Reviews, profiles and news about art in Chicago

Review: Daniel Luedtke and Ben Seamons/Roots & Culture

Installation, Painting, Sculpture No Comments »
Daniel Luedtke. "Automatic Thoughts," 2015 oil, pencil, resin, gouache, foam board, wood, dead vibrating bullets extinguished by Liz Rosenfeld, Ana Raba and Joel Parsons 47'' x 57''

Daniel Luedtke. “Automatic Thoughts,” 2015
oil, pencil, resin, gouache, foam board, wood, dead vibrating bullets extinguished by Liz Rosenfeld, Ana Raba and Joel Parsons
47” x 57”


Daniel Luedtke’s “Automatic Thoughts” takes up nearly an entire wall at the back of “Spine, Crack, Transfigure,” a piece appearing like a resin-coated recycling symbol with a messy composition that looks hand-drawn. The three arrows comprising the sculpture surround a circle, and contain three vibrating bullets fixed at about twelve, two and six o’clock respectively. The sex toys were depleted of their battery power by Ana Raba, Liz Rosenfeld and Joel Parsons, the absent users who enacted elements of this work. The vibratory ghosts limply hang as the expired record of the collaborators’ pleasure. They are almost hidden save for a cord dangling within the circle or “O,” a way to place a physical act into the diagram-like form. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Andreas Fischer/Andrew Rafacz Gallery

Painting, West Loop No Comments »
Andreas Fischer. "Monument," 2015 oil, acrylic, pencil on canvas, 21 x 18"

Andreas Fischer. “Monument,” 2015
oil, acrylic, pencil on canvas, 21 x 18″


Andreas Fischer’s “The Ghost in Your Shoe” is a satisfying meditation on representation delivered as a set of strange, charming little paintings. The subject matter is familiar. Each picture is of something everyday—a horse, for example, simply titled “Horse.” The paintings are rendered dreamily, as if painted, not even from memory, but from the storehouse of the mind wherein objects are classified. How might a horse appear in the mind’s eye? This is the look of Fischer’s paintings. They spring from an interior space complete with a washy white emptiness around each object, as if the object and only the object were being held aloft and examined in a neutral region, stripped of as much context as possible. We see not renderings but impressions, fleeting notions arrested. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Bill Frederick/Printworks Gallery

Painting, River North No Comments »
Bill Frederick. "Lightning, Port Austin," 2015 watercolor and ink, 38" x 71"

Bill Frederick. “Lightning, Port Austin,” 2015 watercolor and ink, 38″ x 71″


Bill Frederick takes us on a Midwestern road trip. But as in his previous shows, rather than showing us unusual or scenic vistas, we get the ordinary places that are impossible to avoid, like gas stations and strip-mall parking lots. Landscape painting usually offers an escape from the daily grind, where the human footprint, if any, fits smoothly into the natural order of things. But Frederick’s landscapes do not escape the jagged ends of human existence, and no matter how deep into the north woods he drives, he never gets far from the car. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Eldzier Cortor/Art Institute of Chicago

Loop, Michigan Avenue, Painting, Prints No Comments »
Eldzier Cortor. "L’Abbatoire I," 1950s, woodblock print

Eldzier Cortor. “L’Abbatoire I,” 1950s,
woodblock print


In recognition of his lifetime achievement, a selection of Eldzier Cortor’s prints are now on display at the Art Institute. The earliest series, “L’abbatoire” (slaughterhouse), 1955-1980, documents the artist’s dismay over the violent politics of Haiti, where he once lived. The “Dance” series, 1978, presents the nubile female form in a kind of decorative pattern that recalls the murals of ancient Crete or Egypt. The “Jewels/Theme” series, 1985, encases those same graceful women in brilliant, sharply cut gemstones. The “Sepia Odalisque” series, 1998, sets them, as sultry pairs, into a Turkish harem. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: 100 Faces of War/National Veterans Art Museum

Albany Park, Painting No Comments »
Matt Mitchell. "Mariela Meylan, In Recovery, From Livermore, California and Costa Rica," painting part of Mitchell's 100 Faces of War Experience" series.

Matt Mitchell. “Mariela Meylan, In Recovery, From Livermore, California and Costa Rica,” painting part of Mitchell’s 100 Faces of War Experience” series.


Amherst artist Matt Mitchell took nine years to complete a hundred oil portraits of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans. A sociologist helped him find a representative sample according to gender, race, age, service branch, rank and home state. Thus, each picture represents 25,000 personnel. Here are pictures of hapless teen enlistees, nurses, career soldiers, administrators and even some casualties. The diverse faces of these citizen-soldiers peer out, some proudly, others barely concealing their psychic wounds. Mitchell aimed to conclude the project by the official end of hostilities in Afghanistan. About the more or less continuous war since 9/11, one veteran observes wryly, “It only took four years to win WWII.” Working from photos Mitchell himself took during interviews with his sitters, the life-size portraits are identical in scale and treatment. A pathetic beauty emerges from the rosy faces and detailed clothing, all rendered in an old masters technique. They need to be seen in person for they do not reproduce well. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Varda Caivano/The Renaissance Society

Hyde Park, Painting No Comments »
Varda Caivano. "Untitled," 2015 acrylic, charcoal and oil on canvas 70 7/8" x 47 1/4"

Varda Caivano. “Untitled,” 2015
acrylic, charcoal and oil on canvas
70 7/8″ x 47 1/4″

The seven blue-gray and gray-brown paintings in Varda Caivano’s “The Density of The Actions” rest easily on the Bergman Gallery’s sunlit walls. All untitled, their meandering charcoal lines and fluid, almost watercolor-like passages of acrylic paint seem fraught and indecisive. There’s a captivating immediacy to the manner in which these skeletal (and only tangentially descriptive) marks play tensely against the vertically elongated format of several of the works, but there’s also a thinness to these paintings that’s difficult to shake. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Collecting Paradise/Block Museum of Art

Drawings, Evanston, Painting, Sculpture, Textiles No Comments »

"White Tara Painting," Western Tibet, 16th-17th century painting on cloth, University of Michigan Museum of Anthropological Archaeology Koelz Collection of Himalayan Art, Koelz 17458 [K569]

“White Tara Painting,”
Western Tibet, sixteenth-seventeenth-century
painting on cloth, University of Michigan Museum of Anthropological Archaeology
Koelz Collection of Himalayan Art, Koelz 17458 [K569]


“If you find Buddhist art in a monastery, take it” might well have been an early twentieth-century variation on the koan made famous by Sheldon Kopp, as Western scholars scoured South Asia for artifacts. Gallery signage tells us that what Professor Giuseppe Tucci (1894-1984) called a garbage dump, local monks considered a repository of sacred relics. Shame on him, but without his acquisition, four magnificent eleventh-century folios would not now be showing at the Block Museum. And they really have the sharp perfection of world-class illumination and calligraphy. Then there was Walter Koelz (1895-1989), a zoologist at the University of Michigan who collected whatever caught his eye. At the Likir monastery, he proudly bargained down the price on two seventeenth-century painted fabrics. Without them, the third, left behind, could no longer perform a ritual function. They don’t kick you in the gut like the dharma-defender hanging nearby, but Koelz’s Buddhist divinities have plenty of grace and power one would not experience without his questionable efforts. Such appropriation by Western collectors is one thing that may happen to sacred art, centuries after it was made. Alternatively, these works could be collected by devotees, where they might influence the art and religious practice of other lands. Those are some of the rather predictable kinds of stories this exhibition tells about the legacies of Buddhist art from Kashmir. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Rooted in Soil/DePaul Art Museum

Installation, Lincoln Square, Painting, Sculpture No Comments »
Claire Pentecost. "Our Bodies, Our Soil," installation view

Claire Pentecost. “Our Bodies, Our Soil,” 2014-2015, installation view


Soil is a catalyst for riveting conversations at the DePaul Art Museum’s current exhibition “Rooted in Soil.” Environmental awareness, life cycles and science are a few of the ideas explored in this captivating exhibition co-curated by a mother-daughter team, Laura and Farrah Fatemi. This multi-sensorial and interactive show consists of thirty-seven artworks by fifteen artists, and emphasizes an often overlooked—but essential—part of life: soil.

“Soil is undervalued,” Laura Fatemi explained in an interview. “People recognize you need clean air and water. But do they recognize that soil needs to be free of pollutants to be healthy?” The show’s interactive component tactfully answers this question. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Formal | Loose | Painting/Ralph Arnold Gallery

Installation, Painting, Rogers Park, Textiles No Comments »
Anna Kunz. "Peel," latex on all and fabric, latex and enamel on canvas

Anna Kunz. “Peel,” latex on all and fabric, latex and enamel on canvas


As evinced by the prevalence of “Zombie Formalism,” abstraction is currently coasting: reanimating movements without contributing new ideas. Paintings by Michelle Bolinger, Samantha Bittman and Anna Kunz are a refreshing contrast to lifeless painting that threatens visual communication itself in a hunger for conceptual novelty. Together they confirm that a voice can still be found in purely formal painting about the process of abstraction itself. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Bruce Thorn/Koehnline Museum of Art

Painting, Suburban No Comments »
Bruce Thorn. "Nightsong," detail view, 2010

Bruce Thorn. “Nightsong,” detail view, 2010


It’s hard to think of these paintings coming from anywhere but Chicago. They’re not figurative, but if the bizarre characters depicted by Karl Wirsum or Ed Paschke were wallpapering the den, these are the kinds of abstract patterns they might seek. As if to boyishly say “here’s a finger in your eye,” the designs start with the aggressive colors and annoying energy found on the walls of a fast-food restaurant. Then, they’re ramped up to that jarring intensity often seen in collectible outsider art. Picture frames are irrelevant because there’s no architectural space in which they can visually belong. Like infections or strip malls, they seem to have started growing on their own, suggesting no human activity higher than the microbial—that frantic, infinitely complex level where everything fights for existence, regardless of whatever dreams and ideals humans may pursue. Read the rest of this entry »