Cover by Matthew Hoffman, Breakout Artist 2006. Photo: Cheryl Hinman
Breakout Artists is our annual showcase of Chicago artists we think you should know. This is our twelfth edition.
Lists like these always risk reduction, betray biases and can say more about the limits of their host publication’s scope than about the worthiness of artists—those mentioned or not. They persist as conversation starters: their value isn’t solely in what is printed here, but in the excited discussions and debates that proceed from them. Our circulation spikes around these featured lists, and so does the mail we receive. Understanding those contexts is an important part of appreciating what a list like our annual Breakout Artists can and can’t do.
But while many lists of this sort are ranked or correspond to particular forms of prestige, our Breakout Artists have always been determined by a more mysterious (and certainly subjective) calculus. I had to begin by wondering out of what these artists were meant to be breaking. This year, we are celebrating and advocating for ten artists’ practices who have seen breakthroughs in their work and are breaking out into higher stakes, wider visibility, a broader range of media, or expansions of what art can accomplish. Their practices subvert racial and gender stereotypes, crisscross into adjacent fields like illustration and design, enmesh studio work with curating and other socially engaged creative moves, run amuck in traditional mediums like painting and sculpture, while also finding ways to work in new places outside galleries or on the web.
The artists we’ve selected are at different stages of their careers; this is not an emerging artist list, although a couple have recently completed BFAs. If there is a common feature, it is one that shows the continued gravitational pull of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago on the arts cultivated in this town. Despite being one of the most expensive college educations in the country (for art or anything else) and in the face of perpetual wondering about the relevance of higher education, each of this year’s Breakout Artists have brushed through SAIC—whether studying there or, like me, teaching there. These artists’ work happens not only in sanctioned art world temples, but in apartment spaces far out on the Green Line, in the neighborhoods surrounding Cook County Jail, from Rogers Park to Washington Park, and sometimes in Canada. Whether in major arts institutions or in the dispersed expanded field of where creative exploration can happen, these are artists worth knowing about and watching out for the great things they are doing. (Matt Morris)
Alberto Aguilar. “Forms of Communication,” 2015
desks and display sign lettering, photo by Juliet S. Eldred (UofC class of 2017)
We’re excited to have Alberto Aguilar’s “Crossing Boundaries” text as the eighth in our Visiting Artist column, a recurring feature in which Newcity invites an artist to produce a text in relation to their current art practice. Here Aguilar adds writing into an exploration that brings all aspects of his life into his residency at University of Chicago’s Arts Incubator.
One-thousand words are what I am allotted to write this so I will not waste one and use all. Words have the ability to get one from the top of the page to the bottom and if arranged just right communicate something clearly to the reader.
I am a Crossing Boundaries Resident Artist through the Arts Incubator and the Center for the Study of Race, Politics, and Culture. This began in January and will last for five months. When given this title I could not fully understand what it meant or what boundaries I should cross. Rather than be overtly political I decided I would simply fold all aspects of my life into this residency. During the five months all shows that I am in, my teaching, the visiting artist program that I coordinate, my travels, my family, my new dog, my interaction with others, my curatorial projects, my other residencies are my Crossing Boundaries residency. I figured that by making everything part of the residency some boundaries would inevitably be crossed. Even upon being given the opportunity to write this a few days ago I decided it too would be part of my residency. That every word I write here would be a product of it, proof that boundaries were crossed. In this case the boundary between you and I is being transgressed through the vehicle of this publication and my 1,000 words. Read the rest of this entry »
Esau McGee. “Untitled Chicago Ave. Landscape,”2013, mixed medium collage, 24 x 24 inches
Selected from more than 100 nominees, the Hyde Park Art Center has announced the artists to be exhibited in its third biennial exhibition Ground Floor: Evan Baden, Hannah Barco, Greg Browe, Houston Cofield, Maggie Crowley, Barbara Diener, Assaf Evron, Andrew Holmquist, Kelly Lloyd, Jesse Malmed, Esau McGee, Ben Murray, Celeste Rapone, Kyle Schlie, Tina Tahir, Keijaun Thomas, Daniel Tucker, Ramyar Vala, Julie Weber and Nicole Wilson. All of these artists have recently completed their Masters in Fine Arts at five of Chicago’s highly ranked MFA programs: Columbia College Chicago, Northwestern University, The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, The University of Chicago and the University of Illinois at Chicago. Read the rest of this entry »
Exterior view, Cargo Space bus, 2014
Parked in the Papermaker’s Garden, Columbia College Chicago, Wabash at 8th/Photo: April Alonso
“Cargo Space: Chicago/Milwaukee,” an exhibition running simultaneously at A + D Gallery in Chicago and INOVA in Milwaukee, is built around a mobile residency housed on a twenty-seven-foot diesel bus, a conceptual project formed by collaborators Christopher Sperandio and Simon Grennan, sponsored by Rice University in Houston, and propelled by a desire to physically connect artists and audiences that are geographically distant through a mobile platform. Among the included artists (a sprawling group of Chicago and Milwaukee based makers) is Erik L. Peterson who has staged the work “Stretch Limo (94),” 2014, a site-specific installation at INOVA, a building that originally housed an automobile factory. Read the rest of this entry »
Ivan Brunetti’s comic strip in the March 7 issue of The New Yorker illustrates the frustrations of an art teacher who, from the students’ perspective, teaches too much. It ends badly: a student asks if computers can be used on the homework assignment, and the teacher, exiting the class, mutters to himself, “I’m wasting my life.” It’s not a funny comic, exactly, but this is The New Yorker, and while Brunetti does admit to using computers in his own work, they only aid in the production stages, not the creative. With computers, “there is no discovery, only micro-managing,” writes Brunetti in his new book, “Cartooning: Philosophy and Practice.” The how-to cartoon manual, structured like his fifteen-week course of the same title at Columbia College, is full of Brunetti’s brand of self-effacing, wry perspectives on life and art, and it’s also a complete starter’s guide to creating comics—not just the slapstick and pulp fantasies of the Sunday funnies, but the diaristic, bittersweet realisms of contemporary life, a genre populated by Charles Schulz, Chris Ware, and Brunetti, of course.
Like David Hockney, who makes one drawing a day on his iPad—one of which is featured on that same The New Yorker’s cover (ah, irony)—Brunetti expounds the importance of keeping a daily drawing practice. There is no substitution, and no excuse, for not working daily on one’s craft. “Unfortunately, you will probably have to draw 100 bad pages before you draw a good one; there are no shortcuts,” he writes in “Cartooning.” Persistence will lead to consistency, which will lead to an individual style. Developing this craft is one of Brunetti’s main lessons in his cartooning manual. Read the rest of this entry »
A sticker by Alvendia
“I am for an art that embroils itself with the everyday crap & still comes out on top,” wrote Claes Oldenburg, in 1961, in a non-traditional artist statement titled “I am for an art.” Brandon Alvendia would like to see more artists define their practices in light of Oldenberg’s spirited dictums. He reframes Oldenburg’s “everyday crap” into “everyday pragmatism.” It’s a phrase that guides his own work. “How do I make best use of this,” he continually asks himself.
Alvendia re-purposes things at every turn, from bargain-priced floppy discs (gutted, they make good CD cases) to out-of-print books that he photocopies and binds into paperback books for free distribution. Not everything that he re-purposes is an object, though. For example, exhibitions are readymade platforms for the creative presentation of other artists’ work. “Curating is my art practice,” says Alvendia. For the Miami art fairs in 2007, he exhibited the work of ten artists in his wallet, a fitting context for the moneyed affair but also an economic means of exposure for the ten artists.
Alvendia’s latest artistic-slash-curatorial mission is “Fair Use: Information Piracy and Creative Commons in Contemporary Art and Design,” which recently opened at Columbia College, where he teaches part-time. The exhibition features about a dozen artists who test the limits of copyright law. Image appropriation has been a hot topic since the 1980s, but the rules of the game keep changing. As the law adapts to deal with artistic interventions, artists keep pushing the envelope. Read the rest of this entry »
Matthew Metzger, "Re-release: Discourse." Acrylic and Oil on Panel.
By Rachel Furnari
“I’m a romantic about everything else in my life, but not about art school,” says Erin Chlaghmo, who begins her MFA program in Fiber and Material Studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) this fall. Romanticism, though, may be exactly what’s required to assume the burden of debt that comes with a degree that can cost upwards of $40,000 a year for a two- or three-year program. Chlaghmo is one of an increasing number of artists to pursue their graduate degrees in studio-arts without the guarantee of a lucrative career (or even a living wage) to pay off their student loans. Most students have a surprising and unmitigated enthusiasm for their graduate work despite being aware of the low odds for successfully working full-time as an artist—of being chosen out of the 300-plus yearly graduates for a show with one of a few commercial galleries in Chicago—and the attendant financial risks that have been exacerbated by the current economic environment.
In interviews with students from five local studio-art MFA programs—Columbia College, Northwestern, SAIC, the University of Chicago (U of C) and the University of Illinois-Chicago (UIC)—descriptions of access to faculty, visiting artists, financial aid, professional development programs and limited material resources reveal how these artists make use of their programs to create art; to think, to network, to teach and, most importantly, to have a stake in an ongoing, critical conversation about contemporary art—though the quality of this conversation was definitely up for debate. While these schools have their differences, their students and graduates make up an undeniable segment of the contemporary art scene in Chicago and in a real way represent its future. Their institutional alignments, then, are crucial in determining how and in what direction the Chicago scene develops. By identifying those alignments it may be possible to better understand how the energy and creativity of these students might be expended in order to transform contemporary art in Chicago. Can the arts community undo the institutional biases in order to acknowledge the means by which art schools shape the Chicago art environment for practitioners, curators, dealers, audiences and critics? Read the rest of this entry »
With only a week before graduation, the real world, and Sallie Mae loan officers descend, the seniors and graduate students of Columbia College will gather on Friday, May 15 for the seventh annual Manifest Urban Arts Festival. Though past festivals have boasted impressive musical headliners like OK Go and Lupe Fiasco, budget cutbacks have brought the focus of this year’s festival back to the students’ endeavors. Student artwork will be on sale throughout the festival, whose various hot spots in the South Loop Arts Corridor will be accessible via the free Chicago Trolley or by good, old-fashioned foot power. Read the rest of this entry »
Carol Wax, "Writer's Blocks," mezzotint
By Steven Wirth
If you happen to be curious about the current state of affairs in the wide world of printmaking then look no further than the forthcoming Southern Graphics Council’s annual conference hosted by Columbia College and Anchor Graphics from March 25–29. Established in 1972, the Southern Graphics Council, or SGC as it is commonly called, is the largest print organization in North America, and each year its annual conference is the largest celebration of printmaking of its kind.
The conference itself means many different things to many different people: Read the rest of this entry »
“This exhibition is about sustainability,” a wall text declares at the beginning of “Criteria.” What the show is not about, curators Jimena Acosta and Emiliano Godoy stress, is “green design, ecology, environmentalism” and other hot-button issues. The effort to distinguish their goals from those other movements’ lies partly in the organizers’ overtly fatalistic outlook. None of that ‘we can do it if we try (and buy green)’ brand of consumer-oriented optimism; this show wants to drill us out of complacency by confronting the miserable human costs of unsustainable growth.
At this, it largely succeeds. “Criteria” is beautifully installed, providing an aesthetically compelling framework for its grim subject matter. The coupling of artists and up-and-coming designers heightens the sense that this is a laboratory for ideas. Most of the design is more conceptual than practical in nature. For example, a network of stoneware piggy banks with curlicue incandescent bulbs doubling as tails, and a wax pendent lamp that melts when illuminated question wasteful patterns of energy consumption without being useful themselves.
The show’s large-scale color photographs tend towards the “vast gorgeous wasteland” variety that’s become a photographic cliché, but at least in this context they retain their essential bleakness. As is common in thematic shows, the curators have selected works that further their own agenda but threaten to slide into “message art” territory. Good art is polysemic; good design, concise. The show’s most memorable projects fall into the latter category, but so provocative are its underlying principles that everyone’s work is shown to its best advantage. (Claudine Isé)
Through February 28 at A+D Gallery, 619 S. Wabash.