Reviews, profiles and news about art in Chicago

Review: Norman Zammitt/Andrew Rafacz Gallery

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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

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“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

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"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

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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 »

Review: Greg Stimac/Andrew Rafacz Gallery

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In May of 1869, representatives of the Central Pacific Railroad and the Union Pacific Railroad, alongside an audience of railway workers, government officials and financiers, gathered at Promontory Summit in Northwestern Utah Territory to witness the ceremonial completion of the first transcontinental railroad. As the commemorative Golden Spike was driven in, signifying a convergence of the two major railway lines, the United States at once seemed to shrink geographically and accelerate culturally. Alongside the railway stood the first transcontinental telegraph line, providing instantaneous communication in tandem with coast-to-coast freight service. Goods, people and information were placed in perpetual, expedited motion. With no signs of slowing down, the global fabric has continued to shrink in the century and a half since. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Zachary Buchner/Andrew Rafacz Gallery

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Andrew Rafacz Gallery’s long, shallow and rectangular main space opens up with Zachary Buchner’s sparsely hung solo exhibition. All of Buchner’s paintings are a similar size, touched with fluorescent yellows, blues, reds and pale hues recalling spring. The brushstrokes are light, without rigor, as if the artist was coloring something in. The paintings are numbered “JSY 01” and “JSY 02” and so on. Serialized, the titles serve as an indication of a controlled experiment or a forbearance of something else to come, perhaps. With each painting holding a load of plaster dribbled, dotted or poured on the surface, and not breaking nor fighting with its frame, the seven paintings end up as limited permutations of each other. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Philip Vanderhyden/Andrew Rafacz Gallery

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Philip Vanderhyden’s seven monochrome paintings in his solo exhibition, “Outside Group,” at Andrew Rafacz Gallery are primarily about materiality. Like silt in a stream, the paint in shades of gray washes down the canvas. Vanderhyden creates this effect by applying oil paint with rollers to burlap and creating textures in the wet surface by lying down and lifting up sheets of plastic wrap. Yet, matter is quickly transformed into matrix in these works. When viewed from a distance, the dense materiality of the paintings disappears and they seem as immaterial as the static on an old TV. This fluctuation between presence and absent is relative to changes in the viewer’s position within the gallery: as one steps closer, the materiality of the paint asserts itself and the “static” vanishes. In this shifting terrain, one can search for signs and patterns in the ebb and flow of the gray paint. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Scott Wolniak/65Grand & Andrew Rafacz Gallery

Multimedia, Ukrainian Village/East Village, West Loop No Comments »


Scott Wolniak, with concurrent shows at 65Grand and Andrew Rafacz Gallery, says his work is “an investigation into how art-making can be a template for examining everyday occurrences and experiences.” It’s about elevating the everyday to aesthetic significance.

For “You Can Lose Your Balance” at 65Grand, Wolniak contorts, tears and twists canvases painted all white. He slices canvas and hangs a brick in a tear to create a ‘balanced’ composition. He punctures the rippling, white surface of a Little River in acrylic using a twig. The paintings, he explains, consist of “dumb acts of wrestling and sabotage” that “occur in lieu of anything remotely resembling technique.” So he splinters the canvases’ wooden frames. He has you believe that the paintings in this show leave more to chance than to the artist’s touch. In the words of Argentine canvas-slasher Lucio Fontana, punctured canvases like Wolniak’s reveal “a dimension beyond the painting” that illustrates “the freedom to conceive art through any means.” But Wolniak takes this a step further when, in “Flash Art (Circles and Rectangles),” the image of a lightbulb going on and off paired with the switch click, click, clicking on and off becomes mesmeric. The sound takes on a meditative repetition like listening to tap-dancing, typewriting, rain falling on a tin roof and a stream of flighty, illuminating, then extinguished ideas enter and exit the viewer’s mind. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: John Opera/Andrew Rafacz Gallery

Photography, West Loop No Comments »


Bending slightly forward and photographed in profile with her face and half of her torso silhouetted in shadows, John Opera’s nubile nude subject sits in bed with her arm crooked as she raises a glass of water to her lips meditatively. Opera has shot this dusky color image three times with almost identical poses, inviting viewers to look for the nearly imperceptible differences among them after having taken in the scene. Enlightenment is achieved when we look at the water in the half-filled glass; in one shot, the liquid has not yet reached the woman’s lips; in the next, it has connected and is dappled with spots of light; and in the last, the lit water has formed a black and gray cone. One must strain to dredge or squeeze meaning out of Opera’s scenes that like water are not flavored. What difference does difference make? (Michael Weinstein)

Through January 16 at Andrew Rafacz Gallery, 835 W. Washington