“Blanket on Asphalt,” cut photographic print, 2013
Curtis Mann’s latest exhibition is hung entirely backwards on the wall. That is, only the unprinted versos of his photographic prints face the viewer. All over these glossy white surfaces many semicircular slits have been sliced. Folded back, these slits reveal a fragmented view of the photo’s other side: scenes from the artist’s studio. The fluttery effect is that of peering through a textured window to glimpse a room’s interior.
The invention of photography more than two centuries ago caused art to undergo its most significant transformation, yet the medium itself is still susceptible to change. Mann continues to redefine photography, especially its material potential. The artist is previously known for his photographs of war in the Middle East that were featured in the 2010 Whitney Biennial. In these photographs he used physical processes of manipulation such as bleaching and dying to erase parts of the images and dramatize the violence. Read the rest of this entry »
“Circuit Landscape: No. IV,” 1973, oIl stick on canvas
Shortly before creating the paintings in “Ghost: Rhythms,” in the early 1970s, McArthur Binion became the first African American to receive an MFA from Cranbrook Art Academy. The eleventh child of Mississippi tenant farmers, the painter’s uncomplicated aesthetic came to the attention of Minimalist luminaries Sol LeWitt and Carl Andre, and in 1973 the young painter was included in a significant exhibition at New York’s renowned Artist Space. Read the rest of this entry »
Melanie Schiff is obsessed with decay and detritus, so much so that she presents her scenes in large-format black-and-white and color. Yet Schiff is not your standard-issue ruins photographer, reveling in the profusion of devastation; she adds the note of breakdown to her images so that it dominates its more normal context, but does not overwhelm the setting. Take her most extreme shot in which a hollowed-out tree stump seems to merge with the rocky, desiccated, weed-strewn patch of land that surrounds it. The stump looks like nothing so much as a gaping skull. The other images do not cut to the quick that way, but the intrusion of death is always there, as when we see spent shell casings littered on a barren, wasted bluff. Read the rest of this entry »
“Room with Doorway,” oil on linen
How would the comics section of the newspaper appear if all the figures, human and animal, had been removed? On first viewing, it would be refreshing not to find the obvious, witless narratives and the all-too-familiar bone-headed characters. It would open up a world of endless possibility for whatever else might fit within the sketchy interior views that remain, but there would be no point in a second viewing. The same is true with Clare Rojas’ wall-size paintings now showing at Kavi Gupta. What’s missing are the curious, uncomfortable human figures with which she used to populate her cartoon-strip style work. What’s left is the angular, aggressive, institutional-like environment that possibly made them so disoriented and socially underdeveloped in the first place. It’s a kind of hell—but not one that is unfamiliar, as it can be found everywhere from grade-school cafeterias to high-end corporate décor. The solid blocks of color have been painted without the least trace of sensitivity, regarding either edges, interiors or tones—as if they had been executed by minimum-wage workers doing no more than what they were told. Read the rest of this entry »
John Santoro, "Godzilla"
In 1845, J.M.W. Turner reportedly joked: “Indistinctness is my fault,” in response to an American collector who despaired finding many recognizable details in one of his atmospheric seascapes. In some of his magnificent swirls, nothing was recognizable at all. Was Turner an early Abstract Expressionist? Not if you distinguish the epic struggle of man against nature from the psychological struggle of self against the world. Curiously enough, a similar Romanticism has recently emerged simultaneously in the work of two painters now exhibiting work in adjoining galleries at 835 West Washington. Read the rest of this entry »
Claire Sherman’s decorative landscapes offer the explosive joy of youth, which is probably why, five years into her career, she has had solo shows in New York, London and Amsterdam, as well as this, her second show at Kavi Gupta in Chicago. The gallery sales pitch suggests that she is questioning the “historical distinction between abstraction and representation,” as it can be questioned with paintings going back to the Lascaux caves. Other critics have connected her work to the Romantic era and Kant’s notion of the sublime, while it might also be noted that her kind of brush-driven landscape was first developed in Han Dynasty China.
Antiquated as it may be, her work feels as fresh as tomorrow because she’s not looking back. Like Faulkner’s characters in “Wild Palms,” the title she has borrowed for this exhibition, Sherman is exploring her own destiny which, this time around, includes some chthonic visits into enormous caves and a few almost figurative monumental still-lifes. Read the rest of this entry »
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 »
By Rachel Furnari
When I arrived at Leroy’s, Chicago artist Theaster Gates was recording sound pieces with the Black Monks of Mississippi for his upcoming show at the Milwaukee Art Museum. Leroy turned out to be an actual person and the place turned out to be the converted first floor of his house in Humboldt Park, not the rehearsal space I assumed I was headed to when Gates invited me to watch a mass-choir rehearsal for the opening in Milwaukee. Of course, this wasn’t a rehearsal at all, and my insistent knocking during the recording session brought a Gates collaborator, Dara Epison, to lead me into the makeshift studio. Gates silently handed me headphones and I watched as he led the group with an understated confidence through a series of rhythmic Om chants that somehow blended the traditional low, repetitive hum with the intonations and shifting vocalizations of gospel and the blues. As the group passed the leadership of the chanting back and forth, Gates shifted seamlessly between his roles as the generative force in the collaboration and just another member of the chorus.
Although it was already after 8pm on a school night, it turned out that Gates was hoping to fit our interview in between another interview, for a Loeb Fellowship at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, and a dinner at the Illinois Arts Council. On the way to the California Clipper, he apologetically picked up the call from Harvard. While I waited for Gates to return to his cosmopolitan, I had ample time to consider Gates’ recent rise to prominence in the national art scene. Read the rest of this entry »
There’s a trend practiced by some of Chicago’s established and regarded sculptors that, while not new, resurges every few years like a scheduled comet passing overhead, illuminating the heaps of unsorted recyclables that calls itself “contemporary sculpture,” for a brief flashing reminder that we can trust our eyes, not just our minds. In short, formalist tendencies persist. City of grime and grit and gut this is not. This city was built on beauty, so it’s no surprise that spirituality or mysticism or whatever unnamable eternal thing creeps in from time to time.
Christine Tarkowski (born 1967), Susan Giles (born 1967), and Richard Rezac (born 1952) all stoke a formalist eroticism, as their sculptures pierce right through to the core of perceptual understanding, without having to busy the mind. There’s an ease of access partly provided by familiar materials—cherry wood, polished and rustic cast metals, cardboard and tape—but each also favors architectonic forms: Giles plays with minarets and crenellations, Tarkowski breaks and re-circuits parking-garage ramps and the geodesic dome, and Rezac’s sculptures evoke knobs, nooks and floorboards. There’s a logic to each construction but the direct response is pleasure. Read the rest of this entry »
The way one tells a story often rivals the story itself. Such is the case with Angel Otero’s first solo exhibition, in which textured paintings and assemblages combine to form a loose visual autobiography with an emphasis on process. While any relationship between process-based art and living autobiography should seem obvious, Otero’s storytelling isn’t nearly so direct. Mostly evident in select large-scale paintings composed upon black backgrounds, the past isn’t remembered so much as it is memorialized. This somber nostalgia, in addition to the presence of flora and vases, recalls the commemorative paintings of Ross Bleckner from the 1980s. The indeterminacy of memory versus memorial is furthered by Otero’s repeated imagery of objects represented by silicone skeletons. Tables and staircases are alluded to with layers of piped silicone, resisting any commitment to structural solidity. While these paintings comprise the minority of Otero’s first solo show, they are nonetheless his strongest, exemplifying autobiography as a construction of memory. (Justin Natale)
Through January 30 at Kavi Gupta Gallery, 835 W. Washington Ave.