Reviews, profiles and news about art in Chicago

Eye Exam: Art Makes Sense in Retrospect

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Linda Kramer, "Fetus with Guitar and Bubble," 2012

Linda Kramer, “Fetus with Guitar and Bubble,” 2012

By Jason Foumberg

At seventy-six years old Linda Kramer makes oil paintings of floating fetuses. She has been painting in and around Chicago for more than six decades, and her latest series contains flesh-pink fetuses hovering over other bodies, some of them dead. Sometimes a red hotdog (also floating) takes the place of the fetus. What comes next in this series of morphing objects? Only Kramer knows, and she has worked in this stream-of-consciousness method for awhile, meandering among formalist and figurative strategies for most of her career. “Unstable Variations” is the title of her retrospective exhibition at the Evanston Art Center. Read the rest of this entry »

Eye Exam: What Will Happen to the Evanston Art Center?

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Evanston_Art_Center_mansion_buildingBy Jason Foumberg

A crumbling old mansion beside the lake seems more befitting of an Edgar Allan Poe tale than a community art center, but it has been the Evanston Art Center’s home for the last four decades. The City of Evanston owns the Harley Clarke Mansion and decided to market the 20,275-square-foot residence, which sits on a large property, in 2012. Last month the city acknowledged a bid from billionaire investor James Pritzker, as reported by Crain’s.

Where does this leave the eighty-three-year-old art institution? For most of its existence the EAC has made do with very little. At one point it occupied a library’s basement, and then an abandoned barbershop, and then leased the lakeside mansion for a token $1 per year.

The EAC’s executive director, Norah Diedrich, considered her options: aggressively fundraise in order to stay in a building that is structurally inadequate for an art center’s needs, or locate a new facility and potentially modernize the art center into a thriving community resource. Diedrich and the EAC’s board of trustees have chosen to relocate. Read the rest of this entry »

Eye Exam: Top Art Picks for 2012 in Chicago and the Midwest

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By Pedro Vélez

1. The Museum of Contemporary Art

From Heidi Norton’s impressive glass herbariums of common houseplants buried in layers of colored wax to an accessible yet highly competent, and somewhat melancholic, revisionist survey of art made during the culture-wars era in “This Will Have Been: Art, Love & Politics in the 1980s,” the MCA has placed itself right at the center of the national conversation. And they have done it by transforming what used to be a forgotten elitist institution into an exemplary multicultural operation. It seems the MCA can turn anything it touches into gold these days. Think of satirist Jayson Musson and his first-ever museum performance or the urban excitement produced by Martin Creed’s public kinetic sculpture “MOTHERS,” which has become the most talked-about piece of public art in this city since the dreadful Marilyn—in a good way, of course. I wouldn’t be surprised if in a few years from now the MCA is leading the pack. Follow their addictive Twitter handle @mcachicago, which is one of the coolest among all the other museums in the nation. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Night Sky/Evanston Art Center

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Ryan Thompson


Curators Karen Hanmer and Vera Scekic conceived “Night Sky” as a meditation on the current relationship between humankind and the cosmos. We have never before been able to observe stars and planets with more granularity and precision, and dozens of mobile apps exist to facilitate stargazing. Even the most astronomically illiterate person can identify the major planets with ease, as Jason Judd illustrates with “Night Songs,” a compilation of amateur YouTube videos of planets. The exhibition asks: now that people can freely and easily travel the galaxy on their computers, has the night sky lost some of its stirring appeal?

In response, most selected artists address the more carnal, raw and emotive response evoked by the idea of billions of nuclear fireballs strewn across incalculable distances. While many of the literal, representational approaches fall short of capturing the night’s grandiosity, Kate Friedman’s installation “Returning to the Stars Someday” captures the solemn majesty of the heavens well, particularly considering that the artist did return to the stars and Sarah Krepp realized the final presentation. Hanging mylar sheets filled with Friedman’s complex and rich layering of intricate drawings, acrylic, ink, photography, and lasercut elements envelop the viewer like the wrap of darkness. On the summer solstice, an interactive component will mark the year’s shortest night. Read the rest of this entry »

Eye Exam: New Grounds, New Blood at the Evanston Art Center

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By Dana Boutin

With new staff and a new site imminent, the Evanston Art Center, in the words of Executive Director Norah Diedrich, is at a crossroads. Poised for challenges to come, Diedrich says, “The environment and economy that we’re all in—whether you’re a for-profit company, a Fortune 500, or a community center—is in flux and chaos. Darwin said it’s not the smartest or strongest that survives but the most adaptable.” As the Art Center’s new director since 2009, Diedrich is looking outward and onward. She worked previously as Manager of Public Programs at the Museum of Contemporary Art, and as the Director of Cultural Programs at Alliance Française, and is now applying her experience in community engagement to plan the Evanston Art Center’s future. Read the rest of this entry »

Eye Exam: The Lugubrious Impulse

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By Jason Foumberg

When we’re tourists we often find ourselves standing on graves or admiring tombs of the illustrious dead. Several years ago, after a traipse through some European cemeteries and catacombs, I became (morbidly) obsessed with the Capuchin ossuary in Rome, a series of underground chapels decorated with the bones of monks in the seventeenth century. Where a tomb designed by Bernini or Michelangelo hides the deceased behind decadently carved marble, the Capuchin monks used actual bones for their headstones, creating decorative patterns in the style of Baroque stucco bas-relief or fresco—swirling aureoles and floral motifs—while other skeletons are collaged into tableaux, such as a clock made from phalanges and flying cherubim composed of skulls and winged shoulder blades.

I wanted to learn why the Capuchins built their shrine to death but, oddly, I could not find any full historical accounts about this strange place. I realized that the thousands of tourists who visit the chapels each year are not informed about why this place exists or how it came to be; we are simply left to ogle the lugubrious sculptures and ponder our own mortality. Tourists to the bone chapel can purchase postcards of the crypts so that the visceral images of bodily decomposition may be contemplated in private or distributed around the world like a decree: death trumps art. Read the rest of this entry »

Eye Exam: The Local Biennial

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By Kate Tierney Powell

The 20th Annual Evanston + Vicinity Biennial opened its doors on Sunday to a world of works that hang, protrude, stand, wipe, light up and may require watering.

Forty years after the first Evanston + Vicinity Biennial was held in 1970, submissions for the open-call exhibition continued to rise, up nearly forty percent from last year, indicating this juried show is still an important showcase for emerging and veteran artists alike. Of the roughly 570 local artists who submitted works, only forty-seven artists and roughly sixty works made the cut.  John Himmelfarb, an American painter, sculptor and printmaker, and Julie Rodrigues Widholm, the Pamela Alper Associate Curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art, juried the exhibition, reviewing the submissions digitally, and narrowing them down to a broad range of painting, sculpture, drawing, installation art, mixed media and photography. “The vibrancy and diversity of Chicago’s large community of artists was reflected in this year’s submissions,” said Rodrigues Widholm, who spent nearly forty hours pouring over hundreds of digital images. Himmelfarb felt the submissions were both visually and conceptually strong, and though certain pieces were difficult to review in a digital format, the pieces they believed might be risky, were quite successful in the space. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: From a Position/Evanston Art Center

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“From a Position,” like Russian nesting dolls, begins with a single question that leads to another, then another, and so on. Initially questioning the relationship between a piece of art and its subject, the viewer is encouraged to further contemplate artworks’ relationship to the gallery space, other artworks and the position of self-as-viewer.

The exhibition’s relationships are the actual focus; the show’s strength comes less from the individual power of the pieces and more from their play with one another, the gallery and the viewer. Pieces that don’t “play” with others aren’t as compelling; two drawings by Lucy McKenzie, presenting figures without settings, appear detached from the show (in part due to their placement) and retreat rather than engage. The gallery’s four separate areas reinforce the separation and unification of specific pieces. Upon entering, viewers are blocked by Jason Loebs’ “Barricade.” This translucent plexiglass barricade decorated with barricade-centric articles, forces viewers to alter their entry into the galleries. Other pieces are far subtler in manipulating the gallery environment. The syncopated beats in “Nevercage,” a sound piece by Heather Guertin and Zak Prekop, are so slow that, without a visual component, viewers may initially mistake the sounds as belonging to the building’s old pipes. (Or perhaps credit it to the metal facets in Valerie Snobeck’s installation, which is successfully undifferentiated from the gallery space—appropriate for a show that questions context.) The show’s other works, more clearly defined from the gallery surroundings, may also be read as both subjects and backgrounds. Though this twofold reading of artwork is not exclusive to this exhibition, the old Evanston Art Center manse as a venue certainly heightens the effect more than a white cube could. (Patrice Connelly)

Through June 28 at the Evanston Art Center, 2603 Sheridan Rd., Evanston

Review: Trace/Memory/Evanston Art Center

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Memory is a slippery thing: prismatic and shifting, it’s only grasped when viewed slightly askance. The guiding metaphor in the twelve-person group show “Trace/Memory” is—you guessed it—the trace: something that leaves a physical (and, in this case, psychological) imprint on the world that remains after the actual event has passed.

In the exhibition, Jelena Berenc’s drawings and mixed-media installations serve as records, or remnants, of private acts. In one, the artist stamped 11,929 fingerprints (one for each day of her life) onto a lengthy scroll of paper, each print making a different impression from the others. In Sarah Earle’s paintings, illegible words made by dragging a paintbrush tip or other pointed object across layers of encaustic appear as if bubbling on the surface of some primordial goo. Memory takes on a sedimentary texture in Jean Sousa’s digitally altered photographs of floating bodies, and is layered, sandwich-like, in luminous collages by ATYL (Alexandra Lee) that combine childhood snapshots with Hong Kong street scenes. ATYL captures the experience of looking simultaneously at and through a window in images that liken the chaotic cityscape’s optical dazzle to the illusory nature of memory itself.

Curators Beth Hart and Barbara Blades have a keen eye for visual poetry and, for the most part, have selected works that address their subject matter on personal rather than social or political levels. Were these choices less strong, the exhibition might feel constricting or indulgent, but instead their cumulative effect is like memory itself: elliptical, fragmented, and open to interpretation. (Claudine Isé)

Through February 15 at Evanston Art Center, 2603 Sheridan Rd.

Double Take on the Biennial

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By Jason Foumberg and Burt Michaels

It’s hard not to interpret the Juror’s Awards at the Evanston Art Center’s 19th Evanston & Vicinity Biennial as a commentary on the state of the nation. Three award winners deal with rot and decay, a much-missed but irretrievably disintegrated past and an ominous future, while the fourth offers an escapist fantasy.

A record 450 artists submitted work this year. From them jurors Barbara Wiesen, director of the Gahlberg Gallery at College of DuPage, and Lanny Silverman, curator of exhibitions at the Chicago Cultural Center, selected forty-five for the show, with a heady forty percent or so photography.

SAIC grad Amy Mayfield won both a $500 Juror’s Award and an independently juried two-week Ragdale residency for her enamel and ink, “Withering Bursts and Floating Spinnerets,” a dark display of organic decadence. A fanciful hovercraft of brightly painted foam and plastic by SAIC prof Rosalynn Gingerich received an award, as did the haunting and ominous photo “Harbinger” by SAIC grad Joyce Lopez. IIT grad Eric Holubow won for a digital photo of a crumbling urban community center; the remnants of a sign proclaiming “Summer in the City” punctuate the abandoned space and give the work its title.

Coinciding with the June 1 opening of the biennial, which runs through July 6, was the opening for the art center’s latest Sculpture on the Grounds by Kansas City sculptor Matt Dehaemers. “The Nereid Beckon” at first glance looks like five huge Absolut bottles littering a lawn after a wild party, but Dehaemers has a more cerebral explanation. The shapes, which point at the lighthouse next door, represent shipwrecks. Each shape—sixteen-feet-long and about a fourth as high—consists of more than 1,000 smaller plastic bottles, on a structure of wood, PVC tubes and the plastic sheeting greenhouses use. About three out of five bottles contain messages written by art students and community groups. Sensor-triggered LED lights illuminate the capsized vessels at night. You could easily argue that this fascinating sculpture represents still another commentary on the state of the nation.

Artists from seven counties in northern Illinois were eligible to submit up to four works each. The biennial’s intent is to give emerging and mid-career artists exposure they might not otherwise receive. (Burt Michaels)

Where the Whitney Biennial in New York takes the pulse of the nation, and the venerable Venice Biennale puts the world on stage, the Evanston + Vicinity examines a cross-section of Chicago’s art scene—the city’s only such effort. Hosted at the Evanston Art Center, the exhibition is in its nineteenth-year, that is, it has opened every two years since 1972 (if my math is correct).

The range of art is limited mostly to the type that hangs on the walls: painting, drawing and photography. There are about three sculptures this year, one of them wall-bound, and not counting the new sculpture on the front lawn, an annually rotating commission. Surely Chicago appreciates the taste for new media—sound, performance, video—but it seems the bulk of submissions, and the judges’ picks, cater to the small and manageable. Not to their detriment, though, the small and mid-sized works speak to the self-contained nature of individual creative accomplishment. (Years’ past have featured large-scale installations, as do the several temporary exhibits not part of the biennial).

As noted, Amy Mayfield’s enamel-and-ink painting won the coveted first place, no doubt bolstering her career, and deservedly so. Surely Mayfield’s unique works come to mind when thinking of Chicago painting today, yet there are also some gems by artists that are not always in the limelight. Rosalynn Gingerich, who graduated three years before Mayfield, also from SAIC, shows a sculpture in similarly sugary hues with soft contours. “Boogie,” located in the Center’s sun room, is composed of cast resin in chalky pastels. Much like an overgrown child’s toy, its softly rounded edges and nipple-like protrusions could be fondled by infants and suckled by adults alike.

From the same class at SAIC as Gingerich, Susan Dwyer shows plaster and polyurethane sculptures that were likely cast from plastic bags. They at once nod to glut, with stretch marks near bursting, and emptiness, their color pallid and drained. These minimal, quiet shapes extend Dwyer’s interest in air-filled flotation-like objects that lend an illusion of lightness bound by density. On an opposite wall, a small abstract watercolor by Doreen Johnson also achieves such Zen-like quietude, the “little black painting” being a monument to the day’s task of depiction.

Other works of note are on view by Brain Yates, Jennifer Ray, Scott Gruss, David Parker and Eric Holubow, highlighting a theme of suburban desolation. Yale Factor’s painting of a naturalist’s worktable, with specimens, books and tools, is a work that I could gladly ponder for an hour. Jason Foumberg)

The 19th Evanston + Vicinity Biennial shows at Evanston Art Center, 2603 Sheridan Road, Evanston, (847)475-5300, through July 6.