Reviews, profiles and news about art in Chicago

Newcity’s Top 5 of Everything 2008: Art & Museums

News etc., Top 5 Lists No Comments »

Top 5 Exhibitions

Anne Wilson, Rhona Hoffman Gallery

Watercolors by Winslow Homer, Art Institute of Chicago

“Adaptation,” Smart Museum

Chuck Walker, Hyde Park Art Center

Mark Wagner, Western Exhibitions

—Jason Foumberg

Top 5 Art Shows

Jenny Holzer, “Protect, Protect,” Museum of Contemporary Art

Edra Soto, “The Soto-Chacon Show,” Rowland Contemporary Gallery

Alan Lerner, Art on Armitage

“Made in Chicago: Portraits form the Bank of America,” LaSalle Collection/Chicago Cultural Center

“Benin—Kings and Rituals: Court Arts from Nigeria,” Art Institute of Chicago

—Marla Seidell

Top Five Photography Shows

Delilah Montoya, La Llorona Gallery

Jowhara Alsaud, Schneider Gallery

Frederic Chaubin, Chicago Architecture Foundation

Jill Frank, Golden Gallery

Carla Gannis, Kasia Kay Art Projects

—Michael Weinstein

Top 5 Museum Shows

“The Smart Home: Green + Wired,” Museum of Science and Industry

“Chic Chicago,” Chicago History Museum

“The Glass Experience,” Museum of Science and Industry

“Soul Soldiers: African Americans and the Vietnam War,” DuSable Museum

“Nature Unleashed: Inside Natural Disasters,” Field Museum

—Laura Hawbaker

Top 5 Museum Shows

Edward Hopper, Art Institute

“Twisted Into Recognition: Clichés of Jews and Others,” Spertus Museum

“Watercolors by Winslow Homer: The Color of Light,” Art Institute

“Earth From Space,” Museum of Science and Industry

“Benin—Kings and Rituals: Court Arts from Nigeria,” Art Institute

—Dennis Polkow

Top 5 Freshest Art Spaces

Swimming Pool Project Space

Old Gold

Hyde Park Art Center

65 Grand

No Coast

—Jason Foumberg

Top 5 Art Spaces We’ll Miss



Garden Fresh

Contemporary Art Workshop

32nd & Urban

—Jason Foumberg

Top 5 Contemporary Art Exhibitions about Nature

“Biological Agents” at Gallery 400

Lora Fosberg at Linda Warren Gallery

“The Leaf and the Page,” Illinois State Museum Chicago Gallery

“Future Farmers,” Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum

Claire Sherman, Kavi Gupta Gallery

—Jason Foumberg

Top 5 Art Exhibitions About Food

Maria Tomasula, Zolla/Lieberman Gallery

“Portraying Food in Contemporary Chinese Art,” Walsh Gallery

“Sugarcraft,” Kasia Kay Art Projects Gallery

Pamela Michelle Johnson, Urbanest

Isabelle du Toit, Byron Roche Gallery

—Jason Foumberg

Top 5 Feminist Art Exhibitions

“Ladylike,” Gosia Koscielak Gallery

“Henbane: Dialectics of the Feminine Sublime,” Medicine Park

“Are We There Yet? 40 Years of Feminism,” ARC Gallery

Amelia Falk, ARC Gallery

“A Minyan Without Men,” Woman Made Gallery

—Jason Foumberg

Top 5 Exhibitions/Events at Alt-Art Spaces

“Tomorrow,” Vega Estates

“The Baby,” Knock Knock Gallery

“Pere Portabella’s Masterpiece Vampir-Cuadecuc,” White Light Cinema

Sumi Ink Club and Lucky Dragons, Golden Age

“Zummer Tapez: Jim Trainor,” Roots and Culture

 —Tim Ridlen

Eye Exam: Contemporary Art Workshop Bids Farewell

Galleries & Museums, Lincoln Park, News etc. No Comments »
Alan Lunak's studio, c. 1960s

Alan Lunak's studio, c. 1960s

By Jason Foumberg

“He’s dead, and he’s dead, and he’s dead…” says Lynn Kearney with a little laughing sigh of disbelief as she flips through artist files spanning the whole sixty-year history of the Contemporary Art Workshop. The Lincoln Park exhibition space and artist studios will close to the public January 23. Kearney’s meticulous files of show cards, exhibition reviews and documentary photographs will soon join the Chicago History Museum’s archives, a testament to the CAW’s long-standing and deeply-entrenched relationship with the city’s emerging artist scene.

The mission of the space, since its inception in 1949, has been to grant young artists their first solo exhibition and maintain affordable studios. As she packed up the files, Lynn, who is a founding member with husband Jack Kearney, came across a notice to an artist from the 1960s. She was apologetic to notify the artist that his studio rent was being raised from $12.50 to $15 per month. Even today, the CAW has maintained relatively inexpensive studio spaces for working artists, averaging $250–300 per month, approximately half the rent an artist might find elsewhere. To boot, the community-based spirit of the venue helped form a network of artists, both in-house and throughout the city. Its massive exhibition roster includes Ellen Lanyon, Ruth Duckworth, and Jim Lutes.

The current Lincoln Park building holds about twenty studios with hallways that zigzag through rooms carved out of the idiosyncratic second and third floor spaces. Walls of Kearney’s office have been cobbled together from drywall and pegboard. The two exhibition galleries have adequate, but not pristine, walls and lighting. This has been the CAW’s charm—artist-run, handmade, and surviving as a non-profit by the skin of its teeth for sixty years. “We wanted to build our own world,” says Kearney.

25th Anniversary Show, 1975

25th Anniversary Show, 1975

The CAW moved to their present location on West Grant Place near Lincoln Avenue in 1960. The largely affluent residential neighborhood with upscale boutiques and cafés wasn’t always so. Fifty years ago, when Jack spotted the site, Lincoln Park was mainly rooming houses. In February the Kearneys sold their 10,000 square-foot, three-story building for $2.2 million to John Supera, who owns a large apartment business in Chicago, and it is rumored that noted architect John Vinci, who recently redesigned the Art Institute’s European painting galleries, has been brought on board for the redevelopment. Whether the building is transformed into lofts or a mansion, it is a landmark building, so the CAW’s stately brick façade will need to be preserved.

“I love to work,” says Lynn, who’s been running the CAW with Jack and various curatorial assistants since its inception; “I have about another five-to-ten years left in me to continue the space.” But Jack, 84, who has a studio on the ground floor for his large figurative sculptures made from shiny automobile parts—these can be seen on nearby Lincoln Park lawns and in Oz Park—is beginning to feel the effects of a degenerative eye condition.

Rufus Zogbaum's studio, c. 1981

Rufus Zogbaum's studio, c. 1981

In1949 the CAW found its first home on Rush Street at the corner of Michigan Avenue. At the time there was a building that lay empty for years—it was originally built as the McCormick family’s carriage house. The founding members of CAW with the Kearneys—Leon Golub, Cosmo Campoli, Ray Fink, Al Kwitz (all deceased now)—headed north after the wrecking ball arrived. Today, the site is occupied by the Ralph Lauren store and restaurant.

“We’ve always been non-profit,” jokes Kearney about how they’ve barely earned enough money to pay the heating bills. But Jack steadily receives new sculpture commissions—as I visited a large horse was being welded by assistants—and they’ve been able to spend summers at their Cape Cod home. Fundraising has always been a challenge, and some grants can take a month to assemble, says Lynn, but they’ve received support consistently. When the National Endowment for the Arts started up in the 1960s, they approached the CAW and asked them to apply, noting the CAW’s exemplary support structure. At their final opening reception earlier this month, Lincoln Park’s alderman presented the Kearneys with a commendation from Mayor Daley.

Thinking on the past sixty years, Lynn says she’s been grateful to know so many artists. And she’s seen it all, avant-garde people and ideas, and styles ranging from abstract to figurative, trends emerging and fading and reappearing. “Artists are the most trustworthy people,” she says with satisfaction. Pointing to a large gooey abstract painting by SAIC student Angel Otero in her office, she remarks that the kid’s got the goods. Her passion for art continues, even if CAW doesn’t.

Contemporary Art Workshop is located at 542 West Grant Place

Summer Camp

Installation, Multimedia, Painting, River West No Comments »

By Jason Foumberg

The art world in summer is pretty quiet, so if a gallery isn’t shuttered while the staff vacations in St. Barts, they’re likely having the ubiquitous summer show, which usually amounts to revisiting the stock that didn’t sell from the past few seasons. Sure, it’s forgivable to take a break, but what’s an art enthusiast to do when the temperatures get too high, and the cool white cube beckons? Some galleries take the opportunity to take a risk with their summer show by exhibiting artists and ideas just a touch outside of what’s safe during the in-season. Here’s a few worth checking out.

“Summer Group Show” at Contemporary Art Workshop

This venue, perhaps the oldest non-profit visual-arts space in Chicago, has been granting solo exhibits for emerging artists as long as anyone can remember. The summer group show, installed in two sessions (July-August and August-September) continues the mission. On view are twenty-two works by nine artists, all either in art school or recently graduated, from Chicago and beyond. The media ranges from painting to sculpture to installation, most of which are stylistically similar: controlled messiness, lots of black paired with neon colors, graphically strong, and for lack of a better word, hip, as if everyone went on a field trip to New York’s New Museum and took extensive notes at the “Unmonumental” exhibit. That’s fine; it looks great and feels fresh, and there’s something to say for making an attractive picture even if meaning isn’t immediately available.

542 West Grant Place, (773)472-4004

“Several Landscapes and 3 Landscapes (or more) in the Modern Style” at Western Exhibitions

Closing out Western Exhibitions’ season before it moves to the North Peoria hotspot is a show with a loose curatorial premise about landscape. Most of the paintings discuss mankind’s involvement with nature. Megan Euker’s studies in oil continue a series wherein she observes bathers who use water for healing purposes. (Larger paintings are currently on view at Linda Warren Gallery.) Her brush is getting to a point of confident application, similar to Claire Sherman’s small studies of large events in nature, such as a geyser or a crater. In a painting by Dan Attoe a Native American ghost gazes out from a scene with pristine mountainscape, and an inscribed phrase warns, “There is no life on other planets.” The sentence is perhaps in response to a nearby painting by Kevin Cosgrove of a semi-truck on a murky road with an ashy sky and a cloud that hangs like a crusty stain.

The highlight of the exhibit is the smaller back gallery with landscapes in the “Modern style,” likely a jokey title that culls all the ghosts of landscape-painting’s past. Indeed, art-historical influences abound here in a joyful way. Carl Baratta’s expressionist painting “The Faithful Protector (after Nick Englebert)” is a slight departure from his comic-book style. The monstrous characters are pushed back, and there’s a narrative about a spirit protecting a (dead?) body lying in a forest clearing. Baratta’s sense of color reigns, and the whole scene undulates from ground to sky.

1821 West Hubbard, (312)307-4685, Saturdays through August 16

“Paper Love” at Devening Projects + Editions

The show includes only work on paper, with more than seventy pieces on view hung frame to frame, and two sculptures (made from paper, of course). Subjects range from the humorous to the strictly compositional, and styles include non-objective and figurative. Devening is clearly a formalist, as most works contain a strong sense of smart and tight artistically intuitive compositions, such as Rodney Carswell, Susanne Doremus, Howard Fonda and William Conger. As most of the artists on view are working in Chicago the exhibit gives a great overview of current practices in the city.

3039 West Carroll, Saturdays through August 8.

Also on view: A single work by one artist graces the gallery for only one week throughout the summer in “Rotations” at Rowley Kennerk Gallery (119 North Peoria). “CSI Biennale” at Flatfile Galleries (217 North Carpenter) showcases sculptures by thirty-five international sculptors, through August 22. 

Review: Harold Mendez and Amy Honchell/Contemporary Art Workshop

Multimedia, River West No Comments »


Harold Mendez exhibits six paintings and a full wall installation. One not familiar with Mendez’s work might miss the work, “A sort of perverse signature,” since it blends with the gallery walls. The single sculptural piece, “A teenage love that didn’t feel no hurt,” is accompanied by the study drawing which was more intriguing than the piece, though the mixed media sculpture has a captivating presence in the barren gallery room. In an odd way the leaning wooden form did evoke images of childhood and innocence. If “We are alike and worse than mirrors of each other” was the only piece in the room this exhibit still would be worth a visit. This small drawing is open to floods of interpretation and personal representation, a piece to stand and look at for hours. This collection breaks away from Mendez’s usual work of societal and political statements. The exhibit is more of the artist and less of the cause. These are pieces Mendez created for himself, perhaps on a day off. Amy Honchell’s “Points of Impact” is on display in the second gallery space. It is very exciting that “Purl,” composed of thread and cloth, joins this collection. Seeing “Purl” is like being introduced to the mother where the children are all of Honchell’s colorful ink drawings. “Purl” is the single piece that screams a prediction of success and fame for Honchell. Her drawings bring to mind landscapes, skin and arteries, making the connection between humans and the material of the world. The swirling, melting colored layers of Honchell’s work are a great representation of time and the many layers of life. Her interest in architecture is evident in her work and her studies in fiber and material have given her an understanding of the most dramatic and meaningful way to use a given substance. (Rachel Turney)

Through June 20 at Contemporary Art Workshop, 542 West Grant Place, (773)472-4004.

Breakout Artists 2008: Chicago’s next generation of image makers

Artist Profiles, Breakout Artists 2 Comments »

By Jason Foumberg, with contributions from Brittany Reilly

The Department of Cultural Affairs and the Chicago Artists’ Coalition report that there are an estimated 80,000 artists and “creative types” in Chicago. So it was an exceedingly difficult decision to feature seven, or about one one-hundredth of one percent of the 80,000. The criteria for inclusion were based loosely on the notion of an emerging artist—youngish, industrious and under-recognized—but as Luke Batten of New Catalogue mentioned, artists are always emerging. True enough. The seven Chicago artists deemed 2008’s Breakouts exhibit a propensity toward change, as if a ceaseless interest in learning new things and playing with new materials are the marks of the contemporary artist. Artists are less and less becoming pigeonholed in their own practice, for everything is available, all the time. No longer is there a need to specialize, unless self-reinvention is a specialty.

Kelly Kaczynski

Kelly Kaczynski has built two mountains that will crash into each other. “I don’t make small things,” remarks Kaczynski as she modestly gestures toward her mountains, each a sixteen-foot-tall kinetic sculpture, a spiraling scaffold of raw lumber and metal armatures. Visitors to the her exhibition at Hyde Park Art Center are asked to ascend the stairs to a stage—there are two of them that face each other, each with its own mountain—and to grab a rope, and pull. Underneath the stage is a pulley system that moves these mountains, as if the person activating the rope is riding plate tectonics. A bridge of pointed arms connects the hulking, twisting mountains. These will slowly dig into each other, pushing on the opposing spines that will buckle, crack and collapse. Read the rest of this entry »


River West, Video, West Loop No Comments »

By David Mark Wise

Kirsten Leenaars’ “Travelogue of a Stationary Dreamer” is a fragile and vulnerable video installation now showing at the Contemporary Art Workshop (CAW), a space that always seems about to be swallowed up, even though the CAW has been around for decades. It is the first video installation CAW has mounted in its fifty-eight-year history, and the space is well-suited to the demanding—and rewarding—act of meditation that Leenaars’ work demands.

At one end of a dark room, a pile of paper airplanes is lit by the blue screen of a blank TV set. At the other end is a video projection. In the video a man sits at a table and diligently folds paper airplanes. The TV is on. We are in Samuel Beckett territory.

Paper is everywhere—folded, fallen paper, suggesting messages, thoughts, emails, forming a mound like a grave. This silent mountain of paper on the side of the room opposite the video projection is a monument, the finished result, of what is going on in the video: the man’s strained, repetitive motions of folding and sending, folding and sending, his image distorted and interrupted by projected shadows and cutout animation.

The TV here is the TV of childhood, the drone of listless afternoons, of the nothing that is always on: war movies, murmuring narrations. Leenaars edited down many hours of actual broadcasts and turned the images into simple black-and-white paper-collage animations in a style reminiscent of William Kentridge. The result is projected into a hollowed-out TV, whose screen has been replaced by paper, slightly wrinkled.

For Leenaars, the opened-up television suggests how “as a kid, you imagine things happening in that cabinet space” of the television set. “Originally, I wanted somebody living inside of a television,” Leenaars says, “but the television became more like a symbolic space, one that we all live in.”

In the video the sound of the television plays like a media feed that is also an inner voice, the captivated thoughts of a worker engaged in a menial, manual task.

But when the man turns to the camera and begins to sing Eden Ahbez’s “Nature Boy,” he does so with a suavity and grace that is disturbingly enjoyable (he is played by Dale Schriemer, an opera singer based in Michigan). And then the man in the TV raises his remote, and switches you off.

On the other side of town, in Jillian McDonald’s show at ThreeWalls, the little girl from “Poltergeist” says, “Hello, what do you look like?” and passes through the surface of the TV screen. A gaunt figure climbs out of a well, walks towards the screen and passes back through it again into the real world of ringing office phones, looking very evil and scary and dripping.

Much of McDonald’s work involves passing from the everyday world into the world of the mediated fantasy life of movies, TV and celebrity culture. In “The Sparkling” a crystal chandelier trembles as the viewer approaches the screen. Access to the other world is held out and then denied (but we get a little interactivity as compensation).

This other world of mediated fantasy life is a gigantic system of production, distribution and consumption, and McDonald has inserted herself into its supply chain in an unauthorized way. As an art of “public intervention” it is different from what she has done in the past—some years ago she was handing out candy to strangers in the New York subway, and after the September 11 attacks she was embroidering protective mantras on people’s favorite items of clothing.

Later, in her “Me and Billy Bob” project, she digitally inserted herself into love scenes in the movies of Billy Bob Thornton, and crossed that same divide of the TV screen that is seen in the mash-up of “Poltergeist” and “The Ring.” When she looks back triumphantly after each screen kiss, she acknowledges this trespass onto intellectual property, and claims a little bit for everybody.

The two zombie videos on display at ThreeWalls were secretly taped on public transportation by friends of McDonald’s. In “Vamp It Up” she sits among the passengers on the Forest Park Blue Line and begins to apply makeup, not stopping until her face is that of a brain-hungry corpse. The friend I was with did not appreciate it that a Williamsburg hipster would come here and presume to show us how to be zombies on the Blue Line, as if we were not already good at it. A point about class should be noted: it may be that zombie movies are always about the rising up of the oppressed and unwashed. In the New York segment, we see puzzlement, fear and even hatred registering on the faces of the riders as they take in what she is doing. They look at her furtively, processing what she is doing, maybe trying to decide what to think, and projecting on her their own fantasies about what she is. Or, maybe, just fantasizing about her delicious brain.

Kirsten Leenaars, “Travelogue of a Stationary Dreamer,” shows at Contemporary Art Workshop, 542 West Grand Place, (773)472-4004, through May 13. Jillian McDonald, “Horror Stories,” shows at ThreeWalls, 119 North Peoria, (312)432-3972, through May 10.

Review: Angel Otero/Contemporary Art Workshop

Painting, River West No Comments »


With explosions in color and heavily textured brush strokes, Angel Otero’s paintings reflect his childhood experiences in his native Puerto Rico. Subtle clues among the work’s seemingly chaotic nature allows one to piece together excitement, passion and abstracted narratives. A light blue, translucent funnel in “George’s Quick Visit” alludes to Hurricane Georges, with scribbled black lines representing carnage that the storm reaped on the isle. A heavily swirled mesh of turquoise, olive and fluorescent green below could be a tempestuous sea or a field of crops, pieces ripped up from the surface as specks of acrylic dance beneath the funnel. In other more abstract pieces the narrative is harder to decipher, more indicative of moods of the Puerto Rican community as it deals with, as Otero says, the “limitations of poorness.” Scattered acrylic strokes of rough, rose, mustard and teal mixed with scribbled crayon in “Eight Foot Two” evoke the disarray and excitement of Carnivale. But intentional unbalance and color clashes make any solid narrative fleeting. The texture and vibrant color in Otero’s work gives the viewer much decipher in his “puzzles of paint.” (Ben Broeren)

Through May 13 at Contemporary Art Workshop, 542 West Grant Place, (773)472-4004.

Eye Exam: The Manifold World

Garfield Park, Lincoln Park, Painting No Comments »

By Jason Foumberg

Abstract painting made by young, academically trained artists is finding solid ground to run on in Chicago. Although it sometimes seems relegated to the realm of the decorative, doomed by its own prettiness and scorned by witty tricksters still feeding from the Warholian trough of dry humor, abstract painting finds hope on the brushes of a few young artists and rises (again). “What if abstraction is still young, only in its infant stage?” muses artist Jason Karolak. Although the cavemen were doing it, abstract art wasn’t self-aware or purposefully abstract until about 150 years ago.
Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Michael Anthony Simon

Lincoln Park, Multimedia No Comments »


MICHAEL ANTHONY SIMON, “Indirection,” multimedia. Michael Anthony Simon’s use of angles, texture and lighting shows that a viewer’s relative place and time determine the depth of observation. What appears to be a painted red box interrupted by streaks of white from far away turns out to be a parallelogram as one comes closer, stepping to either side of the painting. As the viewer changes position to see all the angles, the act of viewing becomes an interactive attempt to understand the work in its entirety. Complete perception of a sphere hanging from an adjacent wall is nearly impossible. The light refracting off the globe’s lacquer finish portrays a continual corona of emerald with a rich magenta center wherever the viewer stands. A sculpture without pattern seems to portray a mélange of flags, with strips of orange crossing strips of black, hyacinthine and fluorescent green. The structure itself is very angular and disconnected, almost seeming to resemble letters. But the structure does not emerge as anything concrete regardless of how many observations the viewer makes. While trying to get an understanding of Simon’s pieces, the chaos created by ephemeral perceptions is not easily reconciled. When interpreting visual stimuli, does any meaning need to be gained?
(Ben Broeren) Through December 4 at Contemporary Art Workshop

Review: Michael Anthony Simon, “Indirection”

Lincoln Park, Multimedia No Comments »

Michael Anthony Simon’s use of angles, texture and lighting shows that a viewer’s relative place and time determine the depth of observation. What appears to be a painted red box interrupted by streaks of white from far away turns out to be a parallelogram as one comes closer, stepping to either side of the painting. As the viewer changes position to see all the angles, the act of viewing becomes an interactive attempt to understand the work in its entirety. Complete perception of a sphere hanging from an adjacent wall is nearly impossible. Read the rest of this entry »