Nate Young. Installation view of “Untitled (Pulpit No. 1),” 2014, and “Untitled (Altar No. 1),” 2015
By Matt Morris
Is art that appears to be “about art” ever only limited to that scope of investigation? I’d say it’s doubtful, mostly because mechanisms of power reproduce themselves throughout social institutions, so to reflect upon the constitutive components of an artistic medium (as well as its historical and contemporary contexts) possesses at least the potential of a transferrable method by which one might fashion new freedoms—not through a rebellion from upheld traditional forms but through critical relationships to them. The monochrome continues to do this. Distilled to an uninterrupted plane, color, texture, scale and the tools for applying material (all usually in some way present in most artworks) are amplified, inviting investigation into the parts that comprise the art. In the best of cases, consideration of the conditions of display is inspired as well. The monochrome as a form also holds up under projections: historically used for such diverse conceptual conceits as Suprematism, color field painting, the “radical painting group,” and most recently one of several working modes bizarrely attributed by Ken Johnson to “soccer mom” aesthetics. A century after Kazimir Malevich painted his canvas “Black Square” in 1915, artists continue figuring out how to take apart the language of art-making so that the parsed vocabulary can speak to the power of the entire system. Read the rest of this entry »
Kelly Lloyd. “I painted the elevator doors the color of my skin. C1, 21,1—E0,13,0—KX0,22,1—V0,37,0,” 2014, acrylic on elevator doors
by Matt Morris
I had been trying to muster the holiday cheer to write a whimsical column about winter window displays when I read the news that the St. Louis County grand jury tasked with the decision to indict police officer Darren Wilson who shot eighteen-year-old Michael Brown to death in August chose not to pursue justice. Since the announcement, I’ve been in vocal and incredulous discussions over the sadistically intricate ways that political and social suppression, economic disadvantage, the bizarre militarization of police forces and even President Obama’s muted responses to this and other murders of unarmed black people have conspired in a construction of an impossibly powerful systemic racism. I’ve felt the deep urge to run. In my mind I see the text “RUN” Rashid Johnson spray-painted in white across a mirror that was included in “Message to Our Folks,” his survey at the MCA two years ago. This is a run from lynch mobs and paramilitary cops and deplorably violent histories that span centuries of America’s past.
Rashid Johnson. “Run,” 2008,
mirror with spray paint
Our society has been shaped without consideration to the personhood and value of nonwhite lives, therefore their sadness, outrage and even their deaths have not been permitted to have any impact. Confronted with this daunting problem built into the very structure of this country, my conviction that art has the potential to powerfully interject into the thick of restrictive, racist assumptions has been bolstered by several recent projects that investigate how visibility for people of color’s lives is situated into public and institutional spaces. Read the rest of this entry »
Alexandria Eregbu’s performance “Father’s Heart,” 2013/Photo: Noah Krell
Last week the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) and The Joyce Foundation announced the two curators and six artists who have been selected for the inaugural year of the DCASE Studio Artist and Curatorial Residency Awards at the Chicago Cultural Center (CCC). For the 2014-2015 year, Allison Glenn and Ross Jordan have been selected as curatorial fellows. The selected artists will be provided three-month residencies. The schedule of artist residencies is as follows: Alexandria Eregbu (October-December 2014); Adebukola Bodunrin, Mahwish Chishty and Faheem Majeed in collaboration with Jeremiah Hulsebos-Spofford (January-April 2015); Cecil McDonald and Cheryl Pope (May-August 2015).
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Hank Willis Thomas. “Black Power”/Photo: Jim Prinz, courtesy of the artist and Monique Meloche Gallery, Chicago
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 »
“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 »