Reviews, profiles and news about art in Chicago

Review: José Lerma/Kavi Gupta Gallery

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"Salomon," acrylic and pigmented silicone on glass-less mirror, 2014

“Salomon,” acrylic and pigmented silicone on glass-less mirror, 2014

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Occupy Wall Street may have fizzled out, but that doesn’t mean José Lerma isn’t still paranoid about the financial industry. In one installation, a ten-percent slice of a brightly colored circular stage is multiplied by kaleidoscopic mirrors to give the illusion of all 360 degrees. He’s titled it “A Critical Analysis of Central Banks and Fractional-Reserve Banking from the Austrian School Perspective.” What it demonstrates is that banks lend money that isn’t theirs. Like a carnival fun house, you need only view it once and laugh.

But his second installation, “Gloriosa Superba,” is both more ominous and more appealing, with some of the most exuberant painting that I have ever seen. Floral patterns of rubbery, sharp-edged shapes have been laid upon, and sometimes extend beyond, five-by-six-foot mirrors that reflect everything in the gallery. Each piece is supposed to represent one of the seven founders of the Rothschild banking dynasty hiding within the bloom of a tropical flower named in their honor. If you look closely, you just might recognize them, and something like a column hanging from the ceiling, representing the pillar at the London Stock Exchange where Nathan Mayer Rothschild plotted to crash and then bought up the British economy after the battle of Waterloo. Or, at least that’s the conspiracy theory published in 1887, drawn from unspecified sources. Read the rest of this entry »

Eye Exam: Chicago Art News Bits

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Jessica Stockholder at Kavi Gupta Gallery

Jessica Stockholder at Kavi Gupta Gallery

By Jason Foumberg

Woman Made Gallery Director Steps Down
Beate Minkovski is retiring as executive director of the not-for-profit Woman Made Gallery. In 1992 Minkovski co-founded the small institution, which is dedicated to exhibiting contemporary woman artists. During Minkovski’s twenty-two-year tenure, she oversaw the exhibition of more than 7,500 woman artists (and several men), and initiated an art outreach program called 20 Neighborhoods. The River West gallery is currently searching for a new director.

An Artists’ Grant Foundation Comes to Town
United States Artists has relocated to Chicago from Los Angeles, at the behest of new CEO Carolina Jayaram, who formerly headed the Chicago Artists Coalition. The philanthropic organization annually awards $50,000 unrestricted grants to individual artists in various disciplines, including the visual arts. Chicago artists David Hartt and Theaster Gates were both recent recipients. Artists must be nominated by a peer panel in order to apply for the $50,000 grant. United States Artists is partly funded by philanthropists, including local art collectors Helen Zell and Jack Guthman. The next round of grants will occur toward the end of the year. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Curtis Mann/Kavi Gupta Gallery

Photography, West Loop No Comments »
"Blanket on Asphalt," cut photographic print, 2013

“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 »

Review: McArthur Binion/Kavi Gupta Gallery

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"Circuit Landscape: No. IV," 1973, oIl stick on canvas

“Circuit Landscape: No. IV,” 1973, oIl stick on canvas

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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 »

Review: Melanie Schiff/Kavi Gupta Gallery

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RECOMMENDED

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 »

Review: Clare Rojas/Kavi Gupta Gallery

Painting, West Loop No Comments »

“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 »

Review: Angel Otero/Kavi Gupta Gallery and John Santoro/McCormick Gallery

Painting, West Loop No Comments »

John Santoro, "Godzilla"

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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 »

Review: Claire Sherman/Kavi Gupta Gallery

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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 »

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 »

High Spirits: Artist Theaster Gates can’t stop reaching new heights

Artist Profiles No Comments »

Photo: Antone

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 »