Hank Willis Thomas, whose punchy conceptual photographs unpack the fraught ways our society is racially charged, is the first artist to be featured in Monique Meloche Gallery’s Off the Wall project, a new public art initiative to engage the streets of Chicago with work by contemporary artists working at the fore of their field. Willis Thomas has created six photographic images that have been installed on public benches throughout Wicker Park and Bucktown. Each image in the series “Bench Marks” situates black bodies into tropes borrowed from advertising, cues pulled from African-American history and reductive myths around black bodies as athletes, performers and objects of a dominant social gaze. These projects will remain on view through the end of November. See below for a map of the locations of the six artworks. Read the rest of this entry »
I consider leaving a gallery extolling the virtues of a painting that, upon entry I thought was dreadful, to be the mark of a good show. The about-face typically indicates a challenge to taste; biases poked and prodded at, and senses ultimately rewarded. Object lesson: “Backseat,” painter Ben Murray’s diaphanous, Morris Louis-inflected ode to fuzzy memories and suburban youth.
Deep and brooding, this large-scale canvas initially struck me as little more than an ill-defined mess. Ten minutes in, blundering brushstrokes revealed tantalizing nuance. The lazy black patina that shrouded the scene in a dense haze dissolved into translucent sheets of glistening blue and violet. The backseat, scene of teenage mating rituals, stale Cheerios and lost letters at last emerged from the misty bonds of the gossamer surface. The effect was spellbinding. Read the rest of this entry »
On an afternoon in June of 1936, the Museum of Modern Art opened what was perhaps its most delicate, if not most abbreviated temporary exhibition—“Edward Steichen’s Delphiniums,” MoMA’s first and only flower exhibition, on view for a mere week. The entirely unique breed of delphiniums were hybridized by Steichen, an influential photographer who would eventually direct MoMA’s department of photography, whom few recognize as a comparably influential horticulturist. Today, the legacy of his eponymous exhibition is brokered strictly through photographic and archived printed matter. Steichen’s exhibition is remarkable in its attention to the temporal nature of the exhibition format and a subsequently acute dependence on future access via the archive. What relevance might this exhibition have as a wide interest in archives emerges throughout contemporary art practices? Read the rest of this entry »
Kate Levant first rose to prominence in 2009 while still a graduate student at Yale University. In a prime example of silver-lining’s good fortune (or incredibly well placed connections), a proposed blood-drive-as-performance piece denied by the university’s administration was brought to the attention of New York dealer Zach Feuer. A summer show curated by the young Chicago native quickly ensued and since then, Levant has ascended to art-world heights at rapid pace, with solo shows in New York, inclusion in the 2012 Whitney Biennial, and a two-year stint as artist-in-residence at the Rijksakademie Amsterdam.
Like the late Robert Rauschenberg, Levant’s practice is omnivorous and her mixed-media installations embrace the materials of everyday life without prejudice. Fabric, corrugated plastic, thread, even the remnants of a burned-out Detroit home have all made appearances in the artist’s oeuvre. The bent, twisted, tattered and colorless materials that comprise the forms in “Inhuman Indifference” are no different, frequently having been altered in idiosyncratic and engaging ways, but remaining eminently, and recognizably themselves. Read the rest of this entry »
It’s too bad that sharp figure drawing, bold design and lurid eroticism aren’t enough to rise to the top of our contemporary art world. If Gabriel Vormstein had been born a century earlier, he might have been selected for the “Entartete Kunst” (Degenerate Art) exhibition of 1937, the greatest tribute ever paid to German Expressionism, and his work might now be hanging between Ernst Kirchner and Emil Nolde in the Milwaukee Art Museum. Obviously, he’s been impressed by Egon Schiele, but he’s less linear, less dramatic, and seems to have a healthier personality that’s not as fascinated with what people have between their legs. Read the rest of this entry »
Each of the fifteen large-scale photographs in Carrie Schneider’s “Burning House” series has at its center a house ablaze. Schneider creates images at once idyllic and unsettling, conjuring domesticity and its destruction. Shot on an isolated lake in north-central Wisconsin, to which Schneider made numerous trips from her Brooklyn home, the compositions are approximately bisected by horizon lines, creating an overall sense of balance in the series—a balance disrupted by changes in season and atmosphere, and by the luminous blaze that haunts each photo. In some, the smoke rises in gorgeous billows against a sun-saturated sky; in others, it is windblown, cutting across the surface of the image. The effect is consistently uncanny. Freud defined the uncanny as the product of repression, by which the familiar, domestic, and “homely” becomes unfamiliar and fearful—a “harbinger of death.” Schneider’s series investigates aesthetic modes of the uncanny to spectacular effect.
Kerry James Marshall’s “On the Wall” window installation at Monique Meloche Gallery looks out on the intersection where the bar and boutique territory of Division Street meets the abandoned monolithic carscape of Saint Mary of Nazareth Hospital. Beyond the hospital is West Town and Humboldt Park. As good as it looks and with no disrespect to the gallery, I hope that the piece might some day be installed where young African-Americans might benefit from the work’s enticing mix of glam, enigma and pedagogical snippets of African-American history.
At first glimpse, during the day, one thinks of the Mylar that makes up the pillows in “Exploding Plastic Inevitable,” but the title transcends materiality, intimating the intergalactic scope of Afro-Futurism, further signified by the red, green and black of Marcus Garvey’s Afro-American flag. Marshall uses light-reflecting materials to create moving spectrums against a glittery red, black and green background. Undulating shapes waver between bow ties and ribbons, looped over the window space and punctuated by screen-printed historical portraits. While the names of these unknown dark stars appear below their vignetted portraits, Marshall requested that the gallery not provide a cheat sheet with any information about them, preferring, wisely, to send the audience on a mission to find out for themselves about the Real Cleopatra Jones and Denmark Vesey, among the others. Read the rest of this entry »
Way back before the millennium, the Art Institute of Chicago hosted an exhibition of French artist Annette Messager’s amazing textile-based installations. I wandered among hanging forests of plush organs, taxidermied birds wearing crocheted sweaters and perched/impaled on rebar, tangled webs of yarn and crayons, and ceremonial dresses laid out in long glass coffin-like cases. And, like the opening reception for Karen Reimer’s show at Monique Meloche Gallery, the space was sunk in a twilight gloom. Negotiating Reimer’s hanging pillowcases adorned with ornate text, the sense of being in an upside-down cemetery was only enhanced by the fact that Reimer was selling rubbings of the embroideries, one of which hung framed near the gallery entrance. Read the rest of this entry »
Photos will never do justice to Jason Middlebrook’s installations, nor will reviews. His current exhibition, titled “Less,” is experiential, requiring your presence and your time. The reclaimed and reused wood—no new materials are used here—alters the air. It has a scent, as does the chewed gum on a school desk that spells out “I am so sick of Sarah Palin.” What is new, however, is the vitality imbued in each dirty, chipped, warped, partially painted and haggard piece, each turned and crafted but ultimately discarded segment.
“Floral Arrangement #2,” an imploding collection of bits of furniture and lumber that stretches through most of the central gallery space, needs to be walked under and around, and interacted with to see where these individual scraps of wood might have once intersected with your own lives. A bit of a bed, what’s left of a chair—this all belonged to us at one time. Our own remnant scents might linger, our weight might be seen in the fibers, our intentions in the cracks and dents. Read the rest of this entry »
Always possessed of a sensibility directed towards decay, disorder and ultimately death, Laura Letinsky has at last reached the limit in her latest series of tabletop color still-life photographs, which take the leap into the abyss of memento mori. Shot at dusk, when French folk wisdom has it that dogs transform into feral wolves, Letinsky’s shadowed images serve up surfaces scattered with the detritus of life, as when we are treated to an array that includes a gruesome dead bird, cigarette butts, a fragment of an orange peel, a plastic candy wrapper, and some black globules of uncertain origin—all placed on an oblong piece of sadly wrinkled paper. Proof that Letinsky has come a long way down the highway to hell hangs in the gallery’s back room, where an earlier study of a kitchen table counter, replete with a dirty beaker, soiled butter knives, a folded sponge, and a wilting plant was shot in the morning and still carries the promise of a return to neatness and intelligibility. (Michael Weinstein)
Through March 13 at Monique Meloche Gallery, 2154 W. Division