Reviews, profiles and news about art in Chicago

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 »

Review: Abstraction: A Visual Language/Rhona Hoffman Gallery

Painting, West Loop No Comments »
Linnea Gabriella Spransy. "Repeat, Like Nothing Ever Has Been," 2015 acrylic on canvas, 78" x 72"

Linnea Gabriella Spransy. “Repeat, Like Nothing Ever Has Been,” 2015
acrylic on canvas, 78″ x 72″


Aside from the obvious aesthetic concerns of making objects of lasting beauty, the central problem of abstraction has always been one of style and technique. More specifically, it has been the search for a technique that yields and animates an autographic or signature style as unique as the painter’s vision. It’s a lot harder than it sounds: as evidence, witness the cliché-ridden failures of abstract painting’s supposed “comeback” visible at any given art fair.

All the more reason then to celebrate the seven artists whose works comprise the concentrated, diverse and yet seamlessly integrated “Abstraction: A Visual Language” at Rhona Hoffman Gallery. That these artists are also women is a fact worth highlighting in its own right, but let’s be clear: these are damn good painters first and foremost who make singular works that defy easy categorization. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Gordon Matta-Clark/Rhona Hoffman Gallery

Collage, Photography, West Loop No Comments »
Gordon Matta-Clark. "Circus," 1978 silver dye bleach print (Cibachrome), 29 1/4" x 73 1/4"

Gordon Matta-Clark. “Circus,” 1978
silver dye bleach print (Cibachrome), 29 1/4″ x 73 1/4″


In 1978, the Museum of Contemporary Art commissioned artist Gordon Matta-Clark to execute one of his trademark “building cut” projects in a recently acquired brownstone on Ontario Street. The result, “Circus or The Caribbean Orange,” a series of large-scale circular lacerations that radically altered the structure’s interior, would sadly be the artist’s last major statement before his untimely death at age thirty-five. What remains of the epic scale of this ephemeral project are a series of the artist’s captivating photocollages. Read the rest of this entry »

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 »