Ryan Duggan at Johalla Projects
By Damien James
“It’s the same old shit punctuated by happiness and tragedy,” read Ryan Duggan’s screenprint for Johalla Projects, a statement that aptly encapsulated 2011’s Artropolis. That happiness is the piece causing you to gape in wonder, the rare work you can’t tear your eyes from, while the tragedy is everything else on display, reiterating the fact that you can show art wherever you want if you’ve got the money.
What’s been true of Artropolis in the past still stands: NEXT continues to excite more than Art Chicago; people-watching is worth the price of admission; and the entire fair is becoming smaller, evidenced by joint tenancy on the twelfth floor of both NEXT and Art Chicago, which only sharpens your focus to the difference between the two. The energy of NEXT is undeniable, where art spreads itself across more forms; it rolls, spins records, hacks itself to pieces, stretches across rooms, flashes and sings at you, and even makes you want to take a bite out of it. Art Chicago, on the other hand, exists mostly in squares and rectangles on white walls.
Not that Art Chicago is bereft of enjoyment, though if you pulled the Ed Paschke’s down the overall temperature would’ve grown tepid. All of the Shepard Fairey’s sold, which makes Santa Monica’s Robert Berman Gallery the big winner, but Hammer Gallery stood up for Chicago by releasing a $75,000 Roger Brown painting into the world, along with a lovely Karl Wirsum. Carl Hammer himself said that the weekend was moving slower than in past years, but that he was pleased with how his space came together. If I had Chris Ware and Henry Darger on my walls, I’d be pleased too. Read the rest of this entry »
The problem with contemporary religious art is that it seems the result of conformity rather than discovery, so you get the feeling that nobody, including the artist, really believes it. Like a docile parishioner, it’s just following rules and dutifully going through the motions. But there are no rules in the contemporary art world, so when an artist like William Eckhardt Kohler (born 1962) fills a gallery with large, visionary paintings, it can actually feel like a spiritual experience. Kohler is obviously on some kind of a quest, and its goal is not especially to sell paintings. He explores the world, both inner and outer, rather than reacting with the irony, anger, humor, or disgust that is more common to successful contemporary Chicago artists. With titles like “In the Garden of the Blessed,” “Night Ceremony,” and “Up the Mountain,” his paintings lead us into high chroma landscapes that feel as much like Mughal miniatures as they do the American land or the free, swirling, calligraphic brushstrokes of Abstract Expression. And unlike his paintings from earlier years, this series from 2010 is more of a solitary journey, with only an occasional, loosely sketched human or animal figure. Are the hares and crows intended to guide the seeker through these fantastic hills of pink and blue trees? Is this the same kind of journey that the intoxicated Carlos Castaneda took with his brujo through the chaparral of northern Mexico? This may not be among the very best visionary art. Kohler is quite adept in navigating the ins and outs of pictorial space. But these paintings are just not beautifully sharp and ecstatic enough to convince this pilgrim that the Truth has been found, though I am convinced that he’s on the way, and would certainly like to see where he goes next. (Chris Miller)
Through February 26 at Linda Warren Gallery, 1052 West Fulton Market.
Zach Taylor & Aaron Williams, " Assembly 1," 2010
Zach Taylor and Aaron Williams have completely different ways of communicating. Taylor’s language is couched in the mechanical world, yet concerns itself with a journey rather than the mode of transport, a distance covered emotionally which is then embellished, infused with ulterior definition and given greater resonance by the straight-edged precision of text woven in by Williams.
The bulk of “Finished” is collaborative in just this way, image and word shaping each other, and where these two aspects seamlessly fuse is where the art really kicks and communicates something, though perhaps not always decipherable—sort of like this review—for how ultimately internalized it feels. I almost have mixed feelings about the show because it’s so good to look at that I was distracted from interpretation. The work was resilient to associations—despite the nostalgic imagery of Jiminy Cricket and the Land O’ Lakes mascot—so initially I could only admire the way paint was perfectly calibrated on canvas, the technique employed and the sheer physicality that occupied the gallery. Read the rest of this entry »
Heather Marshall and Chuck Walker might well be called the yin and yang of figure painting in Chicago. What could be more delicate than Heather’s small, bright, flat photo-realism—and what could be more bold than Chuck’s wall-sized, dark, deep, Baroque-dramatic paintings? So it’s quite a thrill to see them side-by-side at Linda Warren Gallery this month, but it’s also something of a disappointment, since the stories they each tell don’t quite deserve their technical mastery, without which, Marshall’s paintings are merely overworn clichés of modern photography’s critique of American life, while Walker’s paintings would not rise above sentimental pulp fiction. Their technical mastery, though, does make this a memorable exhibition. Marshall’s finesse is breathtaking, while Walker’s bravura figure painting can only have resulted from the tens of thousands of figure sketches that he’s done over the decades, several of which have been posted on a small wall in back of the gallery. Unfortunately, unless they’re done by famous artists, such life drawings have minimal market value, but Walker packs as much teeming life into them as into his paintings that are a hundred times larger. Something has to be said for his lonely, single-minded pursuit of this kind of image making that was abandoned by the American art world at least fifty years ago. This is his first solo exhibition in a commercial gallery in fifteen years, and we can believe that he will continue to soldier on with his hard-scrabble visions of urban life, regardless of what sells in this show or not. (Chris Miller)
Through October 23 at Linda Warren Gallery, 1052 West Fulton Market
Unless they’re attributed to famous artists, quick-sketch life-drawings have negligible cash value. Nudes have always been problematic for American collectors, and quick-sketches do not demonstrate the excruciating detail that appeals to both neo and paleo-academics. So, you will hardly ever find quick sketches in the kind of galleries that have to pay big rent. And yet, sketches can present not only a spontaneous, thrilling virtuosity and beauty, but also a way of looking at people that characterizes both the artist and a specific time and place. What looks more interesting to the human mind than the face, flesh, and posture of other humans?
Of course, the quickest way to make some kind of image is to click the shutter of a camera. Not many people still have the time and patience to develop the skill of composing so quickly, while controlling a spatial illusion with ink or chalk on paper, especially now, when that ability is no longer demanded by art schools. But some people do persist with this arcane academic European practice, and a few even get very good at it, as demonstrated by a group show at Tom Robinson’s studio gallery. Read the rest of this entry »
Top 5 Museum Shows
Olafur Eliasson, Museum of Contemporary Art
Your Pal, Cliff: Selections from the H.C. Westermann Study Collection, Smart Museum
Paul Chan, Renaissance Society
Mary Lou Zelazny, Hyde Park Art Center
James Castle: A Retrospective, Art Institute of Chicago
Top 5 Gallery Shows
Rob Carter, Ebersmoore Gallery
Big Youth, Corbett vs. Dempsey
Sarah Krepp, Roy Boyd Gallery
Everybody! Visual resistance in feminist health movements, 1969-2009, I Space
Ali Bailey, Golden Gallery
—Jason Foumberg Read the rest of this entry »
Inside the "Knowledge Box" by Ken Isaacs
By Jason Foumberg
It’s telling that no paintings are included in “Learning Modern,” an exhibition conceived to honor and update the twentieth century’s greatest artistic project. Modernism bloomed on canvas, its essences distilled via paint. But any office worker in downtown Chicago knows that Modernism also found expression in concrete, steel and glass. Despite its force and thrust, Modernism was (and remains) people friendly. It’s interactive. By inhabiting Modernist structures we carry its legacy, and we can barely ignore it; we can, however, shelve a crackly old canvas out of view. The persistence, and insistence, of Modern architecture may be one reason why painting was excluded from “Learning Modern.” Another reason may be that Wellington Reiter is an architect and urban planner, and the current president of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago where “Learning Modern” is held. For Reiter, renewed attention to architecture and design signals a reorientation of the artist’s role in the world. Whereas painters work in private, their coded dialogue trained toward other painters, architects and designers mold human activity. Being relevant is back in style. It’s an ideal even the classical Modernists would abide. Read the rest of this entry »
Arriving at the Linda Warren Gallery for the exhibition of Alex O’Neal’s recent works, one meets the startling, “Modern Day Tarzans,” an acrylic and collage on canvas. Here are Day-Glo greens, yellows and reds on a burnished rust background. There is a lion, a tiger, a large, long, green snake. There are androgynous figures with large breasts and moustaches with wide open mouths taunting, yelling, sticking out their tongues, pledging and promising more just ahead. It’s an outright eschatological festival.
“My work is formally rooted in several years of abstract painting done in the American Southwest,” O’Neal shares. “Thematically, the dysfunctional community of Mississippi I moved within in the sixties, early seventies, made a deep impression on me.” The paintings’ dense, dusty reds with vivid blues and yellows and occasional twists of glitter thrust those themes outward. One can feel the heat, smell the hot sauce. Read the rest of this entry »
Consumers are the new criminals: a trope that was always overdetermined and simplistic, and that by now feels worn out and somewhat outdated given the new batch of financier sinners we’re scapegoating these days. In fact, the current economic shipwreck makes environmentalist finger-pointing seem almost nostalgic, as Nicole Gordon’s show at Linda Warren Gallery illustrates. Gordon’s paintings, with obvious influences from Northern Renaissance painters Bruegel and Hieronymus Bosch to William Blake, are simultaneously religious and carnivalesque, each one illuminating one of the seven deadly sins as acted upon the planet. Gordon considers each sin from a purely environmental perspective, where, for example, gluttony is imagined as an apocalyptic oil-drilling scene, and envy as a surrealist diamond mine. The connection is hardly new, and the show doesn’t leave very much up to the analysis of the viewer in terms of theme or intellectual challenge. The paintings turn out to be most interesting in their hybrid style, which comprises a striking combination of quasi-realistic backgrounds and cartoon-like, overtly artificial foregrounded figures. This kind of visual mash-up seems to offer much more insight into the way we experience the world now—perhaps a comment on the simulacric way we interact with the natural environment (when we do so at all), where specific fictions have allowed such eco-holocausts to take place. However, the images themselves, from animals in gas masks to a childish depiction of a man being sodomized by a gas line, seem overly simplistic, and it’s hard to know how we’re to take the final image, “The Culmination,” which depicts a literal apocalypse, complete with a nuclear cloud in the distance; the artist statement claims these paintings reflect hope and a possibility for change, but other than the ambivalent style, the work itself shows the frustrating lack of complexity that underlies all propaganda, eco-friendly or otherwise. (Monica Westin)
Through May 9 at Linda Warren Gallery, 1052 W. Fulton Market
Michael K. Paxton’s exhibition title, “Alpestrine,” is also a botanical term meaning “grown at high altitudes or mountainous regions.” This is the birthplace for Paxton’s inspiration and fitting for his first solo show of paintings at the Linda Warren Gallery. Paxton’s aerial views of mountains and islands are on a gargantuan scale. “Full Mountain,” a mixed media on unstreched canvas, is the largest piece in the show, measuring 5×12 feet. More impressive than the pieces’ size is the artist’s approach—though the subject matter is solid and heavy, the pieces appear airy and ethereal. The mountainous structures are not rigidly defined, but flow into amorphous forms that continue off the canvas. Warm reds and browns mingle effortlessly with blues and greens to create temperate textures, a large leap from the artist’s previous black and white palette. Paxton, who has been an active artist in Chicago for more than thirty years, and currently teaches at Columbia College, is originally from mountainous West Virginia. A recent trip to Greece, where he spent his time hiking and exploring some of the highest peaks in the Aegean, resonated with his childhood memories, inspiring this series of work. Though a personal catharsis for the artist, viewers too will be able to identify with the mountain’s symbolism as obstacle or stepping-stone to a higher level. (Patrice Connelly)
Through February 7 at Linda Warren Gallery, 1052 W. Fulton Market