Reviews, profiles and news about art in Chicago

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

RECOMMENDED

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.

RECOMMENDED

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 »

ex_496RECOMMENDED

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 »

Review: Susan Hefuna/Rhona Hoffman Gallery

Sculpture, West Loop No Comments »

RECOMMENDED

Throughout Egypt, domestic structures are traditionally constructed of brick, stone or adobe, typically between two and five stories in height with projecting oriel windows. Referred to as Mashrabiya, the street-facing bay windows are commonly enclosed in an ornamental screen of wooden latticework. The primary function of a Mashrabiya screen is privacy—the dense crisscrossed pattern preventing any vantage point from the exterior. A number of displaced Mashrabiya screens can be found in Susan Hefuna’s current exhibition, meticulously assembled by the German-Egyptian artist and painted with black ink. However, the latticework of Hefuna’s Mashrabiya screens is not merely ornamental, as messages such as “WOMAN CAIRO” and “CONFESSION” appear within the wooden pattern as the viewer recedes from the structures. Legible only when viewed from a distance, the words position their reader just outside of the private space the Mashrabiya would presumably enclose. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Vidvuds Zviedris/Thomas McCormick Gallery and Andre Butzer/Rhona Hoffman Gallery

Painting, West Loop No Comments »

Andre Butzer

RECOMMENDED

Andre Butzer asserts that his recent paintings are “similar to everything I did before” and the audience “should react and be irritated by it.” But they don’t seem all that irritating to me. The annoying, cartoony stupid-faces—did they owe more to Walt Disney or Edvard Munch?—have disappeared from the work, and what’s left is buoyant calligraphy of thick paint in primary colors. There’s a carnal energy that occasionally erupts into fleshy tones and shapes, lending the effect of an uninhibited child cavorting with rubber duckies in the bathtub. Yet this happy kid is also a deft painter and there’s an enjoyable precision and measured balance about his designs. In a nod to the contemporary collector’s need to be puzzled, Butzer also offers a gray painting with two black rectangles. By itself, it’s a cipher, but it does serve well to cleanse the palette between his more boisterous entrées. Read the rest of this entry »