Reviews, profiles and news about art in Chicago

Review: Cauleen Smith/Museum of Contemporary Art

Installation, Michigan Avenue, Video, West Loop No Comments »

Cauleen Smith, film still from “Nicolai and Regina Series 01″


Cauleen Smith’s solo show at the MCA is the best contemporary art exhibition in Chicago this summer. While watching her short videos, which feature Chicago cityscapes and local musicians, I easily mistook Smith as a Chicago-based artist. I’m used to seeing only Chicago artists mine the city’s cultural history with such deeply personal insights. In fact Smith lives and teaches in San Diego, and has spent considerable time in Chicago doing research on local music history, facilitated by Threewalls in 2010 and a Black Metropolis Research Consortium grant in 2011. The fruit of her Chicago residency is a series of new videos and a multimedia installation that waken civic pride. Before the MCA exhibition closes in mid-September, Smith will open a solo show at Threewalls, a spot usually reserved for Midwestern artists. Read the rest of this entry »

Eye Exam: Bears on Rampage Devour Cows on Parade

Installation, Michigan Avenue, News etc. No Comments »

“Werner Herzog Bear” (photo: Tom Van Eynde)

By Jason Foumberg

With the Chicago Cultural Center’s programming in transition, artists and their audiences mourn some of the disappearing services as the city struggles to redefine its official stance on the visual arts in relation to tourism and commerce. Early on the city evicted a ground-floor gift shop from the Cultural Center, along with most of the respected visual arts staff. With the re-installment of longtime curator Lanny Silverman, the gift shop, too, has undergone some rehabbing into a mock souvenir shop. Named The People’s Palace’s Gift Shop, the life-size diorama created by Zachary Cahill playfully mixes cultural metaphors to draw uncomfortable parallels between capitalist and communist economies. “Yes, we’re open, come in,” announces a pink neon sign at the entrance, but the mock shop is otherwise confrontational and uninviting, having been besieged by economic catastrophe and slash-happy bears. The exhibition team boldly commissioned Cahill to layer confusion upon absurdity as a commentary on the Cultural Center’s mess of affairs, thereby holding up a mirror to its own painful transformation. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Kirsten Stoltmann and Mike Kloss/New Capital

Garfield Park, Installation No Comments »


At the turn of the millennium, Kirsten Stoltmann’s decorated tumbleweeds and mystical levitation footage at Van Harrison Gallery, her slow-motion video of skateboarders intercut with pictures of flowers in the UIC MFA show and, at Donald Young Gallery, her two-channel projection of her Caucasian self singing Marvin Gaye and wandering like an invisible ghost through a gathering of well-heeled African-Americans, all offered satire that replaced smugness or maudlin pathos with a distanced feeling of loss. Since that time she has focused more on objects—in particular, graphic collages in which loaded words or familiar phrases are sometimes engulfed in a shimmering field of patterns and commercial images, and sometimes starkly scrawled over the artist’s ferociously autonomous body, both a bitter revisiting of eighties feminist text art and a scornful anticipation of visual one-liner memes on Facebook. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Ivan Lozano/Johalla Projects

Installation, West Loop No Comments »


Injecting sexual mysticism into the iconographic imagination of Catholicism, Ivan Lozano’s installation “C___ of the Eye / C___ of the Hand” revises the interior layout of a classic basilica by replacing familiar Stations of the Cross with sculptures and photographs from pornography culture. Catholicism is no stranger to such physical explorations of spiritual ecstasy—think Bernini’s seventeenth-century sculpture of Saint Teresa, for instance, where the nun, overcome with the passion of Christ, throws her head back in an orgasmic cry. The body has long been a mediator for spiritual gnosis. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Erik Wenzel/65 Grand

Installation, Multimedia, West Loop No Comments »

In Real Life


We’re familiar with the notion that context dictates whether a fan is an appliance or an objet d’art—whether a desktop background image could hang in an art gallery. Erik Wenzel’s solo exhibition, titled “Fresh Fat,” complexly applies e-commerce, digital dissemination, and the language of social networks to these distinctions. At bottom, he’s asking how the artist should adapt to new technologies of creation and distribution at the level of everyday practice. On the gallery’s east wall, he’s lightly penciled the characters #IRL—online parlance for “in real life”—to serve as a hesitant and tentatively small affirmation of the physical world, composed in Twitterese. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: David Salkin/Peregrine Program

Garfield Park, Installation, Textiles No Comments »


On the surface, David Salkin’s “Room for Views” is a whimsical celebration of texture and pattern—a slight divergence from his work as an interior designer, but certainly not much of a leap. The difference, perhaps, is that in “Room for Views,” Salkin gets to let loose and create his ideal room, “with the hopes of discovering a therapeutic and highly customized environment,” says the artist. Upon further consideration, this whimsical celebration turns into a meditation on the arrangement of space. We are asked to pay attention to the many ways our material environment is ordered, from the layout of our cities to the arrangements on our mantles. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Alan and Michael Fleming/Threewalls

Installation, Performance, West Loop No Comments »

Alan and Michael Fleming are twins recently separated by residences in Brooklyn and Chicago. Attending the School of the Art Institute of Chicago as a joint entity, the pair have exhibited work in a range of venues including the MCA and the Sullivan Galleries at SAIC. Reflecting on their various attachments and detachments as brothers and artists, the exhibition “GAME ON” introduces the Fleming Brothers construct as an in-joke.

Distributed throughout the gallery is a year-long archive of postcards, videos, household furniture, drawings and sculptures produced by Alan and Michael since their separation in 2011. Confronting their binded intuition as twins, the Fleming Brothers aim to “map their distance” through body molds and algorithmic sketches reflecting a “disjointed studio practice” drawn from phone calls and psychic conversations—a physical representation of an innate mental and emotional oneness. Read the rest of this entry »

Portrait of the Artist: Ellen Nielsen

Installation, Performance, Sculpture No Comments »

Ellen Nielsen pulled back the floral-patterned curtain at the entrance of her home and studio to reveal a rainbow-felted tree adorned with fake birds. A shadow box of sequin typologies, pinned like shiny dead butterflies, hung at her other side, framing her in a bright sleeveless dress with matching red lipstick. These creations, she explained with cerebral self-possession, act as a “queer, feminist celebration of ornament and kitsch.

“I’m confused about irony,” Nielsen confesses, “because I genuinely like the things that I like. I actually like disco.” As one of her many part-performance, part-object projects, Nielsen is involved with the Pyramids of Pluto, who throw disco-focused events at clubs in the city. At a recent event at Berlin nightclub, themed as a physical manifestation of the internet, Nielsen created a giant web that would hold images of cats, in reference to the popular memes, and hang from the ceiling above the dance floor. Her theatrical experiments extend to puppetry, too, through an ongoing involvement with the Baltimore Annex Theater Collective. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Kerry James Marshall/Monique Meloche Gallery

Installation, Sculpture, Wicker Park/Bucktown No Comments »


Kerry James Marshall’s “On the Wall” window installation at Monique Meloche Gallery looks out on the intersection where the bar and boutique territory of Division Street meets the abandoned monolithic carscape of Saint Mary of Nazareth Hospital. Beyond the hospital is West Town and Humboldt Park. As good as it looks and with no disrespect to the gallery, I hope that the piece might some day be installed where young African-Americans might benefit from the work’s enticing mix of glam, enigma and pedagogical snippets of African-American history.

At first glimpse, during the day, one thinks of the Mylar that makes up the pillows in “Exploding Plastic Inevitable,” but the title transcends materiality, intimating the intergalactic scope of Afro-Futurism, further signified by the red, green and black of Marcus Garvey’s Afro-American flag. Marshall uses light-reflecting materials to create moving spectrums against a glittery red, black and green background. Undulating shapes waver between bow ties and ribbons, looped over the window space and punctuated by screen-printed historical portraits. While the names of these unknown dark stars appear below their vignetted portraits, Marshall requested that the gallery not provide a cheat sheet with any information about them, preferring, wisely, to send the audience on a mission to find out for themselves about the Real Cleopatra Jones and Denmark Vesey, among the others. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Matthew Hoffman/Public Works Gallery

Installation, Multimedia, Painting, Sculpture, Textiles, Wicker Park/Bucktown No Comments »

I'm So Turned On Right Now


The question at the heart of Matthew Hoffman’s exhibition, “I Made This For You,” is what, exactly, is the artist’s relationship to his messages? These include “It’s OK” and “Go Easy On Life” and “Be a Human Being,” as well as flowcharts of romantic relationships and twee Venn diagrams—the funniest has the word “it” in the middle, with “fake” and “make” in their flanking crescents—in primary colors and frames. These are perfectly simple and pointedly unpretentious (think upside down smiley faces). And while “I Made This For You” claims to be acting as a “tide break against the world’s rolling waves of negativity,” says the artist, the show also evokes the darkness of Jenny Holzer’s truisms through the banal and affectless: “Knit a sweater out of that last thread of hope” is as much a passive-aggressive fuck-off as it is an inspirational message. Read the rest of this entry »