Reviews, profiles and news about art in Chicago

Review: SpotLight/Elmhurst Art Museum

Installation, Multimedia No Comments »
Jeroen Nelemans, "Mondrian 2," 2011

Jeroen Nelemans, “Mondrian 2,” 2011


“SpotLight” casts a wide net to emphasize how light plays a varied role in several contemporary artists’ practices. This exhibition presents light as its subject while employing it as its medium to comment on art history, memory, the artistic process and transformation. At a time when technology and materials are overabundant, the goal of “SpotLight” is to use one of the simplest tools to speak to our contemporary moment. Light is a critical tool to any art form, whether it is used as a tool to examine a subject or as a means to produce an image.

Jeroen Nelemans’ laser light interpretations of two well-known Piet Mondrian paintings are perhaps the most striking examples of the ephemeral nature of light, even if in this case the light is completely artificial. Employing a small army of laser levels, Nelemans recreates the paintings’ angles using nothing more than the red beam of light. The pieces hover above the surface of the gallery wall, giving the works a false sense of dimension and depth. As the batteries wear down in each laser level, the lines connecting the work together slowly dissipate, and the relationship to the original painting dissolves as well.
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Art Break: Luftwerk Shines a Light on Modernist Architecture

Installation No Comments »

Shift 1

The sun hung low in the sky December 10, 1777, as German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe descended from the shroud of mist that enveloped the highest peak of the Harz mountain range. For a fleeting moment, he observed his shadow cast blue on the white snow. Isaac Newton had theorized shadows as the absence of light but Goethe perceived within the darkness a myriad of hues. Color was born in the space between darkness and light.

The new media exhibition, “Shift,” by the collaborative Luftwerk at the Chicago Cultural Center, extends an exploration into the phenomenology of color. During a residency at the Institute for Electronic Arts at Alfred University, artists Petra Bachmaier and Sean Gallero studied the science of light. “We immersed ourselves in research into the color theories of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Johannes Itten and Josef Albers,” Bachmaier says. The additive color system mixes primary colors red, green and blue to create cyan, magenta and yellow. “It is painting 101,” she laughs. Read the rest of this entry »

Portrait of the Artist: Tracy Marie Taylor

Installation No Comments »


An undulating mirrored moonscape of curves and climbs, the multimedia installation “9-11-57” is something of a lateral step for Tracy Marie Taylor, both in media and message. Taylor is a product of the American West; her Colorado heritage comes replete with a cowboy grandfather who would ride to roundup three-thousand head of horses, and family members she fondly describes as wearing cowboy boots and handlebar mustaches as formal wear. Hair the color of adobe clay and an expansive, brilliant smile calls to mind the northern reaches of the Chihuahuan Desert, where she studied at the University of New Mexico. Taylor’s work consistently mines this rich cultural vein for inspiration; what sets “9-11-57” apart, aside from being her first sculpture, is what aspect of the West she is choosing to reflect (literally, in this instance, with mirrors).

“9-11-57” is a USGS-quality, laser-cut topographic map of the site of the Mountain Meadows Massacre, where on September 11, 1857, Mormon militiamen, as well as deceived Paiute Indians, slaughtered 120 emigrants, including men, women and children, on their way to California from Arkansas in southern Utah. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Conrad Freiburg/Linda Warren Projects

Installation, West Loop No Comments »
"Bucket Eye View (Path)"

“Bucket Eye View (Path)”


Like most Americans, I keep the idea of death’s unforgiving grasp safely confined to the periphery of my subconscious via a gentle stream of sex, alcohol and vaguely pointless amusement. Our society, pathologically ill-equipped to deal with grief in any kind of serious way, allows for little else. So it should come as no surprise that Conrad Freiburg’s fun-loving memento mori, “Before the Grave and Constant” at Linda Warren Projects, fits neatly into this bitter-pill-washed-down-with-mountains-of-sugar cultural ethos.

Echoing a giant game of Mouse Trap, the various ropes and pulleys that populate this gallery-sized installation set steel bearings into motion along divergent channels that always end in the dark void of the proverbial (and literal) bucket. Symbolizing decision and consequence, life’s travails and its inevitable end, Freiburg’s take on death is also inherently materialist and occidental, portraying it as the final destination on a linear journey, with no hint of an afterlife, or even reincarnation. The problem—if you want to call it that—is that the interactive installation is just too fun to take very seriously. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Marco Nereo Rotelli/Field Museum

Installation No Comments »
Photo: Jim Prinz

Photo: Jim Prinz

One’s appreciation for Robert Pinsky’s poem “ABC” (his sophomoric work in which every word is in alphabetic order, and which is as bromidic as it sounds) may be considered a precursor for the enjoyment of Marco Nereo Rotelli’s “Divina Natura.” It was the first piece of poetry read at the one-night installation/performance on June 24 outside the Field Museum, and was only by a slight margin the worst aspect of the Italian Cultural Institute of Chicago’s celebration of poetry and art. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Kara Walker/Art Institute of Chicago

Installation No Comments »
Kara Walker, "Rise Up Ye Mighty Race!" (detail), 2013.

Kara Walker, “Rise Up Ye Mighty Race!” (detail), 2013


If brand identity is crucial to the success of the contemporary artist, few have got one as strong as the MacArthur Fellowship recipient Kara Walker. But, nearly two decades on, Walker’s trademark silhouettes and antebellum grotesqueries are showing their age, and the artist, undoubtedly aware she has cut herself into a stylistic corner, has been making strides to broaden her approach to installation.

In her latest work “Rise Up Ye Mighty Race” commissioned specifically for the Art Institute, Walker anchors the show with several mural-scale drawings and a plethora of small, variously framed studies. The signature silhouettes are still present, though play less large a role in this homage to imaginary race war. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Erik Wenzel/The Storefront

Installation No Comments »

IMG_9479At The Storefront, Erik Wenzel asks us to literally walk all over the sacred pages of Artforum while picturing ourselves simultaneously in Logan Square and Appenzell, Switzerland. In the artwork titled “Appenzeller Landschaft (Appenzeller Landscape),” the artist places his personal collection of magazines, from 1990-something to the fiftieth-anniversary issue (September, 2012), in an arrangement on the floor, tiled backside-up in a Carl Andre-like grid. All of the Artforum back covers display a quaint scene of traditional Swiss life in Appenzell, the hometown of gallerist Bruno Bischofberger, who has been renting the back cover space since the 1980s to advertise the exhibitions at his blue-chip gallery in Zurich. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Abigail DeVille/Iceberg Projects

Installation, Rogers Park No Comments »



Abigail DeVille wages war upon space with all the multifariousness of Rogers Park in her exhibition, titled “XXXXXX.” The gallery’s location in Rogers Park is a stone’s throw from the original delineation between settlers and Native American tribes, and is set amidst the most heterogeneous neighborhood in a city whose dividing lines shine bright enough to be seen from outer space. “XXXXXX” is culled from the detritus of a disparate place, pieces thrown against one another in a display of beautiful violence that evokes both the fury and haunting pulchritude that is the inevitable result of the gnashing, bloody entropy and fornication of so many moving parts; creation is, by definition, a messy process, and DeVille does not shy away from the gore. Read the rest of this entry »

Portrait of the Artist: Shawn Decker

Installation, Michigan Avenue No Comments »
photo by Soohyun Kim

photo by Soohyun Kim

The brass rods shudder as the wind sweeps through the prairie. Steel grasshoppers click in the tall grass. A small mole cricket snaps its wings. And rain falls metallic on black soil.

In the sound installation “Prairie,” currently on exhibit in the Yates Gallery at the Chicago Cultural Center, artist Shawn Decker composes an abstract symphony of microcontrollers, computers, motors and recycled cellphone speakers. Subtle algorithms echo the dynamic movement and rhythm of the Illinois grasslands.

Decker grew up at the end of a dirt road in Western Pennsylvania. He remembers canoeing down the Susquehanna River, camping in the hills of the Allegheny Plateau, and watching the flutter of cardinals and blue jays in the trees outside his window. His artistic practice involves making meticulous tape and phonograph recordings in order to deconstruct rhythmic and spatial patterns of sound. He says, “The algorithms I compose are derived from natural processes. I often use configurations of Brownian motion of particles or fluctuations of 1/f noise to translate and reimagine the sound of leaves falling on the ground or raindrops hitting a blade of grass.” Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Jason Lazarus/Museum of Contemporary Art

Installation 6 Comments »

18e8eJasonLazarus_20130318_02A flash of light. You close your eyes. The bright glow lingers for a moment, no longer there, but not yet vanished. The voices of the ninety-nine percent reverberate in the galleries of the Museum of Contemporary Art—an afterimage of the tumultuous demonstrations of 2011. “If you are not angry, you are not paying attention.” “You should be here #OccupytheHood.” “Class war ahead.” “This is a universal revolution.” “Wake up.” The cardboard protest signs hang silently on the wall. A museum plaque announces that, if interested, you may check out a sign for the duration of your visit. Please just notify an attendant.

But few people seem to do so.

The protest-sign archive, titled “Phase I/ Live Archive,” is one part of Jason Lazarus’ multimedia solo show at the MCA. Lazarus began “Phase I/ Live Archive” as an artist-in-residence at the University of South Florida in Tampa. Moved by the revolutionary zeal of Occupy Wall Street, the artist invited students to re-create the handmade protest signs. Collecting images from Facebook and Twitter, the participants traced the activist slogans with black marker and spray paint. Read the rest of this entry »