Reviews, profiles and news about art in Chicago

Eye Exam: Cities Built Within Galleries

Installation, Sculpture, Wicker Park/Bucktown No Comments »
Diane Simpson. "Window Dressing" at Monique Meloche

Diane Simpson. “Window Dressing: Apron 1,” oil stain on MDF, polyester fabric; and “Window Dressing: Bib-doodle,” gatorfoam board, hardboard, wallpaper, enamel, ink

By Matt Morris

It’s often said around town that Chicago has two seasons: winter and construction. The architectural epicenter where we reside explodes into transformation in the warm months, as buildings, roads and public spaces undergo restructuring. A few exhibitions on view right now conspire to reflect this construction condition by taking built environments and our habitation of them as points of departure. The artworks’ proximity to source materials is a useful measurement in distinguishing where a quirky meta-criticality is achieved, and where sometimes the experience at hand is burdened by its references. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Simon Starling/Museum of Contemporary Art

Installation, Multimedia, Sculpture No Comments »
Simon Starling. "Bird in Space," imported Romanian steel plate, inflatable jacks, and helium, 2004

Simon Starling. “Bird in Space,” imported Romanian steel plate, inflatable jacks, and helium, 2004


In “Metamorphology,” British artist Simon Starling’s survey of photographs, installations and film, you do not mind having to read the accompanying wall texts—you actually look forward to it. This is a testament to the intrinsic inveiglement of Starling’s explorations of the titular phenomena; rarely does work so heavily dependent upon exposition avoid coming off as pedagogic so finely as Starling does here. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: We do what we like and we like what we do/Western Exhibitions

Drawings, Installation, Painting, Sculpture, West Loop No Comments »
nicholas frank1

Nicholas Frank. “Nicholas Frank Biography, page 302 (First Edition),” printed book page, 6 ¼ x 4 ½ inches, custom-milled walnut frame, 10 x 8 inches, 2014


This rambling celebration on the occasion of the gallery’s ten-year anniversary as a bricks-and-mortar space is cheekily titled after the eponymous Andrew W.K. anthem, “Party Hard.” The moniker adds both an air of revelry and defiance to the works exhibited, implying that director Scott Speh and the artists on his roster are fueled by passion and vision rather than a pursuit of conventional success.

The show is an exercise in polarity, oscillating between extremes in scale and tone. Upon entering the gallery, the viewer is confronted by the first of two sigil paintings by Elijah Burgher. Fresh from the Whitney Biennial, these painted drop cloths are installed back to back, dominating the initial visual field. Situated in the corner of the same room are two bongs, “Uncle Sam/Old Yeller” by Ben Stone. They seem slightly out of place in an area otherwise devoted to minimalist and conceptual works but add levity while reiterating the rebellious tone set by the title. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Susan Giles and Jeroen Nelemans/Aspect Ratio

Sculpture, Video, West Loop No Comments »
Susan Giles. "Untitled (Humayun’s with Cultures)," drawing paper, 2013

Susan Giles. “Untitled (Humayun’s with Cultures),” drawing paper, 2013


In both Susan Giles and Jeroen Nelemans’ practices, video and sculptural works borrow content from tourism and art history as the basis for re-imagining the material representations of place.

Susan Giles’ video “Pulling Out the Words,” 2011, is a series of interviews with five subjects about favorite landscapes in which all of their spoken descriptions have been cut. Landscapes are conveyed only through the speakers’ gestures, stutters and breaths, with Giles’ camera tracking the speakers’ hands, upper body or face.

The perceptual shifts afforded by lacunae continues into the next small room with Nelemans’ Flavin-esque “from the Postcard Series, Untitled #3,” 2012. An enlarged postcard of Dutch tulip fields is sliced vertically and wrapped around slender fluorescent tubes. Colored diagonal lines illuminate the space in between the rows, neatly continuing the image as light spilling onto the wall. Nelemans, Dutch but Chicago-based, is interested in cultural pilfering: tulips originate from Turkey but are a national representation of The Netherlands. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Michael Dinges, Victoria Fuller, Geoffry Smalley and Karen Savage/Packer Schopf Gallery

Collage, Painting, Sculpture, West Loop No Comments »
Geoffry Smalley. "Catskill Creek, Citi Field," acrylic on inkjet print, 2012

Geoffry Smalley. “Catskill Creek, Citi Field,” acrylic on inkjet print, 2012


The group of shows at Packer Schopf Gallery ruminates on intrusion. There is technological and environmental encroachment, and the intrusive mythos of masculine and feminine ideals.

Michael Dinges’ “Lifeboat: The Wreck of the Invisible Hand” hangs center stage as a retired boat and a lesson. Made with vinyl siding, the scrimshaw declarations ring around this dramatic piece as if conversing with Victoria Fuller’s work across the room. Her piece, “Deep Down,” meditates on the inherent commingling in nature: a snake, an earthworm, and roots rise from the dirt to touch the air. At the same time, some of her materials, like gas pipe and metal tubing, interrupt the state of the nature she presents. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Deborah Butterfield/Zolla/Lieberman Gallery

Sculpture No Comments »
Deborah Butterfield. "New Sculptures" installation view, Zolla/Lieberman Gallery

Deborah Butterfield. “New Sculptures” installation view, Zolla/Lieberman Gallery


After fourteen solo exhibitions of the same kind of equine sculpture at Zolla/Lieberman Gallery, you might call Deborah Butterfield a traditional artist, even if her technique is one that she herself invented. She works with weathered sticks culled from the hills surrounding her ranch in Montana. Casting a few in bronze, she then builds an armature on which she ties the rest, starting at the center, and then laying them on consecutively, like three-dimensional brush strokes. It doesn’t matter how thin, convoluted, fragile or worm-eaten the wood may be. All of it will eventually be permanently cast in bronze at the foundry. The results are as delicate as they are consistently spectacular. Read the rest of this entry »

Portrait of the Artist: Macon Reed

Artist Profiles, Installation, Painting, Pilsen, Sculpture No Comments »
Macon Reed and the gymnasts who performed "Team Spirited" in her installation "Physical Education." Photo by Mat Wilson

Macon Reed and the gymnasts who performed “Team Spirited” in her installation “Physical Education”/Photo: Mat Wilson

“I lived outside for a year in my mid-twenties,” says Macon Reed. This was communal full-time camping in Santa Cruz’s redwood forests. We are speaking by phone while she is on a road trip, and she exuberantly tells me that she is calling from another forest along their travel route. A few years after this outdoor social experiment, Reed founded Camp Out in 2012, a summer camp outside Portland, Oregon, for campers aged eighteen to twenty-three who self-identify as female. Their only requirement to participate is that each of them had to teach a workshop on any topic they chose. “People brought what they needed to the camp,” Reed says. “I think of structures that create community as a medium.”

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Review: Chicago Sculpture International/Elks National Veterans Memorial

Sculpture No Comments »
Terrence Karpowicz. "How Soon We Forget," steel

Terrence Karpowicz. “How Soon We Forget,” steel/Photo: Jyoti Srivastava

The rotunda of the Elks Veterans Memorial may not be the best place to display sculpture. Whatever light filters down from the windows high up in the dome is not enough to bring the forms, colors and textures of sculptural surfaces to life. The only spotlights are those that illuminate the dramatic, though fatigued, figure sculpture of James Earle Fraser (1876-1953) permanently installed in a niche within the surrounding wall. As it echoes the dome above it, the monumental mushroom-shaped, bent-wood construction by Terrence Karpowicz is the only piece in the Chicago Sculpture International 2014 Biennial Exhibition that seems to belong in this dim, enormous space. And as with all the other sculptures in metal, glass or even 3-D printed resin, the artist’s craftsmanship is the first thing that you notice. Craftsmanship, rather than any kind of shared aesthetic or philosophy, seems to be what defines the organization to which these sculptors belong. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Surrealism and War/National Veterans Art Museum

Drawings, Sculpture No Comments »


Bea Nettles, Steve Kostell, and Megan Diddie. "#30 The Exquisite Corpse of Victor F. Nettles," one of the thirty-nine drawings that comprise "Exquisite Corpse of the Unknown Veteran," 2014

Bea Nettles, Steve Kostell, and Megan Diddie. “#30 The Exquisite Corpse of Victor F. Nettles,” one of the thirty-nine drawings that comprise “Exquisite Corpse of the Unknown Veteran,” 2014

The face of Guillaume Apollinaire, the storied Surrealist poet who was wounded in WWI and later died of his injuries appears, sideways, in one of the most powerful series of exquisite corpses I have ever seen. In the National Veterans Art Museum’s exhibition “Surrealism and War,” artists collaborated on a set of drawings that cover parts of two walls. The form was invented by the Surrealists after many of them were profoundly changed by combat in WWI, and aspires to autonomous creation, suspending the rational mind to release dismembered and painful images by bringing them together with corresponding fragments in the hearts and minds of a group of collaborators. Artists who contributed to this Exquisite Corpse—veterans, their relatives, and other local artists—are given a folded piece of paper and directed to draw a head, torso or lower legs and feet without seeing their partner’s contribution. The exquisite corpse drawings are dedicated to dead and injured veterans and anonymous victims of war, such as The Unknown Corpse of a Child in Kosovo. Read the rest of this entry »

News: 2014 Maker Grant Recipients Announced

Activist Art, News etc., Sculpture No Comments »
John Preus. "The Beast," carpet padding, lumber, material from 54 closed Chicago Public Schools, 2014 (photo by Tom van Eynde)

John Preus. “The Beast,” carpet padding, lumber, material from 54 closed Chicago Public Schools, 2014/Photo: Tom van Eynde

The Chicago Artists Coalition and OtherPeoplesPixels have announced the 2014 recipients for their annual Maker Grant, which is partially funded through the CAC’s Starving Artist Fundraiser and a matching contribution from OPP. Given to two Chicago-based artists each year, this funding allows them to pursue more conceptually or socially propelled projects that may not be as easy a source of revenue through the art market. The CAC conceives of a developed career for artists in broad terms, beyond just commercial salability. John Preus has been granted this year’s $3,000 award, and Maria Gaspar the $1,000 award. Read the rest of this entry »