Reviews, profiles and news about art in Chicago

Review: Faith Wilding/Threewalls

Drawings, Performance, West Loop No Comments »
Installation view. Photo: Clare Britt

Installation view. Photo: Clare Britt


The comedian Brian Regan once recalled describing his symptoms to the doctor: “It feels like everything on my inside wants to be on my outside.” Switch that from physical to emotional feelings and you have the work of prominent feminist, writer, teacher and artist, Faith Wilding, whose impressive sampling of her enormous life’s work is on display in a retrospective exhibition.

In 1972, Wilding participated in the groundbreaking feminist exhibition Womanhouse, the first public showcase of feminist art, in Los Angeles. There she performed “Waiting,” a highly influential piece that continues to have resonance today. Wilding’s work has been shown in major feminist art exhibitions over the last forty years and continues to hold sway in contemporary feminist discourse. Because of her accomplishments, the Women’s Caucus for Art is awarding her a Lifetime Achievement Award.

Inevitably, Wilding’s renowned feminist background coats the show with political and historical overtones. However, her artwork also stands tall on a separate stage: that of Faith Wilding’s impassioned journey through life. Bodies, plants, moths and horses memorialize loss, catharsis, transformation and renewal. Read the rest of this entry »

Eye Exam: Dancing About Archives

Performance No Comments »
Every house has a door, performing "9 beginnings: Chicago"

Every house has a door, performing “9 beginnings: Chicago.” Photo: Cara Davies and Daviel Shy.

By Jason Foumberg

You had to be there. As if the avant-garde wasn’t exclusive enough, its bygone golden days are merely hearsay in someone else’s scrapbook. That’s frustrating, especially when trying to grasp the mood and attitude of an influential but shuttered underground art space that teemed with cutting-edge, one-night-only performance art. I’m describing, of course, Chicago’s Randolph Street Gallery (RSG) in the eighties and nineties. Perhaps today’s equivalent of RSG is Wicker Park’s performance art space Defibrillator, but back in RSG’s heyday, performance art responded to women’s rights, gay rights and AIDS before those issues solidified into styles. “At the time, it galvanized a community,” says Matthew Ghoulish, who participated in some of RSG’s seminal events.

But now, thanks to Ghoulish and longtime collaborator Lin Hixson, ephemeral art need not be so intangible. Their performance group, Every house has a door, is reviving nine pieces originally performed at Randolph Street Gallery. Revivals tend to focus on iconic and crowd-pleasing artworks, but Ghoulish and Hixson have selected pieces from artists who were emerging at the time, in the late-eighties and early-nineties. Compared with Marina Abramovic’s reenactment of seven performance-art classics (staged at New York’s Guggenheim Museum in 2005), the Every house has a door program decidedly contains under-known gems from the RSG archive. “We’re presenting something that slipped through the historical cracks,” says Ghoulish. Read the rest of this entry »

Art Break: What A Theaster Gates Performance Sounds Like

Performance No Comments »


Photo: Jeremy Lawson, © MCA Chicago

Photo: Jeremy Lawson, © MCA Chicago

In a sweeping exodus from the Cotton Belt, black sharecroppers from Mississippi and Alabama boarded the Illinois Central Railroad to Chicago. From 1916-1970, six million African Americans fled the rural South in hopes of a better life in the industrial North. They journeyed across prairies, rivers and deserts to escape the terrors of Jim Crow.

“The Accumulative Affects of Migration 1–3,” composed and performed by Theaster Gates and the experimental music ensemble Black Monks of Mississippi on August 11, evoked the conflicted odyssey of black migrants from the cotton fields of the South. The blue notes of Muddy Waters lingered in the sunlit haze of the Museum of Contemporary Art. Minor chords ached with the enduring dream of Chicago Black Renaissance author Richard Wright. “I was taking a part of the South to transplant in alien soil, to see if it could grow differently, if it could drink of new and cool rains, bend in strange winds, respond to the warmth of other suns, and, perhaps, to bloom,” he wrote in “Black Boy,” in 1945. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Paige Cunningham and Anna Kunz/Chicago Cultural Center

Multimedia, Performance No Comments »


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 »

Eye Exam: Butter Me Up, Mister Obama

Performance 1 Comment »

By Alicia Eler

In the Midwestern land of milk and honey stands a 600-pound cow made of butter. “Delicious” isn’t the best word to describe the manufactured butter beast, but it is a spectacle that keeps visitors returning to the annual Iowa State Fair year after year. A sculptor is chosen each year to meticulously carve hundreds of pounds of dairy fat into the shape of a cow. This has been recurring since 1911, for more than 100 years, making it one of those bizarre, tried ‘n’ true American traditions.

President Barack Obama will soon join the ranks of mammals crafted into buttery monuments—not for the Iowa State Fair but for the city of Chicago. On October 26, as part of the Industry of the Ordinary’s mid-career survey “Sic Transit Gloria Mundi: Industry of the Ordinary” at the Chicago Cultural Center, artists Mathew Wilson and Adam Brooks will wheel a life-sized butter sculpture of the president from Grant Park Packing at 842 West Lake Street to the Chicago Cultural Center. They call this piece “The Harvest” because, as Wilson explains in his quiet English accent, they are quite literally harvesting the responses or opinions of passersby who observe the parade. It is both spectacle and American tradition wrapped into one stick. Typical of IOTO’s populist, conceptual art approach—which actively engages audiences whether or not they have fancy art school degrees—the butter Obama will take its refrigerated place at the Cultural Center less than two weeks before the 2012 presidential election on November 6, 2012. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Home: Public or Private?/6018NORTH

Edgewater, Installation, Performance No Comments »


“Home: Public or Private?” at 6018NORTH is an exhibition built on a foundation of familiar dichotomies—public versus private, interior versus exterior, domestic versus social, sterility versus decrepitude, vacancy versus occupation, and bareness versus accumulation. Organized by Tricia Van Eck, the exhibition integrates installation and performance work by twenty-seven artists within an unkempt turn-of-the-century historic Edgewater mansion. Each artist has claimed territory on the property to occupy and respond, broadly, to their own dispositions regarding the home as a space at once private and public. While the prompt yielded divergent projects addressing domesticity, democracy, voyeurism and the history of the site itself, the momentum of this exhibition is found in Van Eck’s unostentatious framing of installations and performances within the remaining architectural idiosyncrasies of the mansion’s interior spaces, and in fleshing out the disrepaired skeletal structure of the mansion. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Art on Track

Installation, Performance, Public Art 1 Comment »


Transforming six El cars into interactive art installations, the annual mobile pop-up exhibition “Art on Track” turned the scramble to find a spot on the train into an elaborate game of musical chairs, wherein rushing from car to car was both part of the fun and the project’s prime hazard. This year’s fare included an ambient summer-camp-themed installation starring a giant Lite-Brite sunset, a walk-in cabinet of curiosities complete with palm reader, and a live fashion shoot. More like perambulatory theater-meets-theme-party than site-specific contemporary art, the scenes in each car read like tableaux vivants, plopped into the train without rhyme or reason—not exactly a bad thing, since any imaginative modification to the Blue Line’s scummy, droll interior counts as an improvement. However, given the countless examples of riveting site-reflexive art that, by definition, respond to the specifics of a certain place, exploiting its inherent characteristics rather than taking them for granted, “Art on Track” had a lot of unrealized potential. In fact, some of the most interesting parts of the whole experience, so ripe for further investigation, like the uncanny feeling of traveling to no particular destination, were mere accessories, or even hindrances, to the actual work.  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 »

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


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 »