Reviews, profiles and news about art in Chicago

Review: The Terraformer Advancement Towards Interspecific Communication

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Jeremiah Hulsebos-Spofford

Jeremiah Hulsebos-Spofford


“If you build it, he will come.” This infamous line from the movie “Field of Dreams,” prophesying the arrival of baseball players to an empty playing field, sums up the exhibition now installed at Terraformer’s outdoor exhibition space in Bridgeport—except, in this instance, “he” refers to feral cats.

“The Terraformer Advancement Towards Interspecific Communication” is the brainchild of Medicine Cabinet and Sofa King galleries founder Christopher Smith. According to the project’s manifesto, the show is “an initiative focused on expanding the audience for art from a specifically human one to an audience that transcends species.” After careful “ethnographic” research, seven artists constructed and installed their architectural solutions for the sheltering and feeding of feral and stray cats. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Jason Lazarus/Museum of Contemporary Art

Installation 6 Comments »

18e8eJasonLazarus_20130318_02A flash of light. You close your eyes. The bright glow lingers for a moment, no longer there, but not yet vanished. The voices of the ninety-nine percent reverberate in the galleries of the Museum of Contemporary Art—an afterimage of the tumultuous demonstrations of 2011. “If you are not angry, you are not paying attention.” “You should be here #OccupytheHood.” “Class war ahead.” “This is a universal revolution.” “Wake up.” The cardboard protest signs hang silently on the wall. A museum plaque announces that, if interested, you may check out a sign for the duration of your visit. Please just notify an attendant.

But few people seem to do so.

The protest-sign archive, titled “Phase I/ Live Archive,” is one part of Jason Lazarus’ multimedia solo show at the MCA. Lazarus began “Phase I/ Live Archive” as an artist-in-residence at the University of South Florida in Tampa. Moved by the revolutionary zeal of Occupy Wall Street, the artist invited students to re-create the handmade protest signs. Collecting images from Facebook and Twitter, the participants traced the activist slogans with black marker and spray paint. Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

Fan Scene: A Chicago Art Album

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cover art by Carol Jackson

By Jason Foumberg

Imagine this issue of Newcity shaped as a shoebox, like the one stashed in the back of your closet. Every now and then it feels good to finger your way through that time capsule of polished milestones and broken tokens of who you once were and still might be today. More than just a junk drawer, your stash is bound by a secret thread, as strong and fragile as a spider’s web, which only you can spin. Will your offspring be creeped out by your crypt of former selves, or will they dust off and ponder each artifact?

If Chicago’s art scene had a souvenir box it would be as large as a landfill, and just as mixed. What if you plunged an arm into that warm biomass and pulled up some treasures and obsessions and regrets, at random, from art scenes past? What would they look like, jammed in your fist? Could you spread those dried things on a table and divine their significance, drawing lines between them, and to yourself?

I asked dozens of Chicago-based artists and their enthusiasts to shine a flashlight into their personal-history storehouses and retrieve contributions for this fanzine. Part collage, part salad, the combined curiosities peaceably mingle here as if at an art opening. There are several natural affinities and also a few unexpected pairings. In sum, they form a time capsule of a community that is constantly changing. Here are mementos from long-closed shows. Here are faces kept in time. Here are odds and ends we’re still trying to sort. Here we are today, holding on for tomorrow. Read the rest of this entry »

Eye Exam: The Revolution Will Be Pixelated

Digital Art No Comments »

from the 256 project

By Jason Foumberg

It seems like centuries have passed since the term “cyberspace” sparkled with hope for a technological utopia where we could zip along the information super highway direct to the future. That route, if you recall, was plastered with animated GIFs, those cartoonish website animations of such snazzy effects as rainbow text spinning on its axis and dancing emoticons. The Graphics Interchange Format, or GIF, was a primitive tool, producing pixelated images in limited color palettes and, like many things that live and die on the Internet, was quietly replaced by more complex codes and software. Yet, as long as there is old technology there will be old-technology enthusiasts, and the animated GIF, like many other bad habits from the 1980s, is making a comeback in a big way.

Visual artists are on the front line of the GIF renaissance, and it’s not a big leap to consider animated GIFs as artworks. They can be entrancing, visually punchy, funny, strange or boring, and many have become iconic. Artists are not only creating new animations in the 8-bit format, but also constructing complicated GIFs using new software, and others are acting in a curatorial way to harvest classic GIFs from the early Internet, archive them, and re-present them in educational contexts. Read the rest of this entry »

Eye Exam: Community Confessional

Installation, West Loop No Comments »

By Kristine Sherred

A full year past, we reflect on that which once was, that which persists, that which may be. Lilly McElroy’s second solo exhibition at Thomas Robertello Gallery honors 2009, a year that, for many, typifies economic unrest, unemployment and home loss. Even for those of us unscathed, a new year carries new possibilities, new responsibilities, and McElroy urges us to reflect on a year’s worth of hardships with the quips of another. She set up a website ( to solicit others’ images, stories and jokes that epitomize their most painful moment, or in some cases, their triumphant reclamation.

McElroy describes her artistic mission as an interactive attempt to make a connection with her audience, and she is accustomed to participatory art. Her inspiration for soliciting photographs, she says, may have emanated from a past project for which she asked her mother to photograph twenty-four reasons why she loves her, using nothing more than a disposable camera.

User-generated content leaves the end result a bit, well, open-ended: “I was expecting so many more images of home and job loss,” McElroy says, “but I was actually really surprised about [the stories of] heartbreak. For people who weren’t experiencing those economic stresses, [2009] was equally rough but in a very different way. It made the project much more interesting and much more complicated.”

McElroy spread the word of her developing project by posting ads in Craigslist and Coffee News, distributing flyers to cafes, “emailing anybody who had ever emailed me about anything,” she laughs, and even snail-mailing strangers chosen at random from old phone books. “I got a lot of responses asking who I was,” but her breadth of personal connections and that of friends and family catalyzed the project’s dissemination, fashioning a potent spiderweb chronicling a year in the life. Read the rest of this entry »

Eye Exam: Forging a Frontier

News etc., Pilsen 1 Comment »

By Jason Foumberg

The closing of summer marked the end of ACRE’s inaugural season of artist residencies in rural Wisconsin. The ripening of autumn, though, brings ACRE’s residents back into the city for a yearlong exhibition program at the ACRE home base, a storefront gallery in Pilsen. Of the many local, national and international residency programs that swell with artists each summer, like Ox-Bow, Ragdale and Skowhegan, few offer solo exhibition opportunities for their participants. For ACRE, the exhibition component is part of a package deal, and built into the program’s name: Artists’ Cooperative Residency and Exhibitions.

Directors Emily Green and Nicholas Wylie founded ACRE on the premise that shared experiences and resources can help build an artistic community, and they’ve professionalized the experience. Residents must apply for a spot in the program, and applications are reviewed by a panel of art professors and curators (this year included Tricia Van Eck, Jason Lazarus, Lorelei Stewart, Anthony Elms and Steve Reinke). The exhibition component is another layer of professionalism. For many of the emerging artists who attend the summer sessions, this will be their first solo show. ACRE provides a clean, white-walled space and is partnering with other local galleries for the solo shows, including Mess Hall, Johalla Projects, No Coast/Roxaboxen, The Hills Esthetic Center and others. Read the rest of this entry »

Art Break: Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’

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Jason Lazarus likens his latest project to marriage. “There’s compulsion, but it’s not easy,” he quips. At the time of our conversation, he is hard at work organizing a fifty-vehicle memorial procession to be held on June 25, the one year anniversary of Michael Jackson’s passing. It will begin at the pop icon’s childhood home in Gary, Indiana, and continue to downtown Chicago. The vehicles, bearing silk-screened orange flags, will blast a retrospective playlist from a pirate radio station rigged by Lazarus. Participants are asked to document their experiences through photography and video to contribute to a “repository of documentation.”

“I’m interested in the complexity of trying to mourn somebody who had a complex life,” Lazarus elaborates. This occasion marks the first time that the photographer has worked on such a large scale. His plans are grand by most standards, even his own. He concedes, “I envision fifty cars, but I don’t know what count we’re on.” As with any other project of this magnitude, there are issues that need to be resolved, some more pressing than others. There are the logistical issues, like route planning and accommodating a growing “small critical mass of energy,” including last-minute participants and those without transportation. Additionally, the pirate radio station isn’t working well enough just yet. He hopes his back-up plan, burning the playlist to CDs for each car, does work. For a while, his car battery was dead, jeopardizing his own participation in the event. Fortunately, he managed to find one within thirteen minutes of pleading on his Facebook page. He hopes the replacement is functional. Read the rest of this entry »

Eye Exam: Inspiration from Cremation

Photography No Comments »

Study #19

By Jason Foumberg

After his death, in 2006, the artist Robert Heinecken’s ashes were collected in salt shakers, the kind you see in a diner. This was not inconsistent with the artist’s irreverent sense of humor, and his widow, Joyce Neimanas, distributed the salt shakers to more than a hundred friends and relatives. The remaining undistributed salt shakers were placed in possession of the Heinecken Trust, in Chicago, directed by Luke Batten, the artist’s former studio assistant, who gives them away as he sees fit, in consultation with Neimanas, to artists who may not have known Heinecken personally but who find inspiration from his body of work. After receiving one such salt shaker as a memento, photographer Jason Lazarus asked Batten and Neimanas for their blessing to use Heinecken’s cremains in a new photo project, now called “Heinecken Studies.” Lazarus recently debuted the twenty-five prints on his website, and in email and Facebook announcements.

Where some people choose to have their cremains scattered over scenic cliffs, or buried with seedlings, or cast into outer space (such as Timothy Leary’s), Heinecken left no specific last wishes for his bodily remains. The contents of Lazarus’ shaker were brought into the darkroom, dusted over photographic paper and exposed as photograms. Lazarus made the twenty-five prints in succession, in a single sitting, in what he calls an “aesthetic daisy chain,” where each image is a response to the previous one. Unlike a black-and-white darkroom, where red safety lights guide the hand, a darkroom for color exposures must be pitch-black. Lazarus toyed with the color dials, leaving much to chance, and used special flashlights to “burn” the exposures with light—a wink to the cremation process itself. The results are luminous gradations of saturated color, from blood red to sky blue to somber black, with the chalky white bone fragments cast about in little piles. It’s not as grotesque as it sounds; in fact, as a photographic process, it’s quite fun and improvisational, characteristics of art-making that Heinecken himself would approve. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: On the Scene/Art Institute of Chicago

Michigan Avenue, Photography No Comments »
Jason Lazarus

Jason Lazarus


Death made the rounds this summer, feeding a national pastime of voyeurism with almost weekly sacrifices of major and minor celebrities. And Death continues to be very much on the scene in the newest photography exhibition to open in the Modern Wing. The impressive show features three talented artists: the unabashed Zoe Strauss with her straightforward documentary look at urbanism; the recondite Berlin-based Wolfgang Ploger with his abstractions of Internet searches; and Jason Lazarus, who may well be Chicago’s most incisively witty photographer.

Lazarus presents a collection of castaway snapshots collected over a number of years from flea markets. But he presents their backsides only, each with personally scrawled messages, as mothers are wont to do. The intentional refusal of the photographs’ image side may frustrate a viewer at first, but with a little patience it rewards with a form of tactile, open-source concrete poetry rivaling Found Magazine or a Joseph Grigely installation. Like little tombstones, the fading versos memorialize the fleeting physical interaction of handwriting. Read the rest of this entry »