Reviews, profiles and news about art in Chicago

Art Break: Halloween in May

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vampwineAre you the kind of person who wishes Halloween came more than once a year? If so, consider your wish granted. For the price of an entry ticket to “You Oughta Be in Fangs,” ThreeWalls’ benefit extravaganza this Friday, May 29, you can be part of an elaborately conceived, fully immersive environment where 1920s-era vampires party the night away at the International Museum of Surgical Science, a four-story lakefront mansion filled with all manner of exotic, flesh-piercing objects.

Over a year in the making, this one-night-only event is written and directed by Death by Design Co., an artistic collaboration-cum-business run by Teena McClelland and Michelle Maynard, who’ve carved out a specialty niche by creating fantasy death scenes for all-too-willing victims. Their clients star in custom-made horror movies by acting out their own (inevitably grisly) deaths for the camera.  Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Jesse McLean/Three Walls

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Josh Azzarella’s solo show at Lisa Boyle Gallery in 2006 featured a photo of a Chinese democracy activist in the street facing an empty space where we expect a tank, another of an Abu-Ghraib guard standing in front of a box on which stood no masked prisoner, and a video of a jet flying past the World Trade Center without incident. Any photographed scene suggests a crime, as Walter Benjamin proposed, even without evidence. I admire Azzarella’s directness, but like The Onion, and other mockumentary reportage of the Jon Stewart era, there is a risk of blunting emotional force when one triumphantly presents the emperor’s garments as just so many artfully placed pixels. As Honore Daumier complained, “Photography imitates everything and expresses nothing. It is blind to the world of spirit.”

Jesse McLean addresses photojournalistic deception differently. In her show “Invisible Tracks,” now on view at Three Walls, six inkjet prints depict diving and swimming Caucasian men afloat in the white-and-gray checkered void that Adobe Photoshop users recognize as a transparent layer, ready to be transposed onto any chosen environment. Context is provided by the video “Clone” on the adjacent wall, in which the virtual eye pans and zooms around a scene of a pool in a ruined Iraqi courtyard, stealthily being altered by the Photoshop “clone tool,” a highly useful retouching feature that allows a small area of color and texture to be repeated anywhere in the image.  Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Tract House/Three Walls

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How many people actually read the religious tracts given out on street corners, tracts which offer paths to salvation, tales of sin, illustrations of the everyman meeting a horned, pitchfork-wielding Satan? Though they have a strangely collectible quality, it’s entirely possible that they go right in the garbage, the message lost as the Bible becomes ever more irrelevant to the average guy walking down the street, soda in one hand, cell phone in the other.

Artists Lisa Anne Auerbach and Roman Jester are doing their part to change this. With The Tract House, they have written, designed and collected hundreds of new tracts, many contributed by friends and neighbors as well, but with more contemporary subject matter (read: relevance to lives being lived in 2009). There are rants and manifestos on education, drugs and economics; thoughts on ignorance, recycling, cleanliness; humorous meditations on the importance of eating Sunday dinner, flowers, bees and honey; exegeses on integrity, our attachment to our lawns, apathy and, yes, even divinity. The Tract House offers what the tracts you’re used to seeing do not: modern terminology for meaningful goals within our reach. You won’t find the threat of damnation and hellfire here, but encouragement to make art, to make conscious choices, to be a positive force for humanity. The many artists and writers involved tell us about what we know for certain, the facts of what we see and the disparity of what we do. As their powerful pivot point, many tracts offer a pregnant “And yet.”

There’s really no place in a traditional gallery setting for a show like this, though it almost fits in Three Walls’ project room. Where The Tract House belongs is on the street, stuffed into peoples’ hands, under windshield wipers, slipped under doors. Distributed. Read. Fortunately, anyone can print the tracts for free at (Damien James)

Through March 26 at Three Walls, 119 N. Peoria

Eye Exam: The Darkside

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Jules deBalincourtBy Jason Foumberg

Halloween is the ultimate surrealist holiday, a witch’s vision come to fruition, where buried fears are unearthed and embraced—at least for one night. Since the first medievalist depicted the dance of death strutting upon life’s stage, artists have been holding up vanity’s mirror to the good and the pious. A world toppled by its underbelly and reigned by its opposite—what could be more truthful—and joyful to represent? Let’s not say that we deserve what we get, but a little black humor does come in handy.

The Rat City Parade

It’s the bubonic plague, part two. The Rat City Parade will infest North Halsted during the annual Halloween parade on October 31. Artist Ben Fain’s vision of sixty performers in rat costumes will mingle with Sarah Febbraro’s choreographed movements in which the rats engage in orgiastic feeding circles and mosh pits. The whole dance will climax when the rat master emerges from his pizza pyramid on a float (yes, the parade has floats) like the winner of some freakish beauty pageant and is worshipped by his rat comrades and, hopefully, the spectators. The mass of meaty tails, beady eyes and rabies-coated incisors works itself up into a frenzy, recalling the pinnacle of unhygienic grotesquerie: the Rat King—a phenomenon wherein a swarm of vermin gets its tails cemented in knots by a mixture of dirt, blood and their own excrement. The parade begins at 7pm on North Halsted at Belmont.

Signs of the Apocalypse/Rapture
You can tell that we’re comfortable with the end of times when the subject gets its own coffeetable book. Front Forty Press has curated, designed and published a hardcover tome featuring artwork from over sixty artists and including two music CDs. The book is divided into the destruction of the world—Apocalypse—and the ethereal bliss that comes after—Rapture. Doomsday is depicted in horror vacui illustrations where debris swells into suffocating masses in work by Andrew Schoultz, Todd Arsenault, Mark Chariker and Joe Vaux, and dystopic landscapes pictured by Jean-Pierre Roy, David Opdyke, Lora Fosberg and Suzy Poling. Rapture, on the other hand, is characterized by Julie Mehretu’s ambient colorscapes, Bill Viola’s weightless dreams, and Doug & Mike Starn’s patchwork vision of Buddha. The Apocalypse CD contains tracks of sustained ambient noise, whereas Rapture is, by comparison, a harmonic savior.

The first essay in the book, by artist Christopher Bucklow, explains the apocalypse as a religious event, but it’s telling that in his introduction, the book’s publisher Doug Fogelson writes, “With the future ever upon us we are at a shameful state of affairs. There are so many real concerns facing humanity right now”—yet the exact date of “right now” is never given. The end of times is a fear adaptable to any time in human history; it is, in essence, timeless. Fogelson is hopeful, though. By getting acquainted with the “signs” of the end, he says, we’ll be able to tune in to the problems, and possibly the solutions.

Still, the broad array of artwork collected in the book is a feast for the eyes. I asked Fogelson if there’s anything odd about enjoying the look of such dark subject matter. “There’s a lot of beauty in the chaos,” he replied. With co-curator Ryanne Baynham, Fogelson created the collector’s edition for the end of times. Sonotheque will host a release party for the book on November 20, and a related exhibition is scheduled at the Hyde Park Art Center in July, 2009. $65 from Front Forty Press.

Night of the Living Artist
The Chicago Art Department hosts “Night of the Living Artist,” a group exhibition of work by twenty-five artists who were invited to depict their favorite artist as a zombie. Bulging eyes, bared teeth and bloodstains abound in portraits of Edward Gorey, van Gogh, Dr. Seuss and even Jim Henson as a “cute zombie puppet.” Curator Kerry Flaherty is a toy maker and dabbles in plush toys, so the work of fellow plush-toy artists are exhibited, as is a work showing the curator as a zombie herself. A closing night costume party wraps up the show on October 31, 7pm-10pm, at the Chicago Art Department, 1837 South Halsted.

Doog Vs. Live
Painter and sculptor Amy Mayfield’s latest solo exhibition wraps viewers in an environment laced with prickly piles of excrement-like stalagmites, bats and a claustrophobic wall of dimestore romance novels. Mayfield’s paintings are noted for seducing the senses using liquid enamel that oozes over the surface and haunted scenes punctuated by nightmarish cuteness. Bring a towel. At Three Walls, 119 North Peoria, through November 15.

Review: Anne Toebbe, “Stained Glass”

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Highly influenced by the styles of Cubism, medieval painting and folk art, Anne Toebbe reconstructs a Catholic church interior from her childhood memories in acrylic gouache. Toebbe sets contrasting emotional moods within the church by using dark, depressing charcoal tones to depict the inside of the structure, with conflicting perspectives, and then applies vibrant, dramatic colors to the stain glass fixtures. The most successful piece in the exhibition is “St. Dominic,” in which the emotionally void character found in Toebbe’s figures—achieved mostly through Cubist limitations on detail—is particularly meaningful in the cycle of the passion, found on the two sides of the church again in warped perspective. This is contrasted with aesthetically pleasing, more abstract stained glass fixtures. Toebbe’s unique vision—her use of multiple, warped perspective and her ability to successfully combine influences from far ends of the artistic perspective—makes “Stained Glass” a successful move in the artist’s early career. However, compared to past exhibitions, “Stained Glass” does lose some of Toebbe’s previous quirkiness and pop sensibility because of the use of such deeply dark tones. (Julian Camillieri) Through November 24 at THREE WALLS SOLO

Review: Cayetano Ferrer, “8 Corners”/threewalls

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Passing through Las Vegas native Cayetano Ferrer’s installation “8 Corners” at Three Walls feels like a plunge into someone’s mental map—a free-associational taxonomy. In this case, it is a map of places that emerge in unexpected ways through art practice. One corner is sculpted with fragments of brick wall on the floor, opening onto binder clipped, inkjet prints of desolate, disused swimming pools. Another is a cube nestled in the gallery’s corner, overlaid with photographic prints that reveal the wooden trim and brick walls in distorted perspective. This latter piece is a physical version of three photographs of corners on Western Avenue overlaid with transparent versions of Asian shipping boxes, which actually foreground the mundane iron and mortar that they “contain.” This is not a surprising evolution for an artist who made an impression in 2004 with a series of eerily translucent street signs that framed rather masked the space behind. And while any individual piece in “8 Corners” might be a retread of old conceptual art tricks—think Rene Magritte, Robert Morris and Jan Dibbets—when placed in a matrix with other works of diverse media and content, they cohere to stirring effect. The ultimate effect is that “8 Corners” gently carves into its site, embodying and illuminating otherwise open tracts of space. Given the recent explosion in relational and site-specific art, Ferrer should prove be a young artist to watch. (Ian Bourland) Through October 13 at THREE WALLS SOLO.