysterious Hand Leads to Another Path," 1893. Promised gift of Celia and David Hilliard.

Jan Toorop, “A Mysterious Hand Leads to Another Path,” 1893. Promised gift of Celia and David Hilliard.


“If Girtin had lived, I would have starved,” declared J.M.W. Turner, one of the iconic painters of the nineteenth century. But who was Girtin? One of his watercolors can be found in the collection of David and Celia Hilliard, longtime Chicago collectors and Art Institute supporters, now on display in the Prints and Drawings gallery at the museum.  Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Elijah Burgher/Western Exhibitions

Drawings No Comments »
"Bachelor Machine," 2013

“Bachelor Machine,” 2013


Has Elijah Burgher been initiated into some kind of sex-magic cult? Details of the ceremonies are scant, but they appear to involve one or two trim, naked young men interacting with large geometric symbols attached to the walls or floor.

Burgher’s exhibition is something like an anthropological exhibit at the Field Museum. It includes several original artifacts: the large-scale, ceiling-hung magic symbols that may once have been used in cultic rituals, as well as highly detailed color pencil depictions of those rituals in preparation or execution. These drawings have been made with descriptive objectivity and conventional pictorial skills akin to nineteenth-century artist/explorers. There’s a distant coolness and rationality about these drawings that is sometimes incongruent with the subject, as the handsome young dudes seem about to calmly participate in a medical procedure at a health clinic. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Bill Traylor/Carl Hammer Gallery

Drawings, River North No Comments »

BT 179_small1


Bill Traylor (1854-1949) may be the most accidental of accidental artists. Born into slavery on the Traylor plantation of Alabama, at the age of eighty-five he was homeless in Montgomery, spending his days on the street, making drawings with found materials. Eventually, some artists, dealers and folklorists found him, and posthumously he became an iconic figure in American outsider art. I’m not sure that the pieces now being shown at Carl Hammer Gallery, who first brought his work to Chicago thirty years ago, would have established that reputation. They’re mostly simple, quick sketches of one or two figures, less complex than his multi-figure narratives. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: William Pope.L/Renaissance Society

Drawings, Hyde Park, Sculpture No Comments »



In a multimedia exhibition of both two- and three-dimensional works, the one most important to William Pope.L’s “Forlesen” is actually the fourth; time, in all its idiosyncrasies, brutalities and inevitabilities, lays at the exhibition’s heart.

“There’s nothing that necessarily ties the episodes together except time,” said Pope.L in regard to Gene Wolfe, the science fiction author who wrote the novella “Forlesen” (1974), and from that one observation the seemingly disparate pieces of Pope.L’s exhibition take on a (somewhat) coherent form.

Pope.L’s decision to purposefully not re-read the story prior to beginning his work—therefore relying upon the residue of memory—firmly grounds “Forlesen” in the fourth dimension at its conception. Perhaps most important, if least obvious, is the foundational aspect allotted to the passage of time, and the obfuscation that ensues.

Less esoteric are the works that deal with decay; the sloughing of ketchup (foodstuff that once reminded Pope.L of hardship and fame, but is now a romantic reminiscence) and joint compound scales from “Curtain” present the viewer with an empirical example of time’s ravages, as do the black helium balloons of “Ellipsis.” Aloft when fresh, they inevitably hang from the rafters like narcoleptic ravens, or lay shriveled upon the ground like dreams deferred. Even the room-dominating sculpture “Quarter Shape (penis)” can be seen as an allegory for atrophy; what do men fear losing most as caducity approaches? Combine the phallus with the withered balloons, and a nightmarish image akin to Updike’s Ben Turnbull takes shape. Read the rest of this entry »

Portrait of the Artist: Jason Brammer

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"Writhing Waters XIV," india Ink, watercolor, and acrylic on paper, 2013

“Writhing Waters XIV,”
india ink, watercolor and acrylic on paper, 2013

Like the English poet John Masefield, Jason Brammer has heeded the call of sea. The Chicago artist’s new solo exhibition, “Into the Deep,” explores the hidden mysteries down below in works inspired by nautical maps, navigational instruments and medieval bestiaries. The show, opening on Friday, June 7, at AdventureLand Gallery, features ink and watercolor drawings in addition to some distinctive Brammeresque mixed-media works that seamlessly meld hand-painted imagery with antique parts, salvaged wood and found objects. Read the rest of this entry »