Reviews, profiles and news about art in Chicago

Review: William J. O’Brien/Museum of Contemporary Art

Drawings, Sculpture No Comments »
William J. O'Brien, untitled, ceramic, 2013

William J. O’Brien, untitled, ceramic, 2013


This, these 120-plus works, organized into stanzas and spanning four dimensions, is exhibition as Legion, as Leviathan, as Lil B mixtape; color, form and shape in biblical proportions, driving amphibian rains and sloughed scales and torn shrouds; most all of them are untitled—the impression one gets, wandering about, is that all of them are untitled—named only per annum; a smattering of untitled little drawings splashed against a corner; a long, L-shaped table of untitled ceramic; untitled cosmological/mathematical dreamscapes of tessellation and curvature and human feature, color pencil scored by incandescent glitter. One, “Untitled, 2010,” an ultramarine square of infinitely deep texture, is studded and glistening with brilliant points so deliriously fucking bright that one’s thoughts instantly race to the sidereal, then to the pragmatic; how did he grind the universe into this? Capture the canicular? There are totems, screamingly colored and tumorous, a sort of art brut atavistic minimalism, and paintings the color of cuttlefish ink, which, when viewed—read?—first, as in the order on the docent’s program, serve as stark juxtaposition to what is otherwise a manic chromatic panoply. A word of advice, for the lay observer: wander in, be drowned, flayed alive. (B. David Zarley)

Through May 18 at the Museum of Contemporary Art, 220 East Chicago.

Review: Nora Schultz/The Renaissance Society

Hyde Park, Sculpture No Comments »
"Speechbubble 3" from "parrottree—building for bigger than real" (installation view), 2014. Photo: Tom Van Eynde

“Speechbubble 3″ from “parrottree—building for bigger than real” (installation view), 2014. Photo: Tom Van Eynde


In Nora Schultz’s solo exhibition “Parrottree—Building for Bigger Than Real,” steel rods, metal plating, paned glass, newspaper, tinfoil, wire and discarded industrial materials are borrowed generously from the storage facilities of the Renaissance Society, nearby hardware stores and unassuming locations in the Hyde Park neighborhood—all areas in close proximity to the site of the exhibition. Disassociating them from their surroundings, the scavenged objects are assimilated by the artist into a new context, used as raw material for sculptures to be mounted, hoisted, painted, cut or printed upon. Schultz pulls the found materials into the exhibition space, exalting them, raising them into the air. The works are suspended above, perched in the rafters, nested. They are motionless yet nonetheless precarious, embodying the anxiety of a towering house of cards. Gazes are commanded upwards as if a constellation, a high-rise or a Wall Street ticker board resides there. Text phrases, themselves seemingly poached from an unspecified source, are inscribed in black marker along thin railings of scrap steel, pressure-clamped overhead to the interior structure of the exhibition space, at times reaching to the floor. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Ben Stone/Western Exhibitions

Sculpture, West Loop No Comments »
"Heartlight," painted cast resin, 2013

“Heartlight,” painted cast resin, 2013


The world out there is such a big dangerous place, it’s a good idea to protect children from it until they can fend for themselves—so often they are parked in bedrooms filled with toys that satisfy a yearning for adventure without taking any risks. Ben Stone has to be every boy’s favorite uncle—the kind who disappears into his workshop and two weeks later emerges with some clever, unique, imaginative toy that nobody else could have dreamed up, much less hand-crafted. Like a life-sized dog chasing a raccoon up a tree; or a floor-standing pair of baseball players swinging the same bat; or a three-masted schooner sailing across the floor; or an ornamental wall frieze of E.T. chatting up some children. Remember E.T.—the extra-terrestrial creature from a blockbuster film made thirty years ago? Maybe not, unless you’re as old as the artist and, actually, all of these toys seem to be more about the dreams and fantasies of his own childhood than anyone else’s, back before children could play in electronic, virtual realities. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Carson Fisk-Vittori/Carrie Secrist Gallery

Photography, Sculpture, West Loop No Comments »
“Altostratus or Nimostratus. The Sun/Moon Can’t Be Seen,” 2013

“Altostratus or Nimostratus. The Sun/Moon Can’t Be Seen,” 2013


The photographs and sculptures of Carson Fisk-Vittori unabashedly employ the design tactics of advertising and commercial art. Artworks that contain shampoo bottles, hair sprays and dishwashing soap almost come across as absurdist product endorsements rather than works of fine art. The products are usually integrated with incongruous objects such as a potted plant, or are found placed on minimalist sculptures that act as shelves. On a wall painted entirely green is a photograph of a cellphone being held up by a plant-shaped stand, giving the impression that the phone is some kind of perverse yet natural outgrowth. In a nearby work, an oyster-shaped soap dish is placed on top of an image of a garden plant, which in turn is resting on women’s razor blades. Read the rest of this entry »

Eye Exam: Goodbye, Good Taste

Painting, Sculpture No Comments »
Monika Baer, "3 bad habits," 2013

Monika Baer, “3 bad habits (3a),” 2013, Photo courtesy private collection, Cologne

By Jason Foumberg

“I fight against my good taste,” once said Miuccia Prada. It’s not something you’d expect from someone whose name and fashion house is always associated with high-class taste. One section of the Met’s 2012 Prada retrospective was titled “Ugly Chic,” but when has Prada ever really ravaged our sense of decorum, or been truly disgusting and tasteless?

The German painter Monika Baer recently said something to me reminiscent of Prada’s take on taste. (Thirty of Baer’s paintings are currently on view in the Modern Wing.) “Some of my paintings are not to my taste,” said Baer. That is, she occasionally disobeys her better judgment or her inner critic (these are tough clichés to unpack anyway), and even pursues bad thoughts or behaviors in painting. (Don’t we all, just to see where they will go?) “I wouldn’t limit myself to what I like or what I don’t like,” Baer said. With this attitude, one must be ready for anything, even failure.

Baer’s painting called “Extended Failure” is a rescued “failed painting.” Baer says she failed making it three times, then brought it to a restorer to patch it up, then painted on top of that. It has scratches all over its surface like hesitation marks that have scarred over. The artist is proud to display her painting that refused to die, and the object itself, like a survivor, is left to tell its post-traumatic tale. Another work, titled “3 bad habits,” has a mini-size bottle of booze attached to it. A realistically painted cigarette is depicted on the canvas too. And, since I’m counting, the third “bad habit” of the artwork’s title is, I assume, painting itself. Baer corresponds the act of painting with drinking and smoking, such guilty but convincing pleasures. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Sabina Ott/Riverside Arts Center Freeark Gallery

Sculpture, Suburban No Comments »

ott_pleasure for the poor

The exhibition begins outdoors with Sabina Ott’s fountain, a glittery, Styrofoam-encrusted circulating water tank the size of a bathtub, titled “Pleasure for the Poor” (2010). As its title suggests, it would be suitable for the landscape architecture of a place where people must live on impossible dreams. Defying any sense of space, form or proportion, the fountain is as comforting as a giant, melting, multi-flavor ice-cream sundae. That sense of down-scale comfort is projected by the rest of Ott’s pieces in this exhibit—all of them pastel-tinted conglomerations of glass and metal stuck together with sprayed Styrofoam. Absent any visual tension, and with a sweet, then more sweet esthetic, there’s a sense of fun that summons a hilarious party—which is exactly what the artist did, inviting other artist friends and colleagues to participate. Each were asked to contribute something that, like her pieces, is prominently colored white. The variety of responses is fascinating, but mostly they function like the strainer at the bottom of a kitchen sink, catching the random detritus of human experience. 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: Karolina Gnatowski/Lloyd Dobler Gallery

Sculpture No Comments »



Depending on the level of engagement one has with the works of seminal hard rock band Led Zeppelin, they can be everything from electric gospel, brought down from the mountain by the deified manipulators of His six-stringed herald, to self-indulgent cock rock from faux gods whose masturbatory manipulating of phallic implements on a stage brought testifying men and genuflecting women to amass at their feet. The key, of course, is that both definitions are right, in so much as these things can be, depending on the ipseity of the consumer.

Karolina Gnatowski’s exhibition “Lined Pages” is at once fan service, psalm and subversion of the false notion that popularity is anathema to artistry; in using techniques and mediums considered by some textile artists to be outdated or uncool, rendering a figure some consider outdated or uncool (Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page), and making materials and man look decidedly cool again, Gnatowski brings to the forefront our relationship with Jovian cultural influences. Page’s ZoSo logo, a t-shirt trope or banal tattoo, is a captivating nebula of buttons here; Gnatowski’s five Pages can be taken at face value, as whimsical representations of a towering figure sketched out, or can be engaged, parsed and purveyed like one of Zeppelins’ songs, the various findings of meanings uncovered and treasured. 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 »

Review: MCA DNA: Warhol and Marisol/Museum of Contemporary Art

Painting, Sculpture No Comments »
Marisol Escobar, "Six Women," 1965-66.

Marisol Escobar, “Six Women,” 1965-66.


Marisol’s place in the public consciousness of fine art—if such a thing can be said to exist, somewhere between the Old Masters and Basquiat-obsessed rappers—seems mostly to be as a personification of good friend Andy Warhol’s hoary prophecy in regards to the approaching ubiquity, and short duration, of fame; the minuscule collecting of the two artist’s works at the MCA—just three apiece—instead seeks to explore the more reciprocal aspects of their relationship, even leaning a bit toward the sculptor’s side.

The fledgling influences of Pop art manifest themselves in Marisol’s sculptures in ways both esoteric—the use of primary colors; prolificness of found objects, although she avails herself to these for the context they can add to her works, oftentimes being private possessions of the subjects, rather than the abstraction driven by their presentation removed from their frames of reference—and blatantly, intimately obvious, most notably her portrait of Warhol himself, in the shape of a throne. Read the rest of this entry »