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 »
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 »
Jan Toorop, “A Mysterious Hand Leads to Another Path,” 1893. Promised gift of Celia and David Hilliard.
“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 »
Artemisia Gentileschi, “Judith Slaying Holofernes,” c. 1620. Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence.
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 »
Édouard Manet, “Lady with Fans (Portrait of Nina de Callias),” 1873
By Janina Ciezadlo
Americans, who come to museums in hoodies and jeans, may have trouble imagining the complicated restrictive class-based codes that determined dress in the nineteenth-century. The Art Institute of Chicago’s new exhibition, “Impression, Fashion, and Modernity,” extends the ideas of T. J. Clark’s influential book “The Painting of Modern Life” (1999), which examined Impressionism as the intersection of radical physical, social and technological changes in Parisian life. The exhibition focuses on the emergence of a public culture and the resultant flowering of couture in Paris, as painters from the 1860s to the mid-1880s recorded it, when fashion was a sign that encompassed the full scope of modernity. Paris was, as the critic Walter Benjamin retrospectively called it in 1939, the “capital of the nineteenth century.” Read the rest of this entry »
I teach Art Appreciation at Olive Harvey, a community college on the Southeast Side of Chicago. Although Chicago claims to be a beacon of art and culture, none of my students at Olive Harvey, aged eighteen to sixty, had ever attended the Art Institute of Chicago until I took them this past semester. They have also never been to the Museum of Contemporary Art or to Theaster Gates’ Dorchester Projects, which is a quick bus ride from where most of them live. Read the rest of this entry »
Kara Walker, “Rise Up Ye Mighty Race!” (detail), 2013
If brand identity is crucial to the success of the contemporary artist, few have got one as strong as the MacArthur Fellowship recipient Kara Walker. But, nearly two decades on, Walker’s trademark silhouettes and antebellum grotesqueries are showing their age, and the artist, undoubtedly aware she has cut herself into a stylistic corner, has been making strides to broaden her approach to installation.
In her latest work “Rise Up Ye Mighty Race” commissioned specifically for the Art Institute, Walker anchors the show with several mural-scale drawings and a plethora of small, variously framed studies. The signature silhouettes are still present, though play less large a role in this homage to imaginary race war. Read the rest of this entry »
Walter Ellison, “Train Station,” 1935
The flight from oppression makes such a compelling, if predictable, story; it has been made the primary theme of this exhibition about the art of Chicago’s immigrants in the first half of the twentieth century. Since Jews have been fleeing oppressors ever since the time of Pharaoh, Chicago Jewish artists dominate the exhibition. Thanks to loans by local collectors, especially Bernard Friedman, there are many fascinating works by Todros Geller, Morris Topchevsky, Misch Kohn, Max Kahn, Aaron Bohrod, David Bekker, Rifka Angel, Fritzi Brod, Emil Armin, Leon Garland and Moholy-Nagy.
The eye-opener for me was the prints and paintings of Bernice Berkman. Her career in art was brief, but she really had a fiery spirit and a remarkable empathy not only for her own people but for displaced African Americans as well. (She ended up marrying one and running a wallpaper company with him in NYC). Read the rest of this entry »
Project Projects’ “Test Fit”
By Jason Foumberg
A new method of curating diverges from the standard model of curator-as-expert, but instead of watering down the practice by crowd-sourcing, this new train-of-thought curating culls from the seemingly endless stream of digital images in order to casually organize them. The exhibition is infinite. Image-sourced exhibitions, whether in real gallery spaces or online, tend to flatten the collected images and emphasize their logic of connections. It’s a loose logic. The organizational flow emphasizes the personality of the organizer, as well as the conditions of browsing and receiving images in a fast-paced viewing environment, rather than the slow contemplation of single images or masterpieces.
This is the case in “Test Fit,” an experimental exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago, facilitated by the museum’s curatorial department of design in which the NYC-based graphic design team Project Projects (composed of Rob Giampietro, Prem Krishnamurthy and Adam Michaels) plucked images from the museum’s permanent collection database and arranged reproductions of art objects—paintings, drawings, decorative objects and more—into an idiosyncratic display in the Modern Wing. No original art objects are included, the walls are painted mental-institution blue, and the reproduced images are all printed in black-and-white, at their original sizes. The effect of the associative image collection is almost convincing as a romp through Project Projects’ brain, but it’s their object labels that are most original. Accompanying Laszlo Moholy-Nagy’s “Nuclear 1, CH,” the label reads: “This is a painting of the end of the world. What is your strongest memory of the sky? In the city, it always looks like an illusion.” Each image is appended with these daydream narratives. The real Moholy-Nagy painting can be viewed downstairs, in another exhibition. Read the rest of this entry »
Lesley Dill. “A Word Made Flesh…Throat,” 1994. Gift of Stanley Freehling.
In conjunction with the newly opened “Picasso and Chicago” exhibit, the Art Institute’s Prints and Drawings department assembled “The Artist and the Poet”—a survey of twentieth-century collaborations and influences, though the connection is rather tenuous, as none of Picasso’s work is included within.
A poet, art critic and curator, Frank O’Hara is the most famous “poet among painters.” The curators devote ample space to his spirited collaborations, including over a half-dozen lithographs with Larry Rivers and an extraordinary print with Jasper Johns. From this last lithograph, titled “Skin with O’Hara Poem,” emerges the smeared image of a man’s face and hands pressed against glass. O’Hara’s poem, unusually gloomy, appears in faded typewriter text in the upper right corner. The ghost-like quality of the print is intensified by the fact that, of six planned prints, this was the only one realized before O’Hara’s early death in 1966. Read the rest of this entry »