Reviews, profiles and news about art in Chicago

Art Break: Dusting Off the Changing Chicago Project

Photography No Comments »

Marc PoKempner

1987 was a black-and-white Christmas. The tree sparkled with tinsel. They posed, smiling, under a portrait of Harold Washington, the first black mayor of Chicago. Linda, Latrice, and Mario, Cabrini Green, 1987.

The photograph by Marc PoKempner was exhibited in April 1989 in one of the largest documentary photography projects ever organized in an American city: “Changing Chicago.” The Focus/Infinity Fund, founded by former Car-X muffler salesman and self-taught photographer Jack Jaffe, commissioned thirty-three photographers to create a portrait of the dynamic, diverse and divided city of Chicago.

Seven photos from each artist in the archive are currently on view in the print study room at the Museum of Contemporary Photography as part of artist Jan Tichy’s introspective intervention of the museum’s entire collection. “Changing Chicago,” itself a sprawling documentary project, captures the glitz of society balls, the red neon of Superdawg’s drive-in, the construction gang raising the steel skeleton of 900 North Michigan, a sidewalk card game on 63rd and Greenwood, and an old woman in her yellow curlers at Barbara’s Beauty Salon, among other scenes of city life. Tichy responded to the legendary project by adding seven videos of contemporary Chicago, documenting his own love for the city of iron and steel. Read the rest of this entry »

Eye Exam: On Happiness and Violence

Performance, Photography 1 Comment »

Krista Wortendyke, from "Crime Unseen"

By Jason Foumberg

During a typically violent summer in Chicago this year, Tony Fitzpatrick wrote an article for Artnet magazine about Chicago’s legacy of crime and murder—among cops and gangsters alike—and he arrived at the moral that “the city gets just as many killers as it deserves.” Fitzpatrick innately understands, as do many artists, that tragedy makes for great art. Contrary to the common good, some of our greatest art is fueled by conflict. “Reading about the happiness of others is often boring,” writes Charles Baxter in his essay “Regarding Happiness.” Baxter cites Adam and Eve. Before their sin, “they are virtually non-narratable.” It is their sin, and their guilt, that gives their story drive. Following them, we have the Greek tragedies and Shakespeare, George Carlin and Lars von Trier. Two current exhibitions investigate the delicate topics of happiness and violence: “Crime Unseen” at the Museum of Contemporary Photography, and “The Happiness Project,” a citywide curatorial initiative organized by Tricia Van Eck. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Our Origins/Museum of Contemporary Photography

Photography, South Loop No Comments »

Alison Ruttan, "Evered Is Interested (detail from Dean Sequence)," 2009


Taking on the time-honored conundrum of the meaning of human life, curator Allison Grant brings together sixteen photo-artists, each of whom approaches the question from a different angle and distinctive strategy. Some of the contributors are smitten with contemporary science, others with their fantasies about it; some are straight documentarians of the survivals of primeval ages in our world, others set their fancies free in constructions and scenarios. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Public Works/Museum of Contemporary Photography

Photography, South Loop No Comments »

Robert Frank, "A Monument to Electricity + Photography," 1976. Photo Lithograph


With a flood of 123 black-and-white and color, and large and small format images by fifty-six photographers (mostly American, with a smattering of Europeans and Asians, some renowned and some less known) covering the last eighty years, this visual torrent of an exhibition that celebrates and criticizes by turns modern industrial infrastructure is in need of one of the dams that pop up here and there on the walls. Given the lack of conceptual focus, viewers are advised to cut through the thickets of telephone poles and powerlines, and to hone in on particular shots, many of which are striking and worthy of long looks, and to pay particular attention to distinctive styles rather than subjects. A photographic eye will put one on an expressway directly to Robert Frank’s multi-photo color collage of those ubiquitous poles (festooned with photos of his dog), the segments of which are out of alignment. Frank’s “Monument to Electricity + Photography” is witty and wise, and is inadvertently a metaphor for the show. (Michael Weinstein)

Through July 17 at the Museum of Contemporary Photography, 600 South Michigan.

The Top 5 of Everything 2010: Art

News etc., Top 5 Lists No Comments »

Lilli Carré: Untitled, 2010, screen print, 8 x 8 inches. Photo by Angee Leonnard.

Top 5 People and Places We’ll Miss
Kathryn Hixson
David Weinberg Gallery
Rowley Kennerk Gallery
Green Lantern Gallery
James Garrett Faulkner
—Jason Foumberg

Top 5 Solo Exhibitions
Edra Soto/Ebersmoore Gallery
Philip Hanson/Corbett vs. Dempsey
Lilli Carré/Spudnik Press
Gladys Nilsson/Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art
Ian Weaver/Packer Schopf Gallery
—Jason Foumberg

Top 5 Public Art Projects
Ray Noland’s “Run Blago Run”
Pop-Up galleries in the Loop
Nomadic Studio/DePaul University Art Museum
Hui-min Tsen’s tours of the Chicago Pedway
—Jason Foumberg Read the rest of this entry »

Review: La Frontera: The Cultural Impact of Mexican Migration/Museum of Contemporary Photography

Photography, South Loop No Comments »

David Hyatt, "El Diario De Anna Frank – Migrant Camp," 2004


In this comprehensive photo-documentary on the migration of Mexicans to the United States—seen from both sides of the border—curator Rod Slemmons succeeds in deconstructing the stereotypes pervading the current immigration debate. Bringing together ten U.S. and Mexican photographers, the exhibition takes us from a Mexican town where only women and children remain to do all the work, through the high-tech border-control apparatus, up the perilous paths taken by those who get through, down to the depths of the drug trade, and finally to destinations like West Liberty, Iowa and Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood where thriving communities take root. The nuance, subtlety, ironies and power of Slemmons’ approach is encapsulated in Michael Hyatt’s black-and-white shot of a Coca-Cola bottle and a dog-eared copy of “The Diary of Anne Frank” abandoned in the desert by an anonymous seeker for a better life. (Michael Weinstein)

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

Review: The Grange Prize 2010/Museum of Contemporary Photography

Photography, South Loop No Comments »

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


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

Photography, South Loop No Comments »

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


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

Prints, South Loop No Comments »

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


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

Photography, South Loop 1 Comment »


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.