Reviews, profiles and news about art in Chicago

Eye Exam: Trends of the Art Season Opener Weekend

Galleries & Museums No Comments »
A painting by Heimo Zobernig in "The Program" at Gallery 400

A painting by Heimo Zobernig in “The Program” at Gallery 400

By Jason Foumberg

As the fall art season opens this weekend, Newcity is tracking some trends in the local art scene.

Chit-Chat: Artists Want to Talk with You

Matt Austin
A visit to the Smart Museum of Art typically begins at the visitor information desk, and twice a month, through June 2014, visitors may find themselves at another sort of information desk. Exit the contemporary art galleries and you might find Matt Austin, a photographer and bookmaker, sitting in a cubicle, waiting for you. The conversationalist wants to talk with you about “your unique qualities as a person,” which he’ll jot down in a book-in-progress about his year-long run as the museum’s Interpreter in Residence. In return, he asks that you grab a sharp knife and carve something, anything into his wood desk. September 5, 10am-5 pm. Smart Museum of Art, University of Chicago, 5550 South Greenwood. Read the rest of this entry »

Eye Exam: Not-Bestsellers Inspire Anyway

Art Books, Digital Art, Drawings No Comments »

Molly Springfield, from “The Proto-History of the Internet”

By Jason Foumberg

If there was an awkward reveal during “Publication in the Expanded Field,” Triple Canopy’s presentation this past March (as part of Columbia College’s Interdisciplinary Arts Department visiting artist program) of their Internet art magazine, it didn’t come via their slogan, “Slowing down the Internet,” nor in their ability to convince writers and artists to transform their materials into purely digital terms, such as a downloadable program that randomly casts shadows across your desktop, nor in their conviction that technology is finally satisfying both the archival impulse and the creative drive. No, the eye-opening moment arrived as an aside during the Q&A: Triple Canopy, the art magazine on the cutting edge of the digital divide, confessed the hope to one day anthologize its online magazine into a printed book. It’s too expensive to keep up with ever-evolving technology, said their web developer, so a book would be permanent, a safeguard against the dematerialization of electronic content. This reversal, this coveting of the physical, ink-and-paper format by a new media group, turns the crisis of the publishing industry on its head. We have experienced the future of the published page, and it is inadequate.

If Triple Canopy were a book, it might read like “Blast Counterblast,” a newly published collection of artists’ writings and short fiction from the WhiteWalls imprint, edited by Anthony Elms and Steve Reinke. Both Triple Canopy and “Blast Counterblast” envision an ideal reader who wants to be educated, inspired and surprised, all at once—and they push readers through exciting interfaces and design enhancements. Triple Canopy presents text as a multimedia experience, and the essays in “Blast Counterblast” have words heightened with colored ink, like suggestions for hyperlinks that the reader must connect. These modifications are subtle, respecting the fact that content should ensnare readers too. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Patrick Berran/Thomas Robertello Gallery

Painting, West Loop No Comments »

The tiny, compacted thumbnail images on the gallery guide are more engaging, for the most part, than their on-the-wall counterparts. Shrunk, rendered dense, these multicolored works take on a vigor and a depth that, in person, they lack. Surfaces are more of a concern for New Yorker Patrick Berran than dimensionality—often dull, bone dry, marked with washed-out effects at the edges of a color field. A prime example here is number 7 on the guide, blue on bruised purple, with finger marks visible in the outer layer of paint.  There is a kind of compacting at play here, too, a collapse of image into facade.  Sparse paintings hung in a sparse space, the effect here is mixed. While some pieces seem to reference—or to seize and re-present—more traditional forms (clouding a landscape, pushing into a floral study), pieces like the one marked by the gallery as number 10 offer nothing to grasp yet lack visceral force as well.

The one piece in the show which looks better in person than in printed thumbnail is also the one piece with radically engaged depth, number 9, a work more reminiscent of photography than painting. Set against a black background, peach and orange and yellow-toned shapes intersect and recede, an effect I found entrancing. But what this piece, like so much abstract expressionist photography work, offers is precisely what the other paintings in this exhibition deprive us of—form and depth and motion, even the titillation of narrative suggestion. It is a curious juxtaposition. And while number 9 offers a refreshing break from the bone-dry surfaces of Berran’s other works, they are not strengthened by the contrast, leaving the show off-balance and largely unsatisfying. (Spencer Dew)

Through August 14 at Thomas Robertello Gallery, 27 North Morgan.

Eye Exam: Community Confessional

Installation, West Loop No Comments »

By Kristine Sherred

A full year past, we reflect on that which once was, that which persists, that which may be. Lilly McElroy’s second solo exhibition at Thomas Robertello Gallery honors 2009, a year that, for many, typifies economic unrest, unemployment and home loss. Even for those of us unscathed, a new year carries new possibilities, new responsibilities, and McElroy urges us to reflect on a year’s worth of hardships with the quips of another. She set up a website ( to solicit others’ images, stories and jokes that epitomize their most painful moment, or in some cases, their triumphant reclamation.

McElroy describes her artistic mission as an interactive attempt to make a connection with her audience, and she is accustomed to participatory art. Her inspiration for soliciting photographs, she says, may have emanated from a past project for which she asked her mother to photograph twenty-four reasons why she loves her, using nothing more than a disposable camera.

User-generated content leaves the end result a bit, well, open-ended: “I was expecting so many more images of home and job loss,” McElroy says, “but I was actually really surprised about [the stories of] heartbreak. For people who weren’t experiencing those economic stresses, [2009] was equally rough but in a very different way. It made the project much more interesting and much more complicated.”

McElroy spread the word of her developing project by posting ads in Craigslist and Coffee News, distributing flyers to cafes, “emailing anybody who had ever emailed me about anything,” she laughs, and even snail-mailing strangers chosen at random from old phone books. “I got a lot of responses asking who I was,” but her breadth of personal connections and that of friends and family catalyzed the project’s dissemination, fashioning a potent spiderweb chronicling a year in the life. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: About Face/Thomas Robertello Gallery

Drawings, Multimedia, Painting, West Loop No Comments »

Cody Critcheloe (SSION), untitled, 2009


Thomas Robertello Gallery, which will be closed for the entire month of August, has placed all its artistic eggs in one basket this summer with “About Face,” a group exhibition featuring works from a remarkable array of both new and emerging artists working in a variety of media. The work is just as intriguing in concept as it is in presentation, with artists tackling identity issues, physical imperfection and the malleability of perception with the sort of dexterity and wit worthy of a remarkable show. Jason Robert Bell’s “Mirror” offers up an aggressively painted, hypnotically grotesque version of Kala, the mythic mother of a primeval man, while Travis LeRoy Southworth’s “I Re-Touch Myself” prints present clever self-portraits in which all but the moles, pimples and other undesirables of his own visage have been airbrushed away, leaving behind only the constellation of his physical shortcomings. Noelle Mason’s “Bob and Weave” video—an easy, if disturbing, favorite—showcases the artist herself in a halo of pink as she is literally slapped bloody by her large male opponent. Over the course of the ten-minute video, Mason’s smiling face grows increasingly strained before flashing back to its original state, creating a Sisyphean loop that straddles the line between reality and performance. However, if anyone is the star in this show it is Robertello himself, whose curatorial prowess shines in his organization of such a range of artists. Though “About Face” relies heavily on work that has been seen before, the pieces play off one another well, highlighting fine points in new and intriguing lights and inviting both seasoned gallery-goers and newcomers into the space. (Jaime Calder)

Through July 31 at Thomas Robertello Gallery, 939 W. Randolph.

Portrait of the Artist: Noelle Mason

Multimedia, West Loop No Comments »

“How do you talk about relationships of power with giant mounds of goo?” Noelle Mason asks as she pries small magnets out of metal clasps with a hand bandaged by duct tape. It’s a question that she has asked again and again in her work.

Mason is an object-based performance artist. While her works demonstrate a high level of polish—even an obsessive attention to craft technique—they also have a strong experiential quality. Mason makes frequent use of shock tactics and theatrical relationships between object and viewer.

The work on display in “Bad Boys,” her solo exhibition about “hysterical masculinity,” demonstrates a thoughtful use of materials in collaboration with horrific content. In “Nothing Much Happened Today (for Eric and Dylan),” surveillance footage from the Columbine school massacre is hand-stitched into a cotton tapestry. In “Sonata,” laser-etched sheet music is produced from Al-Qaeda beheading footage, which was translated into a twelve-tone scale and transcribed, tattoo-like, onto calf’s-hide vellum. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Troy Richards/Thomas Robertello Gallery

Sculpture, West Loop No Comments »


Using three-dimensional computer models, Troy Richards created a virtual place—a modernist home high above a field—and crashed a virtual plane into it. The simulation allowed him to survey the wreckage from various angles, views he then reduced to two-dimensional “drawings” and replicated in white vinyl on black Plexiglas panels.

These are images of disaster, but with no visible suffering. Indeed, there are no people, only their traces (fashionable chairs, an art collection including a wavy Bridget Riley painting and, notably, the broken fuselage impaled through the porch). In one nocturnal view, looking back at the house and the wrecked plane, stars in the sky above, it is as if the Rapture has come and solved the problem of the human once and for all. Winking from a wall of the house is Christopher Wool’s text painting “Apocalypse Now,” quoting the last letter home from a soldier who deserted to Colonel Kurtz’s side: “SELL THE HOUSE SELL THE CAR SELL THE KIDS.” Read the rest of this entry »

Newcity’s Top 5 of Everything 2009: Art & Museums

News etc., Top 5 Lists 5 Comments »

Top 5 Museum Showsolafur_eliasson-one-way_colour_tunnel-2007
Olafur Eliasson, Museum of Contemporary Art
Your Pal, Cliff: Selections from the H.C. Westermann Study Collection, Smart Museum
Paul Chan, Renaissance Society
Mary Lou Zelazny, Hyde Park Art Center
James Castle: A Retrospective, Art Institute of Chicago
—Jason Foumberg

Top 5 Gallery Shows
Rob Carter, Ebersmoore Gallery
Big Youth, Corbett vs. Dempsey
Sarah Krepp, Roy Boyd Gallery
Everybody! Visual resistance in feminist health movements, 1969-2009, I Space
Ali Bailey, Golden Gallery
—Jason Foumberg Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Adam Ekberg/Thomas Robertello Gallery

Photography, West Loop No Comments »

Ekberg UntitledRECOMMENDED

Light is everything to Adam Ekberg; it must illuminate, it must glare, it must show us that nothing is ever resolved, even when it is unsparingly revealed in vivid color—we are always “in the between.” Ekberg’s banner shot shows a severely delineated hand—extended toward a mirror—that is formed in the beginnings of the sign of a Hindu symbol of devotion to success; yet the fingers do not touch and, of course the hand and its reflection never meet, symbolizing ultimate disconnection. In Ekberg’s other images, dots of light sparkle in forests or flashes punctuate tavern aesthetics, as when we see decorative miniature parasols succumb to the flame of a butane lighter placed on a table. Simulations of laser beams are essential elements of Ekberg’s stock in trade, yet they never achieve the efficacy necessary to consummate the transformation of a humble scene into a power fantasy. Ekberg shows us that the most blatant effects that we can muster never overcome fundamental isolation. (Michael Weinstein)

Through February 6 at Thomas Robertello Gallery, 939 W. Randolph

Review: John Delk/Thomas Robertello Gallery

Multimedia, West Loop No Comments »


John Delk’s work documents a specific project of accumulation and erasure that often relies on information gathered from various communications: headlines, newspaper photos, internet message boards, and binary code. In his art, he reworks these materials in ways that tend to collapse the original intentions of the textual or photographic artifact and instill in them something of the missing aura of mechanical reproduction. “Crier” is a chalkboard that is daily erased and reinscribed with posts Delk finds on the internet on specific subjects chosen for the piece. Each day, a new illegible pattern emerges, invoking Twombly to mask the internet’s massive accretion of knowledge and hearsay. “Stream” follows the same pattern, consisting of a twenty-inch hanging scroll hand-typed with run-together headlines from the last five years. It is a formal poem of sorts that records the traces of global events while rejecting their unified, narrative meaning. Other objects in the exhibition act as artifacts, such as “Fragment,” a laser-etched horse jaw presented in a plexi-fronted wooden case.  Even this piece comes with a certain amount of mystery and it is this deliberate inscrutability that marks the objecthood of Delk’s conceptually driven art. (Rachel Furnari)

Through December 5 at Thomas Robertello Gallery, 939 W. Randolph.