Monika Baer, “3 bad habits,” 2013
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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
Michael Genovese’s linear wall reliefs mimic the everyday cracks in pavement, walls and other human structures that surround us; they also serve as traces and indexes of the less tangible fractures around us. His current exhibition at Paris, London, Hong Kong (the new gallery’s second show), “Joliet,” references the city that brands itself the “crossroads of Mid-America” and has historically served as both a railway transportation hub and a site for adult and juvenile prisons. Genovese, originally from Chicago, uses these local associations to his advantage, giving the slick, nickel-plated, mirror-polished steel cracks that crawl across the gallery space more political and historical weight. But the formalisms of the cracks themselves stand alone as repositories for abstract imagery from natural and invented worlds: like stitched seams, imagined lines of constellations, and uncanny growth of strange plant life, they seem filled with forces of gravity and grace, dripping down walls or attempting to scale and branch. The overall effect recalls Charles Ray’s famous declaration about “Hinoki,” on view at the Art Institute of Chicago, that he was trying to Read the rest of this entry »
Morgan Sims grew up in a world of straight lines. As a teen he laid orderly rows of pipe with his father. His first exposure to art was his mother’s quilts, works of abstract blocking in careful grids. At the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Sims trained as a printmaker and found satisfaction in the process. “I really enjoy the steps in printmaking. The process is fun, I like that it’s hands-on.”
While he still makes prints, Sims is starting to become known for his rich, pixelated paintings and neon sculptures. He has been in well-received group shows at Heaven Gallery, and his tent-like neon sculpture “Palisade” was a standout at the MDW Fair last year. At Bert Green Fine Art, Sims is having his first solo show in three years. Read the rest of this entry »
In José Lerma’s “BMO Harris Bank Chicago Works” exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art, the painter employs a variety of materials to create formally stunning, large-scale portraits.
Originally from Puerto Rico, Lerma divides his time among Chicago, New York and Spain, three places he currently calls home. Lerma teaches at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago as an adjunct professor while he is here, but otherwise he always seems to be on the go. When I spoke with him a couple of days prior to his exhibition opening, he had just returned from London after having attended another of his openings at the Saatchi Gallery.
For an artist who travels such a great deal, Read the rest of this entry »
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 »