“And Then…” by Pamela Hobbs
An emblematic representative of the most sophisticated contemporary photo-art, Pamela Hobbs combines a multitude of postmodern tactics (use of vintage photographic processes, embedded conceptual import, use of text, coloring her images) with surrealism, sentimentality and a decidedly serious feminist-modernist reflection on mortality. As improbable as the mixture might seem to be, Hobbs’ sepia and toned black-and-white prints of curio cases filled with the leavings of expired life—figurines, pictures, dolls, and Read the rest of this entry »
For nearly two decades, German artist Thomas Demand has explored the divergence of truth and appearance in a provocative series of photographs that depict familiar interior spaces meticulously reconstructed. Simultaneously recalling the unreality of a psychedelic experience and the ersatz nature of a television set, these works directly challenge the hegemony of lens-based media as the supreme authority on the depiction of reality.
The current exhibition at the Graham Foundation signals a change in the artist’s scope but not in practice. In “Model Studies,” Demand still presents his customary large-scale photographs of miniature constructions, but they’re no longer solely his handiwork. The starting point is the preparatory modeling of twentieth-century architect John Lautner, a student of Frank Lloyd Wright and proponent of Organic Architecture. Read the rest of this entry »
Todd Diederich works as a cultural documentarian, moving around Chicago as directed by the cosmos, finding sources of unusual effervescent energy and pointing his camera at them. His lush, immaculately composed and focused color photographs demonstrate an interest in somewhat marginalized but certainly not repressed cultures and their odd artifacts.
“Luminous Flux” at Johalla Projects is a fairly small collection of fairly large, unfussy photographs of the “real” Chicago. A giant neon cross adorns the front of a church, likely in Pilsen, the artist’s Mexi-Catholic stomping grounds. A mangy but cheerful plant grows out of a re-purposed PowerWheels convertible. A shadowed figure holds a pigeon in his hands, its wings regally spread to reveal in the sunlight a grandeur we normally don’t acknowledge. Wings are, after all, magnificent feats of natural engineering—even, and perhaps especially, when they’re on pigeons. Read the rest of this entry »
Fascinated by a viral video of an Indonesian kid smoking cigarettes like they were, to say the least, going out of style, Frieke Janssens assembled a bunch of four-through-nine year-old tykes and shot them puffing up a storm on simulated cancer sticks billowing candle smoke, in order to depict the complex meanings and feelings that make up contemporary responses to the pleasure-poison. It is just as well that the subtleties that Janssens desires to depict get lost in the fun. These kids are as cute as any of William Wegman’s dogs were or the ubiquitous kittens that grace, well, whatever kind of card you think you have to send. A little girl blowing smoke rings makes you glad that you opened a pack and indulged back in the day (or even now); smoking really does have something that makes some of us glom on to it. Read the rest of this entry »
Covering the work of nine American photographers who have shot the urban, suburban and rural landscapes in color and black-and-white since the mid-1960s, this show demonstrates that the postmodern revolution that began with Andy Warhol’s pop art did not kill off classical-modern straight photography, which continues to flourish in the present. Curator Lucas Zenk has included stars of the canon, such as Eugene Richards and John Gossage, and unjustly neglected practitioners such as Christopher Churchill, David Hanson and Dennis Witmer. As distinctive as each of those artists is, Zenk has chosen images from their vast troves that unite the show around formal characteristics (straight-on, middle-distance shots) and sensibility (repose with an edge). Read the rest of this entry »
The term photo-work is stretched to its limits and perhaps beyond in Daniel Hojnacki’s images in which base photographic prints are subsumed in a process in which spackled and taped paper is run through an inkjet printer and the artist performs surface alterations, producing dense, scratched and sinuous designs punctuated by shard-like shapes, in which the photographic element is sometimes discernible and often obliterated into abstraction. In his most striking, original, complex, and effective works, Hojnacki sets up grids in which small prints of the same photograph are varied in their legibility and ranged against each other so that they are frequently askew and sometimes pocked with gaping white holes. The grids are power-packed and arresting because they compress into a single frame a dizzying rendition of the multifarious ways in which we might sense a single scene, depending upon our inner and outer atmospheres. Read the rest of this entry »
On July 4, 1971, Michael Hart uploaded a text version of the United States Declaration of Independence onto the Xerox Sigma V mainframe computer at the University of Illinois Materials Research Lab. By allowing the shared file to be freely downloaded by any user that logged onto that particular Sigma V—one of fifteen node computers that made up ARPANET, later to become the Internet—Hart unknowingly introduced the first electronic book and heralded its immeasurable effect on how media is read. This effect was truly realized two decades later as affordable image scanners catalyzed the digitization of both text and image. A common flatbed scanner—modified by hand and outfitted to resemble a conventional photographic apparatus—allowed artist John Neff to produce a series of unassuming black-and-white images that make up his solo exhibition at the Renaissance Society. The long exposures travel conduits between a do-it-yourself photographic contraption and a personal computer running consumer-grade software before revealing themselves line-by-line with lateral distortion from glitched data and mechanical idiosyncrasies. Read the rest of this entry »
Home connotes familiarity, relaxation, comfort: a place where robes and sweatpants are appropriate attire. Alberto Aguilar’s art practice stirs that lull of relaxation as he transforms quotidian domestic objects into sculpture, and activities into performance. As part of his Elmhurst Art Museum residency, the artist borrowed objects from neighborhood homes to create compounded readymades. Each sculptural assemblage provides a glimpse into the household of their origin: a library of vintage books, kids’ hockey sticks, a wooden bread keeper and a quirky birdcage. Aguilar’s use of life as the material for his art points out artistic and performative possibilities of the everyday, and at Elmhurst, emphasizes the cultural predetermination of our own materials.
Stemming from the resident-artist’s interest in home life, the Elmhurst Art Museum’s winter exhibition, “Open House: Art About Home” gathers five other artists interested in the subject of home, supplementing the pre-existing conversation created by the nearby iconic Mies van der Rohe “McCormick House,” which the museum owns. In contrast to Aguilar’s multidimensional practice, the artwork curator Staci Boris has placed in contiguous galleries consist of two-dimensional painting and photography. In meticulously painted scenes of remembered interior spaces, Ann Toebbe employs the artistic conventions found in Ancient Egyptian art, privileging directness and detail over realistic depiction of space. In turn, Gabrielle Garland’s paintings could be Toebbe’s remembrances on acid, with skewed lighting and bulging forms. Read the rest of this entry »
Back in the heyday of feminist photography, a quarter century ago, its practitioners often effaced, blurred, cut or otherwise mangled their ubiquitous self-portraits in an orgy of agonized self-rebirth and transformation, and then it stopped. Now Mel Keiser has picked up the neglected practices, taking color images of herself and hacking out substantial parts of them producing swirls, tangles and shards that cover her body and its surroundings in an expressionistic storm. Keiser’s intent is revealed in the title of her series, “ecorches”—flaying the flesh for the purposes of torture, science or both. Yet although the agony is unmistakable in the photo-works, they are too vibrant, dynamic and densely lush to suppress an ecstatic participation in them, whatever the psychic consequences might be. Covered in sharp-edged shards of glass, her face and torso horrifically scarred and pocked, in the colors of dried blood, it still seems as though Keiser is breaking out of a prison and preparing to rule the world. Read the rest of this entry »
Jonee Cocchia, “Night Blooms”
A versatile street photographer who stays on the quiet side, but with telling and intense effect, and shoots in black and white, Jonee Cocchia moves effortlessly from portraits, through signage, breathtaking architectural studies, and elegantly composed groups of objects like lines of news boxes, and finally to involved abstracted details. Composition is Cocchia’s high visual card, and he plays it through all his forays without overwhelming his subjects and their emotional evocations in feats of form. Cocchia’s most affecting images are shot at night on lonely Chicago thoroughfares bathed in the glare of streetlights. In “Night Blooms,” we look from the sidewalk across an empty street, cut by a viaduct, at a gleaming white wall festooned with aerosol art and an ad for McDonald’s line of coffee-shop-style drinks. We are drawn into the scene as though we had been making solitary night moves and had been suddenly transported into a postmodern installation. Read the rest of this entry »