Reviews, profiles and news about art in Chicago

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).”

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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 »



“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


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


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

News etc., Street Art No Comments »

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 »


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

Street Art No Comments »

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 »