Reviews, profiles and news about art in Chicago

Review: The Left Front: Radical Art in the Red Decade/Block Museum of Art

Evanston, Prints No Comments »


The collapse of the world economy in 1929, accompanied by the apparent success of the new Soviet state, got many American artists fired up for drastic social change, if not outright revolution. This exhibition focuses on the members of the John Reed Club and the American Artists’ Congress, two organizations that promoted the ideals of Marx and world communism.

Since the exhibition is based on (but not limited to) the Block Museum’s own collection of prints, Chicago artists get the most wall space, especially Morris Topchevsky, Carl Hoeckner and Henry Simon. Without exception, their work is dramatic, figurative, hard-hitting and on message. But, that’s about all they had in common. Reflecting his study with Diego Rivera in Mexico, Topchevsky depicted worker/victims with the stately innocence found in fourteenth-century Italian fresco. Hoeckner was closer to German Expressionism, depicting the shocked and nearly zombified characters that would continue to appear in Chicago figurative art throughout the rest of the century. Simon was more theatrical, whimsical and entertaining. Read the rest of this entry »

Eye Exam: How Artists Dig

Photography, Prints, Sculpture, Video No Comments »
Tony Tasset, "Robert Smithson (Las Vegas)," 1995

Tony Tasset, “Robert Smithson (Las Vegas),” 1995

By Jason Foumberg

The exhibition begins on the left, and ends nowhere. The MCA’s expansive new group show, “The Way of the Shovel: Art as Archaeology,” bores wormholes through the Rocky Mountains, to Baghdad and Belarus and over the North Pole, through the psyche and into the past. “The past is a foreign country,” wrote L. P. Hartley, and artists are explorers. This is the guiding theme of curator Dieter Roelstraete’s exhibition, which tasks itself with explaining nothing less than the history of the Western world—and who has access to it. The ambitious exhibition with an international roster of artists is “a philosophical speculation,” explained Roelstraete at the media preview. Roelstraete’s show proposes that artists create art, and make meaning, in a new way. That is, artists dig, uncover, exhume, mine, bring to light (and other “digging” synonyms) issues and characters from the past. What artists find (artifacts, secrets, ghosts) is of equal importance to how they found it (research, inquiries, investigations). There are no accidents in this show, only strategies. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Dreams and Echoes: Drawings and Sculpture in the David and Celia Hilliard Collection/Art Institute of Chicago

Drawings, Prints, Sculpture No Comments »
Jan Toorop, "A Mysterious Hand Leads to Another Path," 1893. Promised gift of Celia and David Hilliard.

Jan Toorop, “A Mysterious Hand Leads to Another Path,” 1893. Promised gift of Celia and David Hilliard.


“If Girtin had lived, I would have starved,” declared J.M.W. Turner, one of the iconic painters of the nineteenth century. But who was Girtin? One of his watercolors can be found in the collection of David and Celia Hilliard, longtime Chicago collectors and Art Institute supporters, now on display in the Prints and Drawings gallery at the museum.  Read the rest of this entry »

Art Break: Hoofprint Workshop Brings Printmaking to Pilsen

Pilsen, Prints No Comments »
Liz Born and Gabe Hoare. Photo: Michael Herbert.

Liz Born and Gabe Hoare/Photo: Michael Herbert

Pilsen’s growing art community has a new addition. Hoofprint Workshop, a gallery, printmaking press and studio sited in a repurposed funeral home, is the brainchild of local printmakers and teachers Liz Born and Gabe Hoare.

The pair’s first curated installation, on display through November 23, is an explosion of styles, themes and techniques, held together by a mutual commitment to cross-disciplinary collaboration.

“We have worked with four artists this past year as a part of our Collaborative Publishing Project,” says Born, including John Himmelfarb, Polly Yates, Sandra Perlow and Gabriel Villa. “Works from this endeavor are displayed on the south wall of the gallery, alongside non-print works by the same artists. The north wall of the gallery features artists who we’d like to work with more closely in the future. We chose to display their work not only because we think it’s fantastic, but also to give viewers at our opening an idea of what the future holds; something to really sink their teeth into.” Read the rest of this entry »

Review: AfriCOBRA/Logan Center for the Arts

Hyde Park, Painting, Prints No Comments »
Barbara Jones-Hogu, “I’m Better Than These Motherfuckers and They Know It," circa 1970

Barbara Jones-Hogu, “I’m Better Than These Motherfuckers,” circa 1970


“Let a new earth rise,” wrote Margaret Walker in For My People. “Let another world be born. Let a bloody peace be written in the sky.” The closing stanza of this rousing militant poem provided the title for Barbara Jones-Hogu’s 1971 silkscreen series, “Rise and Take Control.” Two of these images, a symmetrical semi-abstract triple portrait fractured with flowing acid-rock text, appear in the Logan Center for the Arts’ retrospective of the fierce, vivid work of AfriCOBRA (African Commune of Bad Relevant Artists), a group of Black Power-era Chicago artists who came together to represent and promote a resistant Afrocentric message through (and beyond) visual art. Jones-Hogu’s “I’m Better Than These Motherfuckers” is an even more direct statement, and an even more densely and exquisitely printed piece, centering on a black woman sitting on the beach among melanin-deficient figures seemingly dissolving in the sunlight. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: John Buck and Hunter Buck/Zolla Lieberman Gallery

Prints, River North, Sculpture No Comments »
John Buck

John Buck


John Buck is a benign Midwestern baby-boomer who remains forever fascinated by mind-expanding psychedelica, while holding firm to the practical values of craftsmanship, hard work and reliability in a lifelong devotion to woodworking. As a graphic artist, his woodcuts, displayed as either rubbings or original panels, are in the R. Crumb school of crackpot Americana, bemused by our tireless national fascination with all things religious and mechanical. As a sculptor, he hit upon the idea of carving headless female nudes whose stiff, slender bodies are topped off with a fabulous calligraphic eruption of twists, turns and arcane symbols. That curious, out-sized, wooden ornamentation recalls an artifact once used by remote tribes to connect their modest village to the amazing cosmos that surrounded it, like something displayed at the Field Museum. Buck’s mind-blown virgin goddesses, in multiple variations, might perform a similar function for ordinary Midwesterners who grew up in the 1950s and 1960s. Predictably, his son, Hunter, has gone in the opposite direction, pulling all of his energy tightly inward instead of showering it like a Roman candle. Read the rest of this entry »

Eye Exam: Chicago’s First 3D-Printing Facility Is Open to the Public

Prints No Comments »
Tom Burtonwood

Tom Burtonwood

By Anastasia Karpova Tinari

While Cornell bioengineers have used 3D printers to make live-tissue human ears, and a Dutch architecture firm unveiled plans to print an entire house in Amsterdam, a new retail space in Chicago promises to democratize 3D printing for general use. Although the technology has existed for nearly thirty years, 3D printers have recently become more accessible due to expired patents and new, user-friendly computer-aided design (CAD) software, much of which is open-source and free online.

With the profit-bearing potential of 3D printing, it may come as a surprise that the Midwest’s first public foray into the technology is based on promoting public access to, rather than privatizing, this revolutionizing technology. The 3D Printer Experience, located at 316 North Clark in River North, opened Monday, April 22. Complete with a soundtrack specially created by Cirque du Soleil, it is a place to play with, learn about, and experience 3D printing technology. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Christopher Meerdo/Document

Prints, West Loop No Comments »


Information is hard to kill. By now we all know the strange life of data: its capacity for infinite reproduction, the aesthetics of its compression and failure, and its litigious potential to topple our concept of a one true whatever. What is perhaps less explored is the question of data’s death—and, as Christopher Meerdo explores in his exhibition, “Anthology,” its resurrection.

When you delete a file on your computer, the data is not immediately destroyed. Instead, it remains until the storage is written over by something new. While there are programs that will replace your data rather than erase it, these are more of a specialty option for those rare cases between “Who cares who sees my homework?” and putting nails through your hard drive before the cops show up. In the case of magnetic storage, data leaves something behind, even if it’s a rusting pincushion at the bottom of the river. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Artist and the Poet/Art Institute of Chicago

Drawings, Loop, Prints No Comments »
Lesley Dill. "A Word Made Flesh...Throat," 1994. Gift of Stanley Freehling.

Lesley Dill. “A Word Made Flesh…Throat,” 1994. Gift of Stanley Freehling.


In conjunction with the newly opened “Picasso and Chicago” exhibit, the Art Institute’s Prints and Drawings department assembled “The Artist and the Poet”—a survey of twentieth-century collaborations and influences, though the connection is rather tenuous, as none of Picasso’s work is included within.

A poet, art critic and curator, Frank O’Hara is the most famous “poet among painters.” The curators devote ample space to his spirited collaborations, including over a half-dozen lithographs with Larry Rivers and an extraordinary print with Jasper Johns. From this last lithograph, titled “Skin with O’Hara Poem,” emerges the smeared image of a man’s face and hands pressed against glass. O’Hara’s poem, unusually gloomy, appears in faded typewriter text in the upper right corner. The ghost-like quality of the print is intensified by the fact that, of six planned prints, this was the only one realized before O’Hara’s early death in 1966. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Picasso and Chicago/Art Institute of Chicago

Drawings, Michigan Avenue, Painting, Prints No Comments »
"The Old Guitarist," 1902–04.

“The Old Guitarist,” 1902–04.


In 1926, the Art Institute of Chicago was the first American museum to place a painting by Pablo Picasso (“The Old Guitarist”) on permanent display, so it’s a bit surprising that forty years after his death “Picasso and Chicago” is the first major retrospective for what the museum’s director calls “the most transformative artist of the twentieth century.” The current show is mostly items from the museum’s own collection, enhanced by several loaned artworks from private Chicago collections. But with more than four-hundred pieces to draw from, it still offers a memorable stroll through that exceptional artist’s seventy-year career. Read the rest of this entry »