Reviews, profiles and news about art in Chicago

Review: Zachary Cahill/Museum of Contemporary Art

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Zachary Cahill. painting from the installation "USSA 2012 Wellness Center"

Zachary Cahill. painting from the installation “USSA 2012 Wellness Center”

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Zachary Cahill’s current exhibition, “USSA 2012: Wellness Center,” reflects on the contemporary dilemma of wellness in general and the healing potential of art in particular. Staging a physical retreat for therapeutic refuge in the third-floor enclave of the Museum of Contemporary Art that recalls European sanatoriums of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, this highly referential exhibition of painting, sculpture and writing finds itself most cogent on the wall. Paintings often dressed in synthetic palettes and textual epigrams act in Cahill’s institution as optically prescriptive pseudo-pharmaceutical compositions with a desired effect on the viewer, a crooked analogue of the canonical canvases of romanticism they uncannily suggest.

The works center on health, wellness and care, topics as political and provocative as they come, instinctively relevant on a global scale, yet problematic as if by design. Health transcends the everyday, at once at the forefront of our collective consciousness and buried deep within it, a perennial victim of its own ubiquity. The industries of wellness wrestle with sizable points of contention, from intellectual property to the ethics of access. And the spaces of caregiving continue to provide rich ground to consider a question as genuinely human, ageless and pertinent today as any other, one found here, scribed in acrylic: what does it mean to be healthy? Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Matthew Girson/Chicago Cultural Center

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Matthew Girson. "The Painter's Other Library," installation view

Matthew Girson. “The Painter’s Other Library,” installation view

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A vexatious cloud hangs low over Matthew Girson’s new exhibition “The Painter’s Other Library.” Depicting endless shelves of meticulously placed books, the artist’s many compositions are executed in a brooding, almost impenetrable palette. At first blush, they read simply as black. As the eyes adjust to the paintings’ hushed tones, book after book, arranged to echo the precision and symmetry of modernist geometric abstraction, slowly emerge from the oleaginous mire. The beguiling tension within these works is heightened by the stark white walls and cathedral-like atmosphere of the Chicago Cultural Center. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Wassily Kandinsky/Milwaukee Art Museum

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Wassily Kandinsky. Panel design for the “Juryfreie” exhibition, Wall A (Entwurf für das Wandbild in der Juryfreien Kunstschau: Wand A), gouache on black paper, 1922

Wassily Kandinsky. Panel design for the “Juryfreie” exhibition, Wall A (Entwurf für das Wandbild in der Juryfreien Kunstschau: Wand A), gouache on black paper, 1922

RECOMMENDED

The Centre Pompidou’s Kandinsky collection, currently in Milwaukee, offers a rare opportunity to see work that both precedes and follows the painter’s Blaue Reiter period (1911-1914) that is so well represented at the Art Institute of Chicago. But limited as it is to pieces that the Kandinsky family could not or would not sell, it’s not the kind of retrospective that assembles the best art.

Nevertheless, the quality of his early landscapes is surprising. Kandinsky was sensitive to the textures of paint and his colors were already well tuned. Even when painting a nearly monochrome stretch of sandy beach, his sharp drawing makes the scene snap with excitement.

His Blaue Reiter pieces in this collection, the “Improvisations” of 1909 and 1911, are overwhelmed by the raw excitement of Franz Marc’s “Large Blue Horses,” from 1911, hanging beside them. But if this show had drawn from other collections, Kandinsky’s four ecstatic Campbell panels from MOMA, for example, would have reversed the comparison. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: René Magritte/Art Institute of Chicago

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René Magritte. "Clairvoyance (La Clairvoyance)," oil on canvas, 1936

René Magritte. “Clairvoyance (La Clairvoyance),” oil on canvas, 1936

RECOMMENDED

A girl devours a bird; feet morph into shoes; a nude female torso reads as a face. “René Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926-1938,” the Art Institute of Chicago’s summer blockbuster, showcases the most important period of the Surrealist who precisely painted a new and disturbing reality. The exhibition is a collaboration between Houston’s Menil Collection, MoMA and the AIC.

It has a narrow focus—just a dozen years—when Magritte painted his “breakthrough” images. (The floating bowler-hatted men with umbrellas were later.) But many of his most famous pictures are here: ones that defined Surrealism and modern art, such as “The Treachery of Images” (“Ceci n’est-pas une pipe”) and “The Lovers” (a kissing couple with shrouded heads). Even though Magritte’s paintings operate as illustrations—he was a professional illustrator, after all—this show restores their status as paintings rather than as posters or jpegs. The works’ scale may surprise, as will the immaculate strokes and the saturated colors.

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Review: We do what we like and we like what we do/Western Exhibitions

Drawings, Installation, Painting, Sculpture, West Loop No Comments »
nicholas frank1

Nicholas Frank. “Nicholas Frank Biography, page 302 (First Edition),” printed book page, 6 ¼ x 4 ½ inches, custom-milled walnut frame, 10 x 8 inches, 2014

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This rambling celebration on the occasion of the gallery’s ten-year anniversary as a bricks-and-mortar space is cheekily titled after the eponymous Andrew W.K. anthem, “Party Hard.” The moniker adds both an air of revelry and defiance to the works exhibited, implying that director Scott Speh and the artists on his roster are fueled by passion and vision rather than a pursuit of conventional success.

The show is an exercise in polarity, oscillating between extremes in scale and tone. Upon entering the gallery, the viewer is confronted by the first of two sigil paintings by Elijah Burgher. Fresh from the Whitney Biennial, these painted drop cloths are installed back to back, dominating the initial visual field. Situated in the corner of the same room are two bongs, “Uncle Sam/Old Yeller” by Ben Stone. They seem slightly out of place in an area otherwise devoted to minimalist and conceptual works but add levity while reiterating the rebellious tone set by the title. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Morris Barazani/Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art

Collage, Painting, Ukrainian Village/East Village No Comments »
"Pinwheel, oil on canvas, 2009-10

“Pinwheel, oil on canvas, 2009-10

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Morris Barazani’s kaleidoscopic painting retrospective at the Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art reveals an individual acutely sensitive to new artistic directions. Spanning the past six decades, the thirty-one selections on view run the gamut from raucous painterly surfaces to nuanced forays into collage and color-field abstraction. In an age where stylistic homogenization is a prerequisite for mainstream success, it’s clear from the outset that the persistent theme of Barazani’s career is openness to change. Read the rest of this entry »

Portrait of the Artist: Margot Bergman

Artist Profiles, Painting No Comments »
"Bernice," acrylic on linen, 2014

“Bernice,” acrylic on linen, 2014

“Sometimes they are quite shocking to even me,” says artist Margot Bergman about her paintings as we walk from canvas to canvas at Corbett vs. Dempsey prior to her opening. Newly opened at the gallery, a solo show by the artist titled “Greetings” features brash and vigorously emotive neo-expressionist paintings. Large flat female faces with rough features and tense expressions stare directly at incoming viewers from some of the paintings while others exist as perverted, almost violent still-lifes of abstracted flowers and patterned wallpaper. Four-eyed “Marie Christine” and “Bernice,” who has no nose at all, manage to make me feel alien rather than the other way around. The bold directness and volatile energy of the paintings conjure the rough aesthetics of children’s drawings, while maintaining self-aware and complex psychological depth. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Michael Dinges, Victoria Fuller, Geoffry Smalley and Karen Savage/Packer Schopf Gallery

Collage, Painting, Sculpture, West Loop No Comments »
Geoffry Smalley. "Catskill Creek, Citi Field," acrylic on inkjet print, 2012

Geoffry Smalley. “Catskill Creek, Citi Field,” acrylic on inkjet print, 2012

RECOMMENDED

The group of shows at Packer Schopf Gallery ruminates on intrusion. There is technological and environmental encroachment, and the intrusive mythos of masculine and feminine ideals.

Michael Dinges’ “Lifeboat: The Wreck of the Invisible Hand” hangs center stage as a retired boat and a lesson. Made with vinyl siding, the scrimshaw declarations ring around this dramatic piece as if conversing with Victoria Fuller’s work across the room. Her piece, “Deep Down,” meditates on the inherent commingling in nature: a snake, an earthworm, and roots rise from the dirt to touch the air. At the same time, some of her materials, like gas pipe and metal tubing, interrupt the state of the nature she presents. Read the rest of this entry »

Eye Exam: Is Ed Paschke Still a Relevant Artist?

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"Marbilize," oil on linen, 1993. © Ed Paschke

“Marbilize,” oil on linen, 1993. © Ed Paschke

By Jason Foumberg

Ed Paschke died the year I moved to Chicago. I had to take it for granted that Paschke was the most famous artist that Chicago had ever produced, and to boot, its best. This must be what it feels like to be born post-9/11. You hear about it a whole lot but you never really know the experience. The opening of the Ed Paschke Art Center this month, almost a decade after his death, is a good moment to reassess Paschke’s artwork. How does it hold up? Is it still important art?

You hardly ever get the chance to see so many of Paschke’s artworks in one go than at the new center. With about forty artworks on view, and a re-creation of his painting studio as he left it in 2004, the opportunity to get acquainted, or reacquainted, with Paschke is unparalleled. In fact, I had a late epiphany; oh my god, I thought, Paschke was a great artist. Previously, I only somewhat enjoyed his paintings. After spending time with the works at the center, I began to understand why he was king of the art scene. Not only was he a popular mentor to artists—“generous” is the word often used—his paintings are intense, meaningful and productively difficult. (For a good account of how the museum is funded, see this Crain’s article from earlier this month.) Read the rest of this entry »

News: Key Early Imagist Painting by Gladys Nilsson Enters Art Institute of Chicago Collection

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Gladys Nilsson. "The Trogens," acrylic on Plexiglas, 1967

Gladys Nilsson. “The Trogens,” acrylic on Plexiglas, 1967

The Art Institute of Chicago’s recently acquired painting “The Trogens” by Imagist Gladys Nilsson has been put on view in the museum’s Modern Wing. While Nilsson has been previously represented in the Institute’s permanent collection with thirteen prints and six other works on paper, this 1967 acrylic painting on Plexiglas is a key addition not only for its use of painting on the reverse side of the acrylic sheet—an oft-employed painting method among the Imagists—but also for its inclusion in one of the founding “Hairy Who?” exhibitions at the Hyde Park Art Center, where Nilsson and her husband Jim Nutt had been teaching art classes. The work was a gift to the museum last year from the artist herself in memory of Whitney Halstead, an art historian who helped promote the Hairy Who artists.

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