Reviews, profiles and news about art in Chicago

Review: André Kertész/Stephen Daiter Gallery

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Andre Kertész, "New York City," 1963

Andre Kertész, “New York City,” 1963

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The epitome of modernist photography, André Kertész embraced and mastered every genre of his time, from the realist document to the surrealist fantasia, in a career spanning the decades between World War I and the 1960s, first in Budapest, then in Paris and finally ending up in New York City, where he remained, as World War II loomed and then the years passed. We now get a rare chance to see forty of Kertész’s images from the group that he contributed to the landmark 1967 “Concerned Photographer” show, constituting his self-chosen retrospective. In a welcome touch, the gallery has included the wall text that Kertész wrote for each of the photographs on display. Beyond the scope of the kinds of photography in which Kertész engaged was his exceptional gift of fusing divergent sensibilities into integral images; in the same work he could be at once formal, geometrical and sculptural as well as emotional, flowing and dynamic. Although it is arguable that Kertész achieved perfections of the photography of his time in each of his periods, the late New York images are his most philosophically profound, where he plumbed the depths of existential isolation, crystallizing the harsh response to life in concentrated visual metaphors. Nowhere is that effort more pronounced than in “New York City,” from 1963, in which a man, taken from behind, stands before a park bench, one of the slats of its back having fallen onto the seat and the other, at a slant, barely hanging on. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Abelardo Morell/Stephen Daiter Gallery

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Jordon Pond

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For more than twenty years, Abelardo Morell has been experimenting with the camera obscura by darkening rooms and then letting light in from the outside through a small hole, producing inverted images of the world on the walls that he then photographs. Now Morell has ventured outside, setting up a tent made of white fabric in which he applies his method to depict landscapes in color that appear grainy and decomposed, and in which nature itself and any cultural objects in it are transformed into a total ruin. In Morell’s transfigured landscapes—take a woodland clearing reduced to cross-hatched filthy brown mounds presided over by a cyano sky smudged with clumps of dirt—what would have been conventionally majestic scenes under a straight photographer’s lens have been Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Beyond Here Lies Nothin’: Fifty Years Of The American Landscape/Stephen Daiter Gallery

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Dennis Witmer

Dennis Witmer

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Covering the work of nine American photographers who have shot the urban, suburban and rural landscapes in color and black-and-white since the mid-1960s, this show demonstrates that the postmodern revolution that began with Andy Warhol’s pop art did not kill off classical-modern straight photography, which continues to flourish in the present. Curator Lucas Zenk has included stars of the canon, such as Eugene Richards and John Gossage, and unjustly neglected practitioners such as Christopher Churchill, David Hanson and Dennis Witmer. As distinctive as each of those artists is, Zenk has chosen images from their vast troves that unite the show around formal characteristics (straight-on, middle-distance shots) and sensibility (repose with an edge). Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Joseph Jachna/Stephen Daiter Gallery

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After a long and illustrious career that still continues, as a major member of the gifted late-modernist generation of Institute of Design photographers, including Barbara Crane and Ken Josephson, Joe Jachna now shows his earliest work, in which the balance of his aesthetic is reversed from what it became. Jachna has become known as a Zen photographer of wooded nature whose images capture his subjects exquisitely and make us fix on them rather than on the artistry involved in making the images. At the inception of his vision, Jachna was focused on nature, but he appropriated it to create black-and-white small-format studies that emphasized the play of photographic values, such as light, tone, and texture. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Collateral Damage: The Human Face of War/Stephen Daiter Gallery

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Ashley Gilbertson, “Bedrooms of the Fallen: CPL. Christophe G. Scherer,” 2012

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Whether it is Vincent Cianni’s black-and-white portraits of gay soldiers under the contradictory and compromised reign of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” Stephanie Sinclair’s searing color scenes of Afghan women who have taken violence into themselves and committed acts of self-immolation, or Samantha Appleton’s color war-zone shots, like a jihadi in Iraq praying alone inside the walls of a bombed-out, gutted house, this powerful show, titled “Collateral Damage: The Human Face of War,” fills in the picture of the realities of war beyond the battles. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: John Gossage/Stephen Daiter Gallery

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RECOMMENDED

In his “Pond” series, John Gossage presents finely printed black-and-white images of the land around an unspecified pond at the edge of an unnamed large city. Photographed in the 1980s and 90s, the images reflect Gossage’s sensibility and devotion toward this place. He communicates a reverence toward the humble and neglected in his walker’s-eye scenes of scrubland mixed, at times, with signs of unpretentious human habitation. The prints can draw the viewer into the scruffy woods and transfix him there as sure as might a wondrous Ansel Adams study. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Art Shay/Stephen Daiter Gallery

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c.1950s-60s

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Chicago’s premier photojournalist Art Shay captured a moment in place and time, here in the early 1950s, when the gritty old city still held on, with its bittersweet ironies and brutalities, its harshness, and its anticipations of technology-fueled urbanity. Shooting straight and on the fly in unremitting black and white, Shay could pull the heartstrings and captivate the eye, as in his shot of a man taken from behind on a dingy commercial street who holds a duffel bag in one hand and a tiny kitten peering at us in the other, cradled on his shoulder; next to him a sign propped against a brick wall reads, “Be Kind Now.” Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Lynne Cohen/Stephen Daiter Gallery

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Lynne Cohen, "Untitled" Office with fish on wall, 1978

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Travel back to the 1970s hip scene—think Talking Heads. There you will find Lynne Cohen who gained fame and acclaim from the photographic cognoscenti for her deadpan, straight-on black-and-white images of depopulated institutional interiors that come at you as starkly delineated stage sets for the absurd rituals of modern life, after the illusions of the sixties have been dispelled. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Alex Webb/Stephen Daiter Gallery

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RECOMMENDED

Veteran photojournalist Alex Webb has spent his life getting into the recesses of the non-Western world, learning, as rock icons Rush said, to “catch the heat of the third-world man.” Webb is an unreconstructed street photographer, looking for the moment at which drama—intended or not—reaches a peak that he can capture to make it seem that the humdrum life that everyone leads, whoever they are anywhere, achieves an epiphany of shock and awe. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Eye/object/Stephen Daiter Gallery

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Frederick Sommer, "Coyotes," 1945

RECOMMENDED

In this lavish show of black-and-white and a few color images taken in the last half of the twentieth century, from the collection of the late Jonathan Williams, who was a noted photo critic and whose non-profit Jargon Society press published poetry paired with American modernist photography, we look back on a sensibility that pressed against the confines of realism but still remained anchored to the world. Having bagged some big game, like Harry Callahan (about whom he published critical essays), Aaron Siskind and Ralph Eugene Meatyard (a book of whose late photographs he published), Williams also caught many minor masters like Wynn Bullock and Frederick Sommer, the latter of whom encapsulates the critic-collector’s proclivity for a gothic sense of life. In one of the most grisly yet somehow fascinating and even grimly amusing death scenes, Sommer captured a plot of stony, scraggly ground on which are strewn the carcasses of four coyotes sporting hideous snaggly teeth. Williams also collected some feel-good images, but his heart was in the darkness. (Michael Weinstein)

Through July 30 at Stephen Daiter Gallery, 230 West Superior.