Reviews, profiles and news about art in Chicago

Portrait of the Artist: Ben Eine

Artist Profiles, Galleries & Museums, Media & Genres, Street Art, Ukrainian Village/East Village No Comments »
Ben Eine at the site of his mural on South Wabash.

Ben Eine at the site of his mural on South Wabash

The sky is clear and the sun is hot. Two figures stand inside a lift that reaches the top of a two-story parking garage in the South Loop. Dipping and stretching their dripping rollers, they carefully paint around a twenty-four-foot-tall letter “A.” As I get closer, I notice a third figure standing below them. Feet pacing and eyes looking up, he squints into the sun and lights a cigarette.

“Ben?” I ask. The artist turns around quickly, smiles and shakes my hand. Beads of sweat glisten on his forehead, and his hands and face are covered in orange paint. Despite my surprise visit, he is welcoming and good-humored. Motioning upwards, he wastes no time in explaining his current project. “So, seven letters. I wanted it to be positive, I wanted it to be happy—” He is interrupted by a parking attendant who’s asking the status of the lift’s next move. As he walks off to instruct, I make note of his attire: the bold décor of his countless tattoos, Hawaiian print shorts and bright blue sneakers complements the colorful 240-foot long mural-in-progress, which spells out “HARMONY” in swirls of neon paint. Read the rest of this entry »

News: Out of Site 2015 Begins this Weekend

Art Fairs, Multimedia, Performance, Public Art, Street Art, Wicker Park/Bucktown No Comments »
Michal Samama. "Lament of Plastic," performance. Photo by Guy Kremnitzer.

Michal Samama. “Lament of Plastic,” performance/Photo: Guy Kremnitzer

It’s going to get confrontational in Wicker Park/Bucktown, beginning Saturday, July 25. The mission behind Out of Site is “to create unexpected encounters of public performance,” a take-it-to-the-streets art festival embarking on its fifth year of public performance art programming. Artists create whimsical disruptions for people as they go about their daily routines, choosing sites around the neighborhood that resonate with their practice.

The series launches this weekend with three performances in collaboration with the Wicker Park Fest. Sheryl Oring, an artist from North Carolina, will invite the public to write letters to the President of the United States as part of her piece “I Wish to Say,” previously performed at the 2012 Democratic National Convention, the Berlin Wall Memorial and other locations. To date, over 2,000 letters have been transcribed on a typewriter and submitted to the White House.

While the details surrounding some performances are clear, the vast majority of performances are only yet known by a date, a time, a location, and an artist’s name. Ballenarca, a troupe from Puerto Rico via Austin, Texas, will take place at the intersection of Milwaukee and Evergreen, near the new 606 walking path. Without giving it away, passersby can expect to behold a large, bespectacled mobile sculpture come to life. “The Wisdom Box” by Duff Norris immediately follows. The public can anticipate this work by looking online for records of a previous performance called “Infinity Box,” but if you really want to know more you’ll just have to show up.

Sheryl Oring. "I Wish to Say," performance. Photo by Dhanraj Emanuel.

Sheryl Oring. “I Wish to Say,” performance/Photo: Dhanraj Emanuel

Out of Site was founded by artist Carron Little as she was “thinking about how wonderful it would be if people were to come home from a long week in the office and come across a unique surprise,” Little said in an email conversation with Newcity. She continued, “I was also invited onto the WPB Arts Committee to rethink how we fund art locally [after] having written a piece about how all the local funding had gone to a consulting firm. So it was part of a broader initiative to fund performance artists who seemed to be doing a lot of work for free.”

The vision for Out of Site goes beyond the scope of providing simple entertainment to a consumer public. “Public performance is vital for every city landscape; building moments that are out of the ordinary can bring joy and wonder to people,” Little remarked. “This is imperative in our workaholic culture. We need things that take us out of the monotony.  The New Situationists in Paris talk about the city being a new Babylon. Le Corbusier founded the modern city discussing ideas of productivity and circulation to build economy, but if people aren’t happy they bring that sadness to work.”

In previous iterations, curators didn’t tell people where the performances would take place. There are no tickets to purchase with a start and end time. Be there or be square, or better yet, you might be there anyway.

Out of Site runs daily at different locations throughout Wicker Park & Bucktown from Saturday, July 25, through Sunday, September 6. (Whitney Richardson)

Review: Dont Fret/Johalla Projects

Drawings, Installation, Multimedia, Outsider Art, Painting, Public Art, Street Art, West Town No Comments »
Dont Fret. "Saturday Night Fever," 2015. Acrylic on paper.

Dont Fret. “Saturday Night Fever,” 2015.
Acrylic on paper.

RECOMMENDED

“There are only two seasons in Chicago,” reads the poster pasted on a utility box, “Winter and construction.” The last time that I encountered the work of Dont Fret in the wild there was snow on the ground. Summer finds the artist moving from works on the street back into the gallery with little difficulty, but some trepidation.

At Johalla Projects, a group of works on paper cover one wall, each of them functioning individually, but all fitting together as a conceptual whole. Mixed in are purposely ham-fisted, muddy-colored abstractions with phrases like “Hi, I’m an idea based painting” or “I like his early work better.” These are perhaps a nod to the “zombie formalism” debates from last year and including a good bit of the artist’s own anxiety about his place in the art ecosystem. He needn’t worry about the art world silliness. Dont Fret is still at his best in his depictions of Chicago life and Chicagoans. The details and insights in his art can only come from years spent observing the changes to the city and the people, and from those quiet moments of profundity that come from a history of experience. Read the rest of this entry »

The Bomber’s Life: Steppenwolf’s “This Is Modern Art” Looks at the Graffiti Artist

Lincoln Square, Performance, Street Art No Comments »
This Is Modern Art (based on true events), photo by Saverio Truglia

This Is Modern Art (based on true events)/Photo: Saverio Truglia

In 2010, the anonymous graffiti crew Made U Look (MUL) executed a graffiti bombing of the Art Institute of Chicago’s Modern Wing. Under cover of snowfall, they painted a vibrant, text-based fifty-foot mural bookended by the phrases “Modern Art… Made You Look.” This unsanctioned act of institution critique challenged accessibility while calling attention to exclusion of graffiti from the canon of contemporary art. Steppenwolf for Young Adults, the revered ensemble’s teen-focused offshoot, has revisited the event that sparked these debates, concluding its revolution-focused season with “This Is Modern Art (based on true events).”

Read the rest of this entry »

News: Mural in Logan Square Seeks Community Participation

Logan Square, News etc., Public Art, Street Art No Comments »
Rachel Slotnick's Logan Square mural in progress

Rachel Slotnick’s Logan Square mural in progress

There are three “Paint With Us” painting days scheduled this weekend when the community is invited to get involved in the completion of Rachel Slotnick’s mural in progress at Milwaukee and Kedzie in Logan Square. Adjoining the Logan Square Blue Line stop, this is the latest mural project to adopt two-year terms for the prominent wall space in the square. Lindsey Meyers, the director of the neighborhood’s Beauty & Brawn Gallery and longtime Logan Square resident, has coordinated the project with Slotnick after considering the wall’s potential over years. Meyers explains by email, “I pass that wall multiple times a day and it always spoke to me. I continued to see its size and scope and only saw beauty and potential.”

Painting days are scheduled for today, August 29, from 4pm-7pm; Sunday, August 31, from 1pm-3pm; and Monday, September 1, from 1pm-3pm. Interested participants need only show up; the gallery will provide all painting materials. Read the rest of this entry »

News: Alderman’s Mural Program Halted by Inaccessible Funds

News etc., Street Art No Comments »
A 2012 mural by Reyes at 16th and Morgan Street co-produced by Art in Public Places and Pawn Works

A 2012 mural by Reyes at 16th and Morgan Street co-produced by Art in Public Places and Pawn Works.

A celebrated mural initiative has stalled in its third year due to withheld funds in City of Chicago accounts. The 25th Ward program commissioned international and local street artists to paint on public walls in Pilsen, Chinatown, Little Italy and Heart of Chicago.

Alderman Danny Solis of the 25th Ward initiated Art in Public Places (AiPP) in 2012 as a city beautification project. The program took an experimental turn when the alderman’s office attempted to use a city-allocated discretionary account (commonly termed “Menu money”) to pay for murals. The annual fund is typically reserved for ward-specific infrastructure fixes like potholes.

Five artists and public art curators have not been paid for more than one year. (The city normally takes five weeks to pay valid invoices.) The artists and curators are due nearly $20,000 combined for materials and travel expenses paid out of pocket. Thirty-three mural proposals in the ward are awaiting funding approval. The funds will not likely be disbursed this summer. Read the rest of this entry »

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

Loop, Street Art No Comments »

IMG_0334

RECOMMENDED

“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

Bridgeport, Street Art 1 Comment »
Ruben Aguirre

Ruben Aguirre

RECOMMENDED

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

RECOMMENDED

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 »