Reviews, profiles and news about art in Chicago

Review: Paint Paste Sticker: Chicago Street Art/Chicago Cultural Center

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“I bet most of the people here,” including most of the artists, “have been to lock-up at some point. And I bet there are a lot of undercover cops here,” remarked an acquaintance and one of the participants in “Paint Paste Sticker: Chicago Street Art” at the opening of the exhibition at the Chicago Cultural Center. That remark points to a big part of the success of the exhibition: the palpable tension among the art on view, the anti-vandalism laws of the city, and the intensely official civic institution that hosts the exhibition.

The exhibition’s entrance greets visitors with one of the city’s recognizable bus shelters completely covered in spray-paint executed with a recognizable Zore design. Inside is a long wall covered in artist’s stickers, tags, paste-ups and other objects that you usually see on private property across the city. It’s a virtual who’s who of Chicago sticker art with artists adding their calligraphic, tagged signatures, quick sketches or small drawings to a variety of stickers that were intended for more mundane tasks like shipping, or gathering dust at the Post Office. The wall also includes signs from the CTA such as third-rail high-voltage warnings and public service messages. These might come off as cheesy in a street art exhibition, but in the context of a city-sponsored show, the appropriated signs have a sharp edge.

Displayed neatly framed on the chaos of the sticker wall, an anti-vandalism ad sums up the tension of the street art exhibition’s site on city property. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Has Beens & Wannabes/Zhou B Art Center

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Ruben Aguirre

Ruben Aguirre

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Despite the self-deprecating title, “Has Beens & Wannabes” accomplishes the hard task of gathering together the artists who once created the most significant graffiti art of the 1980s and nineties by showing their current studio-based work. The previous lives of these artists as graffiti writers manifests itself differently with each artist—many have moved on from their graffiti days, and a few even renounce their graffiti roots—and makes for a compelling tension. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: HOMO RIOT/Bert Green Fine Art

Drawings, Michigan Avenue, Street Art No Comments »

Anonymous Los Angeles-based street artist HOMO RIOT got on a plane from Los Angeles to Chicago. Once he landed, he began roaming the streets, pasting stickers of two bearded, bearish men with masks over their eyes kissing, onto newspaper stands and streetlight poles everywhere. I came across one in my not-so-radical gay neighborhood Andersonville, took a photo of it with my “It Gets Better”-endorsed Apple iPhone, and picture-texted it to a fellow queer friend. “Cool!” she texted back. What happened afterward involves normal day-to-day activities like writing, drinking coffee and paying bills. Not really a radical intervention, but at least it broke up the monotony. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Stuck Up: A Selected History of Alternative & Pop Culture Told Through Stickers/Maxwell Colette Gallery

Street Art, Ukrainian Village/East Village No Comments »

photo by Sophia Nahli

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Stickers are an idealized art medium—an attempt to connect with an audience through means not acceptable within traditional art institutions. Here, in a selected retrospective of sticker art, they are organized by theme and placed with some care behind glass, which is a type of presentation that could deflate the antagonistic allure key to their interest, but the exhibition at Maxwell Colette Gallery does a good job letting them tell their own stories. All anyone who stuck a sticker wanted anyway was to reflect themselves a little bit back into the world. Read the rest of this entry »

411: ROA takes CHI

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Hedrich Blessing mural/Photo: Brock Brake

When the longtime graffiti-artist “hotspot” on the backside of the headquarters of legendary architectural photographers Hedrich Blessing started a serpentine threat to devour the entire building, the firm’s partners decided to commission a mural of their own, in hopes that the taggers of the city would respect it and turn their attention elsewhere. Instead of Graffiti Blasters, they’d be graffiti masters.

They reached out for assistance to Nick Marzullo of street-art specialists Pawn Works Gallery. With Belgian street artist ROA in the country to promote his work in a high-profile Los Angeles museum show, Marzullo was able to convince him to add Chicago to his itinerary. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: While All Such Things End

Pilsen, Street Art No Comments »

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Appropriately sited next to Pilsen’s Salvation Army store, a group of outdoor sculptures composed of found objects took shape under the moniker “While All Such Things End,” or WASTE. Some colored strips of rag were tied to chain-link. A yard of fabric with an ambiguous, body-sized shape cutout lay on the dirt. These discards were selected by Kyle Schlie for their formal potential, as found geometries and abstractions. It is likely that these impromptu sculptures no longer exist today, just days after their assembly, for many were propped in an active and muddy driveway and on the outside wall of a small warehouse. As far as Scatter Art goes, it was great to finally not see it in a gallery setting. Instead, these pieces retained the urgency of the city. The WASTE sculptures were born of the city’s excretions and returned to it, one and the same with the rattling elevated train, the decrepit brick wall, the Latina transsexual with exaggerated makeup passing on Western Avenue. In essence, these sculptures were successful as experiential, rather than contemplative, like past great street sculptures by Cody Hudson and Juan Angel Chavez. The effect is altogether different than tagging or murals. The unexpected objects on the street were clearly constructed with the combined senses of active curiosity and aesthetic imagination. (Jason Foumberg)

“While All Such Things End” was located at 2014 South Western. Read the rest of this entry »

Art Break: Sign Language

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Doug Fogelson's billboard at 35th and Ashland

Three new billboards on the South and West Sides of Chicago wordlessly announce the coming spring. Each billboard frames a shock of fuzzy colors, like Abstract Expressionist paintings in the sky. Artist and art-book publisher Doug Fogelson, who has previously worked on public art commissions, this time wanted to create a direct and immediate public action without the restrictive layers of committees and grants. The billboards went up April 8 and they’ll be viewable for one month.

Fogelson sited his abstractions at busy intersections in the Humboldt Park (at Chicago and Spaulding), McKinley Park (at 35th and Ashland) and Washington Park (at 63rd and State) neighborhoods, places he calls “some very rough zones in the city.” The communities living here must too often content with gang violence, drug dealing and a decaying industrial landscape. Will the billboards ameliorate some of these difficulties? “I have seen art and artists positively impact communities both directly and indirectly,” Fogelson says, speaking mostly of his experience with art education in schools. “However, I have no illusions that the effect will be very substantial here.” As public art, the billboards, like graffiti, subvert the expected streetscape. “If this work takes peoples’ minds off the mundane or challenging aspects of life for a moment then it succeeds,” says Fogelson. Read the rest of this entry »

Eye Exam: Sticky Business

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Pawn Works/Photo by Nicholas Marzullo

By Emma Ramsay

The Pawn Works Sticker Club is not a response to Art-o-mat, the converted cigarette-vending machines—including one in the Cultural Center—that distribute small-scale art in exchange for five dollars from more than 400 artists, and have operated since 1997. Nicholas Marzullo, owner of the West Side’s Pawn Works gallery and creator of the Pawn Works Sticker Club, instead aligns his vending machines with his own history as a lifelong street- and graffiti-art aficionado.

Seeking a way to easily and creatively promote his favorite artists, many of whom do not have regular opportunities to exhibit in traditional venues, Marzullo immediately turned to sticker art. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Ray Noland/Chicago Urban Art Society

Drawings, Painting, Pilsen, Street Art No Comments »

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For the time being, Ray Noland has set up camp in Pilsen, covering the walls of the cavernous Chicago Urban Art Society (CUAS) with his graphic stencils and posters. Noland’s “Sweet Tea & American Values” is the first exhibition to christen the non-profit’s new 4,200 square-foot space run by siblings Lauren Pacheco and Peter Kepha.

Noland’s work is unabashedly political. He skewers celebrities, musicians, politicians and assumptions about race and gender, all with equal abandon. It’s clear that Noland was working through a lot of ideas for “Sweet Tea,” riffing on old imagery, alongside new works created with the CUAS space in mind. According to the artist, almost three-quarters of the work is new (the rest is comprised of his Obama posters and the iconic “Go Tell Mama” series). With the flexibility and sense of experimentation that portends a good future for CUAS, the directors gave Noland the opportunity to work (and occasionally sleep) in the gallery for a month prior to the opening. Read the rest of this entry »

Eye Exam: Public Consumption

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Collector Peter Lemke in his gallery

By Jaime Calder

“Here it is,” he says. “It” is stunning. To enter Peter Lemke’s gallery is to enter a forgotten world of Chicago street art, a time capsule of work from nearly a dozen artists, some of whom have since moved on to other cities and other projects, some of whom are still residing and creating right here on these very streets. Lemke walks over to the nearest wall and grabs from a heap of poster boards.

“These are my Wesley Willis pieces,” he boasts, and holds up a fish-eyed image of Milwaukee Avenue drawn by the deceased outsider artist. “Wesley gave these to me,” he explains, placing the poster alongside sixteen others like it, “but these I saved.” Lemke gestures to the walls of the gallery. Though the stack of Willis works is impressive, it is the gallery walls that truly amaze: the product of Lemke’s self-imposed rescue operation, an operation that has provoked the interest—and the ire—of a number of artists.

Peter Lemke began collecting street art in 2004 when, while living near the intersection of Milwaukee and Halsted, many of the installations Lemke had enjoyed seeing in his neighborhood began to disappear or suffer defacement. “When one of my favorites went,” he says, “that was it. I started taking them down before any more got ruined.” He holds up an older piece by (art)illery, a yellow canvas featuring a wounded eagle in flight. A Sharpie-scrawled “holla yo!!!” mars the work, alongside childish doodles and scrawls. “This is disgusting,” says Lemke, who is very vocal about what he does and does not consider art. Insistent that he couldn’t let taggers and Daley’s buffing crew continue to destroy these installations, Lemke spent the next four years taking down the works—some of which are impressively large—and storing them in his basement and garage so that they could later be enjoyed by the public in a safe environment, free from the city’s deleterious elements. Read the rest of this entry »