Leslie Hewitt and Bradford Young. “Untitled Structures,” dual channel video installation, 2012
Sifting through the black-and-white photographs from the Menil Collection, Leslie Hewitt was disarmed by the quiet moments of everyday life found amidst the turbulent marches, violent mobs and impassioned speeches of the Civil Rights Movement. Borrowing a glance, a gesture or a pose, the artist transformed the archive of 230 photographs into a cinematic meditation on memory.
“I was often overwhelmed by the flatness of the photographic image, how its limits—the geometry of it—are often so apparent to me,” Hewitt reflects as we talked late into the afternoon. “From the very beginning, I grappled with the border created by the square or the rectangle of a given image.” In a two-channel video projection “Untitled (Structures)” (2012), the artist attempts to expand the two-dimensional space of the photograph. The quivering light of the projector illuminates architectural ghosts and invites the viewer to step into crumbling urban ruins. From Memphis to Chicago, the dilapidated structures of the Universal Life Insurance Company, the Johnson Publishing headquarters (publisher of Ebony and Jet) and the Rosenwald Apartments flicker across the screen, so haunting one can almost smell the amber and mahogany of age. Read the rest of this entry »
Installation view of “Helsingistä” at Western Exhibitions
Though they appear vigorous, the bold gestures and painterly strokes that evoke the heady days of 1950s expressionism in Ari Pelkonen’s paintings, currently on view in Western Exhibitions’ “Helsingistä,” are actually the result of woodblock printing: a slow and methodical technique antithetical to the heroic gestures it emulates. Evoking pop-artist Roy Lichtenstein—who pilloried the dramatic look of the “tenth street touch” in overblown satires such as “Big Painting No. 6”—Pelkonen’s take is refreshingly free of cynicism. Works such as the wine-stained “Hold” offer instead earnest explorations of surface and touch coupled with an interest in figuration versus abstraction and interpretation versus recognition.
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Zachary Cahill. painting from the installation “USSA 2012 Wellness Center”
Zachary Cahill’s current exhibition, “USSA 2012: Wellness Center,” reflects on the contemporary dilemma of wellness in general and the healing potential of art in particular. Staging a physical retreat for therapeutic refuge in the third-floor enclave of the Museum of Contemporary Art that recalls European sanatoriums of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, this highly referential exhibition of painting, sculpture and writing finds itself most cogent on the wall. Paintings often dressed in synthetic palettes and textual epigrams act in Cahill’s institution as optically prescriptive pseudo-pharmaceutical compositions with a desired effect on the viewer, a crooked analogue of the canonical canvases of romanticism they uncannily suggest.
The works center on health, wellness and care, topics as political and provocative as they come, instinctively relevant on a global scale, yet problematic as if by design. Health transcends the everyday, at once at the forefront of our collective consciousness and buried deep within it, a perennial victim of its own ubiquity. The industries of wellness wrestle with sizable points of contention, from intellectual property to the ethics of access. And the spaces of caregiving continue to provide rich ground to consider a question as genuinely human, ageless and pertinent today as any other, one found here, scribed in acrylic: what does it mean to be healthy? Read the rest of this entry »
Miller & Shellabarger. “Again Gone,” installation view
“Western Exhibitions shows all three of us,” say Dutes Miller and Stan Shellabarger, meaning the Chicago gallery separately represents Dutes, Stan and S&M, their collaborative practice as Miller & Shellabarger. The two met as undergraduates studying ceramics and organically began to work together on artistic projects. Twenty-one years later, the couple shares an Irving Park home and studio where individual art practices continue to grow alongside joint projects. Teaming up as Miller & Shellabarger periodically dominates their individual practices, while at other times independent work demands a hiatus from the collaborative. They have found an effortless ebb-and-flow, and three is not a crowd in this household.
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Diane Simpson. “Window Dressing: Apron 1,” oil stain on MDF, polyester fabric; and “Window Dressing: Bib-doodle,” gatorfoam board, hardboard, wallpaper, enamel, ink
By Matt Morris
It’s often said around town that Chicago has two seasons: winter and construction. The architectural epicenter where we reside explodes into transformation in the warm months, as buildings, roads and public spaces undergo restructuring. A few exhibitions on view right now conspire to reflect this construction condition by taking built environments and our habitation of them as points of departure. The artworks’ proximity to source materials is a useful measurement in distinguishing where a quirky meta-criticality is achieved, and where sometimes the experience at hand is burdened by its references. Read the rest of this entry »
Gordon Hall. “MIDDLE DOUBLE,” installation view
“MIDDLE DOUBLE,” a site-specific exhibition by up-and-coming New York-based artist Gordon Hall, is on display at Night Club, a relatively new apartment gallery in Bucktown. Hall, whose work covers a lot of ground including sculpture, writing and performance, is deeply concerned with platforms and the range of corporeal possibilities that objects and spaces have to offer. Having spent two weeks working on the show in the “gallery space”—a small yet well-lit repurposed bedroom—they present a set of understated sculptures and architectural interventions that function to subtly change our perception of its interiors.
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“Into and Out of,” site-responsive Mylar panel installation
Luftwerk, the collaborative endeavor of Petra Bachmaier and Sean Gallero, typically uses sound, light and projection to trick the eye and imbue the senses with soft and welcomed confusion. For “Into and Out of,” their exhibition at The Franklin, the two artists installed work that retreated from their usual repertoire of projection-based trickery, instead augmenting the outdoor gallery’s architecture. Intended to complicate the perception of perspectival space, a dozen Mylar-coated panels are installed both inside and outside the Franklin’s lattice-like structure. Those inside are connected to the ceiling with the ability to subtly sway, while the companion works along the exterior are secured firmly to the ground, transfixed.
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Simon Starling. “Bird in Space,” imported Romanian steel plate, inflatable jacks, and helium, 2004
In “Metamorphology,” British artist Simon Starling’s survey of photographs, installations and film, you do not mind having to read the accompanying wall texts—you actually look forward to it. This is a testament to the intrinsic inveiglement of Starling’s explorations of the titular phenomena; rarely does work so heavily dependent upon exposition avoid coming off as pedagogic so finely as Starling does here. Read the rest of this entry »
Nicholas Frank. “Nicholas Frank Biography, page 302 (First Edition),” printed book page, 6 ¼ x 4 ½ inches, custom-milled walnut frame, 10 x 8 inches, 2014
This rambling celebration on the occasion of the gallery’s ten-year anniversary as a bricks-and-mortar space is cheekily titled after the eponymous Andrew W.K. anthem, “Party Hard.” The moniker adds both an air of revelry and defiance to the works exhibited, implying that director Scott Speh and the artists on his roster are fueled by passion and vision rather than a pursuit of conventional success.
The show is an exercise in polarity, oscillating between extremes in scale and tone. Upon entering the gallery, the viewer is confronted by the first of two sigil paintings by Elijah Burgher. Fresh from the Whitney Biennial, these painted drop cloths are installed back to back, dominating the initial visual field. Situated in the corner of the same room are two bongs, “Uncle Sam/Old Yeller” by Ben Stone. They seem slightly out of place in an area otherwise devoted to minimalist and conceptual works but add levity while reiterating the rebellious tone set by the title. Read the rest of this entry »
Nicholas Gottlund. “Always,” installation view
Featuring both screen-prints and sculptures, Pennsylvania native Nicholas Gottlund’s “Always” is a sixth-generation printmaker and publisher’s examination of the nature of reproduction. The seven large-scale screen-prints that dominate the diminutive space are enlargements from the pages of Gottlund’s 2013 self-published book “Printing Always Printing,” which is itself comprised of images culled from H. Winslow Fegley’s 1972 photo-essay on the Pennsylvania Dutch titled “Farming, Always Farming.” Read the rest of this entry »