Reviews, profiles and news about art in Chicago

Breakout Artists 2008: Chicago’s next generation of image makers

Artist Profiles, Breakout Artists 2 Comments »

By Jason Foumberg, with contributions from Brittany Reilly

The Department of Cultural Affairs and the Chicago Artists’ Coalition report that there are an estimated 80,000 artists and “creative types” in Chicago. So it was an exceedingly difficult decision to feature seven, or about one one-hundredth of one percent of the 80,000. The criteria for inclusion were based loosely on the notion of an emerging artist—youngish, industrious and under-recognized—but as Luke Batten of New Catalogue mentioned, artists are always emerging. True enough. The seven Chicago artists deemed 2008’s Breakouts exhibit a propensity toward change, as if a ceaseless interest in learning new things and playing with new materials are the marks of the contemporary artist. Artists are less and less becoming pigeonholed in their own practice, for everything is available, all the time. No longer is there a need to specialize, unless self-reinvention is a specialty.

Kelly Kaczynski

Kelly Kaczynski has built two mountains that will crash into each other. “I don’t make small things,” remarks Kaczynski as she modestly gestures toward her mountains, each a sixteen-foot-tall kinetic sculpture, a spiraling scaffold of raw lumber and metal armatures. Visitors to the her exhibition at Hyde Park Art Center are asked to ascend the stairs to a stage—there are two of them that face each other, each with its own mountain—and to grab a rope, and pull. Underneath the stage is a pulley system that moves these mountains, as if the person activating the rope is riding plate tectonics. A bridge of pointed arms connects the hulking, twisting mountains. These will slowly dig into each other, pushing on the opposing spines that will buckle, crack and collapse. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Ann Craven/Shane Campbell Gallery

Painting, River West No Comments »


Ann Craven has enjoyed critical success as a painter of glossy, candy-colored birds—think J.J. Audubon hopped up on Tang—and Bambi-esque forest scenes. Half of her new paintings offer a familiar emphasis on fauna with bright, thickly brushed pandas. The other half, vividly striped abstractions, seem to be a significant, and not entirely legible, departure from Craven’s oeuvre. Wide stripes of color, including green, orange, red, blue and purple, have been laid diagonally, in wet paint, across several large canvases. The quick, wet on wet technique has led to a great deal of painterly incident in the stripes’ points of contact, and the broad gestural strokes surprisingly manage both repetitive regularity and expressionistic imprecision. In the past, Craven has played with ideas of reproduction and seriality—she once filled a New York gallery with newly executed copies of each painting from a previous show in the same space—and this new work would seem to be an extension of those concerns. The focus on repetition falls flat with the inexplicable inclusion of two takeaway posters in the center of the gallery floor, one an offset of a striped painting, the other an “edition” of seventy gouaches, signed and numbered by the artist. While I’m all for free art, the current floor giveaway trend (evoking Gonzalez-Torres and Jeremy Deller) doesn’t necessarily contribute to the experience of Craven’s latest paintings. (Rachel Furnari)

Through March 15 at Shane Campbell Gallery, 1431 W. Chicago.

Review: John Opera and Amir Zaki/Shane Campbell Gallery

Photography, River West No Comments »


Chicago’s John Opera and L.A.’s Amir Zaki join forces in a compelling show. The landscape as altered by perspective is at the center of each artist’s work. Opera’s camera is pointed toward the ethereal calm of Midwestern lakes and forests, translated into an array of literal and abstract terms. Formal elements of shape and texture are enhanced to present the spiritual/intellectual instances of nature, resulting in the blurring of the line separating the animate and the inanimate. Zaki, on the other hand, juxtaposes the two. He snatches wildlife from its habitat and plops it down on a manicured lawn. Photos are reminiscent of Hollywood head shots where nature is in the spotlight, placed against a neutral background, bathed in balanced light. Compositions are chock-full of severed limbs and distorted trees manipulated and placed within the urban sprawl of sidewalks, front yards and orange traffic cones. There is an attempt, however failed, at reuniting the two worlds. One photograph depicts a fragment of a trunk physically hinged to its detached foundation and another shows such detritus gathered at the roots of one living tree in hopes of reconvening. (Karissa Lang)

Through Feb 9 at Shane Campbell Gallery, 1431 W. Chicago.

Screen Scene

Oak Park, Ukrainian Village/East Village, Video No Comments »

By Jason Foumberg

For someone who loves watching videos, I was surprised to learn that Jefferson Godard got rid of cable television months ago. And yet there is no lack of something to watch in Godard’s apartment. With two rooms dedicated to screening his video-art collection, Godard can jump from his menacing Kara Walker shadow-puppet piece to any number of bluntly sexual works by emerging and established artists. In fact, Godard didn’t throw out his TV set, but placed it on the floor in the smaller screening room; it now plays the second channel of his Jay Heikes piece, showing a loop of a lit candle bursting into a rush of flames. While it’s a fairly typical habit to leave an unwatched television turned on for background noise, Godard instead leaves his video art on. There’s a cuckoo clock in Heikes’ video, and it punctuates Godard’s normal household activities with a craziness found only in a fun house—or an art house.

Godard has come to be known in art-collecting circles as The Video Collector from Chicago. This is a unique designation, as most collectors of contemporary art won’t limit themselves to a single medium. For Godard this began as a practical decision, as the medium is essentially immaterial and doesn’t contend with the furniture. After Godard screened a few videos for me, he pulled out a stack of papers and a book of CDs. These were the “official” works of art, he said, noting that what we were watching was simply the viewing copies. They could be replaced if deteriorated (say, scratched)—but not copied or distributed. This was detailed in the papers along with exacting specifications for viewing: the size of the room, the brand of speakers.

Indicative of Godard’s taste is the Brooklyn-based artist in his collection, Carlos Rigau. “Blackface Beyonce” contains two elements that can be seen across Godard’s library, namely the music-video esthetic and the theme of the macabre. In “Blackface Beyonce,” Rigau, dressed in wig and blackface makeup, sings wild-eyed and out of sync with Beyonce’s hit “Crazy in Love.” The piece ends with Rigau pointing a gun at his head. It’s at turns ridiculously offensive, ridiculously funny and, well, catchy. Music videos are ubiquitous in our iPod-ized world and in Godard’s collection. Collected artists Phil Collins, Brendan Codey and James Murray also appropriate music and give them vision in their videos. Additionally, the ability to shock the viewer is a common thread. The mixture of pornography and slavery, body modification and public execution, sadomasochism and homoeroticism also feature prominently.

Godard’s riding of the cutting edge is emboldened by his unique philosophy of perspective. As a freelance architect, he has a particular understanding of space. Living in the city, he explains, is tantamount to experiencing a film. The density of the urbanscape requires that we move with a special awareness of the fourth dimension. In this, time changes our relationship to the places we move through, and causes Godard to believe that “a city is filmic.”

It seems the limits of reality are defined by art. Godard’s sensitivity and thoughtfulness on this point recently led him to a commission to create the new Filter restaurant, which was recently kicked out of its Wicker Park location. The sudden loss of Filter was certainly surreal. Its sequel will soon sit near Milwaukee and Ashland, and its design will incorporate renewable technology.

As the co-chair of Verge, a group of young collectors associated with the Museum of Contemporary Art, Godard’s passion has become his specialization. The Verge group, composed of twenty or so members, convenes to discuss local, national and international emerging artists. Godard describes Verge as a “think tank,” but they are also philanthropists. Twice a year they confer to buy a work of art and donate it to the MCA’s permanent collection. As such, they educate not only themselves in emerging trends, but also the museum and its audience with the newest crop of art.

Godard explained to me that an art collector is not simply someone who goes shopping for Louis Vuitton handbags (obviously he has a bone to pick with the recent Murakami retrospective, which invited viewers to shop at an in-gallery LV store); it seems you need more than just money to buy art. Godard is a cultivator of relationships, and he sees his collection as a form of personal support for the emerging artists he enjoys. Unlike collecting stamps or coins, one needs to know a variety of people who know how to open various doors. As a child, though, he started out collecting orchids, and this fact adds a fairly sweet side to the wealth of perversity in the collection. Too much perversity would perhaps be too tame.

Jefferson Godard’s collection shows at Shane Campbell Gallery, 125 North Harvey, Oak Park. Part I (Phil Collins) screens through February 9, by appointment. Part II (Kara Walker) screens February 10, 2pm-4pm, and through March 16 by appointment. Part III (Brendan Codey, Jeroen Nelemans, Carlos Rigau) screens March 23, 2pm-4pm, and through April 20 by appointment. Other works from the collection show at Alogon Gallery, 1049 North Paulina #3R, January 26, 7pm-10pm, with additional screening times January 27, 5pm-8pm, February 3, 5pm-8pm and February 10, 5pm-8pm.