“Self Portrait (Ecco L’uomo),” oil on linen, 2013.
Modern life is more like a problem than an opportunity in “Modern Metaphors,” a showcase for four makers of imaginary worlds from Chicago. David Kroll retreats into the stuffy, quiet serenity of a seventeenth-century drawing room, while Katherine Ace withdraws to the scary-safe fantasies of medieval fairytales. The other two artists also look backward, but are more confrontational. Bruno Surdo’s Pop-Baroque-realism seems to say: “Our world is a madhouse, but I can take it!” while Sergio Fasola’s photo-surreal conglomerations are too visually disruptive to think about anything else.
There are some amazing paintings here, beginning with Surdo’s self-portrait as a churlish tagger sporting a seventeenth-century millstone ruff collar. He carries a dripping can of spray paint that hardly does justice to this artist’s incredible facility with a brush. When he depicts a face covered with hands, the result might well be a “Penitent Magdalene” as done by Rubens or Van Dyck. He’s that good. The quality of design diminishes as he adds more figures, which might suggest that he’s more comfortable with solitude. Read the rest of this entry »
Nilima Sheikh, “Dying Dreaming,” 2007–10. From the Lekha and Anupam Poddar Collection
New Delhi artist Nilima Sheikh has been applying the practices of traditional Indian painting to contemporary Indian life for more than five decades, and Kashmir is a beautiful mountain valley whose history has captured her imagination. It has also been in the path of many plundering armies and more recently the focus of a territorial dispute consequent to the 1948 partition of India and Pakistan. So it’s a good setting for the trouble-in-paradise theme that Sheikh has chosen for eight ceiling-hung banners.
In color, scale and beauty/violence, these cloth banners, with painting on one side and text on the other, recall earlier epic projects, like the Hamzanama completed for Emperor Akbar in 1577. Similar to those projects, the overall tonal patterns are beguiling, even otherworldly, and it is not the work of a single artist. Sheikh used patterned stencils cut by a member of a Mathura family of traditional Sanjhi paper cutters. Other details come up short. She could have employed skilled calligraphers and figurative specialists, as well. Read the rest of this entry »
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 »
“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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »