Reviews, profiles and news about art in Chicago

Review: John Knight/Art Institute of Chicago

Ceramics, Galleries & Museums, Installation, Loop, Media & Genres No Comments »
John Knight, "Plate #28," from "Museotypes" series, 1983.

John Knight, “Plate #28,” from “Museotypes” series, 1983.


To mark the Renaissance Society’s centennial, the Art Institute installed John Knight’s “Museotypes,” a series of sixty commemorative plates ostensibly honoring the museum. Hung in three stacked rows of twenty each, each gold-rimmed bone-china plate (the hue is just warmer than gallery white) sports the silhouetted footprint of a high-caliber museum in black glaze. Altogether, the abstract similarity shared by the graphics condenses art-housing architecture into minimalist logos that are less salable than museum facades, but no worse at making an icon of an institution. Read the rest of this entry »

International Dispatch: Disproving Silence at the 2015 Istanbul Biennial

Activist Art, Architecture, Art Fairs, Ceramics, Collage, Design, Drawings, Galleries & Museums, Installation, Media & Genres, Multimedia, Painting, Performance, Photography, Prints, Public Art, Sculpture, Street Art, Textiles, Video No Comments »
Theaster Gates. "The Anthem of Mu," 2015. Performance on the Bosphorus for "Saltwater: A Theory of Forms." /Photo: Mehmet Girgin.

Theaster Gates. “The Anthem of Mu,” 2015.
Performance on the Bosphorus for “Saltwater: A Theory of Thought Forms”/Photo: Mehmet Girgin

By Mariam Al Askari

“Guglielmo Marconi said every sound we ever make is still out there. Once generated, it fades but never dies away completely.” This idea not only encapsulates the work by Susan Philipsz for which it was written—the work features sounds of dripping water and underwater beacons—but also the 2015 Istanbul Biennial as a whole, which features countless artists and other collaborators, several of which hail from Chicago. Read the rest of this entry »

Opportunity Knocks, and Knocking: The State of the Arts in Hyde Park

Hyde Park No Comments »
Ebony magazine, August 1967.

Ebony magazine, August 1967.

By Luke A. Fidler, Ph.D. candidate, Art History

In 1967, a group of students from Hyde Park High School performed a musical piece called “Opportunity Please Knock” together with members of the Blackstone Rangers gang. Read the rest of this entry »

Art 50 2015: Chicago’s Visual Vanguard

Art 50 1 Comment »


Long heralded as a mecca for alternative practices, collectivity and socially engaged art, Chicago increasingly finds itself among the most visible international art destinations precisely because of its distinct character and openness to change and growth. What makes this city fertile ground for launching new talent and sustaining confirmed genius? A complex and ever-changing network of curators, collectors, administrators, critics, dealers, educators and other enthusiasts cultivate Chicago’s artistic vitality and diversity. The Art 50 is Newcity’s annual snapshot of Chicago’s art ecosystem. This year, we track the power players who shape the terrain in which we thrive.

The Art 50 was written by Elliot J. Reichert, Maria Girgenti, Abraham Ritchie, Kate Sierzputowski and B. David Zarley.

Cover and interior photos by Joe Mazza/Brave Lux on location at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago Read the rest of this entry »

On In-Betweenness: An Interview with Solveig Øvstebø About The Renaissance Society’s Amazing Platform of Freedom on the Occasion of its Centennial

Art Fairs, Curator Profiles No Comments »

Solveig Øvstebø at the Renaissance Society, 2015.


By Elliot Reichert

Solveig Øvstebø is the executive director and chief curator of The Renaissance Society, an institution devoted to the creation and presentation of contemporary art. This year, the Renaissance Society is celebrating its hundredth anniversary with exhibitions and events that examine the institution’s legacy and charts its future. Øvstebø spoke with us in her office at the University of Chicago, where she was overseeing the installation of new works by Irena Haiduk, whose exhibition will open the Centennial season.

 In your first two years in Chicago, what have you observed about Chicagos visual arts community, and how do you see the Renaissance Society fitting in to this art ecosystem?

Norway’s entire population is half the number of the population of Chicago, so that gives you an idea of what a different context I came from. Of course, the global art world is small, and Europe works with the American art scene a lot, but when you are a practitioner there are many things that are different between these places. I was eager to understand how things worked here. When I arrived in Chicago, I was so taken by the incredibly strong institutional ecosystem, and the support that these institutions have in the city. And I saw immediately how the universities and schools in Chicago cultivate strong student voices. Finally, I was amazed to find how robust the alternative scene is in Chicago.

Read the rest of this entry »

Eye Exam: Chicago is an Exquisite Corpse

Activist Art, Architecture, Art Fairs, Art Schools, Collage, Comics, Design, Digital Art, Drawings, Evanston, Fall Preview, Galleries & Museums, Garfield Park, Gold Coast/Old Town, Humboldt Park, Hyde Park, Installation, Little Village, Logan Square, Loop, Michigan Avenue, Multimedia, Museum Campus, Outsider Art, Painting, Performance, Photography, Pilsen, Prints, Public Art, River North, River West, Rogers Park, Sculpture, South Loop, Street Art, Streeterville, Suburban, Ukrainian Village/East Village, Uptown, Video, West Loop, West Town, Wicker Park/Bucktown No Comments »
The thing that was sent to me in it's intended but unsettling orientation.

The thing that was sent to me in its intended but unsettling orientation.

By Elliot J. Reichert

The above image was sent to me anonymously in the middle of the night. Shocking as it appears, I was relieved to receive it. You see, weeks ago I had contacted a few artist friends to ask them to reflect on the upcoming fall art season in Chicago and to ask one to “take over” the task of appraising it. To my surprise, they were reluctant to describe it, even those who had exhibitions of their work opening in the coming weeks. Later, I realized that their silence was my doing, having asked a question that could produce no coherent answer.

Much like the drawing game made famous by the Surrealists, Chicago’s 2015 fall art season is an exquisite corpse—a thing of grotesque beauty that is the dream of no one, but the creation of many. At first glance, it appears sinister, like the Block Museum’s solo show of newly commissioned works by Chicago artist Geof Oppenheimer. Rumor has it that the sculptor has filled the museum’s ample galleries with austere and foreboding installations resembling the cinderblock constructions of grim institutions, like prison, or perhaps your corporate office. Even more menacing, Irena Haiduk, also Chicago-based and also exhibiting new work, will haunt the eaves of the Renaissance Society’s transformed gallery with the Sirens of Greek mythology, luring visitors unexpectedly into a debate on the revolutionary possibilities of art and social change amidst current political upheaval worldwide. Read the rest of this entry »

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 »