Reviews, profiles and news about art in Chicago

Eye Exam: Hard to See

Digital Art, Drawings, Installation, Loop, Multimedia, Performance No Comments »
Salvation Army in South Africa anti-abuse campaign image

Salvation Army in South Africa anti-abuse campaign image

By Matt Morris

Seeing is not a solitary activity, and it’s not simple. Perception is first of all dependent on context, not only because the specificities of an experience are ascertained through contrast, but also due to the ways each of our unique acculturations informs how we see. Comprehending visual information then turns out to be a social activity, evidenced most clearly in the debates that arise when we don’t see things the same way. And of course, these turbulent discourses around what is perceived are at the expense of appreciating just how much goes unseen—through suppression, movement beyond our sensory faculties, or systemically strategic elisions in how the seen social is structured. This then is one of the often tacit but urgent responsibilities of visual culture and art: to pressure and interrogate the boundaries of perception, to render the invisible visible. Changing how we see is first perceptual but actually political work, and it’s being done across viral Internet memes, sharp-witted turns in how organizations understand multicultural diversity, and artistic research into invisibility. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Collecting Paradise/Block Museum of Art

Drawings, Evanston, Painting, Sculpture, Textiles No Comments »

"White Tara Painting," Western Tibet, 16th-17th century painting on cloth, University of Michigan Museum of Anthropological Archaeology Koelz Collection of Himalayan Art, Koelz 17458 [K569]

“White Tara Painting,”
Western Tibet, sixteenth-seventeenth-century
painting on cloth, University of Michigan Museum of Anthropological Archaeology
Koelz Collection of Himalayan Art, Koelz 17458 [K569]

RECOMMENDED

“If you find Buddhist art in a monastery, take it” might well have been an early twentieth-century variation on the koan made famous by Sheldon Kopp, as Western scholars scoured South Asia for artifacts. Gallery signage tells us that what Professor Giuseppe Tucci (1894-1984) called a garbage dump, local monks considered a repository of sacred relics. Shame on him, but without his acquisition, four magnificent eleventh-century folios would not now be showing at the Block Museum. And they really have the sharp perfection of world-class illumination and calligraphy. Then there was Walter Koelz (1895-1989), a zoologist at the University of Michigan who collected whatever caught his eye. At the Likir monastery, he proudly bargained down the price on two seventeenth-century painted fabrics. Without them, the third, left behind, could no longer perform a ritual function. They don’t kick you in the gut like the dharma-defender hanging nearby, but Koelz’s Buddhist divinities have plenty of grace and power one would not experience without his questionable efforts. Such appropriation by Western collectors is one thing that may happen to sacred art, centuries after it was made. Alternatively, these works could be collected by devotees, where they might influence the art and religious practice of other lands. Those are some of the rather predictable kinds of stories this exhibition tells about the legacies of Buddhist art from Kashmir. Read the rest of this entry »

Portrait of the Artist: Meg Duguid

Drawings, Installation, Multimedia, Pilsen, Video No Comments »
Meg Duguid standing with her installation "Supercomputer" at Slow in Pilsen.

Meg Duguid standing with her installation “Supercomputer” at Slow in Pilsen.

After a dreary trek through Pilsen’s sludge-laden sidewalks, I’m happy to see Meg Duguid waving enthusiastically to me from inside the fogged windows of Slow. Paul, the gallery’s director, stands to her left and Yesterday, the gallery’s canine mascot, faithfully on her right.

On an evening just as dreary in 2005, Duguid entered a tiny bookshop in Brooklyn. Browsing for nothing but a way to kill some time between her side jobs and studies, she happened across a book that contained a screenplay James Agee wrote for Charlie Chaplin in 1947. Inspired and intrigued, she sent an unsolicited letter to the Agee foundation, requesting to bring to life the script that had—for whatever reason—remained unproduced. The foundation’s answer was no, and Duguid moved on.

Flashing forward in time and back to the Midwest, the backsides of fifteen stacked televisions rise to greet me as I enter Slow. Large blue and orange extension cords twist and tangle their way toward electrical outlets on either side of the gallery, powering the luminescent glow coming from the anterior of the electrical blockade. The piece is silent, save for a high-pitched drone coming from the circuitries. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Creeping Toward The Light/Julius Caesar

Collage, Drawings, Garfield Park, Installation, Photography No Comments »
Installation view of Creeping Towards The Light at Julius Caesar

Installation view of Creeping Toward The Light at Julius Caesar

RECOMMENDED

Described as a “collaboration” between organizer and artist, rather than a straightforward comparison, “Creeping Toward The Light” at Julius Caesar features artist Stevie Hanley alongside one of JC’s directorial personalities, Roland Miller. The small exhibition space, dominated by Hanley’s large, banner-like assemblies, has the effect of a curious, colorful maze.

The floor is chrome throughout, treated with a foil wrapping. Miller has installed several slightly larger-than-life-sized prints of women cut out and affixed directly to the wall. Their color and visual texture is glitched, implying inversions, blow-outs and missing data. Brilliance and lurid aesthetic moments become occlusions—obnoxious, pink rhinestones are glued to the picture glass floated just a hair above a collage by Miller, covering a serial repetition of sexual penetrations. Glints that blind, rather than illuminate. That these explicit moments are not totally concealed gives way to that naughty impulse to peak around the glittery censor. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Dorothy Dehner/Valerie Carberry

Drawings, Michigan Avenue, Sculpture No Comments »
Dorothy Dehner. "Untitled," 1975 ink on paper

Dorothy Dehner. “Untitled,” 1975
ink on paper

RECOMMENDED

Dehner’s training in the twenties took her from Cleveland to both coasts, and included several renowned teachers. With her artist spouse, she was a fixture in the upstate New York art colony of Bolton Landing. After her divorce in the fifties, Dehner moved to Manhattan, where she remained for the rest of her long life. She suffered staggering losses. Her parents and only sister died by the time she was eighteen. A second husband died in 1974. The wrong prescription rendered her blind shortly before her death in a stairwell in 1994.
Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Jaime Davidovich/Threewalls

Drawings, Installation, Multimedia, Video, West Loop 1 Comment »
Jaime Davidovich. "The Live! Show," 1980

Jaime Davidovich. “The Live! Show,” 1980

RECOMMENDED

Argentinian artist Jaime Davidovich moved to a New York teeming with ideas, conversations and possibilities during the 1960s and seventies, when it was gritty, dangerous and artists could afford a building in SoHo. Whereas Gordon Matta-Clark, Donald Judd and the Judson Dance Theater give the period its experimental flavor, Davidovich’s pioneering efforts in artist-run public television never received recognition like abstract video artists Stan Brackhage or Paul Sharits. Read the rest of this entry »

Eye Exam: Authority, Affirmations and Other Nomenclature

Ceramics, Drawings, Installation, Multimedia, Oak Park, Painting, Sculpture, West Loop, Wicker Park/Bucktown 1 Comment »
Nate Young. Installation view of "Untitled (Pulpit No. 1)," 2014, and "Untitled (Altar No. 1)," 2015

Nate Young. Installation view of “Untitled (Pulpit No. 1),” 2014, and “Untitled (Altar No. 1),” 2015

By Matt Morris

Is art that appears to be “about art” ever only limited to that scope of investigation? I’d say it’s doubtful, mostly because mechanisms of power reproduce themselves throughout social institutions, so to reflect upon the constitutive components of an artistic medium (as well as its historical and contemporary contexts) possesses at least the potential of a transferrable method by which one might fashion new freedoms—not through a rebellion from upheld traditional forms but through critical relationships to them. The monochrome continues to do this. Distilled to an uninterrupted plane, color, texture, scale and the tools for applying material (all usually in some way present in most artworks) are amplified, inviting investigation into the parts that comprise the art. In the best of cases, consideration of the conditions of display is inspired as well. The monochrome as a form also holds up under projections: historically used for such diverse conceptual conceits as Suprematism, color field painting, the “radical painting group,” and most recently one of several working modes bizarrely attributed by Ken Johnson to “soccer mom” aesthetics. A century after Kazimir Malevich painted his canvas “Black Square” in 1915, artists continue figuring out how to take apart the language of art-making so that the parsed vocabulary can speak to the power of the entire system. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Trevor Winkfield/Poetry Foundation

Collage, Drawings, Painting, River North 1 Comment »
Trevor Winkfield. "Sketch for Peter Gizzi," 2012 acrylic and collage on paper, 27.5" x 19.25"

Trevor Winkfield. “Sketch for Peter Gizzi,” 2012
acrylic and collage on paper, 27.5″ x 19.25″

RECOMMENDED

Set in the smart spaces of the Poetry Foundation, this exhibition of the British artist-illustrator Trevor Winkfield (born 1944) highlights his paintings, cover designs and limited-edition books. It’s a small-scale show—five paintings and four vitrines—but the bright, punchy images are themselves like welcome book illustrations against the ashen modernist environment of the still-newish John Ronan building.

Winkfield’s mother read picture books to him as a tot. Afterwards texts always provoked accompanying images from him. Raised in Leeds, he came to America in 1969 and quickly became part of the collaboration-happy New York School. Not “merely a brush for hire,” he said, he had true partnerships with major poets like Ron Padgett and John Ashbery. Collaboration, he reflected, was “one of the quickest ways of allowing me to see myself as others saw me.” Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The world is mystical, dangerous and delicious/Western Exhibitions

Collage, Drawings, Sculpture, West Loop No Comments »
Dutes Miller. "Untitled," 2014 woven paper, glue, artist tape, 8" x 8"

Dutes Miller. “Untitled,” 2014
woven paper, glue, artist tape, 8″ x 8″

RECOMMENDED

Dedicated to dreams and ghosts, the various media of “The world is mystical, dangerous and delicious,” including sculptures, illustrations and collage, speak to their twin subjects with an admirable—and requisite—range; it does not require a particularly broad or tortured interpretation to understand ghosts and dreams as the driving factors behind not only art, but the whole panoply of human expression and existence. As desires become goals become actions, memories become comfort or tumult, all trail a phantom weight in fearful pursuit of their next, and it is these ghosts which one sees with most clarity here. Read the rest of this entry »

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 »