Reviews, profiles and news about art in Chicago

Review: Wedding to Unknown/Glass Curtain Gallery

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Wedding to Unknown 4

Photo: David Ettinger

The Facebook invitation was cryptic: “A wedding of an unknown couple, with unknown guests, at an unknown location. If you are interested in attending please respond in the manner you see fit, otherwise disregard.”

The event was scheduled for March 21. At 6pm the guests began to arrive, ad hoc glitterati of the art world. Dressed in black and white they sat under a canopy of paper streamers duct-taped to the ceiling. They laughed, chatted, drank wine and every so often glanced over their shoulders in anticipation of the unknown couple.

“I always wanted to throw a wedding. I just needed to find a couple to marry,” explains artist Alberto Aguilar. He posted an ad on Craigslist offering a wedding free of charge to a couple willing to get married before strangers.

A young couple responded intrigued by the peculiar proposal. “We began planning the celebration but as the day got closer, they sent me a text message and told me that they had decided not to go ahead with it. I think in the end it was a last-minute fear.” Read the rest of this entry »

Portrait of the Artist: Nazafarin Lotfi

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 "Limits," oil on canvas, 2013

“Limits,” oil on canvas, 2013

The artist begins with a black canvas. In an effort to locate her body in relationship to the canvas, she assigns herself a task—to make an arch with arm outstretched. Slowly she applies the paint. Dashes of white trace the length of her arm. Hour by hour, she turns, circles and shifts the canvas until the surface is covered in tessellated scales of gray.

“In my paintings I’ve been drawing a lot of horizontal lines,” explains Nazafarin Lotfi. “I was thinking about language, going back to when I started as a seven-year-old kid, and how I learned to write in Farsi by drawing simple lines.”

“Untitled,” 2013, is a series of five blue squares. Each sheet of paper is marked with the hatching and cross-hatching of a Bic ballpoint until the pen runs dry. Layer upon layer of monotonous markings are transformed into delicate gradations of blue.

The artist grew up in the years after the Iranian Revolution in 1979. As a child she observed the teeming metropolis of Tehran where exhaust fumes mingled with the smell of jasmine. She imagined stories of buildings and the crows that sat gently perched on the telephone wires. The stories became drawings, and the drawings became animation, brought to life by a makeshift zoetrope fashioned from cardboard and carefully incised with vertical slits. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Christopher Wool/Art Institute of Chicago

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Christopher Wool, untitled, 2010.

Christopher Wool, untitled, 2010.

Despite embodying the aesthetic qualities at the heart of my critical bias—heroic scale, painterly drips, bold gestures, a sense of existential struggle and even a little humor—I found Christopher Wool’s recently opened retrospective at the Art Institute depressing. Having enjoyed some of his pictures in the past, I genuinely expected to leave this show feeling tipsy, intoxicated from the visual excess that only a museum-scale exhibition can provide. Instead, I felt hung over.

Boston-born and Chicago-raised, Wool has been riding a wave of critical success that trades in the kind of nihilistic how-do-you-paint-after-painting-is-dead rhetoric that may have had some currency in the late 1970s and eighties, but is past its sell-by date in 2014. The various didactic panels in this almost antiseptically colorless show repeatedly emphasize words such as “sabotage,” “negation” and “obliteration.” Whether all this “eve-of-destruction” nonsense actually informs Wool’s studio practice is debatable, but its inescapable presence definitely informed my experience of the show. By the time I reached the halfway point, I was convinced that painting wasn’t just dead, it was the victim of premeditated murder. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Judy Ledgerwood/Graham Foundation

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Photo: Tom Van Eynde.

Photo: Tom Van Eynde.


In 1919, German architect and Bauhaus co-founder Walter Gropius issued a clarion call for the synthesis of the plastic arts. Decrying divisive class distinctions, Gropius believed that together artist and craftsman alike could “create the new building of the future, which will embrace architecture, and sculpture, and painting in one unity…like the crystal symbol of a new faith.” Though the art world is more fragmented (and cynical) than ever, one can still find echoes of Gropius’ aspiration in Judy Ledgerwood’s fiery installation “Chromatic Patterns for the Graham Foundation.”

Awash in scorching fluorescent colors and metallic-silver floral motifs, the dignified interior of the stately Madlener House has been transformed into an exuberant and intensely optical experience. From floor to ceiling, the walls of this venerable structure vibrate, disarming and occasionally disorienting the viewer with fierce after-images and a bevy of simultaneous contrasts. Ledgerwood, a professor of art theory and practice at Northwestern University, has spent years exploring the fruitful fringes where art and craft, abstraction and decoration intersect and dissolve, and this installation may be her most potent yet. Read the rest of this entry »

Visiting Artist: Ryan Peter Miller

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Ryan Peter Miller, "Painthing," 2013. Photo: Russell Lord

Ryan Peter Miller, “Painthing,” 2013. Photo: Russell Lord

Ryan Peter Miller grew up in Georgia and moved to Chicago by way of Southern California a couple years ago. His work addresses the material of paint itself, making forms that look more like Play-Doh sculptures than acrylic paintings. He calls these “Painthings.” Coming from a traditional painting background, Miller’s relationship with the material has evolved to the point where he is now rolling entire tubes of paint into balls and forcing them through frosting guns.

I tease my friends a lot. That’s how I show my affection. And that’s how I show my affection toward paint, too. I’m kind of making fun of it. What debases painting more than squeezing it through a frosting gun? It’s not because I hate it, it’s because I like it.

Acrylic’s a silly, unique material—one of the only materials exclusively for making art. Pencils, plaster, stone, concrete. All these things have multiple functions. But when you go to the art supply store and you buy a tube of paint they’re basically saying, “Now go make art,” and I think there’s something funny and stupid about that. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Harold Mendez/Threewalls

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but I sound better (newsletter)


With a material list including “graphite, reclaimed exhaust hose, soot, food matter, vegetable oil, hand ground Cochineal insects and tri-directional foil,” you know you’re dealing with a special kind of artist.

Harold Mendez is a writer and no doubt an avid reader, and an artist working across several visual media. His conceptually driven work draws from Beckett, Basquiat, Simone de Beauvior and on, and on and on. Fascinated by narrative construction, Mendez is a text-heavy artist who gives titles to his works that are both loaded and vague. The exhibition, titled “But I Sound Better Since You Cut My Throat,” incorporates diverse techniques and materials, but all evince a dark, ambiguous spirit. Eerie pinhole photographs hum with deep blacks, lens flares, sparks and shadows. A couple of large-scale, mostly monochrome mixed-media pieces hang on the walls and a chunky, prehistoric-looking sculpture sits on the floor in the main gallery. It’s the piece with the hand ground Cochineal insects. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Anatomical Theatres of Mixed Reality/National Museum of Health and Medicine

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The Operature1


During the first two hours of the Chicago-based performance group Anatomical Theatres of Mixed Reality’s “The Operature,” the audience is invited into an interactive wonderland of screens that glow with snippets of text and additional video content like what might be found in a DVD’s extras menu. No more techy than most of our regular lives, ATOM-r renders our relationships to the virtual simultaneously uncanny and erotic. Likewise, the choreographed performance that follows does not aim to demolish categories of maleness and masculinity, but nonetheless calls out ruptures of violence and desirability to be found therein.

In advance of this densely conceptual, multimedia performance, I interviewed Judd Morrissey and Mark Jeffery, ATOM-r’s progenitors. “In some ways ‘The Operature’ is deeply controlled and yet is luscious and intimate and gasping in its restraint to hold onto the deep desire to have and to hold another male body,” says Jeffery.

They began with research, probing into Samuel Steward’s “The Stud File,” a record of the former Chicagoan’s sexual exploits, as well as Francis Glessner Lee’s “Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death”—miniature tableaus of crime-scene reenactments, as well as texts from Gertrude Stein and Kenneth Anger. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Émilie Charmy/Arts Club of Chicago

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Charmy Portrait Royall coll

Émilie Charmy, “Portrait,” oil on canvas, 1921. Courtesy of Pamela K. and William A. Royall, Jr. © 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris. Photo: Travis Fullerton


French Modernist painters were no less interested in the female nude than their classical predecessors, so quite a few iconic artists including Manet, Renoir, Cezanne and Matisse were included in a 1922 exhibit in Paris entitled “Le Nu Feminin.” Most of the collectors and celebrated artists at that time were men, so the subject was typically idealized, mystified or sensualized, i.e., objectified. But one artist in that show, Émilie Charmy, saw the attractive female body as her own, and that approach continues to be an anomaly in this genre. Her nudes are no less attractive, but they are more about a sensual woman’s personality than a man’s fantasy.

This is the first Charmy retrospective to ever be organized in the U.S. (by the Fralin Museum of Art at the University of Virginia), and it makes you wonder why it took so long. Her painting feels loose and spontaneous, but when you look close up, the strands of brushed color are as clear, distinct and perfectly located as the threads in a tapestry. Her techniques always seem improvised to serve an image, rather than the other way around. Read the rest of this entry »

Eye Exam: A Gutsy Whitney Biennial

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still from Steve Reinke's "Rib Gets In the Way," 2014.

still from Steve Reinke’s “Rib Gets In the Way,” 2014.

By Jason Foumberg

I trust artists who upset me. I like to feel confused. There is so much I don’t know, and so much to learn.

This was my way of mind after watching the fifty-three minutes of Steve Reinke’s video “Rib Gets In the Way” at the 2014 Whitney Biennial. The important survey of contemporary American art features a record number of Chicago artists, including Reinke, a professor of art at Northwestern University who premiered an epic, unsettling video artwork. It is essentially a nature documentary—human nature, that is. Narrating with the cadence and candor of Carl Sagan, Reinke tours the black market of the soul. Behold, he seems to say, this is how to make art as a prophylaxis against death.

I wish my review could solely be about Reinke’s video, for the more I revisit it, the more it wrenches my brain and heart. There is so much art to like in this edition of the Whitney Biennial, a packed exhibition with as many points of entry as there are complicated objects. Reinke’s video exemplifies a type of emotional intelligence demanded by many of the works on display. The energy to observe these artworks could equal the labor of their creation. Viewing the exhibition is like unwrapping a hundred psyches by a hundred artists. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Sebastian Black and India Donaldson/Queer Thoughts

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"Living with Potpourri," wood and potpourri, 2014.

“Living with Potpourri,” wood and potpourri, 2014.


Just as Fashion Week wrapped up in Paris, Queer Thoughts in Pilsen opened a new exhibition of collaborative works by Sebastian Black and India Donaldson that simulates the culture of simulated (read: knockoff) fashion and luxury goods. More specifically, Black explains in the press release that they are interested in objects produced in the authentic factory, but outside of official working hours, which are then smuggled into the world. What might have been a heavily burdened ontological premise plays lightly in a blushingly sweet, sparsely hung installation of clothing-like sculpture, a video and a work on paper. Like the artist Sturtevant has done with her conceptual forgeries of modern and contemporary art, Black and Donaldson’s works slink right up to the difference between original and copy, showing off that distinction is more a matter of the mind than any hard ruling. Read the rest of this entry »