Reviews, profiles and news about art in Chicago

Review: Daniel Giles and Eliza Myrie/Roots & Culture

Ceramics, Drawings, Installation, Performance, Video, Wicker Park/Bucktown No Comments »
Eliza Myrie. "diamond, diamond, graphite," graphite and paper, dimensions variable

Eliza Myrie. “diamond, diamond, graphite,” graphite and paper, dimensions variable

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In “go/figure,” Eliza Myrie and Daniel Giles converse over problems with abstraction, distortion and obfuscation of black bodies’ representations. Their respective historical research and process-based practices make manifest obscured features in histories of African mining and the craft objects of black slaves in the American South. 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 »

Eye Exam: Chicago Art News Bites

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Artwork available by Andrew Falkowski at the Autumn Space benefit auction

Artwork available by Andrew Falkowski at the Autumn Space benefit auction

By Jason Foumberg

Auction Season

Spring is benefit auction season. These fundraising events should be on your radar because they’re good opportunities to score some art by coveted emerging and established artists and a good way to support alternative exhibition venues. (Digression: a successful commercial artist once told me that donating artwork to such auctions can decrease the value of the artwork if collectors know to shop for steep discounts at auction rather than at a gallery.)

The Autumn Space benefit auction is Sunday, March 10, from 6-9pm, at 1700 West Irving Park, Suite #207. Works by over fifty artists are available, many starting at $30, including pieces by Candida Alvarez, Michelle Grabner, Dan Devening, John Phillips, Frank Piatek, Richard Rezac, Adam Scott and Molly Zuckerman-Hartung. $10 at the door and online bidding and preview at autumnspace.com/secondary.html.

April 14 is the benefit auction for Queer Thoughts, and will include work by William J. O’Brien, Alex da Corte, Mindy Schwartz, and others. May 4 is the benefit for Roots & Culture.

100 Paintings and 101 Sculptures

It’s good to have goals. Brandon Alvendia has created 100 paintings for his solo exhibition at Sofa King, opening March 9. They can be previewed at sofa-king-chicago.tumblr.com. Jennifer Mills has created 101 “one-liner” sculptures, for her solo show at Chicago Artists’ Coalition, opening March 15.

Prizes and Grants

ArtFutura is an annual open call for artworks, to be displayed and sold as a benefit to the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago’s Art Therapy program. There is a $30 entry fee and prizes ranging from $500-$2,500. Same as last year, the exhibition juror is James Rondeau and the theme is, once again, “motion.” Deadline is April 2 at www.ric.org/about/people/boards/associate/activities-events/artfutura.

The Chicago Artists’ Coalition and OtherPeoplesPixels, a website service for artists, have partnered to offer a $3,000 Maker Grant for artists. The deadline to apply is March 31, and the entry fee is $15, at chicagoartistscoalition.org/maker-grant. Read the rest of this entry »

Portrait of the Artist: Heather Mekkelson

Artist Profiles No Comments »

“I became a bit tired of being a spokesperson for hurricane victims,” says Heather Mekkelson, yet for the past four years hurricanes and other natural disasters have been essential to her ongoing sculpture series. Mekkelson hunts through hundreds of photographs of natural-disaster remains from news sources. She selects images that feature human lives tossed into chaos: house fragments, ripped clothing and other domestic upheavals, and recreates the scenes as large sculptures. Her still-life re-creations are meticulous down to every splash, crash, flame and crack, minus the scarred landscape and scared faces of victims. Salvation Army stores supply aptly used goods, which are heightened with paint. Part forensic investigator, part set designer, Mekkelson delights in the formalism of destructed objects, perhaps more than the ethics of human survival and disaster outreach.

Mekkelson has learned from artists of the Romantic period that disaster makes a good picture. Contemporary viewers of a Turner or Gericault painting are more interested in wild color and composition than the lives lost at sea long ago, so Mekkelson is one step ahead of the historical curve. Her ruins are sculptures that invite contemplation more on the generalized power of nature than the specific suffering of humanity. She pulls from a Gericault painting his “sweet-spot,” the point a viewer can “walk in” to the action. And with a love for Minimalist sculptors, Mekkelson gets deep into the pleasures of craft. While empathy is often the first response to disasters, Mekkelson shows us that many responses are possible and valid, even curiosity.

Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Bradley Biancardi and Zoe Nelson/Roots & Culture

Painting No Comments »

Bradley Biancardi

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Zoe Nelson and Bradley Biancardi have written an open letter to painting. Their exhibition, “Dear Resonance & The Memory Hole,” catalogs the pair’s varying occupations with the medium, from Biancardi’s figurative work to Nelson’s abstract geometric canvases whose surfaces have been cut into, removed, layered or otherwise rearranged into forms reminiscent of El Lissitzky’s suprematist compositions, but with a much more prevalent craft aesthetic.

The symmetry of interpretation is just one motif in this exhibition’s affinity for double-entendre and opposition, lucidly framed by Biancardi’s “Piano Magic,” which begins to unfold the “resonance” referenced in the exhibition’s title, an experience both audible and visual. Depicting a piano in a heavily ornamented, brazenly fauvist palate, adorned with expressive graphic elements that cross and intercede in a woven manner to create the suggestion of spatial depth for the image, the painting operates on an ultimately flat pictorial plane. Exhibited directly across is a piano painted in a similar graphic style, the type that Liberace would have admired, the bench and top strewn with multicolored confetti that matches the eclectic handling of each differently hued key. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Modern Model/Roots & Culture

Drawings, Painting, Sculpture, Ukrainian Village/East Village No Comments »

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Imagine a performance by minimalist composer Philip Glass during which the calibrated algorithms are interrupted by a snoring philistine that turns out to be someone’s ringtone. The same effect occurs to the imperfectly adapted abstract futurisms in Andy Hall’s geometric sculptures and Kaylee Wyant’s painterly canvases, now on view at Roots & Culture. Recalling Jonathan Lasker, whose colorful squiggles are layered and cramped into confined sections, Wyant, in works such as “Shelbus Dominus” and “Eliza,” carefully stacks and masks areas of vivid chromatic smudges in order to exaggerate the expressionist visual pleasure of the violated edges. Her textures are more like blurry Ross Bleckner watercolors, even verging on faux-finished screensavers. Wyant even goes so far as to wallpaper a gallery nook in crumpled blue pieces of papier-mâché, against which her paintings “Jig” and “Jane” float like odd screen-glitches in a Google Earth view of the ocean. Read the rest of this entry »

Portrait of the Artist: Carmen Price

Artist Profiles, Ukrainian Village/East Village No Comments »

"L.A. Claim," 2010, gouache on paper

“These are the people I love,” remarks Carmen Price as we admire his ninety-eight panels of graphically embellished names of friends. The salon-style grid of drawings, like commemorative texts, are adorned faintly with pearlescent acrylic washes and cubed or loopy cursive lettering.

Price traces his involvement in the arts back to grade school where he decorated classmates’ Trapper Keepers, and a similar adolescent distraction dominates his visual vocabulary today. Although a single work can engage Price for a year or more, he describes his approach to each composition as largely intuitive, with no particular plan of attack or specific outcome in mind when he begins.

This call-and-response method, a fluid, almost musical template for working, produces layers of transparency blocked by opacity, indivisible amalgamations of various mark-making and a variety of paint-handling techniques that make a single piece appear almost collaged together. Othertimes, images read left to right, row by row—an individuated, wholly imagined strand of hieroglyphics. Complicating this matrix is his employment of a handful of iconic symbols, namely the caricatured alien head a la 1990’s X-Files ads, that function as surrogates for the unknown, the ambiguous or the literal other worldly. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: We Are the World/Roots & Culture

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Ninna Berger, "Venus in Clothes," 2010

RECOMMENDED

Do you remember “USA for Africa”? What about “We Are the World”—those well-intended expressions of the otherwise non-existent Reagan-era social conscience? (Okay, we shouldn’t forget “Hands Across America”). In 1985, composer Quincy Jones, along with stars Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie, enlisted the help of dozens of (then popular) recording industry superstars, forming a megalo-group called USA for Africa.  They cut a chart-topping, best-selling single, the results of which—a few million dollars of food-aid—was literally dropped into Africa. In full disclosure, this author was prenatal at the time, and thankfully born to parents in Minnesota, and not Mogadishu.

Nearly twenty-five years after the original release of “We Are the World,” a young generation of artistic talent has decided to unite around the glib spirit of this bygone phenomenon with a similar (modest) proposal of their own, in “We Are the World,” at Roots & Culture Gallery. In truth, the group of artists, hailing from places as diverse as Oslo, San Francisco and Chicago, configure themselves around the title of the eighties charity single in name only, taking from it what they will, and ultimately relating to the “We Are the World” phenomenon as the mutual beginning of their collectively lived-experiences. In fact, the entire show is essentially a subtle rumination on the paradoxical conflation of collective and subjective experience endemic to this generation, resulting from its complete and total immersion in post-industrial societies in which consumerism proliferates as a (nearly) unquestionable doctrine. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Brian McNearney and Edra Soto/Roots & Culture

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Edra Soto, "Light Within The Dark," 2009.

Edra Soto, "Light Within The Dark," 2009.

RECOMMENDED

Brian McNearny and Edra Soto’s two-person show, “Forever Vegetal,” treats the themes of birth and death with mythological import. On the birth side, McNearny’s “Bog” is the place where life begins—in a thick, heavily textured oil painting. The primordial Dagobah sends forth the figure of “Glob,” the vaguely mutant form surfaced from oil paint on a found desert-camo-looking banner, giving the work a vaguely sci-fi militaristic tinge.

Edra Soto’s explorations are more geared toward the end than the beginning, though “forever” could probably nest in either camp. Stuffed animals covered in shit-like sod occupy the floor of a too-dark gallery, parked around an illuminated square—think Billie Jean. The light is certainly transcendent, and the animals are appropriately reverent, despite their recent unearthing. The question remains which way the light will take whatever beleaguered soul decides to step on, up or down? In the same corner lives “Light Within the Dark,” where baby Jesus rests upon a charcoal mountain range like Christ the Redeemer surveys a sinning Rio. Tucked behind the miniature range are a string of Christmas lights, the light most directly behind the Jesus figure blinking like a beckoning landing beacon. Crash ye planes unto me, the tot says, in the ultimate come-to-Jesus moment. Merry Christmas. (Erik Wennermark)

Through January 16 at Roots & Culture Contemporary Art Center, 1034 North Milwaukee Avenue

Art Break: Roots & Culture serves it up two ways

Drawings, Painting, Sculpture, Wicker Park/Bucktown No Comments »
Rob Doran

Rob Doran

The West Town gallery Roots & Culture has shown a wide variety of work over the last three years, but, as with most good independent spaces, there’s a house style. It is a recognizable look, the folksy RISD-style psychedelic expressionism promulgated in the wider culture by macramé owls with twig antlers and Day-Glo silk-screen posters with misspelled words arranged on mountains made of diamond shapes. As we reach the turn of the next decade, this faux-primitive handmade aesthetic has, on the one hand, consolidated into a formal surface of ready signifiers that can be freely manipulated like beats and samples and, on the other, deepened into a legitimate if intuitive conceptual approach.

This former aesthetic hedonism teeters on the boundary of self-awareness and pure shamanic design in the works of Rob Doran, now on display. Hot colors in gradient discs sit amidst thick and muddy zigzag brushstrokes. There are, in fact, twigs, mountains, diamond shapes and misspelled words, both handwritten and printed, not to mention dirty white backgrounds and handmade frames. The moment of self-awareness for me comes with a small outsider-esque sculpture sitting on a found plank, in which a braided white snake peers up at the viewer through a miniature wild-haired African mask, flouting the last forty-odd years of scathing critique directed at Picasso-style colonial appropriation. If we are in a truly post-colonial (if not post-racial) universe, then these pieces deliver evocative atavism with breezy aplomb. If we are not, then there’s more of a kick here, though it might be directed at Doran rather than (or as well as) from him. Read the rest of this entry »