Reviews, profiles and news about art in Chicago

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
Marwen
—Jason Foumberg Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Steve Reinke/Gallery 400

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RECOMMENDED

Gallery 400’s exhibition of new work from Steve Reinke and collaborators Dani Leventhal, John Marriott, Jessie Mott and James Richards manages to be both sardonically funny as well as often unexpectedly and profoundly confrontational. Centered around an hour-long suite of Reinke’s new video work, which mixes moral interrogation with humor, ironic voiceovers and Beckettesque failures (my favorite: “cartoon for those who have a certain fondness for ideas, but are tired of thinking”); but it’s the work in other media that’s ultimately the most moving. Neon, needlepoint and mixed-media collages reference Bruce Nauman in a way that’s thought-provoking and unaffected; a study of Peanuts cartoons as repeated objects echoes a message of futility that F. Scott Fitzgerald once articulated as the combination of seeing that things are hopeless but being determined to make them otherwise. Detournement finds its strongest application in “Guernica,” which combines a doodled copy of Picasso’s painting in gel medium with a found photograph of a vulnerable, half-naked young man in a sailor hat in front of a poster reproduction of the painting. Solo work by Reinke’s collaborators is less moving but still wry examinations of sex and death from a more comfortably ironic viewpoint. (Monica Westin)

Through December 18 at Gallery 400, University of Illinois at Chicago, 400 South Peoria.

Eye Exam: Familiar Object

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Joseph Yoakum, "Pleasure and Club House on Lake Placid near Sebring Florida on Indian Prairie Canal," 1964, ink and colored pencil on paper

By Jason Foumberg

In the 1990s, a huge range of contemporary art was categorized into some simple themes. There was a quick consensus that “the body” and “identity,” “memory” and “home” defined the queries and struggles of our contemporary era, as if the big world was so complex—and overburdened by art theory—that we needed to recompose ourselves using these basic building blocks of human life. These efforts at categorization promoted some excellent art works. In the “home” or “place” thematic category, Rachel Whiteread’s 1993 “House” and Gregor Schneider’s “Totes Haus ur” (1985-2003, in various iterations) defined a new genre of residential manipulation, with roots stretching back to Gordon Matta-Clark’s 1974 “Splitting” of a suburban home right in half, although Whiteread’s and Schneider’s large-scale installations were more of an effort to reconstruct the single-family home rather than destroy it.

The symbolism of the single-family home is resurging amid the American real estate bust, and a particular derivation is on view today in Chicago galleries. Where Whiteread and Schneider (and a host of others, including Do Ho Suh) investigated the site-specific qualities of “home,” the houses of today are generic and reduced to icons in the style drawn by children: a square with a triangle roof. As symbols, these houses are reductions to a universal essence of “home”; they speak about the safety of familiar objects, the comfort of domestic rituals and the fantasy of contained happiness. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Stephanie Syjuco/Gallery 400

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RECOMMENDED

There is a formal elegance to Stephanie Syjuco’s installation at Gallery 400, despite the awkwardness of the objects on display. Each object was designed online by users of Google’s 3D modeling program, SketchUp, and then reproduced in the gallery by Syjuco using basic materials, such as cardboard and foam core, cut and taped together into geometric shapes. The gaps between the real and the virtual, between the designer and fabricator, add tension to this seemingly simple, visually appealing installation. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Eun Hyung Kim/Gallery 400

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RECOMMENDED

We’re in the habit of talking about site-specific installations, but time-specific would be a more appropriate tag for Eun Hyung Kim’s new exhibition at Gallery 400. The artist’s ever-increasing catalog of images is equally journalistic, confessional, and allegorical: a man urinates on his own face (decapitated, in the toilet), a person grows from a tree, a brain swells with Marsden-esque linework, a man drowns in his own water-filled chest, a makeshift machine dislocates a man’s arms and legs. In each short sadistic narrative there is no conclusion, only a video loop.

Kim’s imagery is both cryptic and accessible—perhaps uncomfortably so. This dynamic is the strength of Kim’s multimedia installation, titled “Designing Eros.” Eros, from the Greco-Roman pantheon, is sexual desire, and literally translates as madness from the gods. Twentieth-century psychoanalytic theory paired expressions of Eros with Thanatos, or the death drive. Here, Kim is not, assuredly, presenting us with the expression of the maddened artist, but reminds us that our viewing habits thrive—and are threatened by—pleasure. (Andrew Blackley)

Through June 12 at Gallery 400, 400 S. Peoria

Eye Exam: Making Art Work for You

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By Nate Lee and Jason Foumberg

Art historian Julia Bryan-Wilson’s recently published book “Art Workers” looks into how artists, critics, museum guards and art professionals consolidated in protest, in the 1960s and seventies in New York City, against the Vietnam War. In process, a short-lived Art Worker’s Coalition successfully increased the opportunities for “art workers,” a term that was animated to perform heavy political and cultural work, circa 1968.

Art workers incite action, and challenge the armchair status quo. Provocative techniques abounded, like Piero Manzoni shitting in a can in 1961 and selling it on the art market for its weight in gold. Less cynically, the feminist movement acted as labor unions to push for progress.

Today, the legacy of art-as-work, of art in the service of social good, continues. The publication of a new newspaper, titled Art Work, by the Chicago-based group Temporary Services, celebrates and rallies the community to continue the spirit of the sixties. But this is not a call to radicalism, nor does it promote the gallery-dependent and depraved Manzoni approach. Rather, the art workers ethic concretely targets the assumption that artists are only nourished and edified by their search for eternal beauty, and therefore do not require monetary compensation. The late-sixties ideals are once again galvanizing artists to reassert professionalism in the arts, demand fair compensation and work opportunities, in light of the current economic decline and the bloated art market. The newspaper Art Work is this movement’s updated manifesto. Read the rest of this entry »

At Zeroes End: Art in Chicago, 2000–2009

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By Jason Foumberg

Jin Lee, "Ice 2," 2008. Courtesy devening projects + editions, Chicago

Jin Lee, "Ice 2," 2008. Courtesy devening projects + editions, Chicago

Art is long, but institutional memory is short. In many ways, Chicago’s art history is written as it occurs, in situ, by the people who produce it. Artists toil in their studios, heads-down. Apartment galleries open and close as briskly as the seasons change. We consume one-night-only events by the half-dozen, like so many bottles of free Grolsch beer. Even as new art blogs proliferate, with more scenes being represented than ever before, the snapshot commentary and weekly content often feels dated by week’s end. And yet, paintings aren’t bubblegum summer jams; they’re codified slabs of culture, philosophy and style. We seek dialogue, inspiration and long-term change. In short, we seek longevity, with lasting importance for our work and our peers’—but who has time to write contemporary history while we’re in the midst of making it?

That said, Chicago loves its art history. Outsiders, Imagists, Modernists and firebrands—memorize their precepts and you’re halfway to an MFA degree (however, please don’t leave Chicago once you earn the other half). Our traditions always feel in danger of becoming tinder for the next great fire, so we hand-cobble our history and share the stories orally like a rite of passage. This is to our strength and our detriment. History is our bind. We don’t trash Paschke or cold-shoulder Mies because we’ve worked so hard to carry their legacies. In many global art centers, successive generations of artists break with the past like rebellious teenagers, but Chicagoans do not. Here, innovation comes from influence and education. Doing otherwise, it would feel as if the whole thing could unravel.

As we approach the end of the century’s first decade, it’s time to take census of our situation. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Gnathonemus Petersii/Gallery 400

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RECOMMENDED

In college I saw Christian Marclay’s 1989 “Tape Fall,” a piece that features a ladder supporting a reel-to-reel tape recorder, which plays the sound of a waterfall while unspooling a ribbon of tape into a pile on the floor. Then in August 2008 at Vega Estates I saw David Moré’s “THIS MEANS SOMETHING! Close Encounters with Barbara Streisand,” a basement installation in which 8-track cassette tapes shuttled around pillars throughout the space, playing both Streisand and the soundtrack to “Close Encounters” on sixteen speakers, eight of which were adorned with that film’s iconic mashed-potato model of Devil’s Tower. The progression from Marclay to Moré gives me the feeling that the attempt to resolve cultural technology with technological culture is finally maturing into something lots of people can richly appreciate. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Kay Rosen/Gallery 400

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Rosen2RECOMMENDED

In artist Kay Rosen’s exhibition at Gallery 400, the play between the visual and verbal structures of language, and the meaning derived, is of primary concern. The exhibition will evolve over the next three months from its current selection of collages and a video to a wall painting and an accompanying essay titled “The Center is a Concept.” Despite its incomplete state, the pieces on view now are intelligent and playful examples of Rosen’s conceptual aesthetic.

In “HIJACKED,” from 2002, Rosen created a collage of book covers using the Kinsey Millhone series by crime thriller author Sue Grafton. Grafton’s covers, ripe for Rosen’s art, make a simple game with words. “L is for Lawless,” is one title; “M is for Malice” is another. As the alphabet plods along, so does Grafton’s series. From this stream, Rosen plucks a few titles and arranges them in a crossword-puzzle style on a wall. Rosen barely more than re-presents these covers because in their current state they are like readymade Rosen pieces, complete with the artist’s signature punning style.

In “W,” from 2003, Rosen appropriates an image from the New York Times on beige card stock with a capitalized W placed on top of the image. One can easily draw conclusions. The photo shows a complete state of decay and destruction. A group of soldiers ascend stairs in a building. The specifics of the image, coupled with the letter W, reference former President George W. Bush and the unending Iraq war that first began in 2003. The letter, now typecast, is no longer a building block for other words. It is a whispered curse. (Britt Julious)

Through November 21 at Gallery 400, 400 S. Peoria St.

Art School Unconfidential: What the city’s burgeoning MFA programs mean for the future of artists in Chicago

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Matthew Metzger, "Re-release: Discourse." Acrylic and Oil on Panel.

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 »