Reviews, profiles and news about art in Chicago

Review: The Grange Prize 2010/Museum of Contemporary Photography

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Moyra Davey, "Copperhead #13," 1990. Courtesy of the artist and Murray Guy Gallery, New York

RECOMMENDED

The four photo-artists on display here who were nominated for this year’s Grange Prize—an award presented annually to a photographer from Canada or a partner country (this year the United States)—all focus on everyday objects that they manipulate and/or re-contextualize to produce aesthetic effects beyond the mundane. Although the winner will be announced on November 3, Canadian Moyra Davey’s series of macro-photos of severely distressed Lincoln-head pennies that she gathered on the streets of New York City are particularly alluring because they pack the one-two punch of alerting us to the involved textured patterns that result from weathering, while throwing us into a reflection on the tattered legacy of Honest Abe. Although scarred and pocked, Lincoln is still present—in varying degrees of decay—as a figure of strength and dignity in five of Davey’s six images; but in the last, the copper has corroded to the point that the face has degraded into a shattered skull. (Michael Weinstein)

Through December 22 at the Museum of Contemporary Photography, 600 South Michigan.

Review: Paula McCartney/Museum of Contemporary Photography

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"American Goldfinches," 2008. Courtesy of Klompching Gallery, New York

RECOMMENDED

Is there such an animal as a postmodern bird watcher? Paula McCartney demonstrates that even that is possible in her deep, rich and muted color photographs of various and sundry feathered friends taken at a distance at which they merge into the dense woods that encompass them. “Idyllic” is what McCartney calls her images and we are ready to agree until we find out that the assorted avian creatures are kitschy models that she picked up at craft stores and deployed in her scenes. No problem; McCartney can fool even the most discerning fancier of fowl. For those who are hip to the program, her shots will evoke the smile of absurdity. What else is possible when we peer at a sensuous orange thrush nestled on a branch of a denuded tree in autumn, strive mightily and fruitlessly to admire it, and then remember that it is simply a simulation? (Michael Weinstein)

Through September 26 at the Museum of Contemporary Photography, 600 South Michigan.

Review: John Baldessari/Museum of Contemporary Photography

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"Stonehenge (with Two Persons) Blue," 2005, Mixographia print on handmade paper

RECOMMENDED

Equal parts eye candy and brain-teaser, this gem of an exhibition spans roughly forty years of John Baldessari’s printmaking career.

His signature stock photographic images of figures with their faces painted out by round, color-saturated circles are just the tip of the iceberg for this engaging retrospective. Film stills and collage elements are introduced, with framed pieces grouped together in an over-determined salon style aped by generations of subsequent Southern California artists, most notably the New Folk/Beautiful Losers circuit.

These poignant vignettes, sometimes expressed via chock-a-block arrangements, and sometimes contained within a single, large-format work, employ all the magic of successful surrealist art by beguilingly de-familiarizing the familiar. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Sarah Pickering/Museum of Contemporary Photography

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RECOMMENDED

British photographer Sarah Pickering has devoted herself to documenting in color and black-and-white the sites where first responders train for disasters and civil disorders in environments constructed for the purpose of simulating the dangers that they might have to confront in the real world. Pickering has a special taste for shooting modest rooms that have been set on fire for her and controlled explosions and gas clouds in the fields, but her premier endeavor is her series on Denton, England, a stage-set microcosm of a mid-size city existing only to be the scene of riot training for SWAT teams. When Pickering is around, Denton is depopulated, but signs remain of what the police are meant to control; a barricade of shopping carts, tires and construction boards blocks off an alley framed by dismal working-class flats that are simply facades. Although she has a socially critical intent, Pickering’s images turn out to be politically neutral; those who support the state will be happy that the security forces are sharpening their skills, and opponents of the ruling order will detect the mechanisms of malign power. (Michael Weinstein)

Through May 23 at the Museum of Contemporary Photography, 600 S. Michigan.

Review: Beate Geissler and Oliver Sann/Museum of Contemporary Photography

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RECOMMENDED

A foreclosed home is not a pretty sight after its owners have been dispossessed. At least that is the message of Chicago-based German photographers Beate Geissler and Oliver Sann who have undertaken the task of shooting the interiors of scores of houses that have gone on the block with deadpan straight-on documentary eyes. Geissler and Sann show us gutted rooms and hallways in which there is often some trace of lives left behind, like the remains of a photo-collage of fashion models on a bare wall above an electric plug stuck into a wall socket from which the cord has been severed. As a result of their uncompromising documentary approach, Geissler and Sann evoke neither nostalgia nor a sense of beauty, but simply a realization of what the wear and tear of life do to home sweet home, once the façade is stripped away and we are left with the clump of insulation that has worked its way through a hole in the ceiling. (Michael Weinstein)

Through May 23 at the Museum of Contemporary Photography, 600 S. Michigan.

Review: The Anne and Jacques Baruch Collection of Czech Photography/Museum of Contemporary Photography

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Václav Chochola, "Lamp," 1947

RECOMMENDED

From 1967 through 2002, Chicago’s Baruch Gallery played a unique role as the only space outside Czechoslovakia that specialized in showcasing that country’s rich photographic tradition. In putting images from the Baruch collection’s deep reserves on public display at the Museum of Contemporary Photography, curator Karen Irvine has performed a service by exposing the Czech modernist tradition’s variety, ranging from the grandmaster Jan Sudek’s emotive studies of cityscapes and intimate landscapes, through Jaroslav Rossler’s cubist abstractions, to Jan Saudek’s kinky and decadent surrealistic scenarios shot in his basement studio during the Communist era. Spanning the period between the first world war and the early post-Communist years, the images here by nine of the most important Czech photographers will convince the viewer of the pertinence of the widespread critical judgment that mid-twentieth century photography was dominated by France, Germany, the United States and Czechoslovakia. Look at Sudek’s deep and clouded study of a strand of trees in the mist and you will know why Anne Baruch embraced and loved the Czech tradition for its “poetic modernism.” (Michael Weinstein)

Through March 28 at the Museum of Contemporary Photography, 600 S. Michigan.

Review: 50% Grey: Contemporary Czech Photography Reconsidered/Museum of Contemporary Photography

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Štepán Grygar, Street (Prague), 2002.

RECOMMENDED

Tenaciously resistant to postmodern cultural play, the six contemporary Prague-based Czech photographers who have been brought together here by curators Karel Cisar and Karen Irvine continue their country’s poetic modernist tradition with evocative black-and-white and color images of ordinary objects, moody spaces and mild constructivist angle shots that exude worn, tired and poignant emotions that are mirrored in their subjects. Although the curators advise  that the show “represents a small, very specific slice of photography in the  Czech Republic today,” it remains that such works are rarely being made elsewhere at the present time and are a throwback to the golden age of Czech photography between the two world wars. The restrained mundane sensibility, in which decay is never so rife as to resemble ruins, is most perfectly captured in Marketa Othova’s study of a shiny tiled floor littered with a few dispersed scraps of foam board that appear to have fallen from the ceiling, signaling disrepair that has not come anywhere near the brink of destruction. While the world outside Western Europe forges ahead with bold experiments, these artists look backwards and are frozen into pillars of the past. (Michael Weinstein)

Through March 28 at the Museum of Contemporary Photography, 600 S. Michigan.

Newcity’s Top 5 of Everything 2009: Art & Museums

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Top 5 Museum Showsolafur_eliasson-one-way_colour_tunnel-2007
Olafur Eliasson, Museum of Contemporary Art
Your Pal, Cliff: Selections from the H.C. Westermann Study Collection, Smart Museum
Paul Chan, Renaissance Society
Mary Lou Zelazny, Hyde Park Art Center
James Castle: A Retrospective, Art Institute of Chicago
—Jason Foumberg

Top 5 Gallery Shows
Rob Carter, Ebersmoore Gallery
Big Youth, Corbett vs. Dempsey
Sarah Krepp, Roy Boyd Gallery
Everybody! Visual resistance in feminist health movements, 1969-2009, I Space
Ali Bailey, Golden Gallery
—Jason Foumberg Read the rest of this entry »

At Zeroes End: Art in Chicago, 2000–2009

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By Jason Foumberg

Jin Lee, "Ice 2," 2008. Courtesy devening projects + editions, Chicago

Jin Lee, "Ice 2," 2008. Courtesy devening projects + editions, Chicago

Art is long, but institutional memory is short. In many ways, Chicago’s art history is written as it occurs, in situ, by the people who produce it. Artists toil in their studios, heads-down. Apartment galleries open and close as briskly as the seasons change. We consume one-night-only events by the half-dozen, like so many bottles of free Grolsch beer. Even as new art blogs proliferate, with more scenes being represented than ever before, the snapshot commentary and weekly content often feels dated by week’s end. And yet, paintings aren’t bubblegum summer jams; they’re codified slabs of culture, philosophy and style. We seek dialogue, inspiration and long-term change. In short, we seek longevity, with lasting importance for our work and our peers’—but who has time to write contemporary history while we’re in the midst of making it?

That said, Chicago loves its art history. Outsiders, Imagists, Modernists and firebrands—memorize their precepts and you’re halfway to an MFA degree (however, please don’t leave Chicago once you earn the other half). Our traditions always feel in danger of becoming tinder for the next great fire, so we hand-cobble our history and share the stories orally like a rite of passage. This is to our strength and our detriment. History is our bind. We don’t trash Paschke or cold-shoulder Mies because we’ve worked so hard to carry their legacies. In many global art centers, successive generations of artists break with the past like rebellious teenagers, but Chicagoans do not. Here, innovation comes from influence and education. Doing otherwise, it would feel as if the whole thing could unravel.

As we approach the end of the century’s first decade, it’s time to take census of our situation. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Representations of Shanghai and its Contemporary Material Culture/Museum of Contemporary Photography

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RECOMMENDED

Infiltrating Chicago gallery spaces with their full-fledged, cutting-edge work that constitutes a genuine avant-garde and blows away domestic products, Chinese photographers now bid fair to take over the city in this show in which a battalion of shooters presents the manifold perspectives that mix and match in the metropolis of Shanghai. Grappling with the destruction of old Shanghai and the disappearance of traditional lifestyles, and the eruption of a postmodern cityscape and its accompanying consumer culture, the contributors are uniformly visual social critics, probing into the glitzy decadence of middle-class high-rise existence, commenting mordantly on the lives of those still trying to cling to the past, and spoofing real estate ads, among any number of other skeptical moves. These artists are not political activists, and one suspects that their cultural approach is deeply rooted in their psyches rather than being a result of a dictatorial regime’s censorship. The banner image in the show is Yong Fudong’s large-format staged color portrait of the “First Intellectual,” a man with wildly tousled hair who stands in the middle of a wide avenue dressed in a business suit and holding a briefcase in one hand and a large brick in other; blood drips from his face and his eyes and lips are agape with bewildered astonishment, indeed panic. A consummate conceptual artist, Fudong explains the image best—the First Intellectual has been wounded, but he cannot decide whether to throw his brick at society or smash it in his own face. Would that the West were so deep and sophisticated, but perhaps senility has set in and ambivalence has taken flight. (Michael Weinstein)

Through December 23 at the Museum of Contemporary Photography, 600 S. Michigan.