Reviews, profiles and news about art in Chicago

Eye Exam: New Moves in Chicago Sculpture

Sculpture 14 Comments »

By Jason Foumberg

It’s an exciting moment for sculpture in Chicago. I’ve tracked a few patterns in contemporary object-making through these nine current exhibitions.

IMG_5281Jun Kaneko at Millennium Park
The newest addition of public art to Millennium Park (for seven months) are dozens of large glazed ceramic sculptures by Jun Kaneko, a Japanese-born, Omaha-based artist who should be familiar to Chicagoans (he’s shown here seventeen times in the past thirty years, but not since 2003.) All of the ceramic sculptures are graphically painted (polka dots, mummy tape) in bright colors. On the Randolph Street side are standing figures, tall and fat as taxidermied bears, but with pig faces and Looney Tunes eyes. There’s a hoard of them, and they’re a little freaky (one has blue nipples). On the Monroe Street side are tablet-shaped objects, the size of tombs, similarly painted. I almost scorned these sculptures—they verge on Cows on Parade kitsch—until I read the artist’s description. The figures are Tanuki, or mythical Japanese trickster characters with jazzy skin and desperate smiles. They’re pleasurably sinister, and a little more non-denominational than the Buddha heads spouting all over Chicago, by Indira Johnson.
Through November 3 at Millennium Park. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Joanne Greenbaum/Shane Campbell Gallery

Painting, Ukrainian Village/East Village No Comments »


Wilco fans have already seen Joanne Greenbaum’s work, though they might not know it. Greenbaum provided cover art for the band’s 2011 “The Whole Love,” as well as illustrations for a fifty-two-page booklet that accompanies the deluxe two-CD edition.

Her forty-two abstract paintings at Shane Campbell Gallery stand as her own kind of concept album. Together, the identically sized sixteen-by-twelve-inch canvases constitute a single experiment in the expressive capacities of gesture. At the same time, each of these pictures rewards close attention, as individual works convey different levels of complexity at the heart of those same gestures. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Chris Bradley/Shane Campbell Gallery

River West, Sculpture No Comments »


Chris Bradley has created a Robert Gober-style sculptural constellation where common objects (pretzel sticks, potato chips, paint rollers) are cast in bronze, painted as real fakes, and presented as fractured icons extracted from a personal narrative. Where Gober’s icons are weighted with psychosexual trauma and Catholic guilt, Bradley’s objects are simply the products of boredom. Not that boredom is bad—Gober has shown us that we all have cages, and that we can dream ourselves out of them. Bradley’s cage is probably his studio, the home of his beer and chip stash. He balances the chips, beer, avocados, chewing gum and other foodstuffs onto lumber armatures and tops them with palm trees so that the shacks punctuate the gray-and-white gallery like little deserted islands. A line of pretzel sticks on the far wall form a horizon line, and there’s a piddling sound of trickling water from a makeshift fountain in a beverage cooler. The sense of a provisional existence is successful, but lacking any foreshadow of risk, magic, fear or fatality just compounds empty upon empty. Junk food totems—sculptural doodles, really—signal somebody captive within, and captivated by, their own life. (Jason Foumberg)

Through April 2 at Shane Campbell Gallery, 673 North Milwaukee.

Review: Anthony Pearson/Shane Campbell Gallery

Photography, River West, Sculpture No Comments »

Anthony Pearson, "Untitled (Tablet)," 2010. Bronze sculpture with silver nitrate patina. Courtesy of the artist; Shane Campbell Gallery, Chicago; Marianne Boesky Gallery, New York


Small is beautiful in Anthony Pearson’s show at Shane Campbell’s new gallery space on Milwaukee Avenue. This sparse exhibition consists mainly of Pearson’s abstract untitled photographs that are actually pictures of ink drawings the artist made on aluminum surfaces and then discarded. Pearson’s original drawings are also abstract with layered grids crisscrossed by quick brush strokes. By transforming these ink-wash drawings into photographs, Pearson reminds the viewer of the watery darkroom origins of his shimmering silver gelatin prints. The photographs are more than simply a reproduction of his drawings because Pearson solarizes his negatives, reversing the lights and darks, distancing the photographs from the original drawings. The result of this entire process is that Pearson supplants the tactile, textured drawings with their visual record—the relatively flat, low-contrast photographs. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Alex Hubbard/Shane Campbell Gallery

Painting No Comments »


Perhaps the most iconic photographs ever taken of an artist at work (one could almost say “money shots”) are the 1949 images of Jackson Pollock in Life magazine, viewed through a pane of glass that separates his thread of dripping paint from the upturned camera. Alex Hubbard has made a career of documenting this type of masculine performative gesture, videotaping the (often from above, inverting the Pollock image) pushing, spreading, building, arranging, throwing, tearing, cutting and crumpling of a variety of eye-catching objects, by himself and with occasional assistance, in a sort of moving abstraction that borrows both from the ephemeral abstract film tradition of Stan Brakhage and Paul Sharits, and the more tactile photographic compositions of Man Ray and Aleksandr Rodchenko, as well as the still and moving images of Laszlo Moholy-Nagy. (Both the topic of abstract photography and Hubbard’s work received separate essays in Artforum this month, in time for Hubbard’s debut in the Whitney Biennial—such is the fickle synergy of the zeitgeist.) Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Jonas Wood/Shane Campbell Gallery

Drawings, Painting 1 Comment »


Jonas Wood’s painting style possesses such a frank matter-of-factness that an initial impression can be, like the work first seems, over-simple. Coupled with a subject matter that includes the juvenilia of sports trading cards, the trap becomes even more difficult to escape. But upon closer inspection, a terrific artistic calculation is uncovered that exposes the painter’s almost morbid fixation on his medium. It is as if the objects in the paintings have been turned into memorials for Wood’s artistic forbearers, Matisse and the early Cubists in particular. Read the rest of this entry »

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 »