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: Cauleen Smith/Museum of Contemporary Art

Installation, Michigan Avenue, Video, West Loop No Comments »

Cauleen Smith, film still from “Nicolai and Regina Series 01″


Cauleen Smith’s solo show at the MCA is the best contemporary art exhibition in Chicago this summer. While watching her short videos, which feature Chicago cityscapes and local musicians, I easily mistook Smith as a Chicago-based artist. I’m used to seeing only Chicago artists mine the city’s cultural history with such deeply personal insights. In fact Smith lives and teaches in San Diego, and has spent considerable time in Chicago doing research on local music history, facilitated by Threewalls in 2010 and a Black Metropolis Research Consortium grant in 2011. The fruit of her Chicago residency is a series of new videos and a multimedia installation that waken civic pride. Before the MCA exhibition closes in mid-September, Smith will open a solo show at Threewalls, a spot usually reserved for Midwestern artists. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Ani Afshar/Hyde Park Art Center

Hyde Park, Textiles No Comments »


Entering Ani Afshar’s exhibition, “Woven Gardens, Shredded Shadows,” currently on view at the Hyde Park Art Center, it is impossible to escape an acknowledgement of the history of craft. The selection of weavings on view, ranging in date from the 1980s to the present, demonstrate a telescoped view of Afshar’s vocabulary developed in tandem to her commercial line of functional textile décor and jewelry work, though the works have remained off exhibition for the past three decades in a traditional gallery setting. With an aesthetic that adopts stylistic traits of traditional Western weavings, the various hand-woven cloths that compose Afshar’s earthen-toned landscapes, whose elements are stitched, sewn and beaded together on passages of mohair and silk, speak to invention rather than history. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Melissa Oresky/Hyde Park Art Center

Hyde Park, Painting, Video No Comments »

still from "Trail"


Lining the hall of the second level of the Hyde Park Art Center, slices of geometric shapes and paper pieces coated with saturated and muted tones announce the latest exhibition of Melissa Oresky’s work. For almost a decade, Oresky has created mixed-media pieces that explore the body’s interior workings and cognitive processes through scientific and landscape metaphors. This exhibition, titled “Trail,” attempts to guide the viewer through the artist’s dense visual language through new works on paper and the artist’s first work in animation.

The setup of the show, however, does not allow the path toward enlightenment to be an easy one. Larger pieces with assemblages of abstract shapes hang together in the front portion but share no similar point of reference or scheme. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Someone Else’s Dream/Hyde Park Art Center

Hyde Park, Painting No Comments »

T.L. Solien


As guest curator of “Someone Else’s Dream,” John McKinnon acknowledges the history of the Hyde Park Art Center. Works from Gladys Nilsson, Jim Nutt and Christina Ramberg—who exhibited at HPAC in the 1960s—make appearances. Situating them next to more recent pictures, McKinnon (who operates The Society for Contemporary Art at the Art Institute of Chicago) articulates that he wants to “create new associations of the work outside of a predictable historical analysis.” The nature of these associations in the exhibition is open for interpretation, like a series of dreams. Read the rest of this entry »

Portrait of the Artist: David Leggett

Artist Profiles, Hyde Park, West Loop No Comments »

David Leggett paints while listening to the stand-up comedy of Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy, which serve as kindling for his sometimes cartoonish, playfully rendered mixed media artworks. “In the early 1990s when Def Comedy came along, it was extremely popular, but if you listen now, it was horrible,” Leggett says. “They were doing impersonations of Eddie Murphy and Richard Pryor just using the punch lines. Saying ‘dick’ and ‘pussy’ doesn’t make it funny. Those are just words, and that’s kind of how I see some artists—they can say ‘Oh I’m riffing on this,’ but so what?” From his process to his product, Leggett is interested in inauthentic reproductions of 1980s art and hip-hop culture.

Leggett laughed readily, both at himself and his work, discussing his first solo show at Western Exhibitions, titled “It’s getting to the point where nobody respects the dead. Fresh to death.” Leaning back on a small chair in his compact East Garfield Park studio, narrowed further by layers of leaning paintings, Leggett said his work is not a “moral compass.” He treaded lightly on questions of racial or political tension, and when questioned about stamps of men in black face that appear in earlier works, he answered with an incredulous giggle that he bought the stamps on eBay, fascinated by the fact that they existed at all. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Blaque Lyte and Keith Herzik/Hyde Park Art Center

Hyde Park No Comments »

Joakim Ojanen


In talking about the “Drunk Vs. Stoned” exhibits that Scott Reeder and the General Store in Milwaukee put on at Gavin Brown’s Passerby space in New York in the mid-oughts, art critic Ken Johnson said that while “drunk art” is “impulsive, active, aggressive,” stoned art, on the other hand, “tends to be introverted, tends to focus on details, tends to be repetitive.” The companion psychedelic shows now at the Hyde Park Art Center, curated by Chris Kerr and Paul Nudd, blow away any such clear symptomatic distinctions. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Aron Gent/Hyde Park Art Center

Hyde Park, Photography No Comments »


A new twist on the old truth that the photograph, especially when it is meant to flatter a product or a person, or show an ideal situation, has nothing to do with actual life is provided by Aron Gent in his twelve color photos that send up staged and posed images by showing their evil doppelgangers. The most ingenious and successful of Gent’s conceits is to stage a scenario in which a fictitious family that is to be posed for a celebratory dinner portrait is caught before the set-up in a variety of detached postures and expressions. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Messin’ with Texas/Hyde Park Art Center

Hyde Park No Comments »


“Messin’ with Texas” at the Hyde Park Art Center is an eclectic group show of eight mid-career artists from Houston, Texas, all recipients of the 2010 Artadia Award. Artadia is a nonprofit organization that awards grants to artists in five U.S. cities, including Chicago. This exhibition was part of an exchange with DiverseWorks in Houston, which recently displayed the work of the 2008 Artadia Awardees from Chicago. It is important to note that Artadia grants are given to individuals and grantees are not selected on the grounds of a cohesive group exhibition. As a result, the works in this show are quite disparate, although some relationships emerge. David Aylsworth’s thickly painted abstractions of floating geometric forms share a surprising lightness and playfulness with Bill Davenport’s sculpture, “Super U,” a giant pink painted plywood “U” that fills the center of the gallery. There is a similar precision and emphasis on systems in Augusto Di Stefano’s drawing, “Plan for History,” as in Jeff Shore and Jon Fisher’s wall-mounted sculpture, “Cliff Hanger,” a grid of wires, hard drives and cameras that feed images to a flat screen TV. These formal similarities create some resonance between the works, but what is most compelling in the show is actually the dissonance between Nestor Topchy’s contemporary take on elaborately painted Ukrainian Easter eggs (pysanky) and Nathaniel Donnett’s gold-foiled objects displayed in a glass case on black velvet shelves with tiny white paper tags on which is simply scrawled “priceless.” Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Conrad Freiburg/Hyde Park Art Center

Drawings, Hyde Park, Sculpture No Comments »


In the mid-nineteenth century, Scottish mathematician Hugh Blackburn invented the harmonograph, a device that draws elegant abstractions through the movements of two or more pendulums. Blackburn observed that the visual “harmonies” resulting from intervals of ratio in pendulum height correlated to similar steps in the musical scale. University of Chicago musicologist Larry Zbikowski is exploring the visual patterns of movement made by dancers of the waltz, and correlating these patterns both to the musical scores that accompanied the dancing and to states of emotion and consciousness in the brain. These synchronistic models serve as inspiration for Conrad Freiburg, whose virtual universe, erected in the main gallery at the Hyde Park Art Center, is divided into sections matching the seven notes of the Western major scale with sconce-like chimes affixed to the wall. While Freiburg doesn’t claim adherence to any esoteric system, the number seven recurs throughout occult cosmology; in theosophy, for example, the seven-step “septenary” describes the various “energy envelopes” of the soul that exist in subatomic emptiness. Read the rest of this entry »