Reviews, profiles and news about art in Chicago

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 »

Review: Andrew Holmquist/Carrie Secrist Gallery

Painting, West Loop No Comments »


It’s a wild and crazy world out there, and it seems to be the mandate of the School of the Art Institute to make sure we all know it. Defiance, despair, humor and social criticism are some of the predictable expressions. But the crazy-beautiful paintings of 2008 graduate Andrew Holmquist seem to be celebrating the chaos, as if to say, “yes, it’s a train wreck, but isn’t it a beautiful one?” Or, more like an explosion at a fireworks factory, brilliant colors in random patterns stream across the sky in a celebration of technology gone berserk. But the beauty of an aerial explosion vanishes in an instant. It’s only a few paintings that continue to feel that way for as long as they hold your attention. Holmquist has the rare talent to make that happen, whether by adding something unexpected, like a big, blue grid to one of his larger works, or by whipping together whatever he can paint, or find, in his small, daily studies. Interestingly enough, he credits some of his success to recent experiences with paintings by Titian and Rembrandt at the Louvre. Obviously he’s a guy who haunts art galleries. 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: Angel Otero/Chicago Cultural Center

Loop, Painting No Comments »


Showing work that lacks even a hint of anger or disgust, this is a painter who does not especially belong in Chicago, and so, indeed, this youthful retrospective marks the end of Angel Otero’s stay in the city where he has spent the last six years as a student at the Art Institute. He’s a very old-school kind of painter—all about nostalgia and beauty and evident craftsmanship. His still-lifes belong in the seventeenth-century, except that he uses materials in such unlikely ways, and his sense of despair feels less cosmic/eternal and more personal/fragile.  Even when his still-life escapes the painted surface and pours out onto an actual table, it’s still composed with great care and beauty, although these installations do seem unbearably, even morbidly vulnerable to cobwebs and dust. Like other masters of the Spanish school, he can turn black into a rich, delicious color. “With paint, I want to give a sense of abundance, unbalance, ambition, courage and persistence within form, color and texture in every painting,” he says. Perhaps he’ll end up back in Puerto Rico, like the painter who first inspired him to become an artist, Arnoldo Roche Rabell, who graduated from the Art Institute thirty years ago. But hopefully, this will not be the last time he has a major show in Chicago. From the Union League Club to Kavi Gupta Gallery to the Cultural Center, he certainly has gotten a lot of support here in a short amount of time. (Chris Miller)

Through March 28 at the Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Randolph

Review: Julia Hechtman/Devening Projects + Editions

Photography No Comments »


Owing to pure courageousness, or perhaps just personal inclination, Julia Hechtman has decided to try something rather monumental with means that are quite simple. Her first solo exhibition at Devening Projects centers on a group of eight fairly typical nature photographs presenting deciduous forest settings in various stages of seasonal development. Shot at oblique angles, each image lacks a horizon line, a key compositional element, which would normally serve to orient us, the viewers, within the space described; as such, we are provided with a space, albeit an indefinite one, ensuing a sense of dislocation as if to suddenly find ourselves waking, face up, in a field on a bright winter morning. We could be anywhere. We are certain we are somewhere, but where exactly remains unknown. This unconventional perspective, and a complete absence of foliage in some instances, cause Hechtman’s photos to seem a little eerie, but altogether understated while remaining clearly within the bounds of generic nature photography. Her attempt to capture the nondescript beauty of the everyday natural word is ultimately not an ironic parody, but remains altogether sincere. The monumentality of her task consists in her attempt at sincerity within a supposedly outmoded and exhausted approach. Though not entirely alone in this endeavor, Hechtman has a few close compatriots in the work of photographers John Opera and Melanie Schiff, not to mention the monumentally scaled canvases of painter Claire Sherman. It’s interesting to note: Sherman, Schiff and Hechtman each spent an extensive amount of time at Oxbow, the School of the Art Institute’s back-woodsy retreat on the other side of lake Michigan—undoubtedly time well spent. Hechtman’s photos reexamine the strength of artistic will; asking, can an individual rescue an entire genre from the deep torpor of cliché? (Nate Lee)

Through October 10 at Devening Projects + Editions, 3039 W. Carroll

Review: End of the 80s/Avram Eisen Gallery

Lincoln Square, Multimedia No Comments »
Darryl Jensen

Darryl Jensen


Twenty-two artists, all alumni of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago from the mid-late eighties, have come together for “End of the 80s,” a ‘reunion’ show, at the Avram Eisen Gallery. The exhibition is primarily curated by Laura Olear and Bruce Linn, both class of ‘88, with the group collectively dedicating the show to Ray Yoshida, a recently deceased professor and mentor to many participating artists.

A co-mingling of diverse styles can be expected in group shows of this proportion, and “End of the 80s” holds to that. There is unusual grace and also chatter. No obvious Yoshida ‘style’ is identifiable in the exhibition. “It was more a thing of his teaching, his demanding, his aggressiveness,” said Olear of his pedagogical approach. “Few of his students didn’t feel he’d a profound impact on them,” added Linn. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Big Youth/Corbett vs Dempsey Gallery

Painting 1 Comment »
Joel Dean

Joel Dean


“Big Youth”? A clever name for this exhibition of thirteen recent graduates of the School of the Art Institute, first, because it sounds like a kick-ass rock band (the gallery shares its building with the Dusty Groove record store), and second because that’s what our preeminent local art school has been all about for the past quarter century, as it has cultivated the energy, optimism and despair of big-hearted young people dropped like battered fish into the boiling pot of postmodern, post-industrial, post-rational culture. “An over abundance of information, cultural blurring, spiritual ambiguity, and the darker-side to happiness,” as one painter, Austin Eddy, put it. So that, as his fellow exhibitor, Carl Barrata, says: “when each work is looked at in its entirety, it adds up to a simple conclusion: something is wrong… and the clues that are given won’t yield a solution; they are too busy bouncing off each other and only show how far-reaching the wrongness is.”  Which is a pretty good description of every frenetic, passionate, eye-catching, but half-cooked, goofy, and discombobulated painting in this exhibit. And yes, happily they are all paintings, the old-fashioned kind made with brushes and paint that do not rely on conceptual gamesmanship. Think of this exhibit as a compilation album of new garage bands, and perhaps these songs will only demand one listen, but who knows where these sincere, talented artists will end up as they settle into adult lives. Chicago does have a strong tradition of rebellious juvenilia, but not every artist has to grow old in it. (Chris Miller)

Through September 5 at Corbett vs. Dempsey, 1120 N. Ashland.

The Art Part: Bravo holds a casting call for artists

News etc. No Comments »

pallateThe line stretches nearly around the block, with people of all descriptions holding portfolios, paintings and varied sculptures. Jimmy John’s employees are passing out samples and a School of the Art Institute student is filming artists for a project.

Only an hour in, more than a hundred artists have already shown their work in hopes of being chosen for a new Bravo reality show. The yet-to-be-named show, produced by Magical Elves and Sarah Jessica Parker’s Pretty Matches production company, will be a “creative competition series among aspiring contemporary artists.”

Those interested began arriving with applications, resume and work samples at 5pm the night before the open casting call at Sullivan Galleries on State Street. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Walter Burt Adams/Richard Norton Gallery

Painting, River North No Comments »
"Out of Service," oil on canvas , 1935
“Out of Service,” oil on canvas, 1935


A city looks different to those who walk instead of drive its streets. There are so many stretches of crumbling concrete that demand attention if only because it takes so long to walk through them. And it was the loneliest, most dreary sections of parking lots, underpasses, gas stations and El platforms that were the most attractive to Walter Burt Adams (1903-1990), the cantankerous urban landscapist of Evanston, Illinois. Plein-air painting is still a popular practice for both amateurs and professionals, but Adams had the benefit of an Art Institute education that was, back then, more rigorous about formal and technical issues than conceptual ones. Read the rest of this entry »

Eye Exam: Chicago’s Own Surrealist

Hyde Park, Painting No Comments »

the-endless-taskBy Jason Foumberg

Mary Lou Zelazny relates an anecdote about the artist Pieter Bruegel, the great chronicler of sixteenth-century life in the Netherlands. Bruegel would often go into town and sketch characters from life, she says. He had to be quick about it, and sneaky. Disguised among the crowd in local dress, he could sketch a peasant woman’s candid weariness or a child’s uninhibited game.

Bruegel may not be the first art-historical reference that comes to mind when looking at Zelazny’s works, which combine a realistic painting technique with collages from popular magazines, but the sentiment about making art discreetly, and rejoicing in the profound oddities of everyday life, holds true. Zelazny is an artist who looks intently at things, but is also open to surprise. “It’s such a big world, and there is so much to see,” she says, as if this moment was her first step into the great big unknown. But it’s not. A retrospective of her paintings from the past twenty-eight years is now on view at the Hyde Park Art Center.

Zelazny is clearly enthralled by the heaps of stuff available to her as an artist. In the art world we call it “influence” or “appropriation” rather than “stealing,” and in her catalogue essay, curator Allison Peters Quinn makes clear the many, many allusions to past and contemporary artists cited in Zelazny’s works. As a viewer it’s a delight to pick up on these references because you know that Zelazny drops them there for you. It’s not inner-circle name-dropping, but it rather reminds me of author Annie Dillard’s reminiscence from her own childhood: she would plant shining pennies in a shrub’s shadow, and then draw arrows on the pavement directing passerby to a chance discovery of luck, but never waited around to witness the encounter; to imagine it was enough excitement.

haremboy-with-beakSo too does Zelazny leave little gifts for the viewer to unwrap. She constructs figures and personages from magazine cutouts: product displays from consumer weeklies, recipe illustrations from modern woman monthlies, mechanical wonders from Scientific American, natural wonders for the armchair traveler. Most of the early collages feature faceless people, their features replaced by a thing. But this isn’t to say that Zelzany believes we’re the sum of our shopping expeditions, and she doesn’t moralize about the ceaseless stream of chatterbox media. Instead, an image of a woman’s face saturated by a flock of birds, or gold necklaces whirling eel-like, or an erect cock carefully draped with plaid fabric scraps, are like crisp little poetic stanzas unexpectedly plucked from a sink of dirty dishes. Combined, they create a scenic narrative: of love, of solitude, the tragic and the comic.

The appearance of so much stuff in Zelazny’s works, especially the things of modern life—telephones, car bumpers, the GE logo—are such that they’re records of the past fifty years. Even a close-up picture of cake can be dated to the 1950s-70s; it is simply one of those advertising tropes of middle-class domestic bliss. A trio of candy-colored pills balanced atop a Walkman is more explicit. Zelazny explains that the date-specific imagery comes from dumpster diving at a time when old ladies were tossing their stacks of magazines; it’s simply what was available. Of course, Zelazny does have a choice in the matter, and like Bruegel, she chooses to document a certain feeling, say, the way that we pass through our days, rather than depict specific people and events. (Although, Zelazny did turn to portraiture for a few years, but there she diminished the use of found images for collage.)

stardustThe game of art-historical allusions is informative, but it’s the Surrealists that provide a direct route to the heart of Zelazny’s work. Surrealism, birthed in Paris in the nineteen-teens, found a second home in Chicago. Collecting Surrealist art became de rigueur here. Troves of Surrealist art served as points of reference and beget second and third-wave Surrealists and, in part, the Chicago Imagists, many of whom set up at the School of the Art Institute. (And later, collectors donated their Surrealist collections to the Art Institute, thereby preserving the genre.) It’s here that Zelazny attended art school. Salvador Dalí’s “Mae West’s Face which May be Used as a Surrealist Apartment,” a collage-painting created in 1934-35, and accepted by the Art Institute in 1949, could pass for a work by Zelazny.

Surrealist artists might be typecast as dreamers who live in their heads, but historically they’ve been keen to the absurd intricacies of everyday life—a found love letter or shopping list, or a slip of the tongue. These are launch pads to revelation. “Ideas come from living life,” says Zelazny. It’s like the break you take from an intense period of work—only by stepping away, and looking around yourself, do you discover yourself.

Mary Lou Zelazny shows at Hyde Park Art Center, 5020 S. Cornell, through April 12.