Reviews, profiles and news about art in Chicago

Review: SpotLight/Elmhurst Art Museum

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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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Review: Home Front: Daily Life in the Civil War North/Newberry Library

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There was a time when America’s sectional differences were settled with guns, not merely squabbles in Congress. The Newberry Library’s current exhibition, “Home Front: Daily Life in the Civil War North” highlights an oft-forgotten aspect of this country’s greatest crisis. The dim lighting and genteel surfaces of the Newberry resemble a Civil War-era parlor. But this is where the northern home front was waged—in homes and in the fevered minds of soldiers’ families.  Read the rest of this entry »

Eye Exam: Midwesterners Do It in Secret

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Ray Yoshida, "Extraordinary Values," c. 1970.

Ray Yoshida, “Extraordinary Values,” c. 1970.

By Jason Foumberg

Tracing paper might be the biggest art-store seller in the Midwest. Midwestern artists lift, borrow and reuse source material from other artists and cultures so frequently that there is now a handful of current exhibitions dedicated to this topic. The art world calls it appropriation, and it is a ubiquitous creative strategy among contemporary artists, but when the Met canonized this practice in their 2009 show “The Pictures Generation,” they focused only on the coasts. Appropriation, however, is a Midwest tradition, even to the degree that Carl Baratta used to teach a course at SAIC called “How to Steal.”

Artist as Art Collector

When longtime SAIC professor Ray Yoshida died in 2009, the school that he taught at for forty-five years hosted “Touch and Go: Ray Yoshida and his Spheres of Influence,” a sprawling exhibition of artwork and objects that fanned-out Yoshida’s network of sources and peer influences, and explained how the Chicago Imagists pinched from folk artists and from each other. It was an expansive show, but not exhaustive. Completing that task is “Ray Yoshida’s Museum of Extraordinary Values” at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. Read the rest of this entry »

Building Bridges: “The Distance Between” Tries to Connect the University of Chicago with its Community

Hyde Park, Multimedia No Comments »
avery r young, "lady sings de blue(s) or billie head was bleevin at carnegie hall," 2013, 12x18 in., Paper wood ink gauze tape vinyl graphite glue assemblage

avery r young, “lady sings de blue(s) or billie head was bleevin at carnegie hall”

By B. David Zarley

Sharing a dedication to the arts and yet diametrically opposed—one bathed in the warm glow of gentrification, under the aegis of the University of Chicago, the other in Washington Park on the periphery  of the cluster of shops and street violence murals (“Spray paint, not bullets”) that have sprung up like foxglove in the shadows of the Green Line on Garfield Boulevard—one would be hard pressed to find a better dyadic home for “The Distance Between,” the consummation of the artists-in-residence  for the Arts+Public Life/Center for the Study of Race, Politics & Culture, than the Logan Center for the Arts and the Arts Incubator.

Separated from one another by the verdant expanse of Washington Park, the environs surrounding Logan and the Incubator ably reflect the Janus-like face of the South Side; “The Distance Between” revels in, pontificates upon and avails itself to said space. At the recent “Park Crossing” event, live music from resident artists LeRoy Bach and Tomeka Reid straddled the park, most notably in “Washington Park Suite,” which featured cellists Reid and Fred Lonberg-Holm playing ad-hoc, simultaneous improvisational movements from across the park, their individual contributions manipulated and reflected to each other in real time across the space by Todd Carter and Alex Inglizian. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Slippery Slope/Woman Made Gallery

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Vanessa Harris

Vanessa Harris


The purpose of Antonin Artaud’s “theater of cruelty,” he wrote, was not “a question of bringing metaphysical ideas directly onto the stage, but of creating what you might call temptations, indraughts of air around these ideas.”

Such frothy titillation overflows, often literally, in the teeming group exhibition “Slippery Slope,” now at Woman Made Gallery, with works that include a video of semi-recognizable foods being dumped on a young woman’s ample chest (by Vanessa Harris), a ceramic wall piece with a profusion of gesticulating leech-like fingers (by Daniel Luedtke), and a contraption to turn colored spit into a collaborative painting (by Ruby Thorkelson).

Pornography is the show’s theme, Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Amalia Pica/Museum of Contemporary Art

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Artist Amalia Pica operates within our communications-saturated milieu. In her first large-scale solo exhibition in the U.S., Pica presents observers with sculptures, installations, drawings and films that explore the intricacies, failures and challenges of communication.

Some of these efforts are carried off with the subtlety and grace of a ballerina on benzodiazepines; “Babble, Blabber, Chatter, Gibber, Jabber, Patter, Prattle, Rattle, Yammer, Yada, Yada, Yada,” with its carousel slides of semaphore flags spelling the work’s title, is a touch on the nose—literal visual communication! Image as language, ponderous, slow and practically unreadable in its esoteric nature!—but isn’t that the intrinsic fate of messages about messages? Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Jeroen Nelemans/The Mission

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Joseph Beuys once declared that Holland’s unique light had lost its radiance around the 1950s, thus ending a signature period of visual culture immortalized in the artworks of Vermeer and Rembrandt. It’s debatable whether Beuys’ comment was a sociopolitical allegory (Holland drastically modified its landscape at the time) or he seriously contended that a change in the chemical content of the Dutch atmosphere had adversely affected the quality of Dutch art. Jeroen Nelemans seems to have rediscovered the glow. In his first solo exhibition at The Mission, the Chicago-based artist of Dutch heritage presents four series of works that deal with a twenty-first-century lighting design: LEDs, computer screens, interior bulbs, and the strange effects of their admixture. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Paige Cunningham and Anna Kunz/Chicago Cultural Center

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Watching Paige Cunningham and Anna Kunz’s performance, “One Careless Gesture Away From Destruction,” was like getting a six-course dinner when you’re expecting just an entrée. It was a feast of varied cultural forms that held together as a kind of conversation about creative production.

There were essentially three distinct shows on view: a sculptural tableau with a video component, situated right in the middle of Industry of the Ordinary’s (IOTO) retrospective exhibition; a vogue-ballet mash-up choreographed by Cunningham; and a voguing presentation and workshop, led by the Chicago chapter of the House of Ninja, a local queer dance collective, or “house,” in the parlance of the voguing community. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Karen Reimer/Gallery 400

Multimedia, West Loop No Comments »

from “Endless Set,” 2007-ongoing. Appliqué on pieced pillowcases.


Comprising works from over fifteen years, Karen Reimer’s solo exhibition “Endless Set” locates the artist’s work squarely between the intimacy of craft and the more impersonal systems of production. The exhibition’s breadth allows for subtle dichotomies to arise: in Reimer’s poetically redacted newspapers, we find her working text and subtext; in her meticulously rendered textbook pages, we cut between function and decoration; and in her most recent body of work (from which the exhibition takes its name), we see Reimer’s exhaustive exploration of systematic production and formal obliteration. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Industry of the Ordinary/Chicago Cultural Center

Michigan Avenue, Multimedia, Performance No Comments »


If not for one offhand mention of Marcel Duchamp, I wouldn’t be sure that Eric Felten, the Wall Street Journal art critic who wrote a pooh-poohing preview on August 9 of Industry of the Ordinary’s retrospective, titled “Sic Transit Gloria Mundi,” had heard of conceptual art. Which is fair, since until then I hadn’t heard of art criticism in the Wall Street Journal. “We long to be astonished,” Felten writes, echoing the Ayn Rand ethos of his masthead. A participatory fishing tank, photographs of urine, pfaugh! Felten doesn’t want ordinary, he wants winners. Like a Bernini sculpture, he suggests, or the Olympics. Sadly for him, the Chicago Cultural Center show promotes group effort over individual excellence. Not only is Industry of the Ordinary a collaboration between Adam Brooks and Matthew Wilson, with the bulk of their lighthearted, ephemeral work based on interacting, borrowing, cooperating, or delegating, but the exhibition itself consists of dozens of objects, projects and events from creators throughout the local art world. The success of their populist approach was evident at the opening, which was the most thronged affair I’ve ever attended at the Chicago Cultural Center. Read the rest of this entry »