Reviews, profiles and news about art in Chicago

Art 50 2015: Chicago’s Visual Vanguard

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Long heralded as a mecca for alternative practices, collectivity and socially engaged art, Chicago increasingly finds itself among the most visible international art destinations precisely because of its distinct character and openness to change and growth. What makes this city fertile ground for launching new talent and sustaining confirmed genius? A complex and ever-changing network of curators, collectors, administrators, critics, dealers, educators and other enthusiasts cultivate Chicago’s artistic vitality and diversity. The Art 50 is Newcity’s annual snapshot of Chicago’s art ecosystem. This year, we track the power players who shape the terrain in which we thrive.

The Art 50 was written by Elliot J. Reichert, Maria Girgenti, Abraham Ritchie, Kate Sierzputowski and B. David Zarley.

Cover and interior photos by Joe Mazza/Brave Lux on location at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Peter Skvara/Andrew Rafacz Gallery

Galleries & Museums, West Loop No Comments »
Peter Skvara

Peter Skvara. “I Am Sinking / I Have Collided with Surface Craft / Repeat the Distress Position,” 2015. Enamel on stretched mesh, 72 in x 48 inches.


The sea, with its legends of mermaids and serpents, phantom ships and lost continents, has inspired man’s creativity for millennia. From Japan’s Katsushika Hokusai to Germany’s Caspar David Friedrich, the raw power of towering waves and the quiet foreboding of impenetrable fog captivate equally across cultures.  But one need not look to the distant past or far-off shores to find tales of mystery and imagination; our own Great Lakes, a seamen’s graveyard for centuries, will suffice.

Enter artist Peter Skvara, whose new works are tales of misfortune on the high sea embodied in the form of hard-edged geometric abstraction. The six paintings in “Approaches” take their compositions from the colorful language of maritime signal flags: brilliant banners emblazoned with litanies of colored Xs, crosses, dots and stripes that, when strung together in a ship’s rigging, communicate vital information to other vessels.

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Review: Andreas Fischer/Andrew Rafacz Gallery

Painting, West Loop No Comments »
Andreas Fischer. "Monument," 2015 oil, acrylic, pencil on canvas, 21 x 18"

Andreas Fischer. “Monument,” 2015
oil, acrylic, pencil on canvas, 21 x 18″


Andreas Fischer’s “The Ghost in Your Shoe” is a satisfying meditation on representation delivered as a set of strange, charming little paintings. The subject matter is familiar. Each picture is of something everyday—a horse, for example, simply titled “Horse.” The paintings are rendered dreamily, as if painted, not even from memory, but from the storehouse of the mind wherein objects are classified. How might a horse appear in the mind’s eye? This is the look of Fischer’s paintings. They spring from an interior space complete with a washy white emptiness around each object, as if the object and only the object were being held aloft and examined in a neutral region, stripped of as much context as possible. We see not renderings but impressions, fleeting notions arrested. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Philip Vanderhyden /Andrew Rafacz Gallery

Installation, Video, West Loop No Comments »
Philip Vanderhyden. "Volatility Smile, 2014, installation view at Andrew Rafacz Gallery

Philip Vanderhyden. “Volatility Smile, 2014, installation view at Andrew Rafacz Gallery


In economics, a volatility smile is a buckling curve that appears in certain graphs that trace the hypothetical prices of commodity exchanges in a fluctuating market. As the title of Philip Vanderhyden’s dual channel video installation, the ambiguous moniker seems to imply a sinister joy in the chaos of complex economies. The video repeats over nine flat-screens hung in a zigzagging row across the long wall of the gallery. In a seamless fifteen-minute loop, these several screens glow with the sleek and shiny surfaces of hypothetical pleasure objects: copper-hued cubes, silver-clad slabs and crumbled porcelain sheets glide with seductive ease across the long plasma terrain like an iPhone billboard set in motion. The slick on-screen movement of these imaginary things recalls the tactile displays of electronic visual technologies, pointing toward the strange collapse of image and object in the contemporary moment of touchscreen everything. Read the rest of this entry »

Portrait of the Artist: Jeff Gibson

Artist Profiles, Digital Art, Installation, Prints, West Loop No Comments »
Jeff Gibson. "Product (detail)," 2014,  ink-jet wallpaper, dimensions variable

Jeff Gibson. “Product (detail),” 2014,
ink-jet wallpaper, dimensions variable

Jeff Gibson culls images from the internet’s massive store, choosing JPEGs of products silhouetted against white backgrounds, highlighted perfectly by their surrounding vacuous atmosphere. When combined, the images call out to each other in a fashion not immediately recognizable, playing against the objects’ shiny machinery or garish design. “My roots are in pop and conceptualism so a lot of my subject matter is from popular culture and bears that stain, and I am only happy to rub the world’s nose in,” says Gibson. Gibson views all his images as products, calling attention to the aesthetics of consumerism via visual taxonomies. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Norman Zammitt/Andrew Rafacz Gallery

Painting, West Loop No Comments »
Norman Zammitt. "Red to Green I," acrylic on canvas board, 1979

Norman Zammitt. “Red to Green I,” acrylic on canvas board, 1979


Why does the evocation of light from painting pervade the medium’s extensive history? It seems like a nonstarter to grind up and smear colored mud across a substrate in the attempt to produce luminosity. While peers in the loosely delineated movement of Light and Space in California from the 1960s onward abandoned painting in favor of more immaterial installation strategies, Norman Zammitt made a career of reasoned, deliberate canvases informed by floaty sensorial aspirations. His small paintings at Andrew Rafacz are rewarding to viewers precisely because of the tension between their physicality and the optical trickery that their composed horizontal bands of nuanced color excite in the eyes of viewers. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Lauren Edwards/Andrew Rafacz Gallery

Photography, West Loop No Comments »



“I want things to be a little difficult so you have to confront these images and negotiate your own stakes and the ways you are implicated in them,” explains Lauren Edwards on the eve of her upcoming exhibition “In the Turn.” Edwards, who completed her MFA at UIC earlier this year, uses found images she sources from the Internet and sculptural installations that aim to consider the psychological ways images are apprehended and used to script an understanding of one’s environment. Often employing pictures of nondescript landscapes, Edwards aims to call attention to how viewers create meaning and context for what they encounter. “These things are totally unspecific,” she says. “Using these images of nonspecific places is a way to underscore this liminal threshold space.” Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Cody Hudson/Andrew Rafacz Gallery

Painting, West Loop No Comments »
"I Got High and Never Got Back (Revisited)"

“I Got High and Never Got Back (Revisited)”


Cody Hudson is one of Chicago’s most prolific and highly regarded artists. Navigating the murky (and possibly irrelevant) borderlands between fine art and commercial design, Hudson is known for creating everything from one-off bags for Whole Foods to installations and album covers via his design house Struggle Inc. The artist’s compositions are clean-cut, chromatically harmonious, and brimming with a laid-back sense of quiet confidence.

For “Salad Days Days” at Andrew Rafacz Gallery, Hudson draws upon his background in graphic media to create a series of paintings that aptly demonstrate simplicity’s myriad virtues. Employing a restrained color palette that sticks close to cool blues and greens with the occasional black or golden accent, a single, almost obsessively repeated pear-shaped form dominates these square supports, becoming both figure and ground in works such as the regally hued “I Got High and Never Got Back (Revisited).” Read the rest of this entry »

Art 50: Chicago’s Artists’ Artists

Art 50, Artist Profiles 6 Comments »

Artwork and Photo by Matthew Hoffman ( )
Matthew is a 2006 Newcity Breakout Artist

“A friend recently confessed to me that he secretly ranks the participants in Chicago’s art world according to their importance,” wrote artist Molly Zuckerman-Hartung in this publication. Molly’s friend doesn’t work at Newcity; although we annually rank half-a-hundred scenesters of the stage and page, this is our first line-up of visual artists. But everyone intimately knows Molly’s secret friend—the shuffler of the big rolodex, the line cutter, who maybe crept through a Deb Sokolow conspiracy, who buys all your friends’ artworks but never yours. Guess who? It’s you. You made this list and you ranked it and you live in it. You’re either on this list or you’re a product of this list or you’re on this list’s parallel universe (maybe, the Top Fifty People Who Read Lists list). Congrats!

We agree that a linear fifty names is simplistic. Instead, picture this list as a family tree that’s been trimmed into an MC Escher hedge maze. Or see the names as intersecting circles, a cosmic Venn diagram, or raindrops hitting a lake. There could be a list of fifty (or 500) best painters, or a new list for every week we publish this newspaper. For now, here are fifty people who have made an impression on other peoples’ lives.

Who are these people? They are mentors, magnets, peers, alchemists, art mothers, Chicago-ish, artists’ artists, evangelicals, alive today, polarizing, underrated, retired, workhorses and teachers. Lots of teachers. If you’re an artist in Chicago it’s likely that a handful of these artists trained you, or showed you that art was even a possibility. The bonus of local legends is that we can learn from them, face to face. Many lead by example.

About the selection process: Artists only for this list. (Power curators and other hangers-on get their own list, next year). To rank these artists we surveyed hundreds of local living artists, racked our brains, had conversations, wrote emails, canvassed the streets with art critics, cast votes, then recalls, called important curators in London who promptly hung up on us, drank pumpkin latte, checked emails and then finally wrote it all down. And now, we present to you, the Art 50. (Jason Foumberg)

The Art 50 was written by AJ Aronstein, Janina Ciezadlo, Stephanie Cristello, Alicia Eler, Pat Elifritz, Jason Foumberg, Amelia Ishmael, Anastasia Karpova, Harrison Smith, Bert Stabler, Pedro Velez, Katie Waddell and Monica Westin. Read the rest of this entry »

Old Glory: EXPO Chicago Plans to Return Chicago to the Art Fair Majors

Art Fairs No Comments »

Tony Karman

It’s been some time since Chicago was a major player on the international art fair scene. First the International Art Exposition and, later, Art Chicago, were standard-setters in the eighties and nineties, though as Art Chicago moved out of its longtime home in Navy Pier’s Festival Hall, a gradual decline led to its cancellation, under the name Next Art Chicago, earlier this year. EXPO Chicago, the product of longtime Art Chicago administrator Tony Karman, is now attempting to tap some of Art Chicago’s early prestige with a return to Navy Pier and a set-up that is, as Karman says, “respectful to the work that’s put in it.”

“Festival Hall at Navy Pier was built in large part because the art fair meant so much there was no way they could replace it,” says Karman. “So with that as a foundation there’s a way to tap a bit of nostalgia and to put a new varnish on what an art fair or an art exhibition looks like for 2012 and beyond.” Studio Gang, the architecture and design studio of MacArthur “genius grant”–winner Jeanne Gang, has designed an interior for the festival that is modeled off of the city’s urban grid, with the 120 booths of participating galleries bisected by walkways and a wide diagonal “avenue.” Karman says that capping dealers and galleries at 120 was done to maintain “quality over quantity” and prevent EXPO from turning into a mega-fair. Read the rest of this entry »