Reviews, profiles and news about art in Chicago

Review: Cauleen Smith/Museum of Contemporary Art

Installation, Michigan Avenue, Video, West Loop No Comments »

Cauleen Smith, film still from “Nicolai and Regina Series 01″


Cauleen Smith’s solo show at the MCA is the best contemporary art exhibition in Chicago this summer. While watching her short videos, which feature Chicago cityscapes and local musicians, I easily mistook Smith as a Chicago-based artist. I’m used to seeing only Chicago artists mine the city’s cultural history with such deeply personal insights. In fact Smith lives and teaches in San Diego, and has spent considerable time in Chicago doing research on local music history, facilitated by Threewalls in 2010 and a Black Metropolis Research Consortium grant in 2011. The fruit of her Chicago residency is a series of new videos and a multimedia installation that waken civic pride. Before the MCA exhibition closes in mid-September, Smith will open a solo show at Threewalls, a spot usually reserved for Midwestern artists. Read the rest of this entry »

Eye Exam: Borrowing Time

Collage, Sculpture, Video No Comments »

Stacia Yeapanis, "Stairway to Heaven" (detail)

By Jason Foumberg

We are given time but it should be hard won. That is the reigning philosophy of artists who fill time with traces of their existence, with towering piles of process-laden materials. When an artist accumulates time and produces a labor-rich object, that object can be sent out into the world to do the work of time—a proxy self who, if it can stand up, succeeds in not just measuring and filling one’s time but extending it.

A standard wall clock is placed in Stacia Yeapanis’ solo exhibition as a reminder that art spaces, like failed time machines, are not time-exempt. Time is an insistent collaborator in “Over and Over Again,” Yeapanis’ showing of eight durational sculptures, collages and videos from a recent studio residency. The studio is certainly one place where time is dense, and Yeapanis treats it like a sculptural material, and questioningly, for she positions food and entertainment distractions into stacked columns, swirled patterns, loops and grids, evincing the emptiness that can come from so much accumulation. If ritual is supposed to give meaning to life, it is obsession that wears it down. Yeapanis inhabits this void to see if it can be a positive, productive space. Loneliness is a major theme here, manifest not only in the solo clock (an imperfect lover?) but also excellently in a pop-TV montage in the style of Christian Marclay. Titled “Solace Supercut,” dozens of fictional characters repeat the sobering phrase, “You don’t have to go through this alone,” and it is looped so that the lone warrior’s quest of self is eventually revealed to be absurd, even clichéd. Yeapanis toys with re-arranging familiar objects to transcend their sad banality—she stacks McNuggets into a “Stairway to Heaven”—confessing the fun of self-transformation burnout. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Melissa Oresky/Hyde Park Art Center

Hyde Park, Painting, Video No Comments »

still from "Trail"


Lining the hall of the second level of the Hyde Park Art Center, slices of geometric shapes and paper pieces coated with saturated and muted tones announce the latest exhibition of Melissa Oresky’s work. For almost a decade, Oresky has created mixed-media pieces that explore the body’s interior workings and cognitive processes through scientific and landscape metaphors. This exhibition, titled “Trail,” attempts to guide the viewer through the artist’s dense visual language through new works on paper and the artist’s first work in animation.

The setup of the show, however, does not allow the path toward enlightenment to be an easy one. Larger pieces with assemblages of abstract shapes hang together in the front portion but share no similar point of reference or scheme. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Lilli Carré and Richard Hull/Western Exhibitions

Drawings, Painting, Video, West Loop No Comments »


The fundamental (non-)color of French modernism was white. Plein-air Impressionists used oils like watercolors, sketching landscapes on canvases primed white, and renowned descendants like van Gogh, Bonnard, Chagall and Delaunay used gestural simplicity and a light undertone to lend images vibrancy. Unified in its whiteness, Lilli Carré’s current exhibition at Western Exhibitions is beholden to this legacy; she gets the most from it in her animation “Everything Must Go,” a cycle in which, against a field of white, a flailing figure comprised of watercolor brushstrokes impersonates the inflatable mascots atop struggling car dealerships, an existential riff on the pagan cavorting of a Matisse dancer. The vignetted Cubist-ish ink wash drawings, “Debris,” are delicately rendered and pleasing to the eye, but not representative of Carré’s evocative past narrative work in both comics and animation. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Yto Barrada/Renaissance Society

Hyde Park, Photography, Video No Comments »


Yto Barrada’s exhibition title, “RIFFS,” refers to the Rif Mountains, in Morocco, which run east from Tangier, where the artist lives and works. Riff can also be understood as a monologue or spoken improvisation, like in a musical performance. The Renaissance Society’s hallway leading to the main exhibition space is covered in lists—Rue de Tanger, names of streets in French and Arabic in Tangier—referring to memories still colonized, while films of appropriated imagery bookend photographs in the main space, generate myth from a concoction of Moroccan and personal histories. In the gallery, photographs cover the walls, guiding viewers through a wealth of images and information. The experience of moving among these images is like driving in an unfamiliar land while reading a map, seeing dilapidated buildings, piles of rubble, vacant lots, landscapes and roads and people. Read the rest of this entry »

Eye Exam: No Picnic

Hyde Park, Installation, Performance, Sculpture, Video No Comments »

Daniel Spoerri, "Tableau piege, 17. Juni 1972," 1972.

By Jason Foumberg

The long black hair that I pulled from my Pad Thai confirmed that it was a lunch like no other. Rirkrit Tiravanija, who has made an international art career serving free meals, often Pad Thai, to museum goers, did not intend for the hair to disrupt my experience of his performance lunch in 2008—or was the hairy blooper a disturbing reminder that no matter what we eat, someone else, often many people, have touched, groomed and manhandled our food so that it appears, on our plates, so perfect?

The free lunch is now an established genre of contemporary art, and the Smart Museum’s exhibition, “Feast: Radical Hospitality in Contemporary Art,” arrives right on the heels of the foodie revolution. But this retrospective exhibition of eighty years of food service is not about fresh, local, healthy, or even tasty food, nor is it about haute cuisine, world hunger, obesity, genetically modified ingredients, or organic farming. Instead, “Feast” identifies a strain of performance art, which climaxed during Happenings in the 1960s and feminist performance in the seventies, that uses a familiar setting—eating in the company of others—as a device of social confrontation and political disruption. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Wish You Were Here/ADDS DONNA

Garfield Park, Sculpture, Video No Comments »


“Cynic” seems an unfair label for the uncompromising Diogenes, who carried a lantern during daylight in search of an honest man. At bottom, Dada was similarly nostalgic for art as a lost ideal, an end in itself rather than a vehicle for reflection. This starry-eyed hopelessness applies to an evolving exhibition now in its third iteration at ADDS DONNA, whose title, “Wish You Were Here,” underscores the theme of glibness thinly masking absence and loss. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Aidan Fitzpatrick and Kasia Houlihan/Comfort Station

Logan Square, Photography, Video No Comments »

Kasia Houlihan, "Tender," 2011


No one doubts that we are living in hard times, especially young artists. Video and photo-artist Kasia Houlihan and photographer Aidan Fitzpatrick draw us into their discontent, the first with a sense of futility and the second with a sentiment of existential unease. Houlihan’s video “Hold On” shows her young female model jump-running aimlessly around a mowed field in a random, abrupt and staccato motion, exhausting herself and looking it—wasting herself. In a color photo, we see the model sitting in her panties on a slightly rumpled white sheet covering a bed, her head turned over one shoulder and one of her hands fingering the edge of a lobster-red sunburn, a doleful expression on her lips and her eyes shut. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Anthea Behm/Golden Gallery

Lakeview, Video No Comments »


In the heaven on earth of postmodern play, Anthea Behm is the games’ mistress, this time consummating a high-low (don’t ask, do tell) unholy liaison between stodgy elitist cultural theorist Theodor Adorno and sportive young adolescent-minded Ferris Bueller, played by a number of male and female performers wandering through the Art Institute spouting texts from the theorist’s impenetrable aesthetics and the boy wonder’s screenplay, in succession in an endless forward-backward loop without beginning and end. Don’t worry if you aren’t a graduate student in semiotics; Behm has made the audio loud and indistinct, leaving the viewer-listener to pick out words and phrases like “socialism” and “who gives a cultural crap?” Read the rest of this entry »

Eye Exam: Personal Spaces

Photography, Ukrainian Village/East Village, Video, West Loop No Comments »

Leigh Ledare

By Gretchen Holmes

My lover always complains about the smudges I leave on his glasses when my nose and cheeks and forehead smear oil and makeup across his big, thick lenses. “Darling,” he says, “your love and its little mark-making project, it obstructs the aim of my gaze.” This seems ungrateful: my love’s lenses, the point of contact between his appraisal of my formal qualities and my own expression of desire, are the palimpsest where my filthy face writes and rewrites its love letters. They are a screen onto which intimacy is projected from both sides. But that kind of screen is also a barricade ensuring that these two hopeful, hungry trajectories never meet. The scene encourages the unilateral effusions that make intimacy so seductive: my to-be-looked-at-ness and his wanting-to-be-wanted-ness condone each other, and ideology’s most despondent-making pathologies become sweet, private yearnings that nurture our bond. A more doctrinaire feminist would toss her lover’s glasses aside, thus disarming the patriarchy and transforming the male gaze into a dizzying, haptic blur. But me? I persist. Read the rest of this entry »