“Backseat,” oil on canvas, 2013
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 »
“The Museum Archive (dedicated to Edward Steichen’s Delphiniums, MOMA 1936),” 2014. Glass, resin, plants, beam splitter glass, photo gels, photographic prints and film. Photo: James Prinz
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.
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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 »
NOTE: The gallery is temporarily closed due to an electrical fire.
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 »
"Floral Arrangement #2"
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
The signs of these times seem to be predominantly distress signals. At Monique Meloche Gallery’s new location in Wicker Park, six artists from various regions of the United States of America weigh in to qualify recession blues in two and three dimensions. Let’s start in the middle, De Moines, where Michael Patterson-Carver renders average Americans voicing now ubiquitous concerns. A place where Boteroesque Iowans gather in watercolor to lobby for healthcare and employment may also be a place ripe with vacant commercial real estate.
Kim Beck dominates the façade of the Division Street location, with monumental signage simply soliciting space. Part of an ongoing project, “Everything Must Go,” is comprised of hand-drawn signage announcing liquidation. Beck turns the lens to the employees pronouncing impending vacancies, affirming that the work is intended to speak to “the more personal repercussions of the economic collapse.” Carrie Schneider seems equally entranced by the ghosts of retail past. “Recession,” the inspiration for “Sign of the Times,” is a self-portrait of the artist as exasperated consumer doing some recession-style window shopping, her torso flaccid, gracing the surface of an empty storefront. (In December, Schneider will address the MCA 12×12 space with “Slowdance,” a short film made in Helsinki.) Read the rest of this entry »