Reviews, profiles and news about art in Chicago

Beautiful Confusion: “Out of Site” Presents Public Art to Wicker Park/Bucktown

News etc., Performance, Public Art, Wicker Park/Bucktown 1 Comment »

By Harrison Smith

More often than not, public performance art is a confusion. The term itself is a necessary muddle, a combination of “public art,” which seems to imply an art for the uninitiated, in contrast to that “private art” that gets displayed at galleries and museums, and “performance art,” that vague category of art that could be reasonably stretched to include everything from Andy Warhol’s “Exploding Plastic Inevitable” to the street performance of a man painted silver and disguised as a statue—at which point the better label might be “outsider public performance art” or, alternatively, “busking.” Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Brain Frame Anniversary Party

Comics, Performance, Wicker Park/Bucktown No Comments »

Krystal DiFronzo performing at BF5/Photo: Gillian Fry

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Amidst the flashy cultural clusterfudge of one-off events at Wicker Park Fest, a noteworthy, regularly scheduled local happening will be having its first=anniversary party. “Brain Frame,” a venue for comics artists to present multimedia readings of their work, will be gathering in the intimate confines of Happy Dog Gallery to, as they always do, spruce up the traditionally minimal context of a reading with, at the very least, props and PowerPoint. But you never know—there could be puppet or human extras, audio and/or video, anything that could move the experience away from beat-poet bleakness toward performance-art fabulosity; videos on the “Brain Frame” blog attest to the variety of approaches engaged by these events. 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 »

Eye Exam: No Picnic

Hyde Park, Installation, Performance, Sculpture, Video No Comments »

Daniel Spoerri, "Tableau piege, 17. Juni 1972," 1972.

By Jason Foumberg

The long black hair that I pulled from my Pad Thai confirmed that it was a lunch like no other. Rirkrit Tiravanija, who has made an international art career serving free meals, often Pad Thai, to museum goers, did not intend for the hair to disrupt my experience of his performance lunch in 2008—or was the hairy blooper a disturbing reminder that no matter what we eat, someone else, often many people, have touched, groomed and manhandled our food so that it appears, on our plates, so perfect?

The free lunch is now an established genre of contemporary art, and the Smart Museum’s exhibition, “Feast: Radical Hospitality in Contemporary Art,” arrives right on the heels of the foodie revolution. But this retrospective exhibition of eighty years of food service is not about fresh, local, healthy, or even tasty food, nor is it about haute cuisine, world hunger, obesity, genetically modified ingredients, or organic farming. Instead, “Feast” identifies a strain of performance art, which climaxed during Happenings in the 1960s and feminist performance in the seventies, that uses a familiar setting—eating in the company of others—as a device of social confrontation and political disruption. Read the rest of this entry »

Art Break: Should a Fish Die for Art?

Performance, Wicker Park/Bucktown No Comments »

Joshua Kent warned the audience that there would be two deaths during his performance that took place February 3: one poetic and one actual. After passing around a human skull to iterate this fact, Kent raised a cleaver above a flopping fish, and the spirit of a collective gasp hung in the air. Heads turned and fists clenched. In the silence following the mortal blow, about five people stood up and left the performance space.

The fish, a small, dark Oscar, would not feed anyone that night, its death serving a purpose more symbolic than functional. Questions of ethics arose. Was the ending of a life necessary to realize the artwork’s goals? Should its death have been allowed, and, if not, who should have stopped it? If we accept that the death was warranted, at what level of the hierarchy of life (the order of which we might all disagree) should we draw the line—perhaps, at life bigger than a breadbox? Read the rest of this entry »

Eye Exam: On Happiness and Violence

Performance, Photography 1 Comment »

Krista Wortendyke, from "Crime Unseen"

By Jason Foumberg

During a typically violent summer in Chicago this year, Tony Fitzpatrick wrote an article for Artnet magazine about Chicago’s legacy of crime and murder—among cops and gangsters alike—and he arrived at the moral that “the city gets just as many killers as it deserves.” Fitzpatrick innately understands, as do many artists, that tragedy makes for great art. Contrary to the common good, some of our greatest art is fueled by conflict. “Reading about the happiness of others is often boring,” writes Charles Baxter in his essay “Regarding Happiness.” Baxter cites Adam and Eve. Before their sin, “they are virtually non-narratable.” It is their sin, and their guilt, that gives their story drive. Following them, we have the Greek tragedies and Shakespeare, George Carlin and Lars von Trier. Two current exhibitions investigate the delicate topics of happiness and violence: “Crime Unseen” at the Museum of Contemporary Photography, and “The Happiness Project,” a citywide curatorial initiative organized by Tricia Van Eck. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Subtitles IV/Threewalls

Performance, West Loop No Comments »

Poet Cassandra Troyan

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Among a number of functions planned around the release of David Foster Wallace’s highly anticipated unfinished posthumous novel, “The Pale King,” a performance-art event in a gallery space seems likely to bring the most breadth and depth in a tribute to Wallace’s work. “Subtitles IV: Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment” (a reference to the author’s magnum opus “Infinite Jest”), organized and presented by LiveBox at Threewalls gallery this Friday, will be a wide-ranging, open-ended and fittingly intricate response to Wallace’s prose.

“Subtitles,” a series of multimedia and performance projects inspired by literary figures and themes, began with a strict medium guideline; the first, centered around Poe, consisted of one video performance, one audio performance and a reading. “Since then, we’ve expanded and gone beyond this format,” notes Matt Griffin of LiveBox theater, who has curated a number of past events in the “Subtitles” series. Griffin had “secretly wanted to do a Wallace show the entire time,” and in conversation this year with artist and poet Cassandra Troyan, Wallace’s name was finally brought up, and by coincidence “Pale King”’s release date was announced for the same day. Though the immediate impetus for this year’s “Subtitles” is the release of “The Pale King,” performances will encompass a range of Wallace’s work. Read the rest of this entry »

Eye Exam: The Performance Art of Marriage

Performance, River North No Comments »

By Gretchen Holmes

It has been far too long since I have seen Ross Moreno’s naked body. If you’re familiar with the artist’s disconcerting blend of “comedy, magic and a little something extra,” you naturally concur. Moreno’s high-concept vaudeville routine, which might begin with a few card tricks or masturbation jokes but always ends in partial nudity and tears, has provoked uncomfortable silence and nervous tittering from Munich to Hong Kong. And this Valentine’s Day, the Chicago-based performer will appear at Club Nutz, a comedy club located in Scott and Tyson Reeder’s kitchen pantry. With the holiday approaching, my prurient desire to watch Moreno burst from the moth-eaten, jock-itching, tear-away suit he’s been performing in for the past seven years seems more urgent than ever. After all, he is my husband, and that tear-away suit is my handiwork.

Indeed, marrying a man who’s built a career performing botched magic tricks that invariably leave him wandering across the stage in thong underwear pays dividends: rather than suffer through another champagne and oysters Valentine’s Day dinner just to get his pants on the floor, I’ll simply catch his show at Club Nutz with the rest of you. Read the rest of this entry »

Eye Exam: Silent Treatment

Performance No Comments »

By Jason Foumberg

It was a staring contest, and we all had a staring problem. Around a square we stood and sat around Marina who sat and stared at us, one by one, in a chair directly facing her. The scene was solemn and serious. Marina always wins the staring contest.

When we weren’t staring at Marina, and she not at us, we stared at each other, each other’s clothes, hair, shoes, tattoos, necks, all over. We also stared at naked women and men performing Marina’s greatest hits, such as naked woman with skeleton, floating naked woman deity, and a doorframe flanked by naked people.

Presiding over her own retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, Marina Abramovic conducts a new performance, whereby she sits at a table and eye stares whoever sits across from her, you, me, whoever. No speaking is allowed once you’ve entered the arena. Just eye interaction. Marina is not naked, as she has been in many of her previous performances, but here wears a long, very long, dress with sleeves. It’s matronly garb compared to her usual nudity, as if she is more mature now, which she is.

Staring straight into the eyes of Marina, or anyone, promises a revelation of the soul, a pure connection of being. Or does it? Marina is no oracle, and surface characteristics are no measure of the mind, psyche, soul, whatever. Asked if she is a masochist, Marina says no. But she has courted the perils of extreme body art performances, including cutting and self-mutilation, hardcore repetition, denial of pleasure and the acceptance of pain, and still she is no masochist. Instead, she is a performer, like an actress whose manners are scripted and secondary to the stuff of daily life. Read the rest of this entry »