Reviews, profiles and news about art in Chicago

Review: Jan van der Ploeg/Shane Campbell Gallery

Ceramics, Painting, Ukrainian Village/East Village No Comments »


For Dutch artist Jan van der Ploeg’s first exhibition with Shane Campbell Gallery, he brought his paintings to the United States in his luggage, reminding me of the “Suitcase Paintings” exhibition at the Loyola Museum of Art last year, which featured small-scale Abstract Expressionist work that was (or could be) likewise transported via luggage.

In both cases, attention to scale is very important. Van der Ploeg composes his hard-edge geometric abstractions so that even though they are physically small, they have a large presence due to the sense that their organization could extend beyond the edges of the canvas.

Going beyond the edges is something that van der Ploeg has in mind. In addition to the five paintings on view, van der Ploeg has also created a wall painting specifically for the gallery space. Including relations to specific architecture in his work by rhyming with forms like the gallery’s light tracks and vents, van der Ploeg says that the wall painting is similar to monumental paintings on canvas, and certainly both strive to command space.  The wall paintings have linked this artist with graffiti, but he seems more at home in the gallery than the street.

Van der Ploeg describes his painting as being like a street sign rather than a “window,” a sentiment I have heard echoed by Chicago artists also working in hard edge geometric abstraction. It would seem that this reinvigoration of the genre is an international phenomenon. (Abraham Ritchie)

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

Review: Zak Prekop/Shane Campbell Gallery

Painting, Ukrainian Village/East Village No Comments »


There are literally many ways of seeing the superb abstract canvases that recent Art Institute grad Zak Prekop has on view at Shane Campbell Gallery. Stare at “Yellow Painting” (2008) long enough and you’ll begin to wonder whether small, strangely geometric patches of yellow oil are drowning into, emerging out of, or falling from the sky onto a milky gray surface. Looking away, and then back again, is to see the work entirely anew or, rather, to be deceived over and over again.

Canvases at first seeming entirely blank or monochromatic soon reveal themselves as immaculately detailed and full of color. These same canvases, initially seeming absolutely flat, suddenly give the impression of thickness. The works buzz in your eye, shape-shifting, barely discernible and then suddenly forming into clearer view.

It’s difficult to tell how Prekop has created many of his works just from looking at them, adding to the mystery. It’s equally difficult to describe Prekop’s use of paint accurately without using verbs like ‘scraping’ or ‘dragging,’ because doing so wouldn’t convey just how delicate the work actually appears. There is something both indescribably tactile and expressly melancholy about many of the canvases, particularly the heartbreaking shade of pale blue used for the exhibition standout, “Painted Paper Sculpture” (2008).

It’s perhaps these misapprehensions, contradictions and other ineffable qualities that will compel you, for some unknown reason, to stand very near to the work. (Danny Orendorff)

Zak Prekop shows at Shane Campbell Gallery, 1431 W. Chicago, through January 17.

Look Up Above

Milwaukee, Multimedia No Comments »

By Dan Gunn

The six-lane Polish Falcon Bowl in Milwaukee, built in 1917, is one of the oldest bowling alleys in the country, and it is also the strange site of the second gathering of art-geeks for the Milwaukee International. The art fair is co-organized by a contingent of Milwaukee gallerists, artists and curators: brothers Scott Reeder and Tyson Reeder, and Elysia Bowery-Reeder, of the General Store, John Riepenhoff of the Green Gallery and Nicholas Frank of the defunct Hermetic Gallery. The fair draws like-minded galleries from around the world, such as Joey Chang Art from Beijing and Repuesto from San Juan, to co-mingle with larger, blue-chip galleries, including Gavin Brown’s Enterprise and Marianne Boesky from New York City. There is a large Chicago contingent, too, with Western Exhibitions, the Suburban, Rowley Kennerk, Shane Campbell and Golden Age artist’s bookshop in attendance. The fair’s five organizers list this assemblage of galleries as the fair’s strength. “Our priority is to gather a geographically diverse roster of excellent international art spaces. The mix is what’s important. Because the International is a balance of ideas and commerce, we want a range of different approaches to the economies of art.”

Shoehorned into the banquet hall of the Polish Falcons, a Polish-American fraternity and advocacy organization, the glistening white-walled booths look wildly out of place. 2006’s event was serenaded by Vern and the Originals, a local Milwaukee polka band. The event stirred up the aging Originals drummer’s passions so much that “after their set, he took the microphone and made a speech to the crowd, and wrapped up with ‘There’s hope for Milwaukee!'” It’s exactly this kind of contrast that makes the whole event both exciting and vital. The homey quality of the Falcon Bowl’s interior and its working-class inhabitants bring the absurdity of the art market to the fore. One of the fair’s organizers, Tyson Reeder, tells the story of one of his friends getting a hundred-dollar bill from a collector to park his car (there are no valets at the M.I.).

But to reduce the fair to an acronym like M.I. makes it sound too similar to other fairs. This is an art fair in form but not in kind. Generally, the fair format has two main strengths, consolidating the art market geographically to increase sales and serving as a meeting ground for artists, critics, curators and collectors. The Milwaukee International minimizes selling in favor of sociability.

Tyson Reeder again, “We decided that there were still some good things about the art-fair model, and used it as a basis to make a casual, human-scale event outside the institutional context.” The Milwaukee International has branched out from just the event in the Falcon Bowl to become a kind of “platform” for non-traditional art events like this winter’s Dark Fair in New York’s Swiss Institute. It’s exactly what it sounds like—an art fair with the lights off, but candles, flashlights and blacklights galore. The group is also in the planning stages of an Ice Fair in Ontario that would feature ice shanties as booths. All of this commotion serves to make the fair more interesting for its participants, both gallerist and browser alike.

As White Columns curator Matthew Higgs wrote in Artforum after attending the International in 2006, “What distinguished the whole affair was that selling art didn’t seem to be anyone’s primary—or possibly even secondary—concern. Instead, the weekend seemed—in the most straightforward yet profound sense—to be about hanging out.” This is an art fair where artists, not hedge-fund managers, feel comfortable. Other recent attempts to re-energize the art fair have come up short. Last month’s ambitious Next fair was swallowed by the Mart’s enormous and bland architecture and looked too conventional. The lone highlight of the fair was Old Gold’s “authentic” Chicago bar. It was a refreshing respite to aisle after aisle. But the Milwaukee International is the inverse of Next’s Old Gold bar room; it’s an art fair where you wouldn’t expect one. What you should expect is some music, some bowling and some art.

Milwaukee International 2008, Polish Falcon, 801 East Clarke, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. May 16, 5pm-9pm, and May 17, Noon-9pm.

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.