Reviews, profiles and news about art in Chicago

News: Hamza Walker Named Co-curator for Made in L.A. 2016

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Hamza Walker at the Renaissance Society's benefit gala in October 2014, courtesy of Fadeout Foto.

Hamza Walker at the Renaissance Society’s benefit gala in October 2014, courtesy of Fadeout Foto.

In December, the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, California announced that the associate curator for The Renaissance Society, Hamza Walker, will co-curate the third iteration of Los Angeles’ biennial Made in L.A. (MILA) 2016 alongside Hammer curator Aram Moshayedi. Walker will be taking a leave of absence from The Ren starting February 1, for the two year focus he will be putting into MILA.

Walker was chosen to co-curate the next iteration of the Hammer’s ongoing exhibition series featuring artwork created in the Los Angeles area when the museum’s director Annie Philbin requested that Moshayedi make a wish list of potential curatorial partners. “The minute we saw [Walker’s] name,” says Philbin, “We knew he was the one. Hamza is a widely respected curator and we wanted someone from outside of L.A. this time—someone with a global view but also with a knowledge and understanding of what is going on in L.A. Hamza fit the bill and it seemed like a good moment for him to pursue something like this. Aram and Hamza will balance each other beautifully I think.” Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Josef Strau/Renaissance Society

Ceramics, Hyde Park, Installation No Comments »
Josef Strau. "Raft," 2014

Josef Strau. “Raft,” 2014


The application referenced in the title of Josef Strau’s first museum exhibition in the United States, “The New World Application for Turtle Island,” is a fantastical art-and-text alternative to the formal procedures for a green card, and Turtle Island is a name given to the North American continent by its indigenous peoples. The Renaissance Society is filled with the Austrian-born nomad’s sensitively indulgent bricolage of Americana used to deconstruct histories of European invasion and colonization alongside his more personal accounts of exploring the United States and Mexico. Strau poses uneasy questions about the ethics and aesthetics that accompany cultural trade, not least of all his globetrotting presence as an after-effect of prior violent usurpations of place. His knowingly disjointed installation grapples with the conditions of being an outsider—and perhaps more confounding, an insider—in these places he holds dear. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: William Pope.L/Renaissance Society

Drawings, Hyde Park, Sculpture No Comments »



In a multimedia exhibition of both two- and three-dimensional works, the one most important to William Pope.L’s “Forlesen” is actually the fourth; time, in all its idiosyncrasies, brutalities and inevitabilities, lays at the exhibition’s heart.

“There’s nothing that necessarily ties the episodes together except time,” said Pope.L in regard to Gene Wolfe, the science fiction author who wrote the novella “Forlesen” (1974), and from that one observation the seemingly disparate pieces of Pope.L’s exhibition take on a (somewhat) coherent form.

Pope.L’s decision to purposefully not re-read the story prior to beginning his work—therefore relying upon the residue of memory—firmly grounds “Forlesen” in the fourth dimension at its conception. Perhaps most important, if least obvious, is the foundational aspect allotted to the passage of time, and the obfuscation that ensues.

Less esoteric are the works that deal with decay; the sloughing of ketchup (foodstuff that once reminded Pope.L of hardship and fame, but is now a romantic reminiscence) and joint compound scales from “Curtain” present the viewer with an empirical example of time’s ravages, as do the black helium balloons of “Ellipsis.” Aloft when fresh, they inevitably hang from the rafters like narcoleptic ravens, or lay shriveled upon the ground like dreams deferred. Even the room-dominating sculpture “Quarter Shape (penis)” can be seen as an allegory for atrophy; what do men fear losing most as caducity approaches? Combine the phallus with the withered balloons, and a nightmarish image akin to Updike’s Ben Turnbull takes shape. Read the rest of this entry »

Art 50: Chicago’s Artists’ Artists

Art 50, Artist Profiles 6 Comments »

Artwork and Photo by Matthew Hoffman ( )
Matthew is a 2006 Newcity Breakout Artist

“A friend recently confessed to me that he secretly ranks the participants in Chicago’s art world according to their importance,” wrote artist Molly Zuckerman-Hartung in this publication. Molly’s friend doesn’t work at Newcity; although we annually rank half-a-hundred scenesters of the stage and page, this is our first line-up of visual artists. But everyone intimately knows Molly’s secret friend—the shuffler of the big rolodex, the line cutter, who maybe crept through a Deb Sokolow conspiracy, who buys all your friends’ artworks but never yours. Guess who? It’s you. You made this list and you ranked it and you live in it. You’re either on this list or you’re a product of this list or you’re on this list’s parallel universe (maybe, the Top Fifty People Who Read Lists list). Congrats!

We agree that a linear fifty names is simplistic. Instead, picture this list as a family tree that’s been trimmed into an MC Escher hedge maze. Or see the names as intersecting circles, a cosmic Venn diagram, or raindrops hitting a lake. There could be a list of fifty (or 500) best painters, or a new list for every week we publish this newspaper. For now, here are fifty people who have made an impression on other peoples’ lives.

Who are these people? They are mentors, magnets, peers, alchemists, art mothers, Chicago-ish, artists’ artists, evangelicals, alive today, polarizing, underrated, retired, workhorses and teachers. Lots of teachers. If you’re an artist in Chicago it’s likely that a handful of these artists trained you, or showed you that art was even a possibility. The bonus of local legends is that we can learn from them, face to face. Many lead by example.

About the selection process: Artists only for this list. (Power curators and other hangers-on get their own list, next year). To rank these artists we surveyed hundreds of local living artists, racked our brains, had conversations, wrote emails, canvassed the streets with art critics, cast votes, then recalls, called important curators in London who promptly hung up on us, drank pumpkin latte, checked emails and then finally wrote it all down. And now, we present to you, the Art 50. (Jason Foumberg)

The Art 50 was written by AJ Aronstein, Janina Ciezadlo, Stephanie Cristello, Alicia Eler, Pat Elifritz, Jason Foumberg, Amelia Ishmael, Anastasia Karpova, Harrison Smith, Bert Stabler, Pedro Velez, Katie Waddell and Monica Westin. Read the rest of this entry »

Eye Exam: Bears on Rampage Devour Cows on Parade

Installation, Michigan Avenue, News etc. No Comments »

“Werner Herzog Bear” (photo: Tom Van Eynde)

By Jason Foumberg

With the Chicago Cultural Center’s programming in transition, artists and their audiences mourn some of the disappearing services as the city struggles to redefine its official stance on the visual arts in relation to tourism and commerce. Early on the city evicted a ground-floor gift shop from the Cultural Center, along with most of the respected visual arts staff. With the re-installment of longtime curator Lanny Silverman, the gift shop, too, has undergone some rehabbing into a mock souvenir shop. Named The People’s Palace’s Gift Shop, the life-size diorama created by Zachary Cahill playfully mixes cultural metaphors to draw uncomfortable parallels between capitalist and communist economies. “Yes, we’re open, come in,” announces a pink neon sign at the entrance, but the mock shop is otherwise confrontational and uninviting, having been besieged by economic catastrophe and slash-happy bears. The exhibition team boldly commissioned Cahill to layer confusion upon absurdity as a commentary on the Cultural Center’s mess of affairs, thereby holding up a mirror to its own painful transformation. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Yto Barrada/Renaissance Society

Hyde Park, Photography, Video No Comments »


Yto Barrada’s exhibition title, “RIFFS,” refers to the Rif Mountains, in Morocco, which run east from Tangier, where the artist lives and works. Riff can also be understood as a monologue or spoken improvisation, like in a musical performance. The Renaissance Society’s hallway leading to the main exhibition space is covered in lists—Rue de Tanger, names of streets in French and Arabic in Tangier—referring to memories still colonized, while films of appropriated imagery bookend photographs in the main space, generate myth from a concoction of Moroccan and personal histories. In the gallery, photographs cover the walls, guiding viewers through a wealth of images and information. The experience of moving among these images is like driving in an unfamiliar land while reading a map, seeing dilapidated buildings, piles of rubble, vacant lots, landscapes and roads and people. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Cathy Wilkes/Renaissance Society

Hyde Park, Sculpture No Comments »


Mannequins, grocery-store checkout belts, paintings and an assortment of domestic detritus are a few of the items in Cathy Wilkes’ mixed-media installation, “I Give You All My Money,” at the Renaissance Society. Most of these items have undergone some form of decay: ash-covered pierrot mannequins, jars of encrusted baby food, tattered bits of cotton, flower petals and a rusted basket.

The death of a child imbues the overall theme and tone of the exhibition. Macabre traces and remnants of this child—an empty stroller and empty jars of baby food, bowls with baby spoons and a knee-high table that suggests a child’s accessibility—imbue the installation with maternal mourning. Wilkes’ installation, in total, is a still-life arrangement that remarks on the fragility of life. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: William J. O’Brien/Renaissance Society

Hyde Park, Sculpture 1 Comment »


The impulse to sort and classify William J. O’Brien’s 100 vessels, urns, plates, masks, heads, fragments and geometric constructions in his current exhibition should be suppressed, at least momentarily, for the power of this display is in its collective glut, as a chorus of many shouting, horrible and sick faces and visceral sculptures, raw or glazed, in densely textured and richly colored patinas. After this exhibition, the 100 sculptures will be removed to their respective homes and propped onto shelves or pedestals like the good trophies that they are, but for now, these goblins of taste are presented buffet-style like the feast of some pagan ceremony.

The mostly ceramic sculptures tickle the line between natural-history-museum artifacts and Tiki mug souvenirs, not as a critique of ethnographic cultural consumerism and exoticism but as a way for O’Brien to articulate a spectrum of symbols on the cusp of original feeling and mainstream sentiment, like a parade organized by James Ensor. The crowd of objects expresses a dynamic psychology: there are things buried and prematurely unearthed; there are freshly bundled and hoarded piles of waste; there are plenty of finger-sized orifices. Most importantly, the urns, vessels, heads and totems burn with internal tension, reliquaries of ashen and neutered desire. Like Freud’s tchotchke shelf, some things seem grotesque because they are so familiar. (Jason Foumberg)

Through June 26 at the Renaissance Society, 5811 South Ellis, Cobb Hall 418, University of Chicago, (773)702-8670.

Review: Anna Shteynshleyger/Renaissance Society

Hyde Park, Photography No Comments »






“I want to make work about biography, but I don’t want to talk about myself,” Anna Shteynshleyger explained when asked about the apparent emotional disjunction of the biographical work currently on exhibition at the Renaissance Society. Twenty large photographs (most forty by fifty inches), portraits and landscapes from the series “City of Destiny,” examine the artist’s relationship to the orthodox Jewish community and landscape in which she has grown to be a part.

Spiritual allusions are embedded in each image allowing the photographs to be “read,” in a manner similar to religious allegories. In “Father and Son,” a father holds a sapling while his son is looking out into the woods though a video camera, symbolically “learning” to see the world from his own perspective, he is awaiting the tree that will one day become material for his house.

“Portrait With Mordechai” nods to the biblical story of Esther and Mordechai, with Shteynshleyger herself cast as the pregnant Esther, looking emotionlessly at the camera. Although biographical in nature, her identity seems inseparable from the intricate social and religious web she weaves into the composition of her photographs. Shteynshleyger is not interested in depicting individual experience, but rather a collective, even spiritual engagement

Shteynshleyger’s portraits focus on couples, youths, families and vacant-if-not-abandoned slumbering landscapes that document the vanishing vestige of human presence. The exhibition paints an emotionally alienated world that to outsiders (maybe even more specifically, non-believers) is bound by laws that are difficult to access, but easily assumed to be isolating or oppressive. (Beatrice Smigasiewicz)

Through February 14 at the Renaissance Society, University of Chicago, 5811 South Ellis.

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

News etc., Top 5 Lists 5 Comments »

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 »