Reviews, profiles and news about art in Chicago

Review: Edward Gorey/Loyola University Museum of Art

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Illustration (detail) from The Doubtful Guest, 1957, © The Edward Gorey Charitable Trust. All rights reserved.

Illustration (detail) from The Doubtful Guest, 1957, © The Edward Gorey Charitable Trust. All rights reserved.

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My first introduction to Edward Gorey’s playfully delicate drawings came during my childhood in the form of an illustrated 1982 edition of T.S. Eliot’s “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.” Gorey’s drawings for the book jacket are included in the Loyola Museum of Art’s “Elegant Enigmas: The Art of Edward Gorey” and “G is for Gorey—C is for Chicago: The Collection of Thomas Michalak.” Taken together, LUMA triumphs in creating a rich, appealing total experience of Edward Gorey as an artist and the many roles he played in publishing. Gorey’s illustrated books are often coy treatments of sexuality and death, not so much intended for children as accessible to me and many others as an alternative to the more mainstream (and normative) comic-book culture of boyhood. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Heaven and Hell/Loyola University Museum of Art and Intuit

Michigan Avenue, Painting, River West No Comments »

Clementine Hunter

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With its emphasis on The Word, Protestant Christianity has not had much use for visual narrative, and when it has been used, such as in Sunday-school texts, it has run between dry and anemic. However, the religion’s emphasis on individual salvation is a good match for those obsessed with personal visions, such as outsider artists, and nothing seems to have inspired them more than depictions of Heaven and Hell.

This two-venue exhibition, drawing from forty private and museum collections around the country, began as LUMA’s initial venture into the wild and wooly world of outsider art, for which they wisely brought in the expertise of the Intuit Center. Two curators, one from each institution, collaborated on making selections, and the display was split between the galleries, with, appropriately enough, the Jesuit university hosting Heaven and the outsider art gallery raising Hell. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Janet McKenzie/Loyola University Museum of Art

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In 1999, Janet McKenzie’s “Jesus of the People” was selected by Sister Wendy Beckett, the BBC television art docent, from among the ten finalists in the National Catholic Reporter’s “Jesus 2000” project to discover “who Jesus might be for our time.” As Sister Wendy wrote: “This is a haunting image of a peasant Jesus—dark, thick-lipped, looking out on us with ineffable dignity, with sadness but with confidence.”

Using a young African-American woman as the model and symbols associated with American Indian and Taoist spirituality, the piece has generated more controversy than veneration, which was presumably that independent newspaper’s intention. Read the rest of this entry »

Eye Exam: The Lugubrious Impulse

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By Jason Foumberg

When we’re tourists we often find ourselves standing on graves or admiring tombs of the illustrious dead. Several years ago, after a traipse through some European cemeteries and catacombs, I became (morbidly) obsessed with the Capuchin ossuary in Rome, a series of underground chapels decorated with the bones of monks in the seventeenth century. Where a tomb designed by Bernini or Michelangelo hides the deceased behind decadently carved marble, the Capuchin monks used actual bones for their headstones, creating decorative patterns in the style of Baroque stucco bas-relief or fresco—swirling aureoles and floral motifs—while other skeletons are collaged into tableaux, such as a clock made from phalanges and flying cherubim composed of skulls and winged shoulder blades.

I wanted to learn why the Capuchins built their shrine to death but, oddly, I could not find any full historical accounts about this strange place. I realized that the thousands of tourists who visit the chapels each year are not informed about why this place exists or how it came to be; we are simply left to ogle the lugubrious sculptures and ponder our own mortality. Tourists to the bone chapel can purchase postcards of the crypts so that the visceral images of bodily decomposition may be contemplated in private or distributed around the world like a decree: death trumps art. Read the rest of this entry »

The Top 5 of Everything 2010: Art

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Lilli Carré: Untitled, 2010, screen print, 8 x 8 inches. Photo by Angee Leonnard.

Top 5 People and Places We’ll Miss
Kathryn Hixson
David Weinberg Gallery
Rowley Kennerk Gallery
Green Lantern Gallery
James Garrett Faulkner
—Jason Foumberg

Top 5 Solo Exhibitions
Edra Soto/Ebersmoore Gallery
Philip Hanson/Corbett vs. Dempsey
Lilli Carré/Spudnik Press
Gladys Nilsson/Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art
Ian Weaver/Packer Schopf Gallery
—Jason Foumberg

Top 5 Public Art Projects
Ray Noland’s “Run Blago Run”
Pop-Up galleries in the Loop
Nomadic Studio/DePaul University Art Museum
Hui-min Tsen’s tours of the Chicago Pedway
Marwen
—Jason Foumberg Read the rest of this entry »

Review: New Icon/Loyola University Museum of Art

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Zachary Buchner, "Untitled (Gold II)," 2010

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From the detritus of everyday symbols and physical objects to new approaches encountering transcendence through the experience of visual perception, the artists in “New Icon” tackle the notion of the iconic across a spectrum of interests and methods. Zachary Buchner, for example, gives us fake gold or, more specifically, imitation-gold-leaf laid over forms reminiscent of molded ingots, angular crystals and jagged cartoon crowns. These seemingly simple pieces fascinate the senses while spurring second-guesses of our assumptions about the “natural” value of this real yet simultaneously mythical substance. Carrie Gundersdorf’s collages echo this interrogation of the ubiquitous yet largely invisible, collecting clipped images of astrological phenomenon such as comets or the Northern Lights—the ethereal glow of which, while never personally seen by most of us, is nonetheless utterly familiar, having been “seen” at precisely the second-hand remove Gundersdorf highlights, via a proliferation of photographs that convey the experience with more clarity and focus that is possible in “real” life. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Laszlo Moholy-Nagy/Loyola University Museum of Art

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Founder of the Institute of Design, which for a brief moment in the mid-twentieth century made Chicago the center of world photography, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy was the great experimenter, addicted to the idea of a purely photographic vision that would develop his medium’s possibilities for transforming human sensibility so that people would be fit to survive and prevail in an industrial environment. Although he has been shown in his adopted home many times, this lavish exhibition, which covers five galleries and is accompanied by informative wall text and handouts, finally—through the efforts of curator Carol Ehlers—gives Moholy his due and allows us to appreciate his many facets whole. From his straight shots of cityscapes from unfamiliar angles (now part of the visual vernacular) to his “light paintings” and photograms in which directed light and objects play on photo-sensitive media without the mediation of a lens, Moholy was ever breaking new ground in technique; yet, in retrospect, a look at the light paintings, which were his boldest endeavors, reveals that the forms of those haunting astral abstractions are photographic versions of the contemporary paintings of the era that are most kindred to the works of Joan Miro and Paul Klee. Rather than being ahead of his time, as he wished to be, Moholy was of them as a genuine creator. (Michael Weinstein)

Through May 9 at the Loyola University Museum of Art, 820 N. Michigan.

Review: Sarah Hadley/Loyola University Museum of Art

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Screen shot 2009-12-06 at 8.45.27 PMRECOMMENDED

If we ever needed proof that straight photography always presents the world through a specific sensibility, we can find it in extremis in Sarah Hadley’s sepia-pigmented studies of Venice, Italy on misty evenings, seemingly frozen in time in the nineteenth-century. Whether she has fixed on details of statues, back alleys, the fabled canals, footpaths, grand cathedrals with spires soaring to the sky among the birds, or humble abodes hugging the ground, Hadley always casts a pictorialist spell, placing us alone in the fog, observing a world transfigured by a grand poignancy. Hadley is most effective in depicting seductive distance when she allows a faceless human figure into the scene, as in “Ascension,” where we see a man from behind, blackened to a shadow by the fog, walking up a flight of concrete stairs by the side of a vaporous canal. The only fruitful response is to surrender to the mood of bittersweet loneliness that Hadley consistently projects and evokes, and to forget that Venice is also a sinking twenty-first century city. (Michael Weinstein)

Through January 17 at Loyola University Museum of Art, 820 N. Michigan.

Review: Back to the Future/Loyola University Museum of Art

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Charmion Von Wiegand

Charmion Von Wiegand

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There was an optimistic, meditative spirituality in abstract painting when it emerged in early-twentieth-century Europe, and this exhibit presents three American abstract painters who kept going in that direction even after the postwar New York art world had turned more worldly, angst-ridden and expressive. Each has filled their work with references to various non-Western mystical traditions, but though they seem like repositories of ancient, esoteric knowledge, that knowledge remains strictly personal (i.e., nobody can figure it all out). Charmion von Wiegand (1896-1983) began as a devotee of Piet Mondrian, and it’s fascinating to see her change into a Himalayan Buddhist. You can actually see the Mondrian in her gradually fleeing the canvas. She is the one painter in this exhibit whose work belongs in a remote monastery (or, at least a fashionable spiritual retreat center). Alfred Jensen (1903-1981), though, with his thick paint, compulsive numerology, aggressive colors and rough edges, was apparently a much more earthbound, suffering soul. Simon Gouverneur (1934-1990) was more concerned with himself as a contemporary artist, producing well-crafted, apparently complex examples for Nelson Goodman’s  “The Languages of Art.”  The three make for a fascinating contrast, and transform the exhibition space into a temporary chapel of post-Christian spirituality and art posturing. (Chris Miller)

Through November 15 at the Loyola University Museum of Art, 820 N. Michiga.

Eye Exam: Drawing from History

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McMahon covering the McGovern Convention

McMahon covering the McGovern Convention

By Jeffery McNary

Illustration is one of the last great art forms to be recognized by the art establishment. Perhaps because it exists in service to reportage, illustration has yet to ‘come up,’ as it were. It is, however, a well-developed style with major players. At 88 years old, Franklin McMahon looms large, his legacy bundled with some of Chicago’s biggest news stories. McMahon’s realist art captures, on an epic scale, many of the significant events and figures of the past sixty years. It’s a symphony of extensive notes. In graphite, charcoal and acrylic the illustrator substantiates history, providing crisp insight into a moment’s look and feel: politicos, popes, campaigns, cardinals, courtrooms and conventions.

A selection of the artist’s drawings and paintings are currently on exhibition at the Loyola University Museum of Art, with a focus on his religious and civic contributions. Jonathan Canning, the Martin D’Arcy Curator of Art, says of McMahon’s works, “This is a lost art he’s called to. The camera is so ubiquitous we forget that such persons did such work for so very long.” McMahon has written, “The artist who draws directly on the site can see around corners, adding dimension to viewpoint, getting ideas, heightening reality.” He captures bishops in white miters entering St. Peter’s Basilica, the magnificent Baroque dome, impressive marble pillars and statues of saints about the rooftop share a harmony, as if the artist is lifted mid-way up the obelisk and the piazza’s center for a privileged glimpse of it all.

A native Chicagoan, McMahon spent a portion of his childhood in California, and there began drawing posters for school plays. Returning home, he completed studies at Fenwick Catholic High School where he began drawing cartoons, selling one to Collier’s Weekly a week before graduation. Entering the Army Air Corps during WWII, McMahon was shot down over Germany and spent four months as a POW. War’s end found him in evening studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago while continuing to draw freelance. There’s small wonder that sensitive mix of church and politics placed its brand upon his psyche and his creative passions. His love of the city comes through in his engaging book of drawings and paintings, “Chicago Impressions.” “My work has been half assignment, half self-initiated,” says the artist-reporter. “It’s helped that my wife is a travel writer.” Read the rest of this entry »