Reviews, profiles and news about art in Chicago

Art Break: Mess Hall Memories

News etc., Rogers Park 2 Comments »

messhallstorefrontLauren Weinberg did a fine job in Time Out documenting the basic facts around the shuttering this month of storefront community arts center Mess Hall’s decade of free offerings to the Rogers Park neighborhood and innumerable points beyond. Dan S. Wang gave a philosophical insider’s perspective on his Propositions Press blog. But, for someone who dragged my sorry carcass up north a paltry few times a year to a space that offered multiple unique events on most weekends, there are just so many memories that I associate with that tiny distant nook, that I am compelled, by way of elegy, to just indulge in something of a freeform brain-dump.

The first time I visited Mess Hall may have been for Thai activist-artist Vasan Sitthiket’s display of T-shirts; there were a series of presenters who talked about his work, which I witnessed mostly via audio while sitting on the floor within the clothesline-suspended forest of shirts. Alternately, it may have been when Temporary Services member Marc Fischer invited me to come and do a presentation about the hostile yet visionary 1980s Michigan hardcore band The Crucifucks, which accompanied Marc’s sermon on French punks Les Thugs. And there was Mike Wolf doing a slide show for perhaps over two hours on his experiences on foot wandering the Midwest during the summertime. I really regret missing Seattle artist and urban planner Sarah Kavage’s presentations on her “Industrial Harvest” project, where she bought and gave away one-thousand bushels of wheat. 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 »

Eye Exam: The Myth of Protest

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Nicole Boyett, "Bing (Crimefighting Cleavage)," 2011. Collection of Anne Elizabeth Moore.

By Daniel Tucker

A lone poster announcing a general strike flips, tattered and wet on the edges, in the rainy Chicago wind. It was pasted at Jackson and LaSalle, at the intersection of the Federal Reserve, Bank of America, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and Board of Trade. In the fall, this site was also the original home of Occupy Chicago, a grouping now spread throughout the city, signifying more of a tendency or idea than an actual group or event. There was a call for a general strike, but did we forget to put up more than one poster? Did we forget to tell anyone that wasn’t already our friend on Facebook!? It was May Day, the international workers holiday, born in Chicago in 1886.

On Tuesday, May 1, about 2,000 people marched our annual route from Union Park to Federal Plaza. The rain didn’t help attendance. May Day 2012 was smaller than the anti-war demonstrations of 2003 that took over Lake Shore Drive, or the Take Back Chicago rally in October that served as a coming-out party for both the new Stand Up Chicago coalition and Occupy Chicago. Attendance has steadily declined on May Day since the 2006 and 2007 rallies were taken on by immigrant rights groups that turned masses of people in Chicago and elsewhere, like Los Angeles. Read the rest of this entry »

Eye Exam: Forging a Frontier

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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 »

Eye Exam: Re-digesting the Sixties

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from Ben Russell's "Trypps #7"

By Jason Foumberg

Did filmmaker Ben Russell know that, in the Museum of Contemporary Art, his new 16mm film, titled “Trypps #7 (Badlands),” would be shown in a gallery directly below Robert Smithson’s 16mm film “Spiral Jetty,” from 1970? Whether the answer is yes, that Russell intentionally played with Smithson’s proximity, or no, that the pairing is a happy curatorial coincidence, the two artworks engage each other in a call-and-response separated by forty years and a thin ceiling/floor. The concurrent showing of Smithson’s old film and the appearance of his legacy in the work of newer artists underscores that, for object makers, Smithson is the current ruling father (not Warhol or Beuys), and that this first decade of the new century is strikingly similar to the late-1960s, from our relationship to nature to continued civil rights struggles to a flourishing counter-culture. Read the rest of this entry »

Eye Exam: Politics as (Un)usual

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By Bert Stabler

Seemingly poised to become the Fox News of local art punditry, the blog Chicago Art Criticism has (albeit from a purportedly post-Marxist perspective) been keeping up a sustained attack on contemporary social practices in art. Recent articles by Laurie Rojas, Ian Morrison, Chris Mansour and Jamie Keesling have all taken a hard party line in wringing their hands over the supplanting of the heroic artistic and cultural vanguard of the twentieth-century heyday of Modernism by the post-Fluxus proliferation of social and ideological practices being cast as artwork—practices like community kitchens and gardens, pamphleteering and swap meets. A screed on the blog by Platypus Journal contributor Bret Schneider targets the work of Chicago artist Claire Pentecost in a vitriolic diagnosis of (to use two of his go-to terms) art’s “dangerous” effort to recuperate the “failed” activist politics of a bygone era. Citing precious little theory or research to substantiate them, he offers epic-sounding generalizations, such as: “the undaunted optimism of social art practices glosses over suffering and constriction altogether in its wriggling away from historical trauma.” Or, “There is no fundamental condition of human existence yet, at least hopefully. Believing so is a major setback and an arbitrary nostalgia.”  Nostalgia bad, historical trauma good, got it.

But can art simultaneously fail and be dangerous? Well, if it fails to be art, hopefully it can do so by aspiring to be dangerous. As Pentecost said in a 2006 interview on the art podcast Bad At Sports, “If you’re talking about art as just the kind of stuff that gets validated by museums and galleries, maybe what I do isn’t art. But I think that art is a much bigger and broader human enterprise. I’m more interested in building movements.” And, while she describes change as a slow, multifaceted process, the things she makes, organizes, presents and participates in reflect her belief in the potential of producing knowledge publicly and collectively. Pentecost has worked on biotechnology experiments with the collective Critical Art Ensemble, helped to run and program the active community cultural space Mess Hall in Rogers Park, created seminars and publications in association with the Continental Drift project and The Midwest Radical Culture Corridor group, documented the encroachment of corporate-style farming practices in Europe and South America, created an installation and a newspaper about food economics and, closer to the purview of “real” art, presented a series of wall drawings as photographs, created monumental sculptures made from processed snacks, and commissioned miniaturist painters in India to render her portrait from staged tourist snapshots. Read the rest of this entry »

Newcity’s Top 5 of Everything 2009: Art & Museums

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Top 5 Museum Showsolafur_eliasson-one-way_colour_tunnel-2007
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
—Jason Foumberg

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 »

At Zeroes End: Art in Chicago, 2000–2009

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By Jason Foumberg

Jin Lee, "Ice 2," 2008. Courtesy devening projects + editions, Chicago

Jin Lee, "Ice 2," 2008. Courtesy devening projects + editions, Chicago

Art is long, but institutional memory is short. In many ways, Chicago’s art history is written as it occurs, in situ, by the people who produce it. Artists toil in their studios, heads-down. Apartment galleries open and close as briskly as the seasons change. We consume one-night-only events by the half-dozen, like so many bottles of free Grolsch beer. Even as new art blogs proliferate, with more scenes being represented than ever before, the snapshot commentary and weekly content often feels dated by week’s end. And yet, paintings aren’t bubblegum summer jams; they’re codified slabs of culture, philosophy and style. We seek dialogue, inspiration and long-term change. In short, we seek longevity, with lasting importance for our work and our peers’—but who has time to write contemporary history while we’re in the midst of making it?

That said, Chicago loves its art history. Outsiders, Imagists, Modernists and firebrands—memorize their precepts and you’re halfway to an MFA degree (however, please don’t leave Chicago once you earn the other half). Our traditions always feel in danger of becoming tinder for the next great fire, so we hand-cobble our history and share the stories orally like a rite of passage. This is to our strength and our detriment. History is our bind. We don’t trash Paschke or cold-shoulder Mies because we’ve worked so hard to carry their legacies. In many global art centers, successive generations of artists break with the past like rebellious teenagers, but Chicagoans do not. Here, innovation comes from influence and education. Doing otherwise, it would feel as if the whole thing could unravel.

As we approach the end of the century’s first decade, it’s time to take census of our situation. Read the rest of this entry »

Don’t Fear the Reaper: The Museum of Contemporary Phenomena confronts the angst of our age

Architecture, Artist Profiles, Multimedia, News etc., River North No Comments »

cabrera_bhbhbhbhBy Jason Foumberg

I’ve long romanticized the role of Old Man. Retired and happily pensioned, my time is my own. The long days return with childlike buoyancy, I drink bourbon for sport, and maybe write a memoir because, hell, I’ve seen it all. But old age is a destination, and like any long road trip there’s bound to be moments when the best mix tape gets monotonous. The journey is dotted with weird smells that creep in through the closed windows, rest-stop romances, cliché detours and midlife-crisis sports cars speeding fast toward metastasized tumor bumps in the road. If we reach the bald, wintry peak on all three legs (cane included), wise but weathered, we may find not keys to the kingdom but a death panel reaching for the plug.

Growing old is the topic of The Glue Factory, a new project initiated by the Museum of Contemporary Phenomena. When Helen Slade, Mike Newman and Rashmi Ramaswamy first collaborated under the banner of the Museum of Contemporary Phenomena they presented House of Fear. It was around Halloween, 2006, and they surveyed visitors at the Ravenswood Art Walk, asking, “What do you fear?” The national threat level was orange, unconvincing like a fake tan, and unreflected in the survey’s collected data, which was surprisingly terrorist-free. Respondents admitted fears of spiders, rats, strange dogs and heights. They expressed fears of rape and homelessness. Mostly, though, the majority feared growing old in America, with its attendant problems: obsolescence, loneliness, failure, loss of mental and physical health, “memories of youthful indiscretions,” poverty and, simply, the fear “that life is too short.” It’s a list long enough to prompt an existential binge. Read the rest of this entry »

Breakout Artists 2009: Chicago’s next generation of image makers

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Layout 1By Jason Foumberg

You’re not going to find an abstract painter in the bunch of this year’s breakout artists. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it’s getting difficult to define the value of traditional, solo practices in the age of the networked artist. Today’s image makers are less studio artists than opportunists in the expanded field, less gatekeepers of taste than trailblazers in the public sphere—“social entrepreneurs,” as Mike Bancroft calls it. The timing is just right. As this feature is printed, Chicago’s renowned but diminished commercial art fair has opened its doors to include the city’s beloved alternative, artist run and non-profit spaces. The market’s embers are cooling off, and for many that smells like opportunity. Read the rest of this entry »