Reviews, profiles and news about art in Chicago

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 »

Review: Peter Saul and Brian Calvin/Corbett vs. Dempsey

Painting, Ukrainian Village/East Village No Comments »

Peter Saul, "Stupid Argument"


In the mid-1960s, a handful of young Chicago painters stunned the art world with rebellious, often disgusting, pop-cartoonish imagery that the art critic of the New York Times, John Canaday, called “greasy kid stuff.” Now, forty-five years later, as the current Jim Nutt retrospective might suggest, some of them have mellowed and aestheticized their practice. But not their fellow traveler Peter Saul (born 1934), whose latest work on view at Corbett vs. Dempsey is just as high-energy obnoxious as his earlier piece now showing along with Nutt at the MCA. The centerpiece of the show, his “Stupid Arguments,” in all its day-glo, cartoonish horror, feels like the cacophony of a dozen cheap radios tuned to different stations, many of which are angry talk shows, with all the fervent conviction of the ignorant and stupid. What a terrible world in which we live! Read the rest of this entry »

The Top 5 of Everything 2010: Art

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Lilli Carré: Untitled, 2010, screen print, 8 x 8 inches. Photo by Angee Leonnard.

Top 5 People and Places We’ll Miss
Kathryn Hixson
David Weinberg Gallery
Rowley Kennerk Gallery
Green Lantern Gallery
James Garrett Faulkner
—Jason Foumberg

Top 5 Solo Exhibitions
Edra Soto/Ebersmoore Gallery
Philip Hanson/Corbett vs. Dempsey
Lilli Carré/Spudnik Press
Gladys Nilsson/Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art
Ian Weaver/Packer Schopf Gallery
—Jason Foumberg

Top 5 Public Art Projects
Ray Noland’s “Run Blago Run”
Pop-Up galleries in the Loop
Nomadic Studio/DePaul University Art Museum
Hui-min Tsen’s tours of the Chicago Pedway
—Jason Foumberg Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Christopher Wool/Corbett vs. Dempsey

Painting, Ukrainian Village/East Village No Comments »

Christopher Wool, untitled, 2009, enamel on linen


An art show can be like a radio station, bringing together work that seems surprising for a second, and then you realize, sure, people who like Billy Squier might also like Blind Melon. This can also be true for the oeuvre of a single artist, as in the case of star painter Christopher Wool. He made his name in the 1980s as a macho answer to text artists like Barbara Kruger and Jenny Holzer, doing large black-on-white paintings that applied a catchy formalist brutality to conceptual art by making gridded-out all-caps stencil poetry from words like “FOOL” and “RIOT,” and phrases such as “FUCK EM IF THEY CANT TAKE A JOKE” and “HOLE IN YOUR FUCKIN HEAD” (for me these always evoked the ethos and logo of the LA punk band Fear, a word he also put on canvas). But his monochromatic vision extended also into grainy gritty photographs, messy layered screenprints, and scribbly gestural paintings, using at turns rolled, dripped, or sprayed paint, sometimes smeared with turpenoid or “erased” with white paint. Wool demonstrated that he was capable of mining the legacy of Twombly, Rauschenberg and Warhol, as well as Weiner, Nauman and Johns, his offhand yet high-priced gestures leveling all postwar art with the cast-off indifference of a photocopier. Wool’s new exhibition, “Sound On Sound,” at Corbett vs. Dempsey is in conjunction with the release by gallery co-owner John Corbett’s record label of a forty-plus-year-old recording by jazz musician Joe McPhee, and in the show’s catalog we see a ventilator-masked Wool at work on his monumental canvases, displaying his own ability to present a performative persona á la Jackson Pollock’s 1949 Life magazine profile. So while he may have moved from punk into jazz, Wool’s recent collaborations with young Turk painter Josh Smith prove he has lost no cred. And while the density of his surfaces has increased with the blueness of his chip, his swagger has lost no insouciance. (Bert Stabler)

Through November 27 at Corbett vs. Dempsey, 1120 North Ashland.

Portrait of the Artist: Philip Hanson

Painting, Ukrainian Village/East Village No Comments »

"The World is Charged with the Glory of God (Hopkins)," 2010, oil on canvas

Like his friends and colleagues among The False Image and the Hairy Who, Philip Hanson appropriated the formal strategies and saturated colors of comic books, circus posters and signage, among other popular forms, during the sixties. While Imagists like Jim Nutt, Christina Ramberg and Karl Wirsum distorted the human figure to produce psychosexual images and psychosocial critiques, Hanson became interested in a landscape of words. He started with what he calls “aphoristic sequences” and then moved on to entire poems. His current exhibition at Corbett vs. Dempsey of fifty-nine oil paintings and drawings reference well-known works like Shakespeare’s sonnets and the short poems of Emily Dickinson and Gerard Manley Hopkins.

Hanson creates vibrant pictorial space using the words of poems by transposing the formal qualities of language, like tone, color, rhythm and sound, into the elements of painting. It’s an exciting alchemical process combining analytical, symphonic and diagrammatic arrangements enriched by elaboration and improvisation. Hanson studied poetry at the University of Chicago and was impressed by the strategies of the New Criticism popular at the time, called “close reading,” which rigorously examined the interconnections between words and images in literature. Trips to Europe where he was impressed by the “grand sequences of rooms” of palaces and museums and the phantasmagorical work of Adolf Wolfli, who was institutionalized in a hospital for the insane, enriched Hanson’s spatial and formal vocabulary. Fortunately, the Imagists and Hanson were supported in the sixties and seventies by the NEA, foundations, the at-that-time-emergent MCA and galleries like Phyllis Kind, which began in Chicago and moved to New York. Read the rest of this entry »

Eye Exam: While You Were Out

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By Jason Foumberg

While you were out for the summer, I took a message. Here’s what you may have missed.

Eleanor Coen, 1916-2010

Deaths in the Family
The West Side gallery Corbett vs. Dempsey reported two deaths via email this summer. Eleanor Coen, wife of artist Max Kahn, experimented with and popularized lithography in Chicago with her contemporaries in the 1930s and 1940s. She graduated from SAIC and later taught there, and continued her printmaking career into the 1950s. She had a solo exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1946. The gallery also announced the passing of James Garrett Faulkner, an artist, teacher and art collector. Faulkner also taught at SAIC and collected the work of Imagist and self-taught artists. Both Coen and Faulkner are represented by the gallery, which sells work by established (and sometimes forgotten) Chicago-based artists. This fall, John Corbett and Jim Dempsey (of the gallery’s namesake) will curate an exhibition about Ray Yoshida’s art legacy in the Chicago community. Yoshida died in January 2009. Read the rest of this entry »