Reviews, profiles and news about art in Chicago

Review: Lucy McKenzie/Art Institute of Chicago

Installation, Loop, Painting, Video No Comments »
Lucy McKenzie. "Quodlibet XXXII," 2014

Lucy McKenzie. “Quodlibet XXXII,” 2014

RECOMMENDED

Lucy McKenzie’s largest American exhibition to date unravels like a postmodern mystery novel. The show begins outside of the gallery, where the artist has taken advantage of the floor-to-ceiling glass walls facing the Griffin Courtyard of the Modern Wing to construct a window display befitting State Street’s finest stores. A female mannequin in a gymnast suit sits on a glass-topped steel table as mechanized signs whir whimsically beneath a hand-painted title bearing the artist’s signature as if it were a venerable house of fashion. Once inside, the focus becomes painting, though one recalls that Warhol and Rauschenberg dressed department-store windows too. Four floor-to-ceiling panels display massive Tiffany-esque motifs of glowing skies and turbulent clouds drifting behind screens of leafy branches. The pictures within each are oddly cropped to describe the contours of the walls and ceiling of a fictional bar in an imaginary film in which these panels would hang as trompe l’oeil scenery. Indeed, McKenzie has trained in antiquated techniques of decorative painting, which include hyper-realistic depictions of landscape and still life meant to fool the eye in to perceiving representation as reality.

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Review: Allison Smith/Arts Club of Chicago

Installation, Photography, Sculpture, Streeterville, Textiles No Comments »
Allison Smith. "Hand Dyed Wool, Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia," 2014

Allison Smith. “Hand Dyed Wool, Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia,” 2014

RECOMMENDED

Smith is known for lovingly handcrafting Americana—costumes, furniture and artifacts—with which to interrogate the spectacle of historical recreation. In this she is indeed like a theatrical “set dresser,” someone who designs and arranges props.

Many of these recent works are photographs of objects of material culture from American living-history sites. Printed on fabric, the pictures take on a rustic look, akin to the objects they depict. But they contain powerful autobiographical elements, too. The lovely rainbow-colored skeins of yarn seen hanging in “Hand Dyed Wool, Colonial Williamsburg,” 2014, is a trenchant feminist statement on several levels while recalling Morris Louis’ stain paintings. Within a large, oval, walnut frame handcrafted by a master Massachusetts artisan, “Mirror,” 2014, shows a field of nubby linen on which a photograph of a mirror’s reflection has been printed. It’s a visual riddle, a twenty-first century version of the modern artist’s abiding fascination with mirrors. Less puzzling perhaps, but no less elegant, two tilt-top tables are covered in silk printed with photos of quilt patterns. Read the rest of this entry »

Eye Exam: Races, Places and Art’s Useful Violence

Collage, Hyde Park, Installation, Photography, Public Art, Wicker Park/Bucktown No Comments »
Kelly Lloyd. "I painted the elevator doors the color of my skin. C1, 21,1—E0,13,0—KX0,22,1—V0,37,0," 2014 acrylic on elevator doors

Kelly Lloyd. “I painted the elevator doors the color of my skin. C1, 21,1—E0,13,0—KX0,22,1—V0,37,0,” 2014, acrylic on elevator doors

by Matt Morris

I had been trying to muster the holiday cheer to write a whimsical column about winter window displays when I read the news that the St. Louis County grand jury tasked with the decision to indict police officer Darren Wilson who shot eighteen-year-old Michael Brown to death in August chose not to pursue justice. Since the announcement, I’ve been in vocal and incredulous discussions over the sadistically intricate ways that political and social suppression, economic disadvantage, the bizarre militarization of police forces and even President Obama’s muted responses to this and other murders of unarmed black people have conspired in a construction of an impossibly powerful systemic racism. I’ve felt the deep urge to run. In my mind I see the text “RUN” Rashid Johnson spray-painted in white across a mirror that was included in “Message to Our Folks,” his survey at the MCA two years ago. This is a run from lynch mobs and paramilitary cops and deplorably violent histories that span centuries of America’s past.

Rashid Johnson. "Run," 2008,  mirror with spray paint

Rashid Johnson. “Run,” 2008,
mirror with spray paint

Our society has been shaped without consideration to the personhood and value of nonwhite lives, therefore their sadness, outrage and even their deaths have not been permitted to have any impact. Confronted with this daunting problem built into the very structure of this country, my conviction that art has the potential to powerfully interject into the thick of restrictive, racist assumptions has been bolstered by several recent projects that investigate how visibility for people of color’s lives is situated into public and institutional spaces. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Puppies Puppies/Courtney Blades

Installation, Performance, West Loop No Comments »
Puppies Puppies. "Gollum," 2014, performance and installation in sub-level of Courtney Blades

Installation view of Puppies Puppies’ “Gollum” at Courtney Blades

RECOMMENDED

Producing two concurrent shows in one space, Puppies Puppies occupies the top and bottom of the building that houses Courtney Blades—“Bathroom” above and “Gollum” appropriately down below. What might have been a gimmicky, plain exhibition has been realized toward intriguing ends that reconcile stark understatements with excessively idiosyncratic fantasies. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Sarah and Joseph Belknap/The Franklin

Garfield Park, Installation, Sculpture No Comments »
Sarah and Joseph Belknap. "Planetoids," installation view at The Franklin

Sarah and Joseph Belknap. “Planetoids,” installation view at The Franklin

RECOMMENDED

Sarah and Joseph Belknap have been working together as a singular multimedia artist-entity since 2008, making objects and happenings that examine and mimic grand experiences—the rare, magical moments in which we are able to comprehend our utter insignificance. Celestial bodies and giant earth formations are often shrunk to a manageable size, bringing our attention to the contrast between our human bodies and the infinite universe we live within. Their use of hyper-synthetic materials like silicone, polystyrene and fiberglass again acknowledges this man/nature duality.

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Review: Body Doubles/Museum of Contemporary Art

Installation, Multimedia, Photography, Sculpture, Video No Comments »
Wu Tsang. "Mishima in Mexico," video still, 2012 high definition video projection (color, sound) and programmed LED light installation

Wu Tsang. “Mishima in Mexico,” video still, 2012
high definition video projection (color, sound) and programmed LED light installation

RECOMMENDED

Body double: an actor’s stand-in. Whether in a simulated car crash or simulated intercourse, the body double performs as a seamless break in the continuity of the lead—identity is momentarily transposed, often on a faceless agent. “Body Doubles” at the MCA, organized by curatorial fellow Michelle Puetz, opens up the logic of this cinematic trick. The same formal operation that multiplies the body is exhibited alongside embodied multiplicity. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Sabina Ott/Chicago Cultural Center

Installation, Loop, Multimedia No Comments »
Installation view of Sabina Ott's “here and there pink melon joy” at the Chicago Cultural Center

Installation view of Sabina Ott’s “here and there pink melon joy” at the Chicago Cultural Center

RECOMMENDED

Sabina Ott’s site-specific installation “here and there pink melon joy” at the Chicago Cultural Center intersperses highbrow with lowbrow sensibilities as a means of contemplating value. Spanning three rooms, each gallery is named after the levels Dante travels in the epic poem “The Divine Comedy.” Ott visualizes the work of Dante and a bibliography of vetted literary greats in an indulgent paean to manmade synthetics, vulgar taste and a preference for the saccharinely artificial. Conventions of value assignment are reconsidered therein. Each artwork is named after lines from Gertrude Stein’s writing, and the stream-of-consciousness, choppy build-up in Stein’s syntax plays similarly as Ott’s glut of attractive material accumulations.
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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: Josef Strau/Renaissance Society

Ceramics, Hyde Park, Installation No Comments »
Josef Strau. "Raft," 2014

Josef Strau. “Raft,” 2014

RECOMMENDED

The application referenced in the title of Josef Strau’s first museum exhibition in the United States, “The New World Application for Turtle Island,” is a fantastical art-and-text alternative to the formal procedures for a green card, and Turtle Island is a name given to the North American continent by its indigenous peoples. The Renaissance Society is filled with the Austrian-born nomad’s sensitively indulgent bricolage of Americana used to deconstruct histories of European invasion and colonization alongside his more personal accounts of exploring the United States and Mexico. Strau poses uneasy questions about the ethics and aesthetics that accompany cultural trade, not least of all his globetrotting presence as an after-effect of prior violent usurpations of place. His knowingly disjointed installation grapples with the conditions of being an outsider—and perhaps more confounding, an insider—in these places he holds dear. 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 »