A flash of light. You close your eyes. The bright glow lingers for a moment, no longer there, but not yet vanished. The voices of the ninety-nine percent reverberate in the galleries of the Museum of Contemporary Art—an afterimage of the tumultuous demonstrations of 2011. “If you are not angry, you are not paying attention.” “You should be here #OccupytheHood.” “Class war ahead.” “This is a universal revolution.” “Wake up.” The cardboard protest signs hang silently on the wall. A museum plaque announces that, if interested, you may check out a sign for the duration of your visit. Please just notify an attendant.
But few people seem to do so.
The protest-sign archive, titled “Phase I/ Live Archive,” is one part of Jason Lazarus’ multimedia solo show at the MCA. Lazarus began “Phase I/ Live Archive” as an artist-in-residence at the University of South Florida in Tampa. Moved by the revolutionary zeal of Occupy Wall Street, the artist invited students to re-create the handmade protest signs. Collecting images from Facebook and Twitter, the participants traced the activist slogans with black marker and spray paint. Read the rest of this entry »
Kazuo Shiraga, “Work BB 45,” 1962. Private collection, courtesy of Paul van Esch & Partners
“Destroy the Picture: Painting the Void, 1949–1962” is an exhibition forged in the fires of the Second World War. Assembled by former Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art chief curator Paul Schimmel, this globe-spanning assortment of works establishes the mutually defined conditions of creation and destruction as a novel, cohesive and, until now, underappreciated approach to postwar art-making.
There’s tremendous depth of feeling present in this show’s stunningly diverse offerings. Whether in the slashed and scarified surfaces of Italian artist Lucio Fontana’s monochromatic “Spatial Concepts” or in the blood-red entrails of Kazuo Shiraga’s “Wild Boar Hunting,” the physical and psychic devastation wrought by the war’s inhuman ravages are writ large upon the gallery walls. But beneath palpable anguish and desperation there lays a considerable amount of hope. Read the rest of this entry »
“Color Bind: The MCA Collection in Black and White” is like a room full of brilliant introverts: the party doesn’t get interesting until each is engaged on its own terms. The premise is simple: all artworks contain black, white or both, in MCA curator Naomi Beckwith’s first thematic exhibition culled from the museum’s permanent collection. It seems the guests at this gathering don’t have much to talk about beyond the black-tie dress code. Segregated are the sociological-minded artists—Adrian Piper and Kerry James Marshall—from the aestheticians—Robert Ryman and Ad Reinhardt.
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By Pedro Vélez
1. The Museum of Contemporary Art
From Heidi Norton’s impressive glass herbariums of common houseplants buried in layers of colored wax to an accessible yet highly competent, and somewhat melancholic, revisionist survey of art made during the culture-wars era in “This Will Have Been: Art, Love & Politics in the 1980s,” the MCA has placed itself right at the center of the national conversation. And they have done it by transforming what used to be a forgotten elitist institution into an exemplary multicultural operation. It seems the MCA can turn anything it touches into gold these days. Think of satirist Jayson Musson and his first-ever museum performance or the urban excitement produced by Martin Creed’s public kinetic sculpture “MOTHERS,” which has become the most talked-about piece of public art in this city since the dreadful Marilyn—in a good way, of course. I wouldn’t be surprised if in a few years from now the MCA is leading the pack. Follow their addictive Twitter handle @mcachicago, which is one of the coolest among all the other museums in the nation. Read the rest of this entry »
Papyrus fragments scribbled with writing from over two millennia ago were found in ancient landfill dumps, and stuffed like yesterday’s newspaper into the jaws of mummified crocodiles. These fragments were attributed to a Greek poet named Sappho. Because of the material nature of papyrus, over time her poems split into long vertical strips, dividing sentences into halves and thirds. We don’t know the entirety of most of her poems, but we can see how particular parts of a sentence fit within what remains of the sentences above or below. The rest is speculation, intuition, or invention. Scholars and poets have worked to piece together the fragments into complete poems. In many ways, when we read Sappho now, the translator is given as much credit as the poet herself. In the introduction to one book of Sappho’s poems, a scholar writes of the translator, “It is exact translation; but in its composition, the spacing, the arrangement of stresses, it is also high art.”
And this is the brilliance of the fragment. A fragment can grab at much more than the mass of itself. It is distilled, and moonshine-strong. Paul Cowan’s “Sign Paintings” are mostly primed white canvases where each sparse swath of color or shrugged brushstroke is a fragment, plucked from the whole and tenuously dangled into place. As viewers, we are left with perilous guesswork. Our eyes and brains work at full throttle to fill in the gaps and sync the whole thing together.
There is a particular style present in contemporary painting which one sees a lot of in Chicago. It’s a style that a friend and I have termed: “Squiggle-fits.”
You’ll recognize it when you see it: quick, meaningless fits of colorful hieroglyphics pushed around on canvas in layers of varying density. Many of them are stunning, but almost all of them are reminiscent of the decoy artworks in New Yorker cartoons, where someone is at home or in the office and there are drawings of paintings on the walls behind them. These drawn paintings are squiggles and dots that imply an artwork is on the wall. They are stand-ins for actual paintings, or “paintings” of “paintings.” Read the rest of this entry »
By Jason Foumberg
I’m a fan of skipping the line at Old Navy and buying from local artists for the holidays. Even atheists can partake.
For the Kitchen
Placemat by Karolina Gnatowski
ThreeWalls, one of Chicago’s best showcases of local emerging artists, offers a chance to creatively dress up your dining-room table while supporting its dynamic programming. The holiday edition of their Community Supported Art series includes a placemat, a bowl, a cup and a plate, all created by Chicago-based artists in a limited edition of thirty. Karolina Gnatowski’s placemat humorously takes into account the role of “place,” with arms and hands that reach toward the floor, thereby completing the circle among diner, dinner and home. Mindy Rose Schwartz’s dribble cup cheekily pokes a hole in the concept of “functional objects,” whereas a bowl by reclaimed-wood worker John Preus and a plate by noted sculptor Christine Tarkowski are so visually stylized they may end up on a collector’s shelf rather than a kitchen cabinet. In 2004, the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum produced an exhibition titled “Design(does not equal) Art: Functional Objects from Donald Judd to Rachel Whiteread.” ThreeWalls’ current CSA adds a chapter to that alternative history of contemporary art/design. Try out your new place-setting at a ThreeWalls holiday meal on December 15 at the Stew Supper Club. $400 for the complete place-setting, and $100 for the holiday meal, at three-walls.org.
Lillstreet’s thirty-seventh annual holiday exhibition focuses on ceramic objects and sculptures by more than twenty-five artists, ranging from traditional to experimental takes on classics like plates, mugs and teakettles. Through December 31 at Lillstreet, 4401 North Ravenswood. Read the rest of this entry »
It’s been some time since Chicago was a major player on the international art fair scene. First the International Art Exposition and, later, Art Chicago, were standard-setters in the eighties and nineties, though as Art Chicago moved out of its longtime home in Navy Pier’s Festival Hall, a gradual decline led to its cancellation, under the name Next Art Chicago, earlier this year. EXPO Chicago, the product of longtime Art Chicago administrator Tony Karman, is now attempting to tap some of Art Chicago’s early prestige with a return to Navy Pier and a set-up that is, as Karman says, “respectful to the work that’s put in it.”
“Festival Hall at Navy Pier was built in large part because the art fair meant so much there was no way they could replace it,” says Karman. “So with that as a foundation there’s a way to tap a bit of nostalgia and to put a new varnish on what an art fair or an art exhibition looks like for 2012 and beyond.” Studio Gang, the architecture and design studio of MacArthur “genius grant”–winner Jeanne Gang, has designed an interior for the festival that is modeled off of the city’s urban grid, with the 120 booths of participating galleries bisected by walkways and a wide diagonal “avenue.” Karman says that capping dealers and galleries at 120 was done to maintain “quality over quantity” and prevent EXPO from turning into a mega-fair. Read the rest of this entry »
By Jason Foumberg
Gilad Ratman at Aspect Ratio
AdventureLand (1513 North Western) was co-founded by artist Tony Fitzpatrick and his new series of etchings inaugurated the exhibition program, which is managed by Perry Casalino. AdventureLand will open Mariano Chavez’s solo show in October.
Aspect Ratio (119 North Peoria, unit 3D) opened in the former Spoke Gallery space. Co-founders Jefferson Godard and Jenna Feldman will feature a program dedicated to contemporary video art. Work by Gilad Ratman (will represent Israel in the 2013 Venice Biennale) inaugurates the program, and will be followed by Bryan Zanisnik, Xavier Cha, Chelsea Knight, Glen Fogel and Guy Ben-Ner.
Queer Thoughts (1640 West 18th) opened in Pilsen and is dedicated to promoting “a post-identity practice.” Co-founded by Luis Miguel Bendaña and Sam Lipp, the program includes, so far, work by Drew Olivo, Alexine Haynes and Pia Howell. Read the rest of this entry »
This is the second installment of the Visiting Artist column. Here, Heidi Norton reflects on the use of houseplants in life and in art.
Norton’s south-facing sun room in her Humboldt Park residence.
At one point long ago there was no such thing as inside and outside. And then there was, and what we call nature was outside: plants and rocks and dirt, bees and rivers and etcetera. And we figured out how to bring it all home and name it and corral it into gardens. A chaotic world parceled and reconfigured and newly ordered. The dizzy continuity of everything outside cut apart so beautifully into pieces. So we turn our living rooms into almost-landscapes: so-called houseplants are born; born, it seems, to live in pots, on shelves, on tables, a living thing is now a discrete object; lovely.
Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater, in rural Pennsylvania, is a masterpiece—one of those must-sees of your lifetime. The home is the ultimate example of integrating nature and domestic space. At Fallingwater you can feel the purity of the air on your skin, in your lungs, with your eyes. After visiting, in 2011, I became infatuated with ways of cleaning the air around me. I knew plants released oxygen, but not to what extent. In the 1980s, the NASA Clean Air Study found that oxygen-producing plants could be used to remove toxic chemicals from the air. The plants break the chemicals down into harmless organic byproducts in their soil, which they then use as food. Dr. Bill Wolverton’s “How to Grow Fresh Air” is great to reference. Top three oxygen-producing plants: Sprouts, Snake Plant and Areca Palm. Top three air-cleaning plants: Red Edged Dracaena, Warneck Dracaena and Peace Lily. Read the rest of this entry »
Cauleen Smith, film still from “Nicolai and Regina Series 01″
Cauleen Smith’s solo show at the MCA is the best contemporary art exhibition in Chicago this summer. While watching her short videos, which feature Chicago cityscapes and local musicians, I easily mistook Smith as a Chicago-based artist. I’m used to seeing only Chicago artists mine the city’s cultural history with such deeply personal insights. In fact Smith lives and teaches in San Diego, and has spent considerable time in Chicago doing research on local music history, facilitated by Threewalls in 2010 and a Black Metropolis Research Consortium grant in 2011. The fruit of her Chicago residency is a series of new videos and a multimedia installation that waken civic pride. Before the MCA exhibition closes in mid-September, Smith will open a solo show at Threewalls, a spot usually reserved for Midwestern artists. Read the rest of this entry »