Reviews, profiles and news about art in Chicago

Review: William J. O’Brien/Museum of Contemporary Art

Drawings, Sculpture No Comments »
William J. O'Brien, untitled, ceramic, 2013

William J. O’Brien, untitled, ceramic, 2013


This, these 120-plus works, organized into stanzas and spanning four dimensions, is exhibition as Legion, as Leviathan, as Lil B mixtape; color, form and shape in biblical proportions, driving amphibian rains and sloughed scales and torn shrouds; most all of them are untitled—the impression one gets, wandering about, is that all of them are untitled—named only per annum; a smattering of untitled little drawings splashed against a corner; a long, L-shaped table of untitled ceramic; untitled cosmological/mathematical dreamscapes of tessellation and curvature and human feature, color pencil scored by incandescent glitter. One, “Untitled, 2010,” an ultramarine square of infinitely deep texture, is studded and glistening with brilliant points so deliriously fucking bright that one’s thoughts instantly race to the sidereal, then to the pragmatic; how did he grind the universe into this? Capture the canicular? There are totems, screamingly colored and tumorous, a sort of art brut atavistic minimalism, and paintings the color of cuttlefish ink, which, when viewed—read?—first, as in the order on the docent’s program, serve as stark juxtaposition to what is otherwise a manic chromatic panoply. A word of advice, for the lay observer: wander in, be drowned, flayed alive. (B. David Zarley)

Through May 18 at the Museum of Contemporary Art, 220 East Chicago.

Review: City Self/Museum of Contemporary Art

Photography, Video No Comments »
Sarah Morris, video still from "Chicago," 2011

Sarah Morris, video still from “Chicago,” 2011


“Chicago,” a 2011 film by Sarah Morris, is the centerpiece of the MCA’s new exhibition, “City Self.” Morris’ flood of telescopic images of our city, accompanied by an electronic score written by her husband Liam Gillick, and projected on a movie screen, presents a seamless digital spectacle of the twenty-first-century city. The camera never lingers on anything or anyone too long; its detachment mirrors our own loss of agency in the phantasmagoric flow. Gallery visitors can screen the entire film or wander in and out.

Grids and infrastructure are foregrounded in Morris’ sixty-eight-minute film, creating the visual implication that the gridded surfaces of Mies’ buildings are truly an expression of the deep structure of the city, and some breathtaking shots of the Lake Shore Drive apartments set Chicago aside from any other global city. Extended sequences of the giant presses where the Tribune and other papers are printed, the still-modernist compositions of pipes that protect the miles of filament and cable at Fermilab and huge mainframe computers (humming electronically like the score) there and other places. Morris and her cinematographer David Daniels reveal the blank material structures and technological non-places that create cyberspace and control the flow of digital images. Read the rest of this entry »

Eye Exam: How Artists Dig

Photography, Prints, Sculpture, Video No Comments »
Tony Tasset, "Robert Smithson (Las Vegas)," 1995

Tony Tasset, “Robert Smithson (Las Vegas),” 1995

By Jason Foumberg

The exhibition begins on the left, and ends nowhere. The MCA’s expansive new group show, “The Way of the Shovel: Art as Archaeology,” bores wormholes through the Rocky Mountains, to Baghdad and Belarus and over the North Pole, through the psyche and into the past. “The past is a foreign country,” wrote L. P. Hartley, and artists are explorers. This is the guiding theme of curator Dieter Roelstraete’s exhibition, which tasks itself with explaining nothing less than the history of the Western world—and who has access to it. The ambitious exhibition with an international roster of artists is “a philosophical speculation,” explained Roelstraete at the media preview. Roelstraete’s show proposes that artists create art, and make meaning, in a new way. That is, artists dig, uncover, exhume, mine, bring to light (and other “digging” synonyms) issues and characters from the past. What artists find (artifacts, secrets, ghosts) is of equal importance to how they found it (research, inquiries, investigations). There are no accidents in this show, only strategies. Read the rest of this entry »

Visiting Artist: Matthew Metzger on Paul Sietsema

Painting No Comments »
Paul Sietsema, "Untitled figure ground study (Degas/Obama)," 2011.

Paul Sietsema, “Untitled figure ground study (Degas/Obama),” 2011.

This is the sixth installment of the Visiting Artist column. Newcity asked Chicago-based painter Matthew Metzger to comment on LA-based painter Paul Sietsema’s survey, now on view at the MCA. Both painters employ trompe l’oeil strategies in depicting everyday objects in their artworks. Metzger is assistant professor of studio arts at UIC’s School of Art and Design. His website is

I wonder what generates the inclination to picture that which has already been pictured. Whether intentional or unintentional, manufactured or crafted, romantic or otherwise, everything is pictured. Images, it often seems, rival cockroaches in their production. In an infested kitchen, the most immediate thing to do in order to catch a roach is to grab a glass and slam it upside down. The roach scurries around in circles, running up and down the interior edges of the glass looking for an out. Its future is now up to you. How quickly comes the illusion of control, as one is captured while many more remain breeding behind the wall. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: MCA DNA: Warhol and Marisol/Museum of Contemporary Art

Painting, Sculpture No Comments »
Marisol Escobar, "Six Women," 1965-66.

Marisol Escobar, “Six Women,” 1965-66.


Marisol’s place in the public consciousness of fine art—if such a thing can be said to exist, somewhere between the Old Masters and Basquiat-obsessed rappers—seems mostly to be as a personification of good friend Andy Warhol’s hoary prophecy in regards to the approaching ubiquity, and short duration, of fame; the minuscule collecting of the two artist’s works at the MCA—just three apiece—instead seeks to explore the more reciprocal aspects of their relationship, even leaning a bit toward the sculptor’s side.

The fledgling influences of Pop art manifest themselves in Marisol’s sculptures in ways both esoteric—the use of primary colors; prolificness of found objects, although she avails herself to these for the context they can add to her works, oftentimes being private possessions of the subjects, rather than the abstraction driven by their presentation removed from their frames of reference—and blatantly, intimately obvious, most notably her portrait of Warhol himself, in the shape of a throne. Read the rest of this entry »

Art Break: What A Theaster Gates Performance Sounds Like

Performance No Comments »


Photo: Jeremy Lawson, © MCA Chicago

Photo: Jeremy Lawson, © MCA Chicago

In a sweeping exodus from the Cotton Belt, black sharecroppers from Mississippi and Alabama boarded the Illinois Central Railroad to Chicago. From 1916-1970, six million African Americans fled the rural South in hopes of a better life in the industrial North. They journeyed across prairies, rivers and deserts to escape the terrors of Jim Crow.

“The Accumulative Affects of Migration 1–3,” composed and performed by Theaster Gates and the experimental music ensemble Black Monks of Mississippi on August 11, evoked the conflicted odyssey of black migrants from the cotton fields of the South. The blue notes of Muddy Waters lingered in the sunlit haze of the Museum of Contemporary Art. Minor chords ached with the enduring dream of Chicago Black Renaissance author Richard Wright. “I was taking a part of the South to transplant in alien soil, to see if it could grow differently, if it could drink of new and cool rains, bend in strange winds, respond to the warmth of other suns, and, perhaps, to bloom,” he wrote in “Black Boy,” in 1945. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Gaylen Gerber/Museum of Contemporary Art

Michigan Avenue 1 Comment »
Installation view. Image courtesy of the artist and Tom Van Eynde

Installation view. Image courtesy of the artist and Tom Van Eynde


For decades, Gaylen Gerber has rendered conspicuous the assumed neutrality—both perceptual and rhetorical—of exhibition spaces and the institutions that house them, through gray monochromatic paintings and wall-sized supports upon which other artists’ works are displayed. Expression is outsourced, and Gerber’s parenthetical interventions make note of the factors that contribute to an audience’s experience of the discrete works shown therein. In recent years, he has transitioned into sensory riots of color and light, such as the project now on view at the MCA. Bracing tangerine and sweltering yellow blast over the gathered artworks, recalling earlier MCA installations such as Rudolf Stingel’s “Untitled (Orange Carpet on Floor)” in 2007 and Olafur Eliasson’s hallway of intense yellow light in 2009. Remembrance and art-historical play are apropos here as Gerber has included works produced over the past fifty years by other artists living and deceased, men and women, drawn from the MCA’s collection and on loan. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Daniel Clowes/Museum of Contemporary Art

Comics No Comments »
Eightball 18 (cover), 1997

Eightball 18 (cover), 1997


Comic-book illustration is a form that rewards intimacy; it is best unpacked, page by page, panel by panel, in the comforting embrace of a reader. While the Daniel Clowes survey “Modern Cartoonist” may obfuscate its understanding of this knowledge a bit, what with its lofted, haze-gray reproductions tucked flush to the ceiling, hovering, encircling eyes of Argus, and the monolithic murals of Chicago, resembling the flanks of a battleship, bookending the pleasingly nacreous exhibition space, this is still an exhibition best observed in its minutiae.

Original drawings from Clowes’ seminal comics—including “Ghost World,” “The Death-Ray” and “Art School Confidential,” all of which Read the rest of this entry »

Portrait of the Artist: José Lerma

Sculpture No Comments »

01393Jose Lerma and Hector Madera_The Countess_2012

In José Lerma’s “BMO Harris Bank Chicago Works” exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art, the painter employs a variety of materials to create formally stunning, large-scale portraits.

Originally from Puerto Rico, Lerma divides his time among Chicago, New York and Spain, three places he currently calls home. Lerma teaches at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago as an adjunct professor while he is here, but otherwise he always seems to be on the go. When I spoke with him a couple of days prior to his exhibition opening, he had just returned from London after having attended another of his openings at the Saatchi Gallery.

For an artist who travels such a great deal, Read the rest of this entry »

Eye Exam: A Fresh Look at SoHo in the 1970s

Curator Profiles 2 Comments »
Gordon Matta-Clark, Suzanne Harris and Tina Girouard

Gordon Matta-Clark, Tina Girouard and Suzanne Harris

By Jason Foumberg

Jessamyn Fiore never met Gordon Matta-Clark, but he has always been part of her life. “I grew up in a loft that my mother and Gordon had converted from a factory building,” in downtown New York City, says Fiore. “We had his art around. His family was like my family. His friends were like my friends.” Matta-Clark died in 1978, and two years later Fiore was born to his widow, Jane Crawford. “Once Gordon passed away, my mother devoted her life to his work and his legacy,” says Fiore.

Although Matta-Clark was just thirty-five when cancer ended his life and his prolific art career, the art world wasn’t ready to sweep him into the dustbin of art history. And we still haven’t—no doubt due, in part, to the hard work of caring for his estate, a tremendous task that Crawford and Fiore now share, as of last year.

As co-director of the estate, Fiore, thirty-two, has not simply inherited the wealth of an important artist; Fiore has what she calls a “creative relationship” with Matta-Clark’s legacy, as if he were her art-father, his ideals about art and community fostering her own belief system.

Fiore’s story is fascinating because it reveals how an artist’s reputation is sustained, in our modern curriculum and imagination. It is not simply that a powerful dealer releases major artworks into the market at strategic moments; the legacy of an artist like Matta-Clark stays alive because an advocate like Fiore works to connect the core values of his artwork with those that are relevant to today’s artists. Fiore identifies a spirit of collaborative artistic empowerment in the work of Matta-Clark and his peers that resonates with today’s artist-centric art world.

“What is the role that friendships play within an artistic community, and within an artist’s practice?” asks Fiore. She has expanded her inquiry beyond Matta-Clark to look at 112 Greene Street, a live-and-work art center in a converted factory building, known by its street address, that incubated New York City’s political, post-minimal, feminist, performance and experimental art in the seventies. Read the rest of this entry »