Reviews, profiles and news about art in Chicago

Art School Unconfidential: What the city’s burgeoning MFA programs mean for the future of artists in Chicago

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Matthew Metzger, "Re-release: Discourse." Acrylic and Oil on Panel.

Matthew Metzger, "Re-release: Discourse." Acrylic and Oil on Panel.

By Rachel Furnari

I’m a romantic about everything else in my life, but not about art school,” says Erin Chlaghmo, who begins her MFA program in Fiber and Material Studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) this fall.  Romanticism, though, may be exactly what’s required to assume the burden of debt that comes with a degree that can cost upwards of $40,000 a year for a two- or three-year program. Chlaghmo is one of an increasing number of artists to pursue their graduate degrees in studio-arts without the guarantee of a lucrative career (or even a living wage) to pay off their student loans. Most students have a surprising and unmitigated enthusiasm for their graduate work despite being aware of the low odds for successfully working full-time as an artist—of being chosen out of the 300-plus yearly graduates for a show with one of a few commercial galleries in Chicago—and the attendant financial risks that have been exacerbated by the current economic environment.

In interviews with students from five local studio-art MFA programs—Columbia College, Northwestern, SAIC, the University of Chicago (U of C) and the University of Illinois-Chicago (UIC)—descriptions of access to faculty, visiting artists, financial aid, professional development programs and limited material resources reveal how these artists make use of their programs to create art; to think, to network, to teach and, most importantly, to have a stake in an ongoing, critical conversation about contemporary art—though the quality of this conversation was definitely up for debate. While these schools have their differences, their students and graduates make up an undeniable segment of the contemporary art scene in Chicago and in a real way represent its future. Their institutional alignments, then, are crucial in determining how and in what direction the Chicago scene develops. By identifying those alignments it may be possible to better understand how the energy and creativity of these students might be expended in order to transform contemporary art in Chicago. Can the arts community undo the institutional biases in order to acknowledge the means by which art schools shape the Chicago art environment for practitioners, curators, dealers, audiences and critics? Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Pulse of a Perfect Heart/I Space

Multimedia, River North, Student Shows No Comments »


“Pulse of a Perfect Heart,” multimedia. The overwhelming dominance of East Asian artists over the contemporary photography scene is made starkly obvious in the University of Illinois visual-arts program’s annual MFA show, where Korean photo-artists Sung Yeoul Lee and Jung Kyong Kim take the laurels with their grim yet playful takes on the human body. Kim’s two black-and-white vertical series, hung side by side, of small shots of hands getting entangled in bracelets and metal bandages, respectively, place the accent on fun with an underlying and undercutting message of confinement. The stresses are reversed for Lee, who shows us a torso in which a man’s bald head, seen from behind, is firmly attached to a curvaceous feminine trunk seen frontally and clothed in a sheer beige turtleneck to which suction cups, from which cut off cords and nozzles dangle, have been affixed. An x-ray-like video next to Lee’s color photographs shows us the cups blazing with infernal white light as they do their work on the ambiguous subject’s innards. (Michael Weinstein)

At I Space, 230 W. Superior, (312)587-9976, through August 16.

Review: Strange Habit/I space

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“Strange Habit” gets its name from a conversation that curator Luke Batten had with a physicist friend about the nature of experimentation. Seeking to chart the territory of “unexpected outcomes” between points A and B, the show catalogues work by five artists: Shane Huffman, Steven Husby, Emily Kennerk, Curtis Mann and Alice Shaw. Husby’s controlled geometric paintings exhibit his usual care and adequate image-making. Two large works of interlocking triangles filled with ascending and descending tones of blue show their object-ness with brushstrokes and large wooden panels, yet the shades of royal blue also allude to the fiction of atmospheric perspective in landscape painting. Around the corner hang Kennerk’s series “Portrait” in which studio portraiture sets are recorded empty. The props and backdrops are enticingly campy like leftover sets from 1970s cheesecake photos where one well-worn white fur bedspread sits below sunlit slivers from a window shade. The photos ooze a stale sexiness that breeds an awareness of slipping time. Huffman’s experiment covered too much territory to be legible, and Mann’s photos suffered from the opposite problem, an overuse of the same technique. Shaw’s gelatin prints, from the series “Opposite,” shows the artist alternating clothes and homes with a black drag queen. The portraits end up being incredibly tender, making the two seem more like twins rather than opposites. (Dan Gunn) 

Through May 31 at I space, 230 W. Superior, (312)587-997.

Review: Everyday Runway

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Dressed in a padded pink bunny suit studded with hearts and with little plastic hearts stuck to his cheeks, a young man wears a seductive smile and casts his bedroom eyes at us. He is right at home on Tokyo’s streets where—as photographers Moe Sekiya and Yuka Takeda abundantly make us aware in their color photos—kitsch is king. Western fashionistas take heed—insouciance is a bore, get with the program and be excruciatingly cute. Yet nobody does it better than Asian-American performance artist Susan Lee-Chun embodying warrior girl in her ruffly plaid tunic and helmet as she struts away with her nose in the air from her plaid-clad baby-doll victim whom she has just decked with her cheerleader’s baton. Postmodernists endlessly talk about play; the new Asian hipsters abandon themselves to it without a trace of shame. (Michael Weinstein)

Through April 25 at  C33 Gallery of Columbia College, 33 E. Congress.

Review: Goosetopia

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If pigeons are rats on wings, what are the ubiquitous geese that populate Chicago’s lakefront parks and lagoons? More than fifty young local photographers answer that question in ninety unassuming straight color shots that present our avian neighbors in all their familiar guises. When we see them soaring in elegantly ragged geometrical formation through an ink-blue sky, they evoke admiration and exude nobility. When we see them scrounging around in the park with high rises in the background, they morph into the oversized and ungainly pests and moochers that have become our uninvited guests. Love them or hate them—or most likely both—this show makes it plain that the geese are sublimely indifferent to us, except as sources of provender. Any joke—and these images cannot fail to make one smile in some way—is on us. (Michael Weinstein) Through January 16 at Illinois Institute of Art

Eye Exam: Acquiring Taste

Installation, Multimedia, Painting, Photography, Prints, Sculpture, Student Shows, Video, West Loop No Comments »

By Michael Workman

Fulton Market and Lake Street have undergone such rapid growth in the last year that any discussion about the West Loop as an art destination is incomplete without mentioning them. New galleries seem to have popped up there overnight, though it’s more like a year since such admirable new spaces as rowlandcontemporary ( and Navta Schulz ( made the scene. They’re gaining momentum and certainly merit much closer scrutiny as their programs and place in the local scene mature. One of my favorite pieces at Rowland in “Salad Days II,” the second in a two-part show of art by Northwestern University students, is by Stephen Nytkas. He caught my attention a while back with his inverted product bottles, and seems only to get better with each new turn. Recently, he’s started fishing his camera lens into those bottles and tubes to shoot them from within. The results pervert the perceived scale, resulting in a strange transformation of the objects to caverns, landscapes, magical views of hidden worlds. His “Untitled (Interior),” a shot from the inside of a lotion bottle, resembles the view from deep in the bowels of some ice cave or snowy crevasse, with a light blue sky and clouds swirling beyond the distant mouth. It’s a clever elevation of common, everyday objects to the realm of the extraordinary. Read the rest of this entry »