Reviews, profiles and news about art in Chicago

Review: Hebru Brantley/Chicago Cultural Center

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Hebru Brantley. "O.M.G."

Hebru Brantley. “O.M.G.”

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The large-scale canvases in Hebru Brantley’s “Parade Day Rain” document the travails and revelries of his iconic character The Fly-Boy and his accompanying crew of poly-cultural homies: all vibrant, active, bruised and soaring. Here is an incredibly fresh assemblage of a makeshift community of young people who traverse emotional territory and urban landscape with hope and heartbreak.

Based off The Tuskegee Airmen, Brantley’s Fly-Boy is a black comic-book superhero in a landscape where heroes are usually white, and criminals too often depicted as black. Often Brantley renders his characters in profile against dense pastiche backdrops filled with Nike symbols, bootleg Bart Simpsons, and Jack Johnson dropping lead fists on the head of white supremacy. Read the rest of this entry »

Portrait of the Artists: Miller & Shellabarger

Artist Profiles, Drawings, Installation, Loop No Comments »
Miller & Shellabarger. "Again Gone," installation view

Miller & Shellabarger. “Again Gone,” installation view

“Western Exhibitions shows all three of us,” say Dutes Miller and Stan Shellabarger, meaning the Chicago gallery separately represents Dutes, Stan and S&M, their collaborative practice as Miller & Shellabarger. The two met as undergraduates studying ceramics and organically began to work together on artistic projects. Twenty-one years later, the couple shares an Irving Park home and studio where individual art practices continue to grow alongside joint projects. Teaming up as Miller & Shellabarger periodically dominates their individual practices, while at other times independent work demands a hiatus from the collaborative. They have found an effortless ebb-and-flow, and three is not a crowd in this household.

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Review: Matthew Girson/Chicago Cultural Center

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Matthew Girson. "The Painter's Other Library," installation view

Matthew Girson. “The Painter’s Other Library,” installation view

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A vexatious cloud hangs low over Matthew Girson’s new exhibition “The Painter’s Other Library.” Depicting endless shelves of meticulously placed books, the artist’s many compositions are executed in a brooding, almost impenetrable palette. At first blush, they read simply as black. As the eyes adjust to the paintings’ hushed tones, book after book, arranged to echo the precision and symmetry of modernist geometric abstraction, slowly emerge from the oleaginous mire. The beguiling tension within these works is heightened by the stark white walls and cathedral-like atmosphere of the Chicago Cultural Center. Read the rest of this entry »

News: Chicago Cultural Center Launches Residency for Artists and Curators

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CCC

Applications became available on July 11 for the Chicago Cultural Center’s Studio Artist and Curatorial Residency Program. It is the first program of its kind administered by the city. Six artists will be given a studio for the three-month residencies in the Cultural Center and a $2,000 per month, restriction-free stipend. Applications are due July 31. Emerging curators selected for the fellowship will work with DCASE staff to produce exhibitions in the Cultural Center. “It’s very much an experiment and a new program for us,” says Daniel Schulman, director of visual art, when reached for comment by phone. “There are a few goals with the program,” says Schulman. “It’s a way of bringing artists to us, it increases our interaction with artists, and it allows the Cultural Center to be more of an active hub.”

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Review: 35 Years of Public Art/Chicago Cultural Center

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Nick Cave "Garden Plots" (design proposal) for West Chicago Branch Library, 6140 W. North Ave., 2007.

Nick Cave
“Garden Plots” (design proposal) for West Chicago Branch Library, 6140 West North, 2007.

“What are the first three things you think of when you think of Chicago?” asked artist Zack Wirsum, as part of his public art proposal, of one hundred Chicagoans in 2008. The answers averaged out to hot dogs, pigeons, skyscrapers and Old Style beer. Can public art ever relate to civic identity without being utterly banal?

The exhibition “35 Years of Public Art” offers many attempts to thread that needle subsequent to the 1978 “Percent for Art Ordinance” which earmarked 1.33 percent of municipal construction costs be devoted to original public artwork. Most of the pieces on display are the proposals or scale models that the artists submitted for approval, and often it’s difficult to imagine the final results.

The pencil sketch that Irene Siegel submitted for a 1985 mural in the Sulzer Library looks like it might lead to a fresh, intriguing vision of Virgil’s epic “Aeneid,” but immediate public outcry over it in the Chicago Tribune, of “elements of graffiti and horror,” led to a lawsuit and the complaint that “full and complete description of the work” had not been submitted. Read the rest of this entry »

Art Break: Luftwerk Shines a Light on Modernist Architecture

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Shift 1

The sun hung low in the sky December 10, 1777, as German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe descended from the shroud of mist that enveloped the highest peak of the Harz mountain range. For a fleeting moment, he observed his shadow cast blue on the white snow. Isaac Newton had theorized shadows as the absence of light but Goethe perceived within the darkness a myriad of hues. Color was born in the space between darkness and light.

The new media exhibition, “Shift,” by the collaborative Luftwerk at the Chicago Cultural Center, extends an exploration into the phenomenology of color. During a residency at the Institute for Electronic Arts at Alfred University, artists Petra Bachmaier and Sean Gallero studied the science of light. “We immersed ourselves in research into the color theories of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Johannes Itten and Josef Albers,” Bachmaier says. The additive color system mixes primary colors red, green and blue to create cyan, magenta and yellow. “It is painting 101,” she laughs. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Paul Natkin/Chicago Cultural Center

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Pete Townshend

Pete Townshend

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All the hype and excitement that attend a massive rock festival are in full force at this exhibition celebrating the thirty-seven-year career of Chicago’s very own world-class rock photographer Paul Natkin, who has shot all the stars from every genre, always seizing them at their most energetic and vibrant, even when they are posing for celebrity portraits. The show is dominated by large-format mega-posters of Natkin’s performance shots, which are his forte; he not only puts the viewer into the heat of the action, but he does so by capturing expressive moments which create a sense of intimacy. The lavish curating is well deserved; the images deliver on the hype. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Paint Paste Sticker: Chicago Street Art/Chicago Cultural Center

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IMG_0334

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“I bet most of the people here,” including most of the artists, “have been to lock-up at some point. And I bet there are a lot of undercover cops here,” remarked an acquaintance and one of the participants in “Paint Paste Sticker: Chicago Street Art” at the opening of the exhibition at the Chicago Cultural Center. That remark points to a big part of the success of the exhibition: the palpable tension among the art on view, the anti-vandalism laws of the city, and the intensely official civic institution that hosts the exhibition.

The exhibition’s entrance greets visitors with one of the city’s recognizable bus shelters completely covered in spray-paint executed with a recognizable Zore design. Inside is a long wall covered in artist’s stickers, tags, paste-ups and other objects that you usually see on private property across the city. It’s a virtual who’s who of Chicago sticker art with artists adding their calligraphic, tagged signatures, quick sketches or small drawings to a variety of stickers that were intended for more mundane tasks like shipping, or gathering dust at the Post Office. The wall also includes signs from the CTA such as third-rail high-voltage warnings and public service messages. These might come off as cheesy in a street art exhibition, but in the context of a city-sponsored show, the appropriated signs have a sharp edge.

Displayed neatly framed on the chaos of the sticker wall, an anti-vandalism ad sums up the tension of the street art exhibition’s site on city property. Read the rest of this entry »

Art Break: Project Onward Moves On to Bridgeport

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Rob Lentz

Rob Lentz

Project Onward is “finally completely independent” from the City of Chicago’s cultural programming office, says Rob Lentz, executive director of the gallery and studio that supports adult artists with mental and developmental disabilities. Project Onward “deserves to have its own identity,” he says, after being housed on the first floor of the Chicago Cultural Center since 2004, and fully funded by a variety of city affiliates over those nine years.

Visitors to the first-floor studios and gallery at the Cultural Center could wander in and watch the artists at work in their open studios, get a portrait drawn by a resident artist, or buy some of their work in the shop. And they did, in droves. At the Cultural Center, “we had lots of foot traffic,” says Lentz; “tens and tens and tens of thousands” of visitors. Any artist would love that kind of exposure, but if it seemed like Project Onward were a zoo exhibit, then “the visitors were the animals,” says Lentz. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Stefan Sagmeister/Chicago Cultural Center

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Photo: City of Chicago

Photo: City of Chicago

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Light, melodic music reaches the ear while you are still ascending Chicago Cultural Center’s grand staircase to “The Happy Show.” The Austrian-born, New York-based designer Stefan Sagmeister, famous for designing album covers for Aerosmith and the Rolling Stones, has been ruminating happiness for over a decade, and he presents his findings inside. At the exhibition entrance, Sagmeister warns in a handwritten text that you will not find happiness here, but he does provide a hint, one of his discovered wisdoms on reaching happiness: “Low expectations are a good strategy.” Read the rest of this entry »