Reviews, profiles and news about art in Chicago

News: Comfort Station’s First Annual Vernacular Photography Festival Begins Today

Galleries & Museums, Logan Square, News etc., Outsider Art, Photography, Video No Comments »
An anonymous photograph from the Slattery collection.

An anonymous photograph from the Slattery collection

Comfort Station, the Logan Square multidisciplinary art space, will present an unprecedented twenty-three-day “Vernacular Photography Festival,” a rotating show celebrating the art of everyday and commonplace images throughout the month of August. The festival is curated by Ron Slattery, known as one of the three original collectors of the work of the late Vivian Maier. Maier was a noted street photographer who took more than 150,000 photographs of everyday people and architecture in Chicago and New York. Her work was not widely recognized until after her death in 2009, when Slattery and two other collectors began to circulate images from portions of her archive that they had purchased at auction. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Dont Fret/Johalla Projects

Drawings, Installation, Multimedia, Outsider Art, Painting, Public Art, Street Art, West Town No Comments »
Dont Fret. "Saturday Night Fever," 2015. Acrylic on paper.

Dont Fret. “Saturday Night Fever,” 2015.
Acrylic on paper.


“There are only two seasons in Chicago,” reads the poster pasted on a utility box, “Winter and construction.” The last time that I encountered the work of Dont Fret in the wild there was snow on the ground. Summer finds the artist moving from works on the street back into the gallery with little difficulty, but some trepidation.

At Johalla Projects, a group of works on paper cover one wall, each of them functioning individually, but all fitting together as a conceptual whole. Mixed in are purposely ham-fisted, muddy-colored abstractions with phrases like “Hi, I’m an idea based painting” or “I like his early work better.” These are perhaps a nod to the “zombie formalism” debates from last year and including a good bit of the artist’s own anxiety about his place in the art ecosystem. He needn’t worry about the art world silliness. Dont Fret is still at his best in his depictions of Chicago life and Chicagoans. The details and insights in his art can only come from years spent observing the changes to the city and the people, and from those quiet moments of profundity that come from a history of experience. Read the rest of this entry »

Point of Origin: Mapping the Arts in Detroit

Architecture, Galleries & Museums, Installation, Multimedia, Outsider Art, Performance, Public Art, Sculpture No Comments »
Olayami Dabls, N'Kisi House, 2007, wood, glass, tile, bricks, paint, MBAD African Bead Museum in Detroit, MI. Photo credit: Charlene Uresy

Olayami Dabls, N’Kisi House, 2007,
wood, glass, tile, bricks, paint, MBAD African Bead Museum in Detroit/Photo: Charlene Uresy

By Allison Glenn

The twenty-first century has brought with it the re-emergence of contemporary conceptual artists engaged with penumbral zones. These artists are interested in site, positing new ideas for usage of once-inhabited homes and urban spaces. Whether the middle of the desert or the center of a blighted neighborhood, these sites exist on the theoretical—albeit times physical—margins of society. Artistic engagement with these interstitial spaces is on a material level, with art and architecture converging to create radical and experimental approaches to living. Positing ideas for architecture, technology, space and the body’s relation to it, artists are projecting utopic ideals for the future of the quotidian urban environment. What emerges from this are hybrid works of art and cultural production. Read the rest of this entry »

Blocks of Art and Stuff: Taking in the Heidelberg Project, East Detroit’s Spectacle of Transformation and Perseverance

Installation, Outsider Art, Public Art, Sculpture No Comments »
Views from Amy Danzer's visit to the Heidelberg Project

Photo: Amy Danzer

When you first pull up to the open-air art installation on Heidelberg Street in East Detroit, you’re struck by the remnants of houses that have recently been set afire by arsonists. Twelve blazes have gutted six installations in the last two years. The devastation and loss are felt at once, never absent throughout the exhibit, and serve as commentary on the plight of Detroit’s inner city. But Tyree Guyton and his volunteers continue to clear the ash and debris, create new works, and transform the space into one that persists in provoking thought, inciting imagination, and drawing in people from all over the country and world. Read the rest of this entry »

News: Intuit Appoints Debra Kerr New Executive Director

News etc., Outsider Art, West Loop No Comments »

Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art announced that Debra Kerr has been appointed as its new executive director as of November 3, succeeding Joel Mangers, who had served since June of 2012. In a letter to the board upon her hiring, Kerr writes, “My vision for Intuit is to enhance its mission and serve as a model in the international museum community.” She goes on to set goals to break expectations for how outsider and intuitive art is understood and to “be a leader in the movement of museum as forum—a gathering place and community catalyst for good.”

Intuit's new executive director Debra Kerr

Intuit’s new executive director Debra Kerr

In an email exchange, Kerr elaborates on the one component she hopes to implement at Intuit, “One change is to firmly state that Intuit is a museum. I’ve been an advocate for the need for museums to increase their role as centers of dialogue and catalysts for change. I see Intuit as a place that can model what museums can and should be in the twenty-first century—and that’s much of what attracted me to this position. Intuit has huge potential as a place that presents phenomenal outsider art, a place that can activate each audience member’s own creativity, as a place that serves as facilitator for social change for good, and yes, a model of museum as all the above.” Read the rest of this entry »

Portrait of the Artist: Melvin King

Artist Profiles, Outsider Art No Comments »


Melvin King’s paintings are pure Americana. It is artwork that tells important stories about black religious worship and the civil-rights movement.

King’s paintings hang from every available space on the walls in his three-story brick house and studio in Burnham. When there is no more wall space, paintings are placed on the floor, where they lean against walls. They also are stacked in boxes, stored under tables and desks or stacked on top of them. Some of the paintings are framed, others are wrapped in plastic. Still others have cardboard packing protectors on each of the frame’s four corners. Read the rest of this entry »

Art Break: In Search of Slang

Outsider Art No Comments »

William Hawkins and Hawkins Bolden

“Ain’t nothing but the frame.” Hamza Walker’s quotable summation of the difference between so-called “black vernacular art” and “fine art” teasingly skirted a value assessment of what goes in the frame itself. This was the overwhelming consensus among panelists gathered last Thursday to discuss how some artworks are defined as black, vernacular, or both, and possibly neither.

The panel’s contemporary read of the term “vernacular” added a new way to think about the overwrought “outsider artist” divide. Although there was uniform understanding of the importance of the term by the panelists at Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art—including Walker, Fo Wilson, Krista Franklin, and moderator Lee Ann Norman—the word was not fully defined. Instead, characterizations of “Black Vernacular Art” included assemblage techniques, “gut-bucket funky from around the way” materials (Walker again), and influences from hip-hop, regional African-American dialects, hair weaves, bottle trees, yard shows, face jugs, Robert Rauschenberg’s “Combines,” and a grandmother’s quilt.  Read the rest of this entry »

Eye Exam: Outsider Art for All

Galleries & Museums, News etc., Outsider Art No Comments »

 By Jason Foumberg, with reporting by Harrison Smith

Late last year the American Folk Art Museum announced it could no longer afford to stay in the building it called home, in Midtown Manhattan. Like an allegory of hubris, the museum constructed a monument to self-taught art that it could not sustain. The institution vacated its contents, and the classy structure was absorbed by its neighbor, the Museum of Modern Art.

Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art in Chicago is feeling similar pressure to grow, but its newly installed executive director, Joel Mangers, is embarking on that path carefully. Despite Chicago’s deep commitment to the legacy of self-taught art, Mangers says, “It’s a constant struggle to get people in the door.” He means that literally. Intuit’s door is easy to miss. There’s no grand entrance to the museum, just a regular brick façade like any other on that stretch of Milwaukee Avenue in West Town.

Intuit is about to upgrade its street presence, thanks to a pro bono design by Studio Gang Architects. Unlike the American Folk Art Museum, Intuit won’t be gambling its future with a $32 million construction project, but it will need to raise awareness about its mission and meaning for Chicago artists. Mangers is poised for the task. The self-described “arts advocate” also holds an MBA. He has fundraised for the youth arts program at Gallery 37 and most recently for the Gene Siskel Film Center. Mangers follows the much loved and recently retired director, Cleo Wilson, as the outsider art center’s fifth director in its twenty-one-year history. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Accidental Genius/Milwaukee Art Museum

Drawings, Milwaukee, Outsider Art, Painting No Comments »

Sylvia Levine, "Cornish Landscape with Donkeys," 1987. Photo: Larry Sanders


Featured art collector Anthony Petullo began acquiring works at the Milwaukee Art Museum’s annual “Lakefront Festival of Arts,” which includes contemporary arts and crafts. Now, thirty years later, he has divided the pieces among his children and the museum, gifting 300 works with an indicated special focus on outsider and self-taught artists. However, some of the exhibition’s best work comes from the trained artists within his collection.

Petullo seems to have taken some chances with several European as well as American artists who aren’t well known. Beside iconic names like Henry Darger and Minnie Evans hangs work by Sylvia Levine, whose work can be purchased on the internet for under 500 dollars. Levine wasn’t completely self-taught; she took art classes that probably helped her develop the strong quality of her reclining nudes in an early twentieth-century figurative style. David Pearce is also far from famous, though his sparse, lonely village-scapes show that he is adept at presenting a dreamy and beautiful world. His gallery markets him as self-taught, but his own website indicates that he studied at the Epsom, Kent and Chelsea schools of art. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Howard Finster/Chicago Cultural Center

Loop, Outsider Art, Painting 8 Comments »

Caught In The Devils Vice, 1988


We can be absolutely certain that Reverend Howard Finster hailed from parts unknown, even if those parts resemble rural southern U.S.A. The mystery surrounding him expands with each piece of art, signed “Howard Finster from God” or “Howard Finster Man of Visions” or “Howard Finster World’s Minister Of Folk Art Church Inc,” among other outlandish and intriguing things. He might come from a charming tourist attraction he displays intimate knowledge of with “Jeff and Jane Camp on Planet U Run.” The chaotic and over-populated landscape resembles Finster’s own alien homestead in Summerville, Georgia, which bursts with handmade buildings and sculptures onto which are affixed paintings, wood carvings, wood burnings and artifacts ranging widely from the buttons of a pea coat to melted cathode-ray tubes. The spectacle of accumulation is as powerful as the sheer otherness of Finster’s vision, which exists solely to transmit the word of God as Finster hears and sees it, and is frequented by a cast of characters such as Presidents Washington and Eisenhower, Henry Ford, Coca-Cola, Satan and, of course, Elvis Presley. Read the rest of this entry »