Reviews, profiles and news about art in Chicago

Review: Shane Prine/ARC Gallery

Photography, River West No Comments »


Another of the army of redeemers of the ruins, Shane Prine shoots the interiors of derelict houses, finding in the copious rubble and refuse forms that—but for the fact that they are filthy—could pass for modernist sculptures and assemblages. Prine renders his subjects in black-and-white chiaroscuro, taking advantage of shadows and pools of light to show them forth in their ramshackle backgrounds. At an extreme pole of the photographic proclivity to alert us to the unrecognized beauty that lurks in the most unexpected places, Prine’s work insures that we will never look at a pile of construction trash the same way again—or at modernist sculpture. In Prine’s most powerful shot, he offers a view of the side of a chair looming up from the litter, its back lost in black, its upholstery torn and mended with duct tape, and a weathered board propped against its front—a gangplank to the throne. (Michael Weinstein)

Through April 24 at ARC Gallery, 832 W. Superior

Review: Michele Stutts/ARC Gallery

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“Cabrini Green is beautiful,” the man in the film proudly declares, standing in front of a chain-link fence and graffiti-covered wall. And to him and many of the former Cabrini tenants, this seemingly contradictory statement is true. Michele Stutts captures their testimonials in a forty-five minute documentary. Juxtaposed against ten mixed-media pieces, the result is more reactionary than activist. The show serves as a frank record of the tenants’ personal loss of home and identity after the ten-year-long Cabrini transformation project that has forced tenants to relocate in an effort to create a new, safer, mixed-income neighborhood. The emotionally charged interviews, presented in informal dialogues in the tenants’ former homes, are contrasted against the mixed-media pieces’ visual depictions of the demolition. The former presents individual perspectives, while the latter treats Cabrini as a whole. Individual identities are lost in the abstracted depictions of the familiar red brickwork layered with blueprints, coin rubbings, and shredded dollar bills, a commentary on the Chicago Housing Authority’s long, strained relationship with the Cabrini project. More conceptually complex are Stutts’ found-object pieces. The objects’ tactility is further enhanced by their deterioration—a frayed, dirty fabric piece is woven around a rusty rake top—and they appear as if they could be the surviving remnants from the demolition’s aftermath. The contrasting textures careful compositions import a reverence for the discarded objects—the same reverence Cabrini community holds for their former home, no matter how infamous. (Patrice Connelly)

Through September 25 at ARC Gallery, 832 W. Superior, #204

Review: Ken Konchel/ARC Gallery

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An old-school modernist straight black-and-white photographic abstractionist, Ken Konchel shoots details of the most powerful architectural structures that he can find to create geometric force fields that assault the viewer’s eye. With a proclivity for massive concrete and steel forms that his framing places in juxtaposition, Konchel’s aesthetic combines the sense of imposing brute solidity with the subtlety of twists and turns, and intensifies the play through the varied visual relations among the components of the designs he intuits, producing an effect of elegant monumentalism that is reminiscent of Alexander Rodchenko, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy and Paul Strand. Konchel’s subjects are overmastering; we feel them confront us and sense that we can do nothing to alter them, as in “Into Joe”—his most abstract study—in which the black silhouetted masses dissolve into obdurate blocks. (Michael Weinstein)

Through September 25 at ARC Gallery, 832 W. Superior

Review: Margaret LeJeune/ARC Gallery

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Roman goddesses of the hunt, not. Margaret LeJeune’s series of color photographic portraits, in “The Modern Day Diana,” of women who take to the fields and forests with their weapons and bring their trophies back dead, show unassuming and ordinary people who betray no traces of blood lust. Shot in their simple rural homes and sometimes lounging on their beds in full dress, we often have only the slightest hint that LeJeune’s subjects are devoted to the pursuit of game. We see benign Kathi sitting back and taking a break from stitching up her jeans on a sewing machine; only at a second look do we glimpse two petrified fowl on the floor behind her and the gun racks above her head. If the National Rifle Association is looking for propaganda, they will find it here. (Michael Weinstein)

Through August 14 at ARC Gallery, 832 W. Superior, #204

Review: Sabba Saleem Syal/ARC Gallery

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Much in the news as a site in the “war against terrorism,” Pakistan is for Sabba Saleem Syal a “contested” country without a fixed identity–a site in the culture wars of our time. To prove her point that diversity rules, Syal has cut out scores of informal color photos of Pakistani women of all kinds–veiled, head-scarved and decidedly modern–linked them with thread, and hung her construction on the gallery wall. The threads convey the message that these women are bound together tenuously as representatives of the same cultural scene. Yet their differences are stark. At one demonstration, women hold up a sign reading “Islamic Law As The Best Way.” At another the placard reads “Stop Violence Against Women.” Syal has provided through her tight conceptual photo art a welcome corrective to prevailing stereotypes. (Michael Weinstein)

Through August 14 at ARC Gallery, 832 W. Superior, #204

Eye Exam: Money Matters

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Jason Lazarus, "Lavina's surprise party (turning 90)"

Jason Lazarus, "Lavina's surprise party (turning 90)"

By Jason Foumberg

It’s usually around this time of year that I look forward to finding out the winners of The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation’s artist grants, an unrestricted gift of $15,000 (up from $10,000 in years past) to three Chicago-based artists. Since 2002, the foundation awarded money to two dozen artists simply for being good artists. This year, though, the individual artist grant will not be handed out, nor will it be given in coming years, as decided by the foundation’s board late last year.

The Driehaus grant was somewhat controversial because it was unsolicited. Artists need not, and could not, apply for the money. A group of nominators (including myself in 2008) chosen by the foundation in turn each selected three artists whose practices were weighed and judged by three jurors. All participants were active in the visual arts in Chicago, so it’s likely that everyone was not only aware of each other’s art practices, but for better or worse, also their personalities and politics. This is unlike the Artadia grant that comes through Chicago and other cities annually. Artadia asks arts professionals from outside Chicago to judge the award, whereas the Driehaus grant was completely contained within Chicago. This led to some criticisms that the award process was subject to favoritism. Ideally, though, the tiered process was entrusted to people who care for the long-term development of certain artists and types of practices. That one type of artistic program (say, academic conceptualism) benefited over others was the will of the collective group of tastemakers.

The boon of the Driehaus artist grant was that it was unrestricted. Artists could use the money to buy supplies and fund a new project, or they could simply use it to garnish their living expenses. Philip von Zweck (2007) bought a car. Jason Lazarus (2008) paid off student-loan debt. Inigo Manglano-Ovalle (2008) purchased video-editing equipment. Even if an artist didn’t spend their funds on items related directly to their art practice, the implication was that a space was cleared for them, and a small amount of financial freedom granted, so they could do what they do best.

Some artists live from grant to grant. Although Manglano-Ovalle, who also recently won a Guggenheim fellowship, says, “I use these grants for making art. I don’t rely on them for living,” the build-up of several years’ worth of grants makes being an artist possible. The granting of unrestricted funds especially places trust in the notion that artists are engaged in producing a cultural good, not a commodity. “Grants help you stay fluid in the continuum from idea to exhibition,” says Lazarus. “Repeating this cycle constantly creates growth in an artistic practice.”

The Driehaus Foundation, which currently supports notable architects and the performing arts, such as dance and local theater, as well as many non-arts community organizations, will no longer directly support individual visual artists. Instead, they’ll continue to give money to “funders,” such as the Arts Work Fund, which in turn grants funds to nonprofit groups that support specific organizational and developmental missions. The Arts Work Fund adds an additional filter to the trickle down process. For instance, a recent grant of $10,000 was given to ARC Gallery, an artist-run space, “to undertake a comprehensive examination of the organization in order to improve effectiveness and efficiency.” Such money finds its way to administrators first and artists second. “Strengthen the business side,” says Arts Work Fund director Marcia Festen, “so that the art can stay strong.” (The Driehaus Foundation did not replace individual artist grants with agency grants).

In Chicago, Artadia will still make its annual round, and with the money comes prestige, like winning an Academy Award. The newly founded 3Arts agency also made individual grants of $15,000 each in 2008 to two Chicago visual artists (out of six total), and their grant, like Driehaus, is unsolicited and unrestricted. 3Arts is now the only major granting agency in Chicago that is not government-affiliated. Many Chicago artists have come to rely on the City of Chicago’s CAAP grants, which awards funds of $1,000 or less to individual artists. This year 185 people received this grant through an application process.

Alternative and do-it-yourself granting agencies have come up in the past few years in opposition to the often bureaucratic and oblique granting process. (Bad at Sports covered one such agency, InCUBATE, on May 24). One new grant comes from Chances, a queer-focused monthly dance party organized by several artists. Door fees have been collected and will be given to an artist to help fund a project. In the last round, Rebecca Kling was awarded $500 for her monologue project that marked her transition from male to female. The next winners will be announced in mid-July.

Review: Kayce Bayer and Kristin Miller Hopkins/ARC Gallery

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Kayce Bayer

Kayce Bayer


Kayce Bayer and Kristin Miller Hopkins’ show at the ARC is titled “Home Page,” and the work sensitively embodies modes of habitation as it uncannily performs the kinds of interactivity and embedded layering that characterize a tricked-out website. Bayer and Hopkins are clearly engaged in conversation, and their pieces are strongly complementary. Bayer’s delicate diorama-like boxes of interior and exterior spaces are animated by a series of gears/automata that make virtual rainfalls and moving clouds, with an especially beautiful snowing machine. These pieces are presented with small drawings of homes and landscapes, and with a stop-animation video of her weather systems to create a multimedia system that’s richly embodied if borderline-precious. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Jorge Estrada and Daniela Paasch/ARC Gallery

Michigan Avenue, Photography, River West, Sculpture No Comments »


Mexican filmmakers Jorge Estrada and Daniela Paasch reverse field here and offer us miniature and radically still meditative photographs of places and things in the small towns of their home country, through which they hope that “the relevance of a memory is subjugated by the aesthetic of a moment.” Like haiku poetry, Estrada’s color and Paasch’s toned images are all about emotion, using their subjects to trigger humor, poignancy and, most of all, that sense of intense absorption that we feel when we find ourselves contemplating an object or scene that has no special meaning, yet has attracted our unaware gaze. That mood is captured most exquisitely in Paasch’s sepia-toned studies of “forgotten” things, such as two metal chemical drums, one of them on its side, resting abandoned on a cracked and pitted street. In a film, no frame is self-sufficient; Estrada and Paasch understand that there is another mode of time than succession. (Michael Weinstein)

Through March 28 at ARC Gallery, 832 W. Superior

Eye Exam: Splashes of Color (and Gender)

Loop, Multimedia, Wicker Park/Bucktown No Comments »
Kerry James Marshall, untitled, 2008. Courtesy the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, NY

Kerry James Marshall, untitled, 2008. Courtesy the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, NY

flierBy Jason Foumberg

This week I found a very similar image in two different exhibitions. The perspective is from the beach, looking seaward. There, against a cloudy horizon, a large wave breaks dramatically causing a frothy white cloud to rise up. In one image, by Kerry James Marshall, the wave splashes against a bracing figure who stands thigh-deep in the water; in the other image, a promo card for the exhibition “Women Get Fucked,” the wave crashes against a large rock. This image of unbridled nature could variously serve as an inspirational poster or as a romance novel cover, but here they’re positioned to speak about race in one exhibition and gender in another.

Just when you think you’ve shelved the history book on identity politics, chalked it up as a style that climaxed in the 1990s, and after Kara Walker has exorcised her demons, and black art is now post-black, they return and ask to be “reconsidered”—again. Just last April the Renaissance Society rolled out “Black Is, Black Ain’t,” a large group show that explored representations of African American race. One of its strengths was the inclusion of non-black artists, providing a thesis that ‘blackness’ is available to anyone willing to grapple with its history. Today, we have a new exhibition that opens much of the same dialogue. “Across the Divide: Reconsidering the Other” is on view at the Illinois State Museum. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Money, Money, Money/ARC Gallery

Multimedia, River West No Comments »
Jill Jeannides, "Trading Games"

Jill Jeannides, "Trading Games"

Tasked with considering “the personal, political and economic issues pertaining to the cultural currency of money,” the artists in “Money Money Money” present money as aesthetic object, money as karmic reward/retribution, money as palimpsest. A suitcase stuffed with twenties and a Wall Street Journal critical of the bailout is titled “Oops.” A bald eagle formed from dimes and pennies hangs above a birdseed altar. The phrase Buy or Die bathes a wall in blood-red neon light.

There are some compelling images here that get diluted by an over-reliance on parodic manipulations of dollar bills and other hard currency. The preponderance of rebus-like collage paintings combining various national currencies with other charged symbols quickly grow tiresome, especially when the “message” they impart isn’t especially insightful. The problem that faces juror Mary Jane Jacob and selected artists lies partly with the dematerialization of money itself. Paper money doesn’t hold the symbolic power it once did; today, invisible lines of credit seem more determinative of our fates. The U.S.’s shift away from a productive economy toward a purely speculative one tilts the concept of money even further towards the phantasmagoric, yet much of the work in the show feels ploddingly literal. Its most successful offerings—Daniel Mellis’ conjuring of signed artworks out of $20 cash, and Cheri Reif Naselli’s doomed attempts to reconstruct $10,000 worth of shredded currency, for example—rouse anxieties inherent in a multifarious global economy that may well have surpassed our ability to comprehend it. Performances by Mellis and Naselli occur every Saturday through the show’s run. (Claudine Isé)

Through January 31 at ARC Gallery, 832 W. Superior St. #204