Reviews, profiles and news about art in Chicago

Art Break: How to Make a Queer Painting

Painting No Comments »
Matt Morris

Matt Morris

Painting Queer is one of only a handful of art courses being taught in Chicago’s colleges today that focuses on queer art. The undergraduate course was fashioned by instructor Matt Morris for the current semester at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Morris is an interdisciplinary artist and occasional contributor to this publication’s art section.

Where are we at with queer studies in contemporary art?
We’re at a turning point in academia where queer may be old-fashioned. This is an important time to circle the wagons and assess queer theory. The class is meant to address concerns larger than sexuality, such as race, class and other socially regulated categories. Read the rest of this entry »

The Good and the Bad of SAIC’s MFA Show 2013

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By Pedro Vélez

It’s that time of the year when the School of the Art Institute of Chicago throws its spawn (130 of them) into the wilderness. Judging from the less-than-stellar works on display at the Sullivan Galleries (on view through May 17), most of these artists don’t stand a chance. So, what went wrong? Who should be sent to the lions? How about the curators? Have your pick from this year’s class which was made up of Lisa Dorin, Deputy Director for Curatorial Affairs at the Williams College Museum of Art, Bad at Sports’ Duncan MacKenzie and Encarnación M. Teruel, Director of Visual Arts, Media, and Multi-Disciplinary Programs at the Illinois Arts Council. Do we really need curators directing a thesis show? Hiring a “middleman” to choke the flow of creative juices from stressed-out students is just not working out. I say, let students make their own choices on their own terms without the shadow of doubt lingering over their heads. Don’t get me wrong, I love SAIC, I’m her son too, but maybe the time has come to take responsibility and start failing those who don’t make the grade. Like my good friend artist and activist Sara Daleiden always says, “Not everyone has to be an artist, those who fail grad school can be reassigned to become cultural producers.”

Here are some of the best, the worst and the mediocre.

Performance art, including mimes devoid of sarcasm and irony, were all the rage during SAIC’s MFA 2013 opening reception.

Performance art, including mimes devoid of sarcasm and irony, were all the rage during SAIC’s MFA 2013 opening reception.

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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 »

Eye Exam: The Chicago Art Import and Export Company

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By Jason Foumberg

Last year, a mini survey of Chicago Imagist painting was exhibited at Thomas Dane Gallery in London and critically praised in Frieze for offering “a brief glimpse into the lurid visions of this underexposed group of exciting and innovative artists.” Now, in Chicago, the Imagists hardly seem “underexposed,” as they’re codified in the pantheon of our art history, and with many younger artists continually excavating their legacy—a phenomenon so prevalent that it has become an annual curatorial plaything, from 2010’s Ray Yoshida “Spheres of Influence” retrospective at SAIC followed by the “Jim Nutt Companion” exhibition at the MCA and the DePaul Art Museum’s forthcoming “Afterimage.”

The overseas underexposure to now-standard (even well-worn) local legacies got me thinking: If our forty-year-old accomplishments are just now touching down in art-savvy international capitals like London, will emerging artists be doomed to a similar forty-year resting period? If not, then what mechanisms are currently in place to launch international recognition?

The art fairs and biennales provide the most convenient inroads to regional artists, but usually only if the marketplace consents first, and then art can be thrust into the global exchange of ideas and commodities.

The old model of exhibition-as-diplomacy, of culture delivered from on high, has changed significantly. No longer are pre-packaged shows shipped overseas. An exhibition like “Contemporary Art from the Netherlands,” organized by the Netherlands Ministry for Cultural Affairs and sent to America, reeks of the antique method. That show touched down at Chicago’s MCA in 1982. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Bauhaus Now/Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art

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Kyle Schlie, "Cutoffs"


The history of modern-art education, i.e., the attempt to train artists and designers for a distinctly modern world without the unnecessary trappings of tradition, begins with Walter Gropius and the amazing faculty he assembled in 1919 at the Bauhaus in Weimar, Germany. Many of the artists who taught there are legendary: Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, Gerhard Marcks. And there was a very strong Chicago connection, as its third director, Mies van der Rohe, would eventually run the architecture school at IIT and a Bauhaus instructor, László Moholy-Nagy, would found the New Bauhaus, still open as the IIT Institute of Design. So it seems appropriate to bring together the heirs of those institutions, in both Weimar and Chicago, to “explore the contemporary application of the Bauhaus legacy and ideals.” Read the rest of this entry »

Eye Exam: Art in the Age of the Stones

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Robert Gober, "Double Sink," 1984. Promised Gift of the Donna and Howard Stone Collection, 2010.

By Regan Golden

If you have been to a Friday night opening at Rhona Hoffman Gallery, or a lecture at the Museum of Contemporary Art on a Saturday afternoon, chances are you have seen Howard and Donna Stone there chatting with artists, curators and students alike. This month, an unusual confluence of events highlights the role that the Stones play as supporters of contemporary art practice in Chicago.

With little pomp or publicity, each year the Stone Summer Theory Institute, sponsored by the couple, draws scholars from around the world to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in hopes of answering sweeping questions about art, such as 2008’s theme “What is an image?” or 2009’s “What do artist’s know?” Art history is the main fare, but visiting scholars also include scientists, political theorists and philosophers. The topic for this year’s schedule of seminars and lectures is “Beyond the Aesthetic and the Anti-Aesthetic,” and one of the main speakers is critic and historian Hal Foster, who developed his theory of the “anti-aesthetic” in contemporary art in the 1980s.

One example of Foster’s “anti-aesthetic” is now on view in the Modern Wing of the Art Institute, Robert Gober’s “Double Sink,” a 1984 sculpture owned by the Stones. “Double Sink” reexamines Marcel Duchamp’s modern-art icon, a urinal titled “Fountain,” 1917. In a reversal of Duchamp’s “Fountain,” Gober’s “Double Sink” is handmade, even though its white enamel paint and large institutional scale makes it appear mass-produced or as fit for a kitchen as an art museum. Early criticisms of Gober in the 1990s cast his art as against modernism, but Hal Foster argued that, on the contrary, one had to deconstruct modernist ideas in order to recoup their cultural significance. This is just a taste of the discussions that will take place this week at the Theory Institute, with Hal Foster giving a keynote speech. Read the rest of this entry »

Eye Exam: Career Day

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By Jason Foumberg

Wellington “Duke” Reiter moderated a panel discussion at the School of the Art Institute last Wednesday, April 7, just one day after announcing his resignation as the school’s president, a position in which he served for two years. The panel discussion, titled “Creative Economy: Galleries, Artists, & the Market,” was convened to give post-graduation career advice to art students and alumni. Much advice was prefaced with the phrase, “In this economy…,” reminding everyone that a multi-thousand dollar college degree does not itself fling open the doors of success. The “Creative Economy” panel was one visible manifestation of Reiter’s attempt to introduce concrete and realistic career awareness in an art world where tight-lipped luck often dominates.

The panel consisted of the cast of characters that an artist could expect to encounter among the various stages of a commercial art career. There was Shannon Stratton, founder and director of Three Walls; David Weinberg and Aaron Ott, gallerists from David Weinberg Gallery; Rhona Hoffman, a dealer with thirty-plus years of experience in Chicago; and Larry Fields, collector of contemporary art and museum philanthropist. They represented the several forces, extrinsic to an artist’s talent, that, in the best circumstances, guide an artist to commercial viability, from the experimental art space (Three Walls) to placement in museums and collectors’ homes (Larry Fields). Read the rest of this entry »

Eye Exam: Open Studio

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Rodney Graham, "The Gifted Amateur, Nov 10th, 1962," 2007. Courtesy of the artist, Donald Young Gallery, Chicago, and the Rennie Collection, Vancouver, Canada.

Rodney Graham, "The Gifted Amateur, Nov 10th, 1962," 2007. Courtesy of the artist, Donald Young Gallery, Chicago, and the Rennie Collection, Vancouver, Canada.

By Jason Foumberg

The artist is standing contrapposto in silk pajamas. He carefully pours yellow house paint from a kitchen bowl onto a sloped canvas propped on a chair in his living room. It is an experiment in gravity and inertia, and the unprimed canvas grips the drips, soon to be congealed as a picture. The artist is at ease. He smokes barefoot atop the day’s newspaper, spread about the parquet floor to catch paint splatters. Time seems to have stopped here, or else slowed to the speed of honey.

There’s something comforting about this image, as photographed by Rodney Graham. It shows the artist’s work as a leisure activity, serene and safe and tidy, but also distant from the world, and private. Is this how art gets made? The scene nods to the American Modernist painter Morris Louis and his followers, and many paintings on view in galleries and museums were birthed in similarly calm settings, but Graham’s photograph, “The Gifted Amateur, Nov 10th, 1962,” from 2007, is a fiction, more a record of a mood than an actual event.

The art studio is the image-maker’s terrain, but not all artists use a studio. As a piece of real estate, its existence is intricately tied to exhibition spaces, or the white-cube style. The twentieth-century saw artists expand their practices outdoors, into the streets and the deserts, taking on the roles of writer, curator and critic, organizing collectives and engaging publics. Artists such as Gabriel Orozco, Rirkrit Tiravanija and Francis Alÿs embody this post-studio practice, and their work is the subject of large contemporary museum exhibitions and doctoral theses. So why is Studio Chicago, a multi-venue, year-long series of events and exhibitions, looking back to a time before post-studio, when artists worked alone in their quiet cubbyholes? Why is Rodney Graham mining the suburban esthetic? The answer is that artist studios continue to exist, and that “post-studio” is not a pure designation. Orozco does in fact return to the studio to make paintings. Christo and Jeanne-Claude do sell drawings of their public interventions. Studio and post-studio co-exist. Read the rest of this entry »

Portrait of the Gallery: Monument 2 Gallery

Humboldt Park 1 Comment »

Michael Thibault and Joel Dean at OxbowGiven that the School of the Art Institute of Chicago served as the breeding grounds for nearly every locally grown artistic movement, from the Monster Roster through the Hairy Who to the Imagists and beyond, it is not unreasonable to consistently anticipate new and interesting developments from its students. So, what’s brewing on Michigan Avenue at the moment? These days we look to the latest outgrowth of apartment-gallery spaces around the city for a reliable answer.

Monument 2 Gallery, the latest example of this locally esteemed phenomenon, appeared this fall on the site of the former Camp Gay space in Logan Square, but like most domestic gallery spaces, don’t expect it to be around long. Acknowledging the tendency of such spaces to appear and disappear with the changing seasons—or in this case, leasing-cycles—the gallery’s proprietor, Michael Thibault, envisioned his endeavor strictly as a one-year operation, having “no interest in owning a sustainable gallery.” When the lease is up next August, he’ll move on to something else, but not without leaving an exhibition history richly colored by his friends and classmates. Read the rest of this entry »

Eye Exam: Modernism, what have you done for me lately?

Drawings, Humboldt Park, Installation, Loop, Painting, Video, West Loop, Wicker Park/Bucktown No Comments »
Inside the "Knowledge Box" by Ken Isaacs

Inside the "Knowledge Box" by Ken Isaacs

By Jason Foumberg

It’s telling that no paintings are included in “Learning Modern,” an exhibition conceived to honor and update the twentieth century’s greatest artistic project. Modernism bloomed on canvas, its essences distilled via paint. But any office worker in downtown Chicago knows that Modernism also found expression in concrete, steel and glass. Despite its force and thrust, Modernism was (and remains) people friendly. It’s interactive. By inhabiting Modernist structures we carry its legacy, and we can barely ignore it; we can, however, shelve a crackly old canvas out of view. The persistence, and insistence, of Modern architecture may be one reason why painting was excluded from “Learning Modern.” Another reason may be that Wellington Reiter is an architect and urban planner, and the current president of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago where “Learning Modern” is held. For Reiter, renewed attention to architecture and design signals a reorientation of the artist’s role in the world. Whereas painters work in private, their coded dialogue trained toward other painters, architects and designers mold human activity. Being relevant is back in style. It’s an ideal even the classical Modernists would abide. Read the rest of this entry »