Reviews, profiles and news about art in Chicago

Review: New Catalogue/Rhona Hoffman Gallery

Photography, West Loop No Comments »
New Catalogue. "Book (Brave New World by Aldous Huxley): Images for a New Golden Record," 2014 ink jet print, 10" x 10", print; 12.75" x 12.75", framed.

New Catalogue. “Book (Brave New World by Aldous Huxley): Images for a New Golden Record,” 2014
ink jet print, 10″ x 10″, print; 12.75″ x 12.75″, framed.


In 1977, celebrity astronomer Carl Sagan realized his conceit of sending into outer space on NASA’s Voyager spacecraft, a “Golden Record” composed of aural snippets of human culture and slices of life, accompanied by greetings, to be received by any extraterrestrial beings that might come across it and make something of it. The conventional humanism of Sagan’s project got conceptual photographers Luke Batten and Jonathan Sadler, who collaborate under the name New Catalogue, thinking of how they would represent humanity today to other intelligent life forms in the great beyond, and came up with a grid of sixteen small black-and-white shots of hands holding up familiar objects like a pencil, a hammer and a banana, against white backgrounds. The artists recruited Judd Greenstein to compose generally placid contemporary classical viola music, which is piped into their exhibit, and put text on the walls of the gallery’s front room transcribing some of the tracks on the original Golden Record, including the cloying greetings. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Material Gestures: Cut, Weave, Sew, Knot/Rhona Hoffman Gallery

Textiles, West Loop No Comments »
Sheila Hicks. "Dervish," 2011 steel, linen, wool

Sheila Hicks. “Dervish,” 2011
steel, linen, wool


Rhona Hoffman brings together a group exhibition of works from the past thirty years that shows how fabric performs as a palimpsest of industrial and domestic worlds, transplanted from utilitarian to art contexts.

Karen Reimer’s “Endless Set #1399,” was originally developed as a site-specific installation for UIC’s Gallery 400. Digits cut from white cloth are sewn in 1399 patches, stacked in the shape of pillowcases on the corner of a wooden bed-shaped frame. The work privileges an unrelenting systematic approach over conceptual transparency. Beside this sparsely arranged numerical record is a more chaotic and carnal collage. Anne Wilson’s “Mourning Cloth” is a loosely hung shroud, matted with human hair and featuring a small hole lined like a made-up eye with tiny black stitches that diffuse outwards, suggesting a vacant cosmic gaze. Patches of stained and used tablecloth are sewn together to emphasize fissures. The dispersal and patchwork of materials permeated with an undisclosed domestic life suggests another kind of compulsive action, an attempt to mend, without eradicating the compound histories of the material. Read the rest of this entry »

Eye Exam: Cities Built Within Galleries

Installation, Sculpture, Wicker Park/Bucktown No Comments »
Diane Simpson. "Window Dressing" at Monique Meloche

Diane Simpson. “Window Dressing: Apron 1,” oil stain on MDF, polyester fabric; and “Window Dressing: Bib-doodle,” gatorfoam board, hardboard, wallpaper, enamel, ink

By Matt Morris

It’s often said around town that Chicago has two seasons: winter and construction. The architectural epicenter where we reside explodes into transformation in the warm months, as buildings, roads and public spaces undergo restructuring. A few exhibitions on view right now conspire to reflect this construction condition by taking built environments and our habitation of them as points of departure. The artworks’ proximity to source materials is a useful measurement in distinguishing where a quirky meta-criticality is achieved, and where sometimes the experience at hand is burdened by its references. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: David Schutter/Rhona Hoffman Gallery

Painting, West Loop No Comments »
"AIC C 224 4," oil on linen,  2014

“AIC C 224 4,” oil on linen, 2014


In just over four-hundred words, the press release for David Schutter’s excellent new show, “What Is Not Clear is Not French,” covers a lot of ground. In it we learn about an obscure eighteenth-century French writer, investigate “teleologically bound systems” and consider how the show’s eight oil-on-linen works evolved from Schutter’s process of re-performing encounters with specific, though unnamed, French paintings. Strangely, the exhibition’s overriding condition is never mentioned: these paintings are entirely abstract and they are all gray.

Grayness has long been regarded as symptomatic of nihilism—an aspect of the reductive materialism that’s become endemic to our culture and our art. But in Schutter’s paintings grayness is a doorway. In these enigmatically coded works (references to precise gallery locations at the Art Institute of Chicago and the National Gallery of Art assume the role of titles), grayness is not only the union of opposites such as black and white, grayness also symbolizes the transitory state between sleep and wakefulness, remembering and forgetting. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Michael Rakowitz/Rhona Hoffman Gallery

West Loop No Comments »
"Study for The Breakup – Fantasy Objects," 2012, Get Back fantasy album and ephemera, 1970; Joe Orton, Up Against It, book; Live in Saratha fantasy album, 1969; Beatles signature in the hand of Paul McCartney, 1965; Yoko Ono, Now or Never LP, 1972; Yesterday and Today LP, butcher cover, 1966; Muammar Gaddafi stamp, 1986; fantasy concert ticket, 1965; Israeli currency for the Occupied Territories, never printed in Israel, 1967; Coins, never issued in California, 2010; Currency from Jordan, Syria and Egypt, 1967.

“Study for The Breakup – Fantasy Objects,” 2012, Get Back fantasy album and ephemera, 1970; Joe Orton, Up Against It, book; Live in Saratha fantasy album, 1969; Beatles signature in the hand of Paul McCartney, 1965; Yoko Ono, Now or Never LP, 1972; Yesterday and Today LP, butcher cover, 1966; Muammar Gaddafi stamp, 1986; fantasy concert ticket, 1965; Israeli currency for the Occupied Territories, never printed in Israel, 1967; Coins, never issued in California, 2010; Currency from Jordan, Syria and Egypt, 1967.


Equal parts Middle East history lesson and VH1 “Behind the Music” episode, there’s precious little to dislike about Iraqi-American conceptual artist Michael Rakowitz’s “The Breakup” at Rhona Hoffman Gallery. Through a full-on multimedia presentation encompassing audio, video, collage, memorabilia and a limited-edition vinyl pressing, Rakowitz autopsies the slow dissolution of the world’s most famous pop band, The Beatles, in conjunction with an examination of contemporaneous events that led to the significantly more ruinous dissolution of Pan-Arab nationalism.

Replete with items such as a Lebanese pressing of the “Hey Jude”/”Revolution” forty-five record, various images of Yasser Arafat, old newspapers, a rock from Palestine (a reference to the 1987 Intifada) and bootleg LPs from Rakowitz’s personal collection, the sheer volume of objects and information takes time to adequately digest. And while these articles—and the associations Rakowitz draws among them—are of great interest, the cornerstones of the exhibition are undoubtedly the artist’s original radio broadcasts and film, both titled “The Breakup.” Read the rest of this entry »

Eye Exam: Painting Super Bodies

Painting No Comments »
Andrew Holmquist's "Give and Receive" and "Armature"

Andrew Holmquist’s “Give and Receive” and “Armature”

By Matt Morris

Chicago’s traditions and innovations in painting are often oriented to bodies and problems with their deconstruction. Perhaps due to the Imagists and their successors, many of our ongoing conversations in visual production bear consequences of how bodies, individuals and populations are identified, relate to our environments and express desire. Several recently opened exhibitions of painting and painting-adjacent projects employ color, pattern, figurative representations and material excess to advance contemporary notions of bodies.

In Andrew Holmquist’s exhibition “Marco (Polo)” at Carrie Secrist Gallery, the loony cartoon characters who have starred in the painter’s earlier work are all but absent, replaced by wide swaths of color and needling line-work that correspond to the linear structure of “Armature,” a lemony, powder-coated steel jungle-gym sculpture. If there is a body present in many of these works it is the fantastical author capable of these gestural brushstrokes enlarged beyond human scale into commanding and mechanized übermensch sensibilities. Read the rest of this entry »

Eye Exam: A Fresh Look at SoHo in the 1970s

Curator Profiles 2 Comments »
Gordon Matta-Clark, Suzanne Harris and Tina Girouard

Gordon Matta-Clark, Tina Girouard and Suzanne Harris

By Jason Foumberg

Jessamyn Fiore never met Gordon Matta-Clark, but he has always been part of her life. “I grew up in a loft that my mother and Gordon had converted from a factory building,” in downtown New York City, says Fiore. “We had his art around. His family was like my family. His friends were like my friends.” Matta-Clark died in 1978, and two years later Fiore was born to his widow, Jane Crawford. “Once Gordon passed away, my mother devoted her life to his work and his legacy,” says Fiore.

Although Matta-Clark was just thirty-five when cancer ended his life and his prolific art career, the art world wasn’t ready to sweep him into the dustbin of art history. And we still haven’t—no doubt due, in part, to the hard work of caring for his estate, a tremendous task that Crawford and Fiore now share, as of last year.

As co-director of the estate, Fiore, thirty-two, has not simply inherited the wealth of an important artist; Fiore has what she calls a “creative relationship” with Matta-Clark’s legacy, as if he were her art-father, his ideals about art and community fostering her own belief system.

Fiore’s story is fascinating because it reveals how an artist’s reputation is sustained, in our modern curriculum and imagination. It is not simply that a powerful dealer releases major artworks into the market at strategic moments; the legacy of an artist like Matta-Clark stays alive because an advocate like Fiore works to connect the core values of his artwork with those that are relevant to today’s artists. Fiore identifies a spirit of collaborative artistic empowerment in the work of Matta-Clark and his peers that resonates with today’s artist-centric art world.

“What is the role that friendships play within an artistic community, and within an artist’s practice?” asks Fiore. She has expanded her inquiry beyond Matta-Clark to look at 112 Greene Street, a live-and-work art center in a converted factory building, known by its street address, that incubated New York City’s political, post-minimal, feminist, performance and experimental art in the seventies. Read the rest of this entry »

Eye Exam: New Moves in Chicago Sculpture

Sculpture 14 Comments »

By Jason Foumberg

It’s an exciting moment for sculpture in Chicago. I’ve tracked a few patterns in contemporary object-making through these nine current exhibitions.

IMG_5281Jun Kaneko at Millennium Park
The newest addition of public art to Millennium Park (for seven months) are dozens of large glazed ceramic sculptures by Jun Kaneko, a Japanese-born, Omaha-based artist who should be familiar to Chicagoans (he’s shown here seventeen times in the past thirty years, but not since 2003.) All of the ceramic sculptures are graphically painted (polka dots, mummy tape) in bright colors. On the Randolph Street side are standing figures, tall and fat as taxidermied bears, but with pig faces and Looney Tunes eyes. There’s a hoard of them, and they’re a little freaky (one has blue nipples). On the Monroe Street side are tablet-shaped objects, the size of tombs, similarly painted. I almost scorned these sculptures—they verge on Cows on Parade kitsch—until I read the artist’s description. The figures are Tanuki, or mythical Japanese trickster characters with jazzy skin and desperate smiles. They’re pleasurably sinister, and a little more non-denominational than the Buddha heads spouting all over Chicago, by Indira Johnson.
Through November 3 at Millennium Park. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Ceramic Sculpture/Rhona Hoffman Gallery

Ceramics, West Loop No Comments »


Ceramic art ain’t what it used to be. On a small table near the gallery entrance, six historic pots huddle together to remind us of the past. Though made by ancient hands from all over the planet (Rwanda, Peru, Cambodia and North America, among others), they all share a certain dignity. Rooted to the shelf beneath them, each stands tall and proud, asserting a simple though necessary function, and as strong, content, healthy, reliable, honest and handsome as one might wish sons and daughters to be. But don’t those qualities lead to a dead-end, low-pay job in today’s world? Ambition, cleverness, innovation, rule-breaking and unique virtuosity are required for success in our civilization, and are well represented by the five contemporary artists chosen to fill the rest of the gallery. Read the rest of this entry »

Fan Scene: A Chicago Art Album

News etc. No Comments »

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 »