Reviews, profiles and news about art in Chicago

Review: Harold Mendez/Threewalls

West Loop No Comments »

but I sound better (newsletter)


With a material list including “graphite, reclaimed exhaust hose, soot, food matter, vegetable oil, hand ground Cochineal insects and tri-directional foil,” you know you’re dealing with a special kind of artist.

Harold Mendez is a writer and no doubt an avid reader, and an artist working across several visual media. His conceptually driven work draws from Beckett, Basquiat, Simone de Beauvior and on, and on and on. Fascinated by narrative construction, Mendez is a text-heavy artist who gives titles to his works that are both loaded and vague. The exhibition, titled “But I Sound Better Since You Cut My Throat,” incorporates diverse techniques and materials, but all evince a dark, ambiguous spirit. Eerie pinhole photographs hum with deep blacks, lens flares, sparks and shadows. A couple of large-scale, mostly monochrome mixed-media pieces hang on the walls and a chunky, prehistoric-looking sculpture sits on the floor in the main gallery. It’s the piece with the hand ground Cochineal insects. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Faith Wilding/Threewalls

Drawings, Performance, West Loop No Comments »
Installation view. Photo: Clare Britt

Installation view. Photo: Clare Britt


The comedian Brian Regan once recalled describing his symptoms to the doctor: “It feels like everything on my inside wants to be on my outside.” Switch that from physical to emotional feelings and you have the work of prominent feminist, writer, teacher and artist, Faith Wilding, whose impressive sampling of her enormous life’s work is on display in a retrospective exhibition.

In 1972, Wilding participated in the groundbreaking feminist exhibition Womanhouse, the first public showcase of feminist art, in Los Angeles. There she performed “Waiting,” a highly influential piece that continues to have resonance today. Wilding’s work has been shown in major feminist art exhibitions over the last forty years and continues to hold sway in contemporary feminist discourse. Because of her accomplishments, the Women’s Caucus for Art is awarding her a Lifetime Achievement Award.

Inevitably, Wilding’s renowned feminist background coats the show with political and historical overtones. However, her artwork also stands tall on a separate stage: that of Faith Wilding’s impassioned journey through life. Bodies, plants, moths and horses memorialize loss, catharsis, transformation and renewal. Read the rest of this entry »

Eye Exam: Galleries Out, Curators In, and Other Artist News

News etc. No Comments »
Laura Letinsky's dinner service from Artware Editions

Laura Letinsky’s dinner service from Artware Editions

By Jason Foumberg

Threewalls Relocation Hiccup
This summer the artist-run non-profit gallery and cornerstone of the West Loop district Threewalls shuttered its exhibition programming to search for a new, expanded location. They hosted a ten-year-anniversary fundraising party to do so, but have been unable to secure a space. Executive director Shannon Stratton says there have been “real possibilities and fairly involved negotiations that fell through” on real estate, including a promising space west of the West Loop near Union Park. Threewalls plans to continue looking for a new location and be moved in by September of 2014. Meanwhile, they remain at 119 North Peoria, with a Faith Wilding retrospective opening in January.

A Funeral for Roxaboxen
The artist-run Pilsen gallery housed in a former funeral parlor, “with a piqued façade that makes it look like a little castle,” is closing after three years of exhibition programming. Roxaboxen, founded in 2009 by Liz McCarthy, Kyle Stephens and Miranda Stokes, was a live/work space with artist studios, yoga classes and stitching parties. They hosted dozens of solo and group exhibitions of original programming, such as the “Splay” and “Grow in the Dark” shows, ACRE resident exhibitions, and participated in the MDW fair. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Andrew Norman Wilson/Threewalls

Installation, West Loop No Comments »


The center of Andrew Norman Wilson’s newest exhibition—or “town,” as he calls it—is its press release, a masterful cultural critique that is a “play” placing the artist at the center of the narrative of the exhibition’s conception to completion. Visitors to the town are faced with a collection of seemingly incongruous elements (including live Gloster canaries, a cat tree, orchids, FedEx boxes, hot dogs, baseball cards, bottled water, televisions, and two hired interns hawking bootlegged Ashton Kutcher movies in North Face) that parody the chaotic randomness of corporate branding and PR language. Read the rest of this entry »

Portrait of the Artist: Mary Patten

Artist Profiles No Comments »


It was something of a spectacle. In 1975 the American counterculture gathered at Columbia University in New York for a symposium on the subject of madness and prisons. “I didn’t realize it at first, but I was looking for a way out of academia,” Sylvère Lotringer remembers. Professor of French literature and philosophy at Columbia and editor of the avant-garde journal Semiotext(e), Lotringer organized the “Schizo-Culture” conference as a way to discuss the practice of torture conducted in psychiatric and penal institutions. He invited a medley of street and academia, grassroots activists and radical philosophers, for a colloquium that itself dissolved into madness. “Are you a writer or are you a militant?” Michel Foucault asked the mob of more than two-thousand participants. “I think that question is passé.”

Thirty years after this event, Chicago artist, activist and educator Mary Patten revives the forgotten dialogue of “Schizo-Culture.” In her four-channel video installation, titled “Panel,” she directed four performers to re-enact the debate among Foucault, the post-structuralist philosopher; R. D. Laing, radical anti-psychiatrist; Howie Harp, former mental patient; and political activist Judy Clark. The setting is austere—white table, glass water pitcher, cigarette, ashtray, notebook, pen. Read the rest of this entry »

Eye Exam: Handmade Art for the Holidaze

News etc. No Comments »

By Jason Foumberg

I’m a fan of skipping the line at Old Navy and buying from local artists for the holidays. Even atheists can partake.

For the Kitchen

Placemat by Karolina Gnatowski

ThreeWalls, one of Chicago’s best showcases of local emerging artists, offers a chance to creatively dress up your dining-room table while supporting its dynamic programming. The holiday edition of their Community Supported Art series includes a placemat, a bowl, a cup and a plate, all created by Chicago-based artists in a limited edition of thirty. Karolina Gnatowski’s placemat humorously takes into account the role of “place,” with arms and hands that reach toward the floor, thereby completing the circle among diner, dinner and home. Mindy Rose Schwartz’s dribble cup cheekily pokes a hole in the concept of “functional objects,” whereas a bowl by reclaimed-wood worker John Preus and a plate by noted sculptor Christine Tarkowski are so visually stylized they may end up on a collector’s shelf rather than a kitchen cabinet. In 2004, the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum produced an exhibition titled “Design(does not equal) Art: Functional Objects from Donald Judd to Rachel Whiteread.” ThreeWalls’ current CSA adds a chapter to that alternative history of contemporary art/design. Try out your new place-setting at a ThreeWalls holiday meal on December 15 at the Stew Supper Club. $400 for the complete place-setting, and $100 for the holiday meal, at

Lillstreet’s thirty-seventh annual holiday exhibition focuses on ceramic objects and sculptures by more than twenty-five artists, ranging from traditional to experimental takes on classics like plates, mugs and teakettles. Through December 31 at Lillstreet, 4401 North Ravenswood. Read the rest of this entry »

Eye Exam: Second to None

Art Fairs No Comments »

Jake Myers rides glacier sculpture

By Jason Foumberg

Did you know that the South Side MDW airport predates ORD? Whatever the metaphor, last weekend’s MDW Fair—the third iteration in two years—was the best it’s been yet and a very promising showing of Chicago’s dynamic creative population. With organizational duties shared among the Public Media Institute (Ed and Rachael Marszewski), Document (Aron Gent’s photo publishing business), Roots and Culture, and ThreeWalls, the fair’s conglomerated energy made me hopeful for the future of this art fair and Chicago’s independent art culture. In total, it was a fun event, and I hesitate getting overly serious about the MDW Fair’s consequences or meanings, even if the success of the fair means serious business for all involved. A few observations and reflections:

MDW Fair trend #1: Affordable art. From the publications tables downstairs, which featured low-cost published multiples and artists’ books, to low-priced prints throughout the fair—prints at $5 to $25 and a large-scale sculpture at $500 (John Harms’ “Kissing Booth”)—participants gladly realized the appropriate economy of scale for this alternative art fair. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Cauleen Smith/Museum of Contemporary Art

Installation, Michigan Avenue, Video, West Loop No Comments »

Cauleen Smith, film still from “Nicolai and Regina Series 01″


Cauleen Smith’s solo show at the MCA is the best contemporary art exhibition in Chicago this summer. While watching her short videos, which feature Chicago cityscapes and local musicians, I easily mistook Smith as a Chicago-based artist. I’m used to seeing only Chicago artists mine the city’s cultural history with such deeply personal insights. In fact Smith lives and teaches in San Diego, and has spent considerable time in Chicago doing research on local music history, facilitated by Threewalls in 2010 and a Black Metropolis Research Consortium grant in 2011. The fruit of her Chicago residency is a series of new videos and a multimedia installation that waken civic pride. Before the MCA exhibition closes in mid-September, Smith will open a solo show at Threewalls, a spot usually reserved for Midwestern artists. Read the rest of this entry »

Eye Exam: Fair Play

Art Fairs, Bridgeport No Comments »

photo by Marian Frost

By Laura Fox

In a day and a half in Bridgeport last weekend, connections both professional and personal formed between local art groups and artists. The catalyst was the new MDW Fair.

The fair’s genesis itself is a bit of a feat in community-building. In February, Ed Marszewski, the founder of The Co-Prosperity Sphere, Version festival and Public Media Institute, asked threewalls and Roots and Culture if they wanted to help host an art fair focused on Chicago artists and art organizations. In two months and with less than $10,000, the three partners recruited sixty-plus exhibitors to fill 25,000 square feet of exhibition space in the Geolofts warehouse, plus a separate sculpture garden. Read the rest of this entry »

Eye Exam: Stand in the Light

Gold Coast/Old Town, Video, West Loop No Comments »


By Jason Foumberg

Last Saturday night, the fifth annual Earth Hour (turn out your lights for one hour) met some blazing competition in the form of BYOB, or Bring Your Own Beamer, a group show of digital video art projected simultaneously and splatter-style on a Pilsen apartment’s walls, ceiling, floor, anywhere. Of the dozen or so projectors, only a couple overheated. The room was packed full of viewers and it was hard to avoid getting a beam of light shot into your eyes every now and then. Sometimes the effect of a projector throwing its image on a body perfectly captured the event’s energy and premise, of being made by and for the crowd.

Often, in video art installations, there is some glitchy tweaker noise or looped ambient music to accompany the projections. In the four video art shows I saw this weekend, all of them featured this type of soundtrack, amplifying the lights-off, hyper-sensory experience. Barbara Kasten’s “REMIX” at Applied Arts is accompanied by what used to be called intelligent dance music, by Lucky Dragons; Nicolas Grospierre’s “TATTARRATTAT” video at the Graham Foundation has a minimal soundtrack of softly hypnotic beats; Ben Russell’s sculpture of 16mm projectors at threewalls creates its own hissing and popping music; and a single ambient track blanketed all the videos at BYOB. Sometimes these soundtracks are intrusive, and sometimes they melt into the viewing experience, but they are always necessary; video art today is competing for your attention. Read the rest of this entry »