Esau McGhee in his East Garfield Park studio
“My collage work is about this collective experience that we all share with public spaces,” explains Esau McGhee. “It doesn’t matter, you could be a fifty-year-old white Jewish chick or a young Latino male. It’s not my space, it’s not your space, it’s really ours, and it’s going through an evolution as dictated by us and our shared experience with it.”
As an African-American man who grew up as a self-proclaimed “ghetto kid” and ended up a professional artist by way of high-end, private fine art programs at SAIC and Northwestern, McGhee thinks a lot about how people from different races and economic classes relate to one another. He believes that people from different backgrounds can connect with one another through their shared visual experiences. With a studio based in the quintessentially urban East Garfield Park, McGhee’s practice intuitively incorporates the patterns of city landscapes, evoking a mood that city dwellers from all backgrounds could relate to—and with his most recent exhibitions being in the very different Elastic Arts, Union League Club and the Hyde Park Art Center, people from all different backgrounds have had a chance to.
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Cover by Matthew Hoffman, Breakout Artist 2006. Photo: Cheryl Hinman
Breakout Artists is our annual showcase of Chicago artists we think you should know. This is our twelfth edition.
Lists like these always risk reduction, betray biases and can say more about the limits of their host publication’s scope than about the worthiness of artists—those mentioned or not. They persist as conversation starters: their value isn’t solely in what is printed here, but in the excited discussions and debates that proceed from them. Our circulation spikes around these featured lists, and so does the mail we receive. Understanding those contexts is an important part of appreciating what a list like our annual Breakout Artists can and can’t do.
But while many lists of this sort are ranked or correspond to particular forms of prestige, our Breakout Artists have always been determined by a more mysterious (and certainly subjective) calculus. I had to begin by wondering out of what these artists were meant to be breaking. This year, we are celebrating and advocating for ten artists’ practices who have seen breakthroughs in their work and are breaking out into higher stakes, wider visibility, a broader range of media, or expansions of what art can accomplish. Their practices subvert racial and gender stereotypes, crisscross into adjacent fields like illustration and design, enmesh studio work with curating and other socially engaged creative moves, run amuck in traditional mediums like painting and sculpture, while also finding ways to work in new places outside galleries or on the web.
The artists we’ve selected are at different stages of their careers; this is not an emerging artist list, although a couple have recently completed BFAs. If there is a common feature, it is one that shows the continued gravitational pull of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago on the arts cultivated in this town. Despite being one of the most expensive college educations in the country (for art or anything else) and in the face of perpetual wondering about the relevance of higher education, each of this year’s Breakout Artists have brushed through SAIC—whether studying there or, like me, teaching there. These artists’ work happens not only in sanctioned art world temples, but in apartment spaces far out on the Green Line, in the neighborhoods surrounding Cook County Jail, from Rogers Park to Washington Park, and sometimes in Canada. Whether in major arts institutions or in the dispersed expanded field of where creative exploration can happen, these are artists worth knowing about and watching out for the great things they are doing. (Matt Morris)
Alberto Aguilar. “Forms of Communication,” 2015
desks and display sign lettering, photo by Juliet S. Eldred (UofC class of 2017)
We’re excited to have Alberto Aguilar’s “Crossing Boundaries” text as the eighth in our Visiting Artist column, a recurring feature in which Newcity invites an artist to produce a text in relation to their current art practice. Here Aguilar adds writing into an exploration that brings all aspects of his life into his residency at University of Chicago’s Arts Incubator.
One-thousand words are what I am allotted to write this so I will not waste one and use all. Words have the ability to get one from the top of the page to the bottom and if arranged just right communicate something clearly to the reader.
I am a Crossing Boundaries Resident Artist through the Arts Incubator and the Center for the Study of Race, Politics, and Culture. This began in January and will last for five months. When given this title I could not fully understand what it meant or what boundaries I should cross. Rather than be overtly political I decided I would simply fold all aspects of my life into this residency. During the five months all shows that I am in, my teaching, the visiting artist program that I coordinate, my travels, my family, my new dog, my interaction with others, my curatorial projects, my other residencies are my Crossing Boundaries residency. I figured that by making everything part of the residency some boundaries would inevitably be crossed. Even upon being given the opportunity to write this a few days ago I decided it too would be part of my residency. That every word I write here would be a product of it, proof that boundaries were crossed. In this case the boundary between you and I is being transgressed through the vehicle of this publication and my 1,000 words. Read the rest of this entry »
Artist Lynn Basa standing outside her new Avondale project space Corner/Photo: Doug VanderHoof
Painter and School of the Art Institute of Chicago MFA candidate Lynn Basa has opened Corner, a new art gallery in the Avondale neighborhood located at 2912 North Milwaukee. Basa has owned the building at the corner of Drake and Milwaukee since 2008 where her studio also resides. Because she can only work on one painting at a time, Basa wanted to make use of the remaining 400-square-foot space by doing something she found meaningful. We met for an interview in which she says, “I just felt like I could bring more value to my life by creating a connection with the community. Studio work is notoriously isolating and so I wanted to not only start connecting with other artists, but also experiment because I feel like the whole language of gallery space is to keep people out and I started thinking about how this very building was designed to bring people in.” Read the rest of this entry »
David Hartt, artist and new member to the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago’s Board of Trustees/Photo: Braxton Black
In mid-December, chair of the Board of Trustees at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago (MCA) King Harris announced the addition of artist David Hartt to the MCA’s Board of Trustees. Hartt is the first artist on the MCA’s board since the new building at 220 East Chicago was constructed, which officially opened to the public in June 1996. Sculptor Richard Hunt, whom the MCA is honoring for his eightieth birthday with a special exhibition currently on view, was the first artist trustee in the 1970s. Joining Hartt as members of the board are current Norway-based telecommunications equipment company, Eltek, ASA board member Dia Weil, director of Graff Diamonds Eve Rogers and board member of the Whitney Museum of American Art and Colgate University in New York, Nancy Crown. Their appointment coincides with Teresa Samala de Guzman’s appointment as the MCA’s chief operating officer, a duty she assumed responsibility of on December 8, 2014.
In an email exchange, MCA director Madeleine Grynsztejn explains that the museum is very much artist-activated and audience-engaged, saying, “Artists are central to everything we do and the artist’s presence assures integrity at the governance level around our artist-activated commitment in particular.” When selecting board members, they take into account the expertise and wisdom each individual can bring to the MCA currently, as well as how their knowledge can work with the MCA’s future aspirations. Read the rest of this entry »
Moving Image artist and filmmaker, Jennifer Reeder
Earlier this month, Creative Capital (CC) announced the forty-six 2015 awardees in the categories of Moving Image and Visual Arts, two of which are Chicago-based artists: filmmaker Jennifer Reeder and visual artist Maria Gaspar. The selected artists were chosen out of a countrywide pool consisting of more than 3,700 proposals. Each funded project receives up to $50,000 in direct funding with the addition of CC’s career-development services that the artists receive at no cost to them, bringing their 2015 investment total to more than $4,370,000. Ruby Lerner, CC’s executive director, says about this year’s awardees, “This is one of our most diverse rosters ever—the range in form and subject matter is thrilling.” Read the rest of this entry »
Richard Hunt gathering scrap in a junk yard at Clybourn and Sheffield Avenues, Chicago, 1962
Photo courtesy of Richard Hunt
By Matt Morris
Could you set up your take as the curator on what the Richard Hunt exhibition at the MCA is?
The show from the MCA starts from the premise of our collection. It’s part of what we call our MCA DNA series, and those are dossier shows—small jewel-box shows—that are about highlights from the MCA holdings that most people don’t even know that we have. So for instance we have another beautiful one up right now featuring Alexander Calder; there’s a huge collection of that in Chicago, many of them right here in this building. Another wonderful one that we put up recently was a collection of Dieter Roth art books that I hadn’t even known were in the collection. The DNA series is a chance for us as a museum to really highlight works of significance that most folks don’t know are here.
I found out that Richard Hunt was turning eighty this year. I realized the best way that we could honor him was to do an exhibition and—oh, my goodness—there are these works in the collection. I knew that the museum had a long history of helping organize the inclusion of a work of his at the White House. It’s a work called “Farmer’s Dream” that was exhibited in D.C. during the Clinton administration, and then when it came back from D.C. it went into Seneca Park, which is the park straight across west of the MCA. It was there for many years and then acquired by the MCA. These kinds of stories I knew, but I didn’t know that we had some of his early work from the sixties here, and we have some works on paper in the collection. The show is really compact, and is set to show the breadth of Richard’s work from his earliest days—the earliest work is from ’57 when he was finishing school—to a work made in, I believe, 2012.
Was the MCA show coordinated with the Cultural Center show?
Would you believe that it was a happy coincidence. Read the rest of this entry »
Richard Hunt/Photo: Thomas McCormick
By Matt Morris
Two concurrent exhibitions at the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Chicago Cultural Center crown the sculptor Richard Hunt’s eightieth year. To date, Hunt has produced more public sculpture than any other artist in the United States, with 125 currently on view, thirty-five of which are in Chicago. Hunt completed his studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1957 at a time when other black artists were scarce and the approach to welded metal sculpture Hunt had started to pursue wasn’t supported by the school’s studio facilities. Footage playing at the Cultural Center’s exhibition shows a dashingly handsome young Hunt setting up shop in his parents’ basement. By 1971 he had been honored with an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, and his diligent efforts have been continually rewarded throughout his career. Taken together, the exhibitions offer audiences examples of early investigations, to-scale maquettes for larger outdoor commissions, and a breadth of two- and three-dimensional works that ground flighty abstractions in a gravitas tempered by the struggles and victories of modern life. Read the rest of this entry »
Hyounsang Yoo. “The Celebration,” 2013
The Museum of Contemporary Photography (MoCP) has begun accepting submissions for the third iteration of the Snider Prize. Sponsored by MoCP patrons Lawrence K. and Maxine Snider, the Snider Prize is a purchase award given to emerging artists who are on the cusp of leaving graduate school and is open to MFA students who are currently in their final year of study at an accredited program in the US. One artist is awarded a sum of $2,000, the funds of which will be used toward purchasing pieces of work that will be supplemented to MoCP’s permanent collection. Additionally, two honorable mentions will receive $500 each. Submissions for the 2015 Snider Prize will be accepted from January 15 through April 1, 2015. Read the rest of this entry »
Edmund Chia. “Diagram 02 for New Architecture with David Salkin,” 2013
By Matt Morris
This is not a roundup of fiber art exhibitions currently on view around town, though that temptation perpetually lingers because at any given moment in Chicago there are plenty of artists exhibiting smart hybrids of textile and painting, fiber art and installation. This is no doubt attributable in part to the Fiber and Material Studies department at SAIC—still a rarity with few comparable programs around the country—and more generally the deconstructive, interdisciplinary thrust of most of the fine arts programs to be found here. The aftereffects of Modernism in Chicago aren’t really the Greenbergian isolation and purification of a medium’s potential; instead, painting’s frequent conflation with sewing is a recurrent signal of a Modernist project to apply the arts broadly across other parts of life—keenly designed forms for living integrated with art-making as was seen in the De Stijl and Bauhaus (and its offspring, Chicago’s New Bauhaus begun in the late 1930s). Modest and succinct or madly layered, a few artists’ current projects carry us into this new year with propositions for art’s visual and material elements brought in various proximities of closeness to the lives being lived around its production. Read the rest of this entry »