Reviews, profiles and news about art in Chicago

Review: René Magritte/Art Institute of Chicago

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René Magritte. "Clairvoyance (La Clairvoyance)," oil on canvas, 1936

René Magritte. “Clairvoyance (La Clairvoyance),” oil on canvas, 1936

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A girl devours a bird; feet morph into shoes; a nude female torso reads as a face. “René Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926-1938,” the Art Institute of Chicago’s summer blockbuster, showcases the most important period of the Surrealist who precisely painted a new and disturbing reality. The exhibition is a collaboration between Houston’s Menil Collection, MoMA and the AIC.

It has a narrow focus—just a dozen years—when Magritte painted his “breakthrough” images. (The floating bowler-hatted men with umbrellas were later.) But many of his most famous pictures are here: ones that defined Surrealism and modern art, such as “The Treachery of Images” (“Ceci n’est-pas une pipe”) and “The Lovers” (a kissing couple with shrouded heads). Even though Magritte’s paintings operate as illustrations—he was a professional illustrator, after all—this show restores their status as paintings rather than as posters or jpegs. The works’ scale may surprise, as will the immaculate strokes and the saturated colors.

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News: Key Early Imagist Painting by Gladys Nilsson Enters Art Institute of Chicago Collection

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Gladys Nilsson. "The Trogens," acrylic on Plexiglas, 1967

Gladys Nilsson. “The Trogens,” acrylic on Plexiglas, 1967

The Art Institute of Chicago’s recently acquired painting “The Trogens” by Imagist Gladys Nilsson has been put on view in the museum’s Modern Wing. While Nilsson has been previously represented in the Institute’s permanent collection with thirteen prints and six other works on paper, this 1967 acrylic painting on Plexiglas is a key addition not only for its use of painting on the reverse side of the acrylic sheet—an oft-employed painting method among the Imagists—but also for its inclusion in one of the founding “Hairy Who?” exhibitions at the Hyde Park Art Center, where Nilsson and her husband Jim Nutt had been teaching art classes. The work was a gift to the museum last year from the artist herself in memory of Whitney Halstead, an art historian who helped promote the Hairy Who artists.

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News: Art Historians Get Hands-on Art Experience with Mellon Foundation Grant

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Art history graduate students from the University of Chicago and Northwestern University watch closely as the Art Institute’s Assistant Paintings Conservator Kelly Keegan (second from right) and Andrew W. Mellon Senior Conservation Scientist Francesca Casadio (far right) reveal fascinating details from Francescuccio Ghissi’s “The Crucifixion” (c. 1370) tempera on panel. Photo courtesy of Art Institute of Chicago.

Art history graduate students from the University of Chicago and Northwestern University watch closely as the Art Institute’s assistant paintings conservator Kelly Keegan (second from right) and Andrew W. Mellon Senior Conservation Scientist Francesca Casadio (far right) reveal fascinating details from Francescuccio Ghissi’s “The Crucifixion” (c. 1370) tempera on panel./Photo courtesy of Art Institute of Chicago.

The Art Institute of Chicago, Northwestern University and the University of Chicago are the joint recipients of three grants awarded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to launch a four-year, inter-institutional pilot effort called the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Chicago Objects Study Initiative (COSI). The awards totaling $1,299,404 will fund developments of new training for art history graduate candidates, biannual conferences and an annual colloquium, three Mellon Research Fellows and a curatorial intern at the Art Institute, as well as the creation of a new museum position, the Mellon Academic Curator. A search for the curatorial appointment is beginning, with hopes of having it filled by August 1.

All of these efforts represent a shift to broaden the discipline of art history to include hands-on research of art objects, as well as training in curatorial practices and approaches to conservation. Read the rest of this entry »

Eye Exam: Chicago Art News

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Tony Lewis, "Ron," graphite on paper, 2012

Tony Lewis, “Ron,” graphite on paper, 2012

By Jason Foumberg

Art market blow-up

Chicago-based emerging artist Tony Lewis had his work debut in a Sotheby’s New York auction on May 15, and sold a large-scale drawing for seven times the pre-sale estimate. “Ron,” from 2012, was listed at $8,000-$12,000, but nine bidders fought until the artwork sold for $93,750. Unfortunately, neither the artist nor his local gallerist, Shane Campbell, will profit directly from this sale because “Ron” was sold on the secondary market by its previous owner, private collector Adam Sender.

How did such a young artist make such a big mark in a playing field that is usually reserved for dead painters and Jeff Koons? Sotheby’s Midwest senior vice president Gary Metzner said that Lewis’ “stars aligned,” as he was in the 2014 Whitney Biennial, shows at a popular gallery and was in a well-known art collection—even if its owner flipped the work potentially too fast. “We put the work at a conservative level because we were testing the market,” Metzner says of Lewis’ auction debut. “A lot of people are looking for the next hot artist,” he said. “Hopefully Tony is inspired by the interest in his work.” Metzner could not say who purchased Lewis’ artwork from the auction. “Ron” is titled after artist Ron Ewert. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Nilima Sheikh/Art Institute of Chicago

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Nilima Sheikh, "Dying Dreaming," 2007–10. From the Lekha and Anupam Poddar Collection

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 »

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: Christopher Williams/Art Institute of Chicago

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williams1

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Don’t look for earnest street photographs here. This art is based on research rather than on sentiment. Even so, an aesthetic emerges—cool, peevish and smart. Christopher Williams was born in Los Angeles in 1956, and is currently professor of photography at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf. Although he has had several exhibitions in Europe, this is his first American museum retrospective. Williams is a second-generation Conceptualist; his teachers included masters John Baldessari and Douglas Huebler.

Despite the diversity of artworks (early photos, text panels and appropriated imagery) what ties everything together here is the theme of production—in industry, in photography and even in display. It should no longer shock that many of Williams’ photographs, including the famous image of a tipped-over Renault (shades of Paris in 1968), were actually taken by a professional at the artist’s orders. Read the rest of this entry »

Eye Exam: Too Many Privileged White Curators in U.S. Museums

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The Art Institute of Chicago

The Art Institute of Chicago

By Jason Foumberg

A new initiative at five U.S. art museums intends to diversify the curatorial ranks at major art museums. A two-million-dollar grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation supports the initiative, the first of its kind in the U.S. The program connects college sophomores from marginalized backgrounds with curators at the five participating museums. Over four years, the students will receive professional mentoring and paid fellowships in an effort to make art museum curatorial offices as  diverse as the communities they serve.

The participating museums, including the Art Institute of Chicago, cite two reports on workplace diversity produced by the American Alliance of Museums, a museum advocacy group, from 2008 and 2010. Of the museum curators employed in the U.S., and the students enrolled in museum studies programs, over eighty percent are white, one study reported. “It is easy to see that curatorial and conservation staff in museums are not diverse,” said Mariët Westermann, vice president of the Mellon Foundation and an art historian, when reached for comment on the telephone. “We have more than enough evidence to know that underrepresentation is very real,” she said. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Dreams and Echoes: Drawings and Sculpture in the David and Celia Hilliard Collection/Art Institute of Chicago

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Jan Toorop, "A Mysterious Hand Leads to Another Path," 1893. Promised gift of Celia and David Hilliard.

Jan Toorop, “A Mysterious Hand Leads to Another Path,” 1893. Promised gift of Celia and David Hilliard.

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“If Girtin had lived, I would have starved,” declared J.M.W. Turner, one of the iconic painters of the nineteenth century. But who was Girtin? One of his watercolors can be found in the collection of David and Celia Hilliard, longtime Chicago collectors and Art Institute supporters, now on display in the Prints and Drawings gallery at the museum.  Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Violence and Virtue: Artemisia Gentileschi’s “Judith Slaying Holofernes”/Art Institute of Chicago

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Artemisia Gentileschi, "Judith Slaying Holofernes," c. 1620. Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence.

Artemisia Gentileschi, “Judith Slaying Holofernes,” c. 1620. Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence.

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What artwork would you pick if the Foundation for Italian Art and Culture offered to facilitate the loan of a masterpiece from an Italian museum? Assuming that not everything is going to be on the table, the Uffizi’s “Judith Slaying Holofernes” (c. 1620) by Artemisia Gentileschi would be a damn good choice. Chicago once had its own feminist art gallery inspired by the proto-feminist Gentileschi, called Artemisia Gallery that ran from 1973-2003.

The victim of both a rape and a sensational trial-by-torture at the age of eighteen, Gentileschi painted her first version of Judith the following year, borrowing heavily from the explicitly violent version done by Caravaggio. It was a theme she would revisit four times in her career. About eight years later, she did a modification of that first version, aging the face of Judith just as she herself had aged, and moving the bloody sword to the middle of the canvas, triangulating it between the victim’s knee and the determined woman’s outstretched arms. Wow! The murderous action really falls off the wall. Even Caravaggio’s blood-spurting tableau seems peaceful by comparison. Read the rest of this entry »