Reviews, profiles and news about art in Chicago

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: Jessica Labatte/Golden Gallery

Lakeview, Photography No Comments »


In an elaborate multi-stage process that would need a monograph to describe it, Jessica Labatte makes triangular constructions out of the paper used in color theory courses, arranges them in complicated arrays, shoots them in color as slides and as negatives, “cross-processes” the two impressions when she develops them (forget the details), and selects one of the resulting prints to display. What we see are distinctive abstractions that are engaging by virtue of their elegant yet dynamic composition, their juxtaposition of complementary and contrasting colors (she gives her images such titles as “Cross Processed (Magenta to Lime Green)”), the subtle shadows that they cast, and the fine gradations of tonality that painters would give their eye teeth for. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Doug Ischar/Golden Gallery

Lakeview, Photography No Comments »

"Honor Among 5," 1987/2011


A long-time “spectator of public sexuality,” Doug Ischar was in his prime and in his element in the hey-day of the untrammeled breakout by gays from the closet and into the beaches and bars. In 1987, Ischar found his perfect scene: San Francisco’s leather bar, the Eagle, in the thick of its chock-full-of-patrons “beer busts,” at which erotic moves were communal and intimate at the same time, evincing the trust and confidence of social, cultural and personal revolution. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Anthea Behm/Golden Gallery

Lakeview, Video No Comments »


In the heaven on earth of postmodern play, Anthea Behm is the games’ mistress, this time consummating a high-low (don’t ask, do tell) unholy liaison between stodgy elitist cultural theorist Theodor Adorno and sportive young adolescent-minded Ferris Bueller, played by a number of male and female performers wandering through the Art Institute spouting texts from the theorist’s impenetrable aesthetics and the boy wonder’s screenplay, in succession in an endless forward-backward loop without beginning and end. Don’t worry if you aren’t a graduate student in semiotics; Behm has made the audio loud and indistinct, leaving the viewer-listener to pick out words and phrases like “socialism” and “who gives a cultural crap?” Read the rest of this entry »

Art Break: Galleries Open, Galleries Close With the Season

Galleries & Museums No Comments »

Walsh Gallery's closing show: "In Beauty"

Golden Gallery, which has seen success in Lakeview for the past three years, is opening a franchise in SoHo. The new space debuts with a solo show by Aspen Mays, and the gallery will be run by former Chicago-based gallery director Andrew Blackley. Golden’s Lakeview locale will open September 23 with work by Anthea Behm, whose art fuses “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” with Theodor Adorno’s critical theory. Peregrine Program, operated by artist Edmund Chia, has relocated from the “Spice Barrel District” in Pilsen to the 3300 block of West Carroll Avenue, joining a growing gallery district currently populated by Devening Projects, New Capital, Jackson Junge and Julius Caesar. Peregrine pays tribute to its new Julius Caesar building mates with a show of their artwork. The DePaul Art Museum opens its new three-story space on Fullerton Avenue on September 17 with an exhibition dedicated to a selected history of Chicago visual art, titled “Re: Chicago.” Read the rest of this entry »

Eye Exam: Queer Spirits

Installation, Lakeview, Lincoln Park No Comments »

Robert Blanchon's “Untitled (aroma/1981),” and “Untitled (drawing horse)”

By Jason Foumberg

In 1998, one year before he died at age 33 of AIDS in Chicago, the artist Robert Blanchon created “Untitled (drawing horse),” a replica of the type of benches that students use in a drawing class, but made entirely of glass panes. Blanchon probably enjoyed the fact that, in order to use the bench properly, an artist had to keep their legs spread wide open in front of their art, like a perpetual flirtation. Indeed, sex and the body were the subjects of much of Blanchon’s art, but as “Untitled (drawing horse)” sits today in Golden gallery, on loan from the Blanchon Estate, the glass bench is present like a ghost, its sitter palpably absent.

Here, the drawing horse faces fifty-five ad clippings from gay sex magazines, pinned to a wall. There are not ads for escorts or dates but from companies selling poppers (a sex drug), dick cream, cock rings, a chest-hair wig and other sexual enhancements—even one from the Tom of Finland studio where men could commission portraits. This collection of clippings is another Blanchon artwork, “Untitled (aroma/1981),” from 1995. (The “1981” in the artwork’s title references the year that HIV first started to reveal itself.) In addition to this collection being an archive of back-page gay graphic design and desire in a pre-AIDS era, it is also a dynamic object. Originally, Blanchon photographed and re-printed these clippings, but he did not complete the crucial final step in the hand-developing process, which is to dip the reproductions in a fixative bath. Therefore, the reproductions, once hung in a gallery, are intended to fade and disappear rather quickly and perceptibly during their exhibition. Likely the original magazines would fade anyway, being printed on cheap paper or newsprint, but Blanchon was aiding their demise. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Mike Andrews/Golden Gallery

Drawings, Lakeview, Sculpture No Comments »

"Can we get vertical?" Yarn and powder coated steel


The word “ravel” is ambivalent, meaning both “to become tangled” and “to untangle.” The term captures something about what makes the work of Mike Andrews so compelling. Andrews creates raveling works in which opposing elements—handicraft and machine fabrication, the industrial and the organic, sloppiness and precision, drawn surfaces and sculptural spaces—are materially entangled and conceptually intertwined.

In Golden Gallery’s showroom on Newport Avenue, one is greeted by “Can We Get Vertical?” At seventy eight-inches tall, the scale of this sculpture’s steel armature evokes human dimensions and depths, an impression bolstered by the knotty, intestinal bundles of multicolored knitted yarn enwrapping and spilling from the steel joints. One drooping tubular tendril reaches the floor in an overflowing display of handicraft. The slender strands of steel evoke the hand-drawn line, a fact made all the more salient by juxtaposition with Andrews’ exuberantly messy collage-drawings, also on display. But here the lines are made dimensional and elegant, with any trace of the hand erased; the joints are seamless and the paint smooth. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Mike Schuh/Golden Gallery

Installation, Lakeview No Comments »


Mike Schuh’s work is quiet and unobtrusive, and seamlessly integrated into the apartment-gallery architecture of Golden. It’s so seamless, in fact, that a first-time visitor would be hard-pressed to pick out all of Schuh’s pieces. His works, mostly site-specific, were created to emphasize the fact that Golden, while currently un-lived in, began as a residential apartment. Schuh implies a domestic space, and his installations hover between residential function and household decoration. For an artist who professes an interest in objects in his artist statement, there are remarkably few objects on display, but the very sparseness of the exhibit brings attention to all of the elements of domestic life that would normally fill the space if someone made Golden Gallery their home. Read the rest of this entry »

Portrait of the Artist: Pamela Fraser

Drawings, Lakeview No Comments »

On the day I visit Pamela Fraser’s East Garfield Park studio, everything outside is white and cold: a blizzard has just dumped several inches of snow on the ground, on the branches of trees, and on the tops of cars unlucky enough to have had to spend the night outside. Inside, Fraser’s studio is warm and inviting, but the sense of enveloping whiteness remains, thanks to the huge white walls, high ceilings and bright natural light streaming in from a large window at one end. Fraser, who is assistant professor of studio arts at the University of Illinois at Chicago and co-director of the Oak Park domestic art space He Said–She Said with her husband, Randall Szott, has occupied this studio since last June. Like many of Fraser’s paintings, it feels spacious, light and airy—neatly organized, though not obsessively so, and humming with focused energy.

Her current solo exhibition at Golden consists of nine drawings, all of which were executed on the floor over a single month in late ’09 during an inspired burst of energy. Fraser has been investigating color as an aesthetic as well as a cultural construct for several years now, ever since she was asked to teach a class on color theory at UIC. As she immersed herself in countless historical and theoretical texts on the subject she realized the traditional color-theory curriculum needed some serious revamping. “Color is often discussed as if it were an isolated phenomenon, and not in the world,” Fraser explains, citing the Bauhaus school theories (espoused in the writings of Swiss Expressionist painter Johannes Itten) as a primary example. “It presumes a universality that I can’t buy, and I can’t teach.” Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Joseph Cassan/Golden Gallery

Lakeview, Sculpture No Comments »


Sculptor Tony Tasset’s hard-edged, smart-assed esthetic has for years provided Chicago’s answer to similar high-craft pseudo-lowbrow snark conceptualists Charles Ray and Maurizio Cattelan. Tasset’s icy satirical influence is certainly in evidence at Joseph Cassan’s dazzling show at Golden, which continues to provide Lakeview with crowd-pleasers other than baseball, improv and latex boutiques. While echoing his UIC mentor’s naturalistic deployment of artificial materials (resin, epoxy, silicone, acrylic), Cassan makes a unique formal statement by incorporating delicate handicraft, selected “real” materials and implied invisible forms. The latter is exemplified in a floating pair of gorgeous lace panties with the title “Venus Inferred.” Another brilliant moniker is applied to a painted basswood bar of soap with hand-cut glass bubbles: “Minimalist Construct.” The most heroic pieces are a swan perched atop its own distorted reflection as a pedestal, “The End of the End,” and a disembodied human nervous system, “Nothing More Than Feelings.” Less monumental but equally pleasurable is “Dedicated to All Human Beings,” a low pedestal featuring a wadded paper towel as the bed for a bloody Band-Aid woven from fine copper thread. Historical nods to Minimalism and Earth Art are provided in a painting-sized section of cut out wall, “A Moment of Clarity,” and “Small Section of the World,” a clear plastic puddle in a small gravel depression; as low-key monochromes these offered relief in an otherwise eye-popping parade of fine-motor virtuosity. (Bert Stabler)

Through February 20 at Golden, 816 W. Newport