Reviews, profiles and news about art in Chicago

Eye Exam: Public Displays of Artistic Affection

Architecture, Textiles No Comments »

By Jason Foumberg

As the art world shifts interest away from loner studio practices, it is relationships—long-distance relationships, no-strings-attached relationships, contractual relationships—that make an excellent metaphor for the relevancy of art in our lives. Three exhibitions this week make transparent some interpersonal, artistic relations for all to see.

Messing with Mies

The iconic modernist glass house in Plano, Illinois, could be the banner image for the state of modern privacy. Designed by architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, and sited sixty miles southwest of Chicago, the Farnsworth House, a home with glass exterior walls, reveals all of its insides, a fact that the home’s original owner, Dr. Edith Farnsworth, found to be “unbearably oppressive,” wrote architecture historian Joan Ockman. Farnsworth felt like a hamster in a cage or an actor on a stage while she inhabited her second home from 1951-71.

Osvaldo Romberg at the Farnsworth House. Photo: Alia Pergala

Osvaldo Romberg at the Farnsworth House/Photo: Alia Pergala

Farnsworth expressed her anxiety of living in a glass box to House Beautiful magazine, in 1953. The white-steel-and-glass box has a patina of anxiety. It animates its character. Anyone who visits imagines herself living in the raw glass box, with its attendant discomforts.

For the next several weeks, the Farnsworth House has a guest living on its porch: the skeleton of the Melnikov House, an avant-garde Russian house from the 1920s. The floor plan of that Moscow home has been replicated to scale in wood, painted yellow, propped on sawhorses, and now abuts the Farnsworth House’s front yard at a perpendicular angle.

Typically a beacon of serene, solemn contemplation, nestled among cornfields and the Fox River, the Farnsworth House is now interrupted by the Melnikov House. Artist Osvaldo Romberg calls this a “translocation.” He has performed this sort of intervention at iconic architectural sites around the world.

“Forms happen, like love,” said Romberg on the steps of the Farnsworth Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Shelly Jyoti and Laura Kina/Chicago Cultural Center

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INDIGO KinaApplied to a contemporary art exhibition, the saying about a tree falling in a forest might go something like this: If an artwork’s political or ideological import isn’t palpable in the work itself, does it have any repercussions? If the viewer can’t sense it, is it really there at all? Such questions have become increasingly important as artists who engage global capitalism and its discontents make the ethical dimensions and political ramifications of artistic production integral to their work, as do Shelly Jyoti and Laura Kina.

Jyoti a textile artist, and Kina, primarily a painter, tackle identity politics and post-colonialism through their respective mediums. They teamed up for “Indigo,” a collaborative exhibition of work featuring that particular murky shade of blue, named for the natural dye from which it’s derived. As the exhibition text explains, indigo has a rich, layered cultural and socioeconomic history. For Jyoti, the color signifies the struggles of Indian indigo farmers oppressed by British rule back in the nineteenth century. Her “Indigo Narratives” series adapts ancient embroidery and printing techniques in wall textiles and one giant, cascading mobile to contemporary images that symbolize India’s struggle under colonialism and subsequent non-violent rebellion. Kina’s “Devon Avenue Sampler Series” a “sampler” of both needlework and appropriation, combines textiles from Indian and Jewish traditions with text and commercial iconography native to Devon Avenue, a street that Chicago magazine once called “the most beguiling commercial strip in the city” due to its dizzying array of ethnically diverse restaurants and shops. While “Indigo” is billed as a collaboration between two professional artists, the gallery didactics acknowledge other hands at work—much of the material labor that went into the art on display was performed by Indian artisans belonging to a fair-trade women’s collective. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Josef Frank/Swedish American Museum

Andersonville, Design, Textiles No Comments »


“Frank has designed a brothel” was one response to Josef Frank’s contribution to the Die Wohnung housing fair in Stuttgart in 1927. Like many progressive architects and designers, Josef Frank (1885-1967) was strongly opposed to the heavy opulence that we associate with the Victorian age. But unlike the Bauhaus designers, he did not eschew fantastic ornament, and indeed, the generous, diverse, out-sized sensuality of his fabrics would have served quite well in that capacity. This exhibition samples some of the 170 patterns that he designed until 1950, and you can see why so many of them remain in print. They’re wild and crazy, with a feeling of whimsical excitement and discovery meandering off into infinity. As Frank once declared, “one should design their surroundings as if they originated by chance,” and indeed, some of these designs do seem to have originated with a chance encounter the artist had with a book of American birds or a Chinese landscape seen while visiting the Metropolitan Museum. Frank only spent a few years in Manhattan, but it made quite an impression on his imagination. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Ani Afshar/Hyde Park Art Center

Hyde Park, Textiles No Comments »


Entering Ani Afshar’s exhibition, “Woven Gardens, Shredded Shadows,” currently on view at the Hyde Park Art Center, it is impossible to escape an acknowledgement of the history of craft. The selection of weavings on view, ranging in date from the 1980s to the present, demonstrate a telescoped view of Afshar’s vocabulary developed in tandem to her commercial line of functional textile décor and jewelry work, though the works have remained off exhibition for the past three decades in a traditional gallery setting. With an aesthetic that adopts stylistic traits of traditional Western weavings, the various hand-woven cloths that compose Afshar’s earthen-toned landscapes, whose elements are stitched, sewn and beaded together on passages of mohair and silk, speak to invention rather than history. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Christy Matson/Alderman Exhibitions

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In my childhood of the late 1970s and the early 1980s, the prevalence of graphic woven tapestries in domestic environments evoked slight fascination and fear, much like the glowing grids that marked the vast open virtual spaces in the film “Tron”—total order, without center or edge. This intuition was not baseless—as Hannah Higgins writes in “The Grid Book,” “The most important invention for the industrialization of the textile trade” was the Jacquard loom, which operates using punch cards, like the first computers, and “not only creates a gridded product, but takes the form of a grid itself.” Read the rest of this entry »

Review: David Salkin/Peregrine Program

Garfield Park, Installation, Textiles No Comments »


On the surface, David Salkin’s “Room for Views” is a whimsical celebration of texture and pattern—a slight divergence from his work as an interior designer, but certainly not much of a leap. The difference, perhaps, is that in “Room for Views,” Salkin gets to let loose and create his ideal room, “with the hopes of discovering a therapeutic and highly customized environment,” says the artist. Upon further consideration, this whimsical celebration turns into a meditation on the arrangement of space. We are asked to pay attention to the many ways our material environment is ordered, from the layout of our cities to the arrangements on our mantles. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Matthew Hoffman/Public Works Gallery

Installation, Multimedia, Painting, Sculpture, Textiles, Wicker Park/Bucktown No Comments »

I'm So Turned On Right Now


The question at the heart of Matthew Hoffman’s exhibition, “I Made This For You,” is what, exactly, is the artist’s relationship to his messages? These include “It’s OK” and “Go Easy On Life” and “Be a Human Being,” as well as flowcharts of romantic relationships and twee Venn diagrams—the funniest has the word “it” in the middle, with “fake” and “make” in their flanking crescents—in primary colors and frames. These are perfectly simple and pointedly unpretentious (think upside down smiley faces). And while “I Made This For You” claims to be acting as a “tide break against the world’s rolling waves of negativity,” says the artist, the show also evokes the darkness of Jenny Holzer’s truisms through the banal and affectless: “Knit a sweater out of that last thread of hope” is as much a passive-aggressive fuck-off as it is an inspirational message. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Denise Burge/Elmhurst Art Museum

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According to the 2010 Quilting In America survey, there are now 2.1 million active quilters from coast to coast. Most of them are trying to cover beds, not gallery walls, but ever since the 1971 exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art, quilting has been widely recognized as a contemporary art form, and designs echo a wide range of what can be found in contemporary painting, from geo-form to imagist.

Denise Burge, born in 1963, comes from the hills of North Carolina, where the women in her family have been quilters for several generations—her great-grandma even grew her own cotton for batting. Her brash, overstated imagery and improvisational use of materials resembles the outlandish work of that famous outsider artist from Georgia, Howard Finster. But it would be a mistake to call Burge a folk artist. For the past twenty years, she’s been an art academic at the University of Cincinnati. It would not be a mistake, however, to call her an outstanding designer. Her dynamic designs draw attention from a distance, while close-up, the voluptuous areas of detail can be intensely rewarding. As a kind of collage, quilting depends on whatever fragments of printed fabric an artist can find, so it feels like a miracle when all that diversity fits together so well and even tells a story. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Contemporary Fiber Art/Art Institute of Chicago

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Designed and executed by Magdalena Abakanowicz. Brun Rouge, 1970/73. Gift of Dr. Anne Baruch in memory of George Overton.

The Art Institute’s newly reopened textile galleries present “Contemporary Fiber Art: A Selection from the Permanent Collection,” but the show’s use of the term “contemporary” refers only to a range of dates rather than a practice, or the making of thought-provoking and forward-thinking fiber arts. This might be due to the fact that out of the sixty-one works on display, more than half are traditionally woven, and the abstract works seem like decoration. Contemporary fiber art does more than just root itself in tradition; it uses that tradition as material to address vital issues such as gender, race and labor.

One of the hurdles for early fiber arts being considered fine art was that it was thought to be utilitarian or decorative. For instance, Lyn Inall’s 1993 quilt, “Denim Cubes,” pieces together denim bits from commercially produced jeans complete with their original seams and buttons to depict a geometry of stacked blocks. This work does little to investigate quilting as a potential method for critiquing who wears denim, and why, and how. Instead, the denim quilt is a neatly constructed object composed of reused excess fabric, which is the traditional nature of quilts. It’s an unfortunate piece for display while a work by renowned quilter Faith Ringgold remains in storage. Read the rest of this entry »

Day One, Miami Art Fairs: When bigger is better

Art Fairs, Craft Work, Performance, Photography, Street Art, Textiles, Video 1 Comment »

By Alicia Eler

Dresses swish as fast as palm tree leaves in Miami, where the entire art world gathers for the annual spending spree. Alicia Eler’s daily blog clues you in on finds at the fairs, from the established Art Basel Miami Beach (the mother of all the Miami art fairs) to Chicago’s born-and-bred emerging art fair, Bridge. Tips of the day provided by Kansas City-based artist Peregrine Honig.

Monumental Art:

When bigger is better

Should you pull out the big guns at the beginning, or wait till later? Do it now while viewers still have energy and open eyes, because after a week of looking at thousands of booths filled with art, even a Gerhard Richter might start to look like an Andy Warhol soup can.

Sies + Höke Galerie must have had that same thought when they decided to bring Kris Martin’s “For Whom…” (2008), which takes up the entire Düsseldorf-based gallery’s booth at Art Basel Miami Beach. Borrowing from John Donnes’ eponymous line, Martin’s bell swings, hitting hard metaphorically but not literally precisely because of what it lacks: the pendulum. The nearly 100-year-old bronze bell, originally built in 1929, hangs from the top of a 216.54-inch tall steel support. In its original church context, this bell wouldn’t serve its purpose of keeping track of time, signaling a call to prayer or signaling ceremony commencements. In the white-cube context, one watches the bell swing back and forth, hearing only its whistling movements drift through the air. Posing existential questions about our own mortality and the fate of a flawed system that keeps going despite its lack of working parts, Martin’s piece stuns like a Jenny Holzer truism.

Monumental takes on another form at SCOPE’s grown-up carnival land installation “Fun House” by Miami-based collective FriendsWithYou. One merely slips off their shows and enters the giant inflatable bouncy house through a large circle entrance. Jumping up and down releases any stress and channels the oft-forgotten inner child.

Smiles begone, however, once one sees the installation of an oversized horse three-way scene by Gregory de la Haba (Gallery Privee at Bridge Wynwood). As a giant brown male horse stands on its hind legs—his large cock in mid-air, heading toward the vagina of a white female horse who is adorned with a red feather hat and glittery red harness—a second identical white female horse, floating on her backside, flings her mouth toward the brown horse’s membrane. A child-size doll stands nearby, her back to the scene. It’s questionable as to why a horse three-way would happen directly behind an innocent-looking girl, but thankfully she doesn’t notice the spectacle. A steady stream of viewers do, however; crowds gathered around the horses, muttering stunned remarks to one another. At once intriguing and disturbing, this installation provides an unusual foray into the world of horse sex. I suggest keeping your My Little Ponies at home.

Friendlier beasts abound in a wall-size mural by New York-based artist collective Antistrot, conveniently visible onto the exterior of Aqua Wynwood’s warehouse-like façade. Large-scale creatures and characters spew forth cartoon and comic book-flavored pop culture: A wary gorilla peers to his right, a sense of sadness emanating from his with eerily human eyeballs, while a light-brown-skinned Muslim girl, her big brown eyes distant, solemnly carries a neon pink machine gun.

Though all of these pieces are either large in scale or in message, the monumental theme best applies to a portrait of Barack Obama, arguably the most important man alive today. German photographer Martin Schoeller, whose large-scale 2004 portrait “Barack Obama” on display at Hasted + Hunt’s Art Miami booth, honestly captures the now-president-elect while he was still a state senator. Schoeller, who studied under Annie Leibovitz, uses his detailed lens to take crisp, straight-forward, large-scale portraits of celebrities, including Heath Ledger and Justin Timberlake. For example, in the Obama portrait, he illuminates Obama’s glowing brown eyes, and focuses details on the soon-to-be-president’s nose, cheeks and lips, exposing a feeling of gentle honesty that one can sometimes only see through a frozen moment in time.

With Obama peering out from at least one wall of every fair, the German church bell keeps swinging, never tolling. And so we arrive at Peregrine’s Miami tip of the day: German comes in handy. Learn it, especially if you recognize for whom the bell tolls.