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 »
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 »
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 three-walls.org.
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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
By Monica Westin
As we look ahead to an overhauled Art Chicago fair next month, some local art galleries are quietly planning alternatives. Unlike the dozens of satellite fairs in Miami and New York, a new crop of Chicago art fairs aren’t poised to coincide with the behemoth fair on the last weekend of April, but they do stand to be competitors of sorts. The new MDW fair, which focuses on “local art ecology,” appears to be something of a DIY one-off affair with an impressive list of gallery exhibitors and cultural programs: threewalls, Roots and Culture, Theaster Gates’ The Dorchester Project, Ed Marszewski’s Reuben Kincaid gallery project, Ebersmoore, Antena, SAIC’s Ox-Bow, The Suburban, ACRE, Iceberg Projects, and The Post Family. Several of these galleries participated in NEXT in the past; only a couple will be returning this year.
The MDW fair, pronounced “Midway,” is named for Chicago’s other airport, the one “people forget about sometimes,” says Ed Marszewski of the Public Media Institute (of the Lumpen family), who is producing the fair as a part of his long-running Version festival, along with threewalls and Roots and Culture. MDW hopes to be another kind of visual arts landing in Chicago, using GeoLofts’ (The Iron Studios) 25,000 square feet of exhibition space, and with an additional 10,000-square-foot sculpture garden, all featuring work by Chicago artists. Marszewski admits that the fair’s dates, April 23-24, in part don’t coincide with Art Chicago because they “don’t necessarily have the apparatuses to reach out to that audience,” but there is also an element of wanting to “contrast what’s happening with the more independent art scene versus what’s happening at the Merch Mart”—as well as not wanting to compete with or undermine local artists going to NEXT. Read the rest of this entry »
Around the Coyote, the arts organization that once produced the very high profile community art show of the same name, has called it quits officially. Although it’s been struggling the last couple of years, a decade or more ago its annual festival was either a lightning rod for anti-gentifrication conspiracy theorists, or a galvanizing force in the daunting battle to keep artists around Wicker Park in the face of gentrification depending on your point of view. The last decade saw its transformation into a year-round nonprofit, but it was never able to fully establish a new, broader agenda with adequate financial resources.
Here’s the text of their announcement:
After two decades of working with Chicago’s vibrant emerging arts community, Around the Coyote is regrettably closing its doors and ceasing operations as of May 8, 2010. The staff and board of directors would like to express their thanks to all of the artists, donors and collectors that supported the not-for-profit for so many years. Read the rest of this entry »
By Bert Stabler
Seemingly poised to become the Fox News of local art punditry, the blog Chicago Art Criticism has (albeit from a purportedly post-Marxist perspective) been keeping up a sustained attack on contemporary social practices in art. Recent articles by Laurie Rojas, Ian Morrison, Chris Mansour and Jamie Keesling have all taken a hard party line in wringing their hands over the supplanting of the heroic artistic and cultural vanguard of the twentieth-century heyday of Modernism by the post-Fluxus proliferation of social and ideological practices being cast as artwork—practices like community kitchens and gardens, pamphleteering and swap meets. A screed on the blog by Platypus Journal contributor Bret Schneider targets the work of Chicago artist Claire Pentecost in a vitriolic diagnosis of (to use two of his go-to terms) art’s “dangerous” effort to recuperate the “failed” activist politics of a bygone era. Citing precious little theory or research to substantiate them, he offers epic-sounding generalizations, such as: “the undaunted optimism of social art practices glosses over suffering and constriction altogether in its wriggling away from historical trauma.” Or, “There is no fundamental condition of human existence yet, at least hopefully. Believing so is a major setback and an arbitrary nostalgia.” Nostalgia bad, historical trauma good, got it.
But can art simultaneously fail and be dangerous? Well, if it fails to be art, hopefully it can do so by aspiring to be dangerous. As Pentecost said in a 2006 interview on the art podcast Bad At Sports, “If you’re talking about art as just the kind of stuff that gets validated by museums and galleries, maybe what I do isn’t art. But I think that art is a much bigger and broader human enterprise. I’m more interested in building movements.” And, while she describes change as a slow, multifaceted process, the things she makes, organizes, presents and participates in reflect her belief in the potential of producing knowledge publicly and collectively. Pentecost has worked on biotechnology experiments with the collective Critical Art Ensemble, helped to run and program the active community cultural space Mess Hall in Rogers Park, created seminars and publications in association with the Continental Drift project and The Midwest Radical Culture Corridor group, documented the encroachment of corporate-style farming practices in Europe and South America, created an installation and a newspaper about food economics and, closer to the purview of “real” art, presented a series of wall drawings as photographs, created monumental sculptures made from processed snacks, and commissioned miniaturist painters in India to render her portrait from staged tourist snapshots. Read the rest of this entry »