Reviews, profiles and news about art in Chicago

Web Exclusive Interview: Naomi Beckwith in Conversation about Richard Hunt

Drawings, Gold Coast/Old Town, Sculpture No Comments »
Richard Hunt gathering scrap in a junk yard at Clybourn and Sheffield Avenues, Chicago, 1962 Photo courtesy of Richard Hunt

Richard Hunt gathering scrap in a junk yard at Clybourn and Sheffield Avenues, Chicago, 1962
Photo courtesy of Richard Hunt

By Matt Morris

Could you set up your take as the curator on what the Richard Hunt exhibition at the MCA is?
The show from the MCA starts from the premise of our collection. It’s part of what we call our MCA DNA series, and those are dossier shows—small jewel-box shows—that are about highlights from the MCA holdings that most people don’t even know that we have. So for instance we have another beautiful one up right now featuring Alexander Calder; there’s a huge collection of that in Chicago, many of them right here in this building. Another wonderful one that we put up recently was a collection of Dieter Roth art books that I hadn’t even known were in the collection. The DNA series is a chance for us as a museum to really highlight works of significance that most folks don’t know are here.

I found out that Richard Hunt was turning eighty this year. I realized the best way that we could honor him was to do an exhibition and—oh, my goodness—there are these works in the collection. I knew that the museum had a long history of helping organize the inclusion of a work of his at the White House. It’s a work called “Farmer’s Dream” that was exhibited in D.C. during the Clinton administration, and then when it came back from D.C. it went into Seneca Park, which is the park straight across west of the MCA. It was there for many years and then acquired by the MCA. These kinds of stories I knew, but I didn’t know that we had some of his early work from the sixties here, and we have some works on paper in the collection. The show is really compact, and is set to show the breadth of Richard’s work from his earliest days—the earliest work is from ’57 when he was finishing school—to a work made in, I believe, 2012.

Was the MCA show coordinated with the Cultural Center show?
Would you believe that it was a happy coincidence. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Paula Henderson/Linda Warren Projects

Drawings, Painting, West Loop No Comments »
Paula Henderson. "Traffic Patterns," 2012 acrylic and ink on canvas

Paula Henderson. “Traffic Patterns,” 2012
acrylic and ink on canvas

RECOMMENDED

The brutal abstraction of the human body is among the most beautiful and appalling motifs one could hope to work in or imbibe; there are images online, untold millions of them, people made into pieces, and these ghoulish tableau are debrided, are rendered by the mind, instantaneously, as corn syrup and food coloring and irrigation tubing, because the alternative is simply beyond benign processing. Beautiful violence is real, if maligned; surely I cannot be the only one who views a list of “Photoshop fails!” and is overcome by a desire to steer into the spin, to take the neck-elongating, rib-removing joint floating all the way to the screaming bloody edge and drape our finest fashions on plasticine horrors, Jean Paul Gaultier-cum-John Carpenter; surely the line between pulchritude and terror is thin, as thin as the flesh rent in its creation. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: James Ensor/Art Institute of Chicago

Drawings, Loop, Michigan Avenue, Painting, Prints No Comments »
James Ensor. "The Temptation of Saint Anthony," 1887

James Ensor. “The Temptation of Saint Anthony,” 1887

RECOMMENDED

James Ensor’s six-foot-tall drawing “The Temptation of Saint Anthony,” 1887, is the exhibition’s thematic and physical centerpiece, set like an altarpiece at the end of a dark, chapel-like corridor. It’s a dense tangle of scary figures and texts, and a teeming universe of references to the artist’s life. The Art Institute wisely bought it in 2006; it hasn’t been shown in sixty years. Composed of fifty-one separate sheets mounted on canvas, it’s a conservation triumph. Stylistically, it’s a cross between Northern Renaissance art and the cramped doodles of underground comics. Indeed, Ensor’s drawing-based art was expressed in almost every two-dimensional media, including the then-new manufactured color pencils. Read the rest of this entry »

Portrait of the Artists: Ryan M Pfeiffer + Rebecca Walz

Artist Profiles, Collage, Drawings, Rogers Park No Comments »
Ryan M Pfeiffer and Rebecca Walz

Ryan M Pfeiffer and Rebecca Walz

Artists Ryan M Pfeiffer and Rebecca Walz’s focus falls emphatically on collaborative action. The duo draws simultaneously, sitting across from each other and working over the same sheet of paper, arranging a mélange of seductive archetypes from the visual history of the West. Their collaborative drawings register caprices and negotiations; marks intermingle and become impossible to assign to any single collaborator. Various mystical, religious and cultural icons coalesce in busy, textured cadres—woodcuts from volumes of Sade, archaeological records, Pietas and Venus idols, or Hans Bellmer’s fetishistic photographs. Their repurposed, blended imagery has all the tellings of an expert bibliography. The compositions are stages on which the duo’s investigations into alchemy, ancient art and eroticism are performed as drawing.

Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Ji Soo Hong and Matthew Kayhoe Brett/Slow

Collage, Drawings, Installation, Pilsen, Sculpture No Comments »
Installation view of Ji Soo Hong's collages in "Thick slide, decadent ration," at Slow

Installation view of Ji Soo Hong’s collages in “Thick slide, decadent ration,” at Slow

RECOMMENDED

The current exhibition at Slow, “Thick slice, decadent ration,” features work by Ji Soo Hong and Matthew Kayhoe Brett. Their works carry a studied meditation on process and composition, as their solid use of texture and color lend vibrancy and subtlety to the banal.

Ji Soo Hong approaches each slab of encased meat in her illustrative collages with a careful curiosity. Hong’s hand is in each of her works as her layered illustrations create collages of a subject matter that beckons to Francis Bacon and a voluptuously meaty still life tradition. The large white sheets mimic the display cases of a butcher shop, framing each assortment as studies in color and detail. A mélange of conté crayon and ink, chopped up and collaged, are drawing techniques imitative of the additive recipes of the sausages and hard meats Hong illustrates in her enlivened still-life works. Read the rest of this entry »

Visiting Artist: Cauleen Smith

Activist Art, Drawings 1 Comment »
Cauleen Smith. "Play Your Part Series," 2012,  ink on graph paper

Cauleen Smith. “Play Your Part Series,” 2012,
ink on graph paper

This is our seventh installment of the Visiting Artist column in which we ask an artist to produce a text on a personal topic. Cauleen Smith here reflects on how racial injustice and white privilege and supremacy gets processed in America and in the art world.

This year ends with a whole lot of heartache, rage and the palpable desire for action.

But I suspect that there is a silent contingent of Chicago’s contemporary art community who do not feel emotionally wounded by the injustices we’ve been served; who feel as if offering “the other side” of the argument has no place in this scene. And so perhaps these folks are riding this thing out—waiting for the outrage and hand-wringing to blow over like Ken Johnson’s New York Times review of “Now Dig This” blew over, like Donelle Woolford blew over, like Exhibit B at the Barbican blew over, like Bjarne Melgaard’s remaking of Allen Jones’ bondage chairs blew over, so that they can get back to the business of pure art free from all this tired-ass identity politics stuff. I mean that is so nineties, right? Well guess what. This is not going anywhere. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Jack Tworkov/Valerie Carberry

Drawings, Michigan Avenue No Comments »
Jack Tworkov. "Untitled (Reclining Figure)," circa 1955, charcoal on paper

Jack Tworkov. “Untitled (Reclining Figure),” circa 1955, charcoal on paper

RECOMMENDED

Jack Tworkov is best known for his gestural paintings of the 1950s. But his work runs the gamut of mid-century American genres: from Social Realism to Abstract Expressionism to Geo-form to Minimalism. You might say he jumped on every new bandwagon, but he stayed away from the irony and pop-culture tropes of postmodernism. This first-generation American seemed less interested in pushing the boundaries of art and taste than in exploiting every new opportunity for expressing and valorizing his restless, rootless self in an ever-changing world. Life drawing, quickly executed, gave him many such opportunities, as he moved back and forth between observational detail and compositional dynamic. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Stan Shellabarger/Western Exhibitions

Drawings, Installation, Prints, West Loop No Comments »
Installation view of Stan Shellabarger at Western Exhibitions

Installation view of Stan Shellabarger at Western Exhibitions

RECOMMENDED

Stan Shellabarger’s most recent solo show at Western Exhibitions exhibits his durational work through which he contemplates the residue of time and the physical impressions left behind on materials such as paper, wood and steel. Throughout the galleries, he fully embraces each passing moment while creating a collective imagery that is focused, somber and quiet.

At the center of the show, there is the artist’s homage to Carl Andre’s “Plain” called “Untitled (Drypoint).” This work investigates pacing and time as the artist walked on steel plates he arranged to resemble Andre’s work while wearing heavy-grit sandpaper on his shoes. The work hovers on a plinth just above the gallery floor and is marked with a red snaking shape that sets the stage for the remaining pieces in the galleries. This work is the heart of the show, guiding visitors to also pace themselves with his command of minimalist formal strategies. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Wangechi Mutu/Block Museum of Art

Collage, Drawings, Evanston, Installation, Video No Comments »
Wangechi Mutu. "The End of eating Everything," (still), 2013, animated video (color, sound), 8:00 minute loop

Wangechi Mutu. “The End of eating Everything,” (still), 2013, animated video (color, sound), eight-minute loop

RECOMMENDED

Images are ideological constructions that serve the social function of representing political and global interactions. For Wangechi Mutu’s collages in her survey “A Fantastic Journey” the artist sources imagery from National Geographic, pornographic and fashion magazines to undercut disparaging assumptions about the black female body. “Le Noble Savage” is a wry collage that demonstrates the historic weight of this misnomer. It was a term coined in the seventeenth century that designated non-Europeans as primitive and served as a reason to discredit their accomplishments. A female figure marked with dark sores wears a raffia-patterned skirt reminiscent of traditional Kuba textile from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Mutu’s Afrofuturist aesthetic is evident in the figure’s skin. Her diseased flesh refers to the victims of crises in Africa, the interpolating global politics of war, the illegal trades of bodies, minerals, bullets and more recently the Ebola epidemic—one that the Western press ignored until two American missionaries were infected with the virus. The figure reaches up to the sky holding high a fern populated by many birds showing that there is more to Africa than just the pervasive reductive binary of casting it as a “dark” continent or the emblem of the “cradle of civilization.” Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Lilli Carré/Western Exhibitions

Art Books, Drawings, Video, West Loop No Comments »
Lilli Carré. "Solution Drawing (no. 2)," 2014, maze: pencil on paper, solution: colored pencil on paper

Lilli Carré. “Solution Drawing (no. 2),” 2014,
maze: pencil on paper,
solution: colored pencil on paper

RECOMMENDED

Humans make mazes for themselves so they can solve them. Crosswords, sudoku, Rubik’s Cubes: we’re frustrated with the concept of being lost, but we’re also fascinated with the process of unlocking, the discernment involved and the discovery that happens along the way.

Lilli Carré’s “The Pleasure of Getting Lost” explores this mentality through drawings, animations and a book. Carré’s multidisciplinary practice successfully makes visual the array of sensations associated with the concept of being lost. She invites viewers to lose themselves with her, to follow her process and even step into her roles as creator, explorer and solver of the puzzles. Read the rest of this entry »