Reviews, profiles and news about art in Chicago

Review: Gina Litherland, Gertrude Abercrombie and Julia Thecla/Corbett vs. Dempsey

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Gina Litherland, “Wolf Alice (for Angela Carter),” 2011, oil on Masonite

Gina Litherland, “Wolf Alice (for Angela Carter),” 2011, oil on Masonite


Historic Chicago surrealists Gertrude Abercrombie (1909–1977) and Julia Thecla (1896–1973) are tough acts to follow. They were not so much makers of weird paintings as tough, weird women who liked to paint. Only two small paintings by Abercrombie are included in this exhibition, but they’re enough to establish her as a master of economy, delivering a maximum of impact with an apparent minimum of effort—whereas the two small paintings by Thecla proclaim her a virtuoso of figurative design who seemed to have enjoyed complexity for its own sake. Contemporary surrealist Gina Litherland, who has been boldly paired with them in this exhibition, seems a bit tame by comparison. Read the rest of this entry »

Eye Exam: New Moves in Chicago Sculpture

Sculpture 14 Comments »

By Jason Foumberg

It’s an exciting moment for sculpture in Chicago. I’ve tracked a few patterns in contemporary object-making through these nine current exhibitions.

IMG_5281Jun Kaneko at Millennium Park
The newest addition of public art to Millennium Park (for seven months) are dozens of large glazed ceramic sculptures by Jun Kaneko, a Japanese-born, Omaha-based artist who should be familiar to Chicagoans (he’s shown here seventeen times in the past thirty years, but not since 2003.) All of the ceramic sculptures are graphically painted (polka dots, mummy tape) in bright colors. On the Randolph Street side are standing figures, tall and fat as taxidermied bears, but with pig faces and Looney Tunes eyes. There’s a hoard of them, and they’re a little freaky (one has blue nipples). On the Monroe Street side are tablet-shaped objects, the size of tombs, similarly painted. I almost scorned these sculptures—they verge on Cows on Parade kitsch—until I read the artist’s description. The figures are Tanuki, or mythical Japanese trickster characters with jazzy skin and desperate smiles. They’re pleasurably sinister, and a little more non-denominational than the Buddha heads spouting all over Chicago, by Indira Johnson.
Through November 3 at Millennium Park. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Richard Koppe/Corbett vs. Dempsey

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A gouache from 1938

A gouache from 1938


This exhibition bookends the career of Richard Koppe (1916-1973). One wall is lined with delicate, subtly colored gouache miniatures from 1938 when the twenty-two-year-old was fresh out of art school in St. Paul and Chicago. The opposite walls are hung with the large, aggressive, hard-edge panels from a 1970 exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art. What’s missing is the more lighthearted, whimsical work from his middle years spent as a designer and instructor at the Institute of Design.
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EXPO Chicago Report: The Message from Vernissage

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By Robin Dluzen

“It feels like the old times,” former Chicago art dealer Melanee Cooper told me last night at EXPO’s Vernissage, “but it feels fresh at the same time”—a sentiment I heard echoed almost word-for-word throughout the opening night. In many opinions, Tony Karman and his fair have already succeeded on a number of fronts: EXPO’s Studio Gang interior is beautiful, the art is amazing, the food rocks and the people came. The galleries, many of whom haven’t been to Chicago in years, decades or even ever, brought with them the best of what they have.

The press rolled into Vernissage around 3pm, followed at 4pm by the “patrons” at $400-$600 a ticket, and while the aisles felt rather empty for the first few hours, I was repeatedly assured that the folks with money indeed were here, and presumably the money and art were changing hands. Some EXPO dealers were happy to announce sales in these early hours, like Chicago’s Corbett vs. Dempsey; some were optimistic about the feedback, like The Green Gallery from Milwaukee (in the fair’s Exposure section for emerging galleries); while a few other out-of-towners seemed less confident. Read the rest of this entry »

Art 50: Chicago’s Artists’ Artists

Art 50, Artist Profiles 6 Comments »

Artwork and Photo by Matthew Hoffman ( )
Matthew is a 2006 Newcity Breakout Artist

“A friend recently confessed to me that he secretly ranks the participants in Chicago’s art world according to their importance,” wrote artist Molly Zuckerman-Hartung in this publication. Molly’s friend doesn’t work at Newcity; although we annually rank half-a-hundred scenesters of the stage and page, this is our first line-up of visual artists. But everyone intimately knows Molly’s secret friend—the shuffler of the big rolodex, the line cutter, who maybe crept through a Deb Sokolow conspiracy, who buys all your friends’ artworks but never yours. Guess who? It’s you. You made this list and you ranked it and you live in it. You’re either on this list or you’re a product of this list or you’re on this list’s parallel universe (maybe, the Top Fifty People Who Read Lists list). Congrats!

We agree that a linear fifty names is simplistic. Instead, picture this list as a family tree that’s been trimmed into an MC Escher hedge maze. Or see the names as intersecting circles, a cosmic Venn diagram, or raindrops hitting a lake. There could be a list of fifty (or 500) best painters, or a new list for every week we publish this newspaper. For now, here are fifty people who have made an impression on other peoples’ lives.

Who are these people? They are mentors, magnets, peers, alchemists, art mothers, Chicago-ish, artists’ artists, evangelicals, alive today, polarizing, underrated, retired, workhorses and teachers. Lots of teachers. If you’re an artist in Chicago it’s likely that a handful of these artists trained you, or showed you that art was even a possibility. The bonus of local legends is that we can learn from them, face to face. Many lead by example.

About the selection process: Artists only for this list. (Power curators and other hangers-on get their own list, next year). To rank these artists we surveyed hundreds of local living artists, racked our brains, had conversations, wrote emails, canvassed the streets with art critics, cast votes, then recalls, called important curators in London who promptly hung up on us, drank pumpkin latte, checked emails and then finally wrote it all down. And now, we present to you, the Art 50. (Jason Foumberg)

The Art 50 was written by AJ Aronstein, Janina Ciezadlo, Stephanie Cristello, Alicia Eler, Pat Elifritz, Jason Foumberg, Amelia Ishmael, Anastasia Karpova, Harrison Smith, Bert Stabler, Pedro Velez, Katie Waddell and Monica Westin. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Vivian Maier/Corbett vs. Dempsey

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Enjoying a posthumous boom lately, hitherto undiscovered Chicago street photographer Vivian Maier shot the city in black-and-white, with a little color thrown in, through the last half of the twentieth century, favoring portraits, cityscapes, ordinary activities, and—in this show of fifty-five miniature working prints—studies of people of all sorts who have succumbed to sleep outdoors. The tiny size of the images works to Maier’s advantage, because if we want to read them, we have to get close and peer into them, and then we find ourselves inside the scene with her subjects, unable to contemplate them from a distance. Most of Maier’s photos are standard-issue street shots in the informal style of the time, and tame, even timid, to boot. Confrontation is not the name of Maier’s game; she likes to shoot her subjects from behind if she possibly can. Read the rest of this entry »

Eye Exam: The Chicago Art Import and Export Company

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By Jason Foumberg

Last year, a mini survey of Chicago Imagist painting was exhibited at Thomas Dane Gallery in London and critically praised in Frieze for offering “a brief glimpse into the lurid visions of this underexposed group of exciting and innovative artists.” Now, in Chicago, the Imagists hardly seem “underexposed,” as they’re codified in the pantheon of our art history, and with many younger artists continually excavating their legacy—a phenomenon so prevalent that it has become an annual curatorial plaything, from 2010’s Ray Yoshida “Spheres of Influence” retrospective at SAIC followed by the “Jim Nutt Companion” exhibition at the MCA and the DePaul Art Museum’s forthcoming “Afterimage.”

The overseas underexposure to now-standard (even well-worn) local legacies got me thinking: If our forty-year-old accomplishments are just now touching down in art-savvy international capitals like London, will emerging artists be doomed to a similar forty-year resting period? If not, then what mechanisms are currently in place to launch international recognition?

The art fairs and biennales provide the most convenient inroads to regional artists, but usually only if the marketplace consents first, and then art can be thrust into the global exchange of ideas and commodities.

The old model of exhibition-as-diplomacy, of culture delivered from on high, has changed significantly. No longer are pre-packaged shows shipped overseas. An exhibition like “Contemporary Art from the Netherlands,” organized by the Netherlands Ministry for Cultural Affairs and sent to America, reeks of the antique method. That show touched down at Chicago’s MCA in 1982. Read the rest of this entry »

Eye Exam: Borrowing Time

Collage, Sculpture, Video No Comments »

Stacia Yeapanis, "Stairway to Heaven" (detail)

By Jason Foumberg

We are given time but it should be hard won. That is the reigning philosophy of artists who fill time with traces of their existence, with towering piles of process-laden materials. When an artist accumulates time and produces a labor-rich object, that object can be sent out into the world to do the work of time—a proxy self who, if it can stand up, succeeds in not just measuring and filling one’s time but extending it.

A standard wall clock is placed in Stacia Yeapanis’ solo exhibition as a reminder that art spaces, like failed time machines, are not time-exempt. Time is an insistent collaborator in “Over and Over Again,” Yeapanis’ showing of eight durational sculptures, collages and videos from a recent studio residency. The studio is certainly one place where time is dense, and Yeapanis treats it like a sculptural material, and questioningly, for she positions food and entertainment distractions into stacked columns, swirled patterns, loops and grids, evincing the emptiness that can come from so much accumulation. If ritual is supposed to give meaning to life, it is obsession that wears it down. Yeapanis inhabits this void to see if it can be a positive, productive space. Loneliness is a major theme here, manifest not only in the solo clock (an imperfect lover?) but also excellently in a pop-TV montage in the style of Christian Marclay. Titled “Solace Supercut,” dozens of fictional characters repeat the sobering phrase, “You don’t have to go through this alone,” and it is looped so that the lone warrior’s quest of self is eventually revealed to be absurd, even clichéd. Yeapanis toys with re-arranging familiar objects to transcend their sad banality—she stacks McNuggets into a “Stairway to Heaven”—confessing the fun of self-transformation burnout. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Horst Ademeit/Corbett vs. Dempsey

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The selection of nineteen Polaroid photographs by German-artist Horst Ademeit posits an array of contradictions: haphazard yet carefully constructed, inartistic yet compositionally masterful, created outside the art world but unmistakably linked to figures like Hanne Darboven and On Kawara. Since being discovered in 2008, two years before Ademeit’s death, these works have been shown in Berlin, London, New York and now Chicago. Like his photographs, Ademeit himself is a puzzle.

Ademeit pursued formal art training in his youth, reputedly getting kicked out of a class taught by Joseph Beuys. In the 1980s, he became paranoid about invisible, radioactive “cold rays” and began compulsively documenting his environs for evidence. In twenty years, he snapped more than ten-thousand Polaroids, filling the borders with meticulous notes. Individually unassuming, the photographs placed together reveal Ademeit’s obsessive precision. Read the rest of this entry »

Portrait of the Artist: Molly Zuckerman-Hartung

Artist Profiles, Wicker Park/Bucktown No Comments »

Although Molly Zuckerman-Hartung belongs to a younger generation than most of the painters that Corbett vs. Dempsey exhibits, her work has both the psychological depth and the resolute dedication to color that characterizes many of their artists. Zuckerman-Hartung’s sensibility emerges from a range of influences, from punk rock to French literature and Modernism. She describes her riot grrrl ethos as a sense “that you don’t have to know how to do something in order to do it,” so her work is an incendiary mix of raw desire and an admirably refined knowledge of painting. Read the rest of this entry »