Reviews, profiles and news about art in Chicago

Fan Scene: A Chicago Art Album

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cover art by Carol Jackson

By Jason Foumberg

Imagine this issue of Newcity shaped as a shoebox, like the one stashed in the back of your closet. Every now and then it feels good to finger your way through that time capsule of polished milestones and broken tokens of who you once were and still might be today. More than just a junk drawer, your stash is bound by a secret thread, as strong and fragile as a spider’s web, which only you can spin. Will your offspring be creeped out by your crypt of former selves, or will they dust off and ponder each artifact?

If Chicago’s art scene had a souvenir box it would be as large as a landfill, and just as mixed. What if you plunged an arm into that warm biomass and pulled up some treasures and obsessions and regrets, at random, from art scenes past? What would they look like, jammed in your fist? Could you spread those dried things on a table and divine their significance, drawing lines between them, and to yourself?

I asked dozens of Chicago-based artists and their enthusiasts to shine a flashlight into their personal-history storehouses and retrieve contributions for this fanzine. Part collage, part salad, the combined curiosities peaceably mingle here as if at an art opening. There are several natural affinities and also a few unexpected pairings. In sum, they form a time capsule of a community that is constantly changing. Here are mementos from long-closed shows. Here are faces kept in time. Here are odds and ends we’re still trying to sort. Here we are today, holding on for tomorrow. Read the rest of this entry »

Eye Exam: Artists at Work

Galleries & Museums, Hyde Park No Comments »
arc-press-image

Vincent Dermody, "Chicago Style"

By Jason Foumberg

The Hyde Park Art Center has long positioned itself as a booster for a Chicago Style. In the 1960s the Center hosted the legendary “Hairy Who?” exhibitions and now, seventy years after opening its doors, they’re at it again by defining a moment in the city’s artistic history with the exhibition “Artists Run Chicago.” This huge group show, with ninety artists and about 150 objects, doesn’t promote a single stylistic lineage (like the Imagists or Hairy Who), but rather celebrates the act of participation. Curators Allison Peters Quinn and Britton Bertran have selected thirty-six artist-operated “spaces,” or exhibition venues, and collected them in a single, but very large, gallery. All of the spaces, many now closed, have existed in some form (some for-profit and others not, some nomadic, one inside a bathroom medicine cabinet) in the past ten years. This was one criterion for inclusion, which illuminates a thick decade of art history in Chicago. The most important organizing principal, though, is that each space was initiated by an artist, for artists.

At artist-run venues, the airless white-cube ideal is not always upheld. Often you find yourself in somebody’s front room, or hanging out on their balcony, or sitting on their couch watching video art on their television monitor while a cat rubs its face on your leg. Often the show is open for a single night, as normal business hours are not kept. Sometimes there are children, a DJ, beer bongs, a dank moldy smell, a long flight of stairs, and stubble in the sink from the proprietor’s recent shave before the opening. Often this context cannot be divorced from the art in the artist-run space. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Sebastian Craig/Old Gold

Humboldt Park, Installation, Video No Comments »

img_5376RECOMMENDED

Titled “Pavilion 7,” Sebastian Craig’s instantly intriguing architectural installation confronts viewers with what looks like a dance-floor light show or a lair of crisscrossed light beams. As a techno-ish soundtrack composed and performed by the artist blasts from a large sound system at the back of the room, hot-pink rays appear to bounce off the walls, inviting viewers to dance through them or play secret agent. Closer inspection shows the lines to be a single strand of cord stretched tautly across two facing walls and secured at different heights and angles so as to spell the word DERMA. DERMA is also the title of a video at the back of the room that can be reached only by walking through the installation. Stepping over and under lines of cord, visitors unwittingly “dance” to Craig’s beat. The video—a series of bucolic images displayed on a tiny Sony Walkman screen—is sort of like Hitchcock’s MacGuffin, driving us forward through a tangled web for the sole purpose of getting to the big reveal. One wonders if the video’s banality is intentional, meant to revert our attention back to the physical act of getting there or to point out that the real significance of a space lies in the idiosyncratic associations it has for individual users. Regardless, Craig’s pavilion neatly illustrates the ways in which architecture lies close to the skin, sculpting the body’s movements and living on in cellular memory long after we’ve exited the building. (Claudine Isé)

Through March 15 at Old Gold, 2022 N. Humboldt Blvd., basement entrance

Review: Kendrick Shackleford/Old Gold

Humboldt Park, Multimedia No Comments »

littlestinkerRECOMMENDED

The exhibition “Tank Traps and Hijackings” presents the sculptures and photographic collages of Kendrick Shackleford on the offensive. What appear to be two distinct sets of work are tied together superficially in their materials and essentially in their posture. Drawn from news and advertising imagery, the photographic collages are an attempt to hijack the meaning of the culturally pervasive and generic imagery found in the media at large. Flattened through digital process, the end result of Shackleford’s collages is a muddled portrait of everyday life. Far from banal, however, the marks made before rendered photographically show the hand of the artist and the reaction of the individual to the indifferent yet manipulative face of the image. The surroundings of this wood-paneled basement gallery only bring out what already lies beneath the surface of Shackleford’s images, and ultimately beneath the ulterior motives of his source material. In one example taken from an advertisement for Orbit gum, “Little Stinker” reads as both a child’s portrait and a still life, revealing the bizarre conformity imposed on domestic and consumer living.

The space is overtaken with the large wood and spray enamel sculptures that become the “tank traps” of the show’s title. What first reads as formal and quite traditional sculptural objects take on a similarly aggressive stance when considered under this moniker, but one wishes it did not take such a linguistic directive to notice how they function as disruptions to the space. (Tim Ridlen)

Through February 8 at Old Gold, 2022 N. Humboldt Blvd, basement entrance

Newcity’s Top 5 of Everything 2008: Art & Museums

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Top 5 Exhibitions

Anne Wilson, Rhona Hoffman Gallery

Watercolors by Winslow Homer, Art Institute of Chicago

“Adaptation,” Smart Museum

Chuck Walker, Hyde Park Art Center

Mark Wagner, Western Exhibitions

—Jason Foumberg

Top 5 Art Shows

Jenny Holzer, “Protect, Protect,” Museum of Contemporary Art

Edra Soto, “The Soto-Chacon Show,” Rowland Contemporary Gallery

Alan Lerner, Art on Armitage

“Made in Chicago: Portraits form the Bank of America,” LaSalle Collection/Chicago Cultural Center

“Benin—Kings and Rituals: Court Arts from Nigeria,” Art Institute of Chicago

—Marla Seidell

Top Five Photography Shows

Delilah Montoya, La Llorona Gallery

Jowhara Alsaud, Schneider Gallery

Frederic Chaubin, Chicago Architecture Foundation

Jill Frank, Golden Gallery

Carla Gannis, Kasia Kay Art Projects

—Michael Weinstein

Top 5 Museum Shows

“The Smart Home: Green + Wired,” Museum of Science and Industry

“Chic Chicago,” Chicago History Museum

“The Glass Experience,” Museum of Science and Industry

“Soul Soldiers: African Americans and the Vietnam War,” DuSable Museum

“Nature Unleashed: Inside Natural Disasters,” Field Museum

—Laura Hawbaker

Top 5 Museum Shows

Edward Hopper, Art Institute

“Twisted Into Recognition: Clichés of Jews and Others,” Spertus Museum

“Watercolors by Winslow Homer: The Color of Light,” Art Institute

“Earth From Space,” Museum of Science and Industry

“Benin—Kings and Rituals: Court Arts from Nigeria,” Art Institute

—Dennis Polkow

Top 5 Freshest Art Spaces

Swimming Pool Project Space

Old Gold

Hyde Park Art Center

65 Grand

No Coast

—Jason Foumberg

Top 5 Art Spaces We’ll Miss

Alfedena

Gescheidle

Garden Fresh

Contemporary Art Workshop

32nd & Urban

—Jason Foumberg

Top 5 Contemporary Art Exhibitions about Nature

“Biological Agents” at Gallery 400

Lora Fosberg at Linda Warren Gallery

“The Leaf and the Page,” Illinois State Museum Chicago Gallery

“Future Farmers,” Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum

Claire Sherman, Kavi Gupta Gallery

—Jason Foumberg

Top 5 Art Exhibitions About Food

Maria Tomasula, Zolla/Lieberman Gallery

“Portraying Food in Contemporary Chinese Art,” Walsh Gallery

“Sugarcraft,” Kasia Kay Art Projects Gallery

Pamela Michelle Johnson, Urbanest

Isabelle du Toit, Byron Roche Gallery

—Jason Foumberg

Top 5 Feminist Art Exhibitions

“Ladylike,” Gosia Koscielak Gallery

“Henbane: Dialectics of the Feminine Sublime,” Medicine Park

“Are We There Yet? 40 Years of Feminism,” ARC Gallery

Amelia Falk, ARC Gallery

“A Minyan Without Men,” Woman Made Gallery

—Jason Foumberg

Top 5 Exhibitions/Events at Alt-Art Spaces

“Tomorrow,” Vega Estates

“The Baby,” Knock Knock Gallery

“Pere Portabella’s Masterpiece Vampir-Cuadecuc,” White Light Cinema

Sumi Ink Club and Lucky Dragons, Golden Age

“Zummer Tapez: Jim Trainor,” Roots and Culture

 —Tim Ridlen

Review: Selina Trepp/Old Gold

Humboldt Park, Installation No Comments »

RECOMMENDED

Selina Trepp is keenly interested in presence, from our presence in the vast world around us to how we are present with art and the viewing experience before us; from awareness of the moment art is made to the fleeting moment in which it exists to each of us individually. Trepp’s fractured, wondrous and borderless visions have been seen from Switzerland to Chicago, and are currently on exhibit at Old Gold in “Private Dancer,” a collaboration with intuitive dancer Ayako Kato, in which Kato is filmed interpreting the once-popular Tina Turner song of the same name. The filmed dance is then projected against a disco ball, reflected and deconstructed into tiny pieces of light thrown about the room in a slow-turning and broken dance of their own, glimpses of body parts touching every surface of the room, defying gravity in ways that dancers can only dream. The hypnotic performance puts us in mind of where we are and how we fit in that space, as spectator or as part of the performance, dancers ourselves, pirouetting in time with the projected images of Kato as we follow them from floor to ceiling to wall and back again. Trepp’s immersive kaleidoscope allows you to lose yourself in sound and movement, possibly even forgetting that you are in a specific place seeing a specific show at all. Simply existing within the moment, with upsurging self-awareness, becomes the art itself. (Damien James)

Selina Trepp shows at Old Gold, 2022 N. Humboldt Blvd., (773)653-9956, though December 21.

Review: An Essential Poverty of the Face: Arlen Austin and Craig Doty/Alogon Gallery

Photography, Ukrainian Village/East Village, Video No Comments »

There is no “getting” Arlen Austin‘s video piece, “Birdfeed Face,” currently showing at Alogon Gallery, curated by Old Gold. A buck-naked Austin lies on his back, using a syringe to squirt green baby-bird food onto his face and lips, while an adolescent pigeon, just losing its baby bird feathers, looks confused, mostly ignoring the snack on Austin’s face. Briefly, the bird gives a little: he nibbles at Austen’s lip, but remains indifferent, though maybe the bird is just not hungry. Even though the pigeon is a pigeon, not the most sensual animal by any means, Austen appears to long for the bird’s affection, but is continually rejected. Austen often looks like his face is going to explode at the bird, and the mustardy, clumpy substance on his face reinforces that eruptive potential. A monotonous, Speak & Spell-ish narrator mumbles along with the video, though even in the empty gallery it is difficult to hear. Arlen Austen’s story of unrequited love is as classic as any Jane Austen novel, except with a pigeon instead of Mr. Darcy.

Also on display is an overshadowed photograph by Craig Doty, Untitled #7, a staged image of a shirtless man in enticingly low-slung jeans. Doty’s photograph captures ordinariness and emptiness, lending credence to the show’s title. (Natalie Edwards)

Through December 7 at Alogon Gallery, 1049 W. Paulina #3R (enter on Cortez), open Sundays 1-4 pm

Portrait of the Artist: Mindy Rose Schwartz

Artist Profiles, Humboldt Park, Installation No Comments »

The art of Mindy Rose Schwartz helps me understand the city where I live: a landscape of endless avenues and rows of mid-century bungalow homes, bricks bracing for the chill, and corner bars touting an old style—a style not updated in decades but drunk down with pride. As radiators creak on for the first time this season, and the scent of winter’s onset hits the air, the mind is tugged back through some retrograde memories. But that smell isn’t mom’s cooking; it’s just a years’ worth of collected dust burning on the open radiator grill. Sometimes Chicago feels like a city-sized family room.

Macramé is a major component of Mindy Rose Schwartz’s sculptures. Just as knitting had its popular resurgence recently and crossed gender and generational lines, macramé was in full force in the 1960s and 70s. Knotters of the thin white rope proclaimed their medium’s potential to not only decorate a hanging plant, but also wore it as an emblem of the female movement. That is, where the first feminists decried crafts including macramé as pigeonholing femininity, the second wave found pride in so-called women’s work. That so much knotted rope can be tossed between ideologies and interior decoration delights Schwartz, but her work does not take a stance either way. To Schwartz, these forces animate macramé, along with other objects of personal value, and that is a good thing.

“I love to make things,” says Schwartz. She created and teaches a course for art students called Extreme Craft that explores the boundaries of the handmade. Her current exhibition of new sculpture features objects both literally and figuratively transported from her suburban Skokie childhood home. Many flaunt macramé, and some are without. The whole series is on view at Old Gold, an exhibition space in the wood-paneled basement of a Humboldt Park home.

Because Schwartz’s sculptures frequently conjure a suburban, middle-class experience, their presentation in Old Gold’s setting is like a fated love affair. One macramé web occurs on and around a fireplace. Mantles are common exhibition venues (perhaps the domestic curiosity cabinet), and here Schwartz delivers a hulking tangle of material that packs all the personality of Diane Arbus’ photograph of an oversize Christmas tree. Schwartz also creates her own credenza-type display shelves to host an assortment of ghost-like figurines, flowery ornamentation in metal, and mini Constructivist-esque wood assemblages. For Old Gold, she created some intentional pieces of décor such as ceramic owls for the basement’s built-in bar nook.

I asked Schwartz about the state of rawness or roughness—or even intentional ugliness—in her art. “It’s a real part of the world,” she says. “Prettiness and nausea”—they coexist. (Jason Foumberg)

Mindy Rose Schwartz shows at Old Gold, 2022 North Humboldt, basement entrance, through October 19.

Review: Heather Mekkelson/Old Gold

Humboldt Park, Multimedia No Comments »

RECOMMENDED

The tragedy of Katrina continues to serve as a political bludgeon even as the media’s prediction of a disastrous Gustav did not live up to the hype. It is within this climate that Heather Mekkelson creates her scenes of devastation. “Limited Entry” at Old Gold blends seamlessly with the wood-paneled basement that serves as the gallery space. A flood scene, the high-water mark rings the space jumping from curtains, to mirrors, to paintings, as it circles the room. In the closets the top half of the clothes are pristine and the other crusted with silt. Dimly lit by a lone halogen lamp the room had some signs of cleanup like rubber gloves, fans and buckets. Muddy trinkets litter the floor. These knick-knacks are not really people’s mementos; rather, they are a picture of what people’s mementos might look like after a flood. A little like a movie set, the scene was convincing but ultimately not real. The effect could serve as a catharsis for media-driven paranoia, or a form of adventure tourism for the storm-chaser type. Mekkelson’s objects are taken from the same footage and headlines that create the natural-disaster spectacle, but somehow seeing a picture of the spoilt life in person makes one think of the other people for whom it is not a picture. (Dan Gunn)

Through September 21 at Old Gold, 2022 N. Humboldt Blvd, basement entrance, (773)653-9956

 

Art Fair Hangover

Art Fairs, Installation, Multimedia No Comments »

By Jason Foumberg

It’s too tempting to not report “overheard at the art fair.” In front of a painting by Neo Rauch, one shopper said to another, “The thing about art is you don’t have to like it.” You don’t even have to see it, either; just order it by name. “Names, names, names, darling!” (Okay, that one was from “Absolutely Fabulous,” but the sentiment holds.) For one whirlwind weekend we had to put our care for meaningful art practices on hold in the hope that Chicago could contribute to the still-thriving art market. Inviting investment collectors and shopaholics to Chicago was to be the nourishment that would sustain thoughtful and quietly productive practices for the rest of the year. The shop-‘til-you-drop atmosphere was further emphasized by the mall-like layout of the fair with rows of boutiques and impeccably dressed gallerinas. The art was almost as good as the people-watching.

Not everyone was distracted by price tags and designer-wear. Justin Polera, curator of last year’s Queer Fest Midwest, rushed me over to see a painting by Keith Haring of Mr. Softy, the 1980s brand icon for ice cream, here turned into a muscled gay icon in Haring’s hand. In the Next fair, artist John Parot swooned over works on paper by Jason Fox. Copies of Proximity, a new art-criticism magazine founded by Version Fest originators Ed and Rachel Marszewski, was being distributed freely despite us being, according to its editors, “in the throes of a recession.”

Printed to coincide with the fair weekend, Proximity highlights some of Chicago’s best alternative spaces such as the Suburban, Vonzweck and Deadtech. These are non-commercial art spaces that hardly have any relation to the huge art-fair commercial enterprise. Surprisingly, several of Chicago’s apartment galleries found their way into the fair, especially in the Goffo-curated arena, organized by Mike Andrews and Noah Singer of Imperfect Articles, the limited-edition artist t-shirt company. So, Old Gold, Green Lantern and Alogon Gallery, known for their usually experimental presentations of art and opening-night celebrations, looked like professional business ventures. Some of the strength of these spaces was drained by their lack of character. For instance, I’m used to Caroline Picard’s cats rubbing against my legs as I look at art in her apartment, and Old Gold’s artists seemed estranged without the wood-paneled basement. But the effort to mingle with the masses was well received. Exposure and accessibility was key for these spaces that don’t sit snugly in the usual gallery districts. Even ThreeWalls, the non-profit artist residency, was given a castoff stairwell space to feature an artist project. This refreshingly giving gesture by the fair’s organizers muted the pay-to-play scheme, even if only momentarily. Elizabeth Chodos called her space the coffee bean in the perfume shop, calming noses between wafts of scent.

Next door to the Goffo section was the Old Country bar, arguably my favorite place in the entire fair. This functioning temporary installation of a dive bar, provided by the Old Gold gallery owners, replicated a quintessential Chicago bar frequented by so many artists. With TV tuned to Nascar, lights dimmed, cheap beer and nachos, old wooden bar and booths, and plastic red-and-white gingham tablecloths, this could have been Inner Town Pub or Skylark. It was a great place to calm the eyes and engage in non-stressful conversation. It was easy to forget that you were in the midst of an art fair.

In the Next fair, the newest addition to the Artropolis conglomerate, small solo artist exhibitions broke up the pounding rhythm of the stalls, as did film screenings interspersed between the galleries. The solo shows, including some by Chicago artists Robert Davis and Michael Langlois, Matthew Girson and Terence Hannum, provided in-depth perspectives where we are otherwise often overloaded with too much to see.

Art about the environment and about war was present, but thankfully not in overkill. Large-format photography, conceptual practices, “unmonumental” sculpture, skulls and skeletons were in attendance en masse. Even Jonathan Schipper’s kinetic sculpture, presented by Pierogi gallery, of two hotrods smashing each other in tense slow-motion, seemed hedonistic even if it was titled, “The Slow and Inevitable Death of American Muscle.” Profound? Perhaps. Decadent? Delightfully so.

While Andy Warhol’s dollar sign still holds up as the dominant signifier for this type of event, Mark Wagner’s reconfigured collages of actual dollar bills, presented by Western Exhibitions, speak more to the creative depth that artists are willing to plunge into when interpreting the art/money relationship. Perhaps it is a flat relationship where desire is represented as that which will fulfill it (the Warholian scheme). But increasingly more artists and viewers are looking to reenergize the market, and their desires, with objects worthy of their wallets as well as their senses.