Reviews, profiles and news about art in Chicago

Portrait of the Artists: Miller & Shellabarger

Artist Profiles, Drawings, Installation, Loop No Comments »
Miller & Shellabarger. "Again Gone," installation view

Miller & Shellabarger. “Again Gone,” installation view

“Western Exhibitions shows all three of us,” say Dutes Miller and Stan Shellabarger, meaning the Chicago gallery separately represents Dutes, Stan and S&M, their collaborative practice as Miller & Shellabarger. The two met as undergraduates studying ceramics and organically began to work together on artistic projects. Twenty-one years later, the couple shares an Irving Park home and studio where individual art practices continue to grow alongside joint projects. Teaming up as Miller & Shellabarger periodically dominates their individual practices, while at other times independent work demands a hiatus from the collaborative. They have found an effortless ebb-and-flow, and three is not a crowd in this household.

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Review: We do what we like and we like what we do/Western Exhibitions

Drawings, Installation, Painting, Sculpture, West Loop No Comments »
nicholas frank1

Nicholas Frank. “Nicholas Frank Biography, page 302 (First Edition),” printed book page, 6 ¼ x 4 ½ inches, custom-milled walnut frame, 10 x 8 inches, 2014


This rambling celebration on the occasion of the gallery’s ten-year anniversary as a bricks-and-mortar space is cheekily titled after the eponymous Andrew W.K. anthem, “Party Hard.” The moniker adds both an air of revelry and defiance to the works exhibited, implying that director Scott Speh and the artists on his roster are fueled by passion and vision rather than a pursuit of conventional success.

The show is an exercise in polarity, oscillating between extremes in scale and tone. Upon entering the gallery, the viewer is confronted by the first of two sigil paintings by Elijah Burgher. Fresh from the Whitney Biennial, these painted drop cloths are installed back to back, dominating the initial visual field. Situated in the corner of the same room are two bongs, “Uncle Sam/Old Yeller” by Ben Stone. They seem slightly out of place in an area otherwise devoted to minimalist and conceptual works but add levity while reiterating the rebellious tone set by the title. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: HEAD/Western Exhibitions

West Loop No Comments »
Richard Hull, "Human Arrangement," oil and wax on linen, 2013

Richard Hull, “Human Arrangement,” oil and wax on linen, 2013


Western Exhibitions’ website claims that “HEAD” “features work that riffs on portraiture.” But this show—smart and wild, dark and dazzling—does more than this. It is less about riffing than ripping the head off of portraiture, countering it through a dismantling of the face. The “horror of the face,” according to French theorist Gilles Deleuze, resides in its imperialism: it imposes its own self-portrait, “overcoding” the libidinal depths of the body with legible surfaces and thereby domesticating the act of signification. But many of these works turn horror back onto the face, opening, animalizing, libidinizing and disorganizing it. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Zoe Nelson/Western Exhibitions

Painting, West Loop No Comments »
"Holes in Memory Create Colors in my Mind," 2012

“Holes in Memory Create Colors in my Mind,” oil on cut and collaged canvas and stretcher bars, 2012


It looks like everything that’s happening in this young painter’s life is beautiful—or, at least, now that she has turned thirty that’s how she can see it, even if she’s cut, torn and shredded her canvases in the process. Nelson’s energy is ferocious, so it’s a wonder that any cloth is left on the stretchers at all—but yes, fragments are still there, and they are as wantonly eye-catching as tropical fish, and composed like a cat that has fallen out a window, acrobatically twisting through the air on the way down, and then elegantly walking away after a perfect landing. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Ben Stone/Western Exhibitions

Sculpture, West Loop No Comments »
"Heartlight," painted cast resin, 2013

“Heartlight,” painted cast resin, 2013


The world out there is such a big dangerous place, it’s a good idea to protect children from it until they can fend for themselves—so often they are parked in bedrooms filled with toys that satisfy a yearning for adventure without taking any risks. Ben Stone has to be every boy’s favorite uncle—the kind who disappears into his workshop and two weeks later emerges with some clever, unique, imaginative toy that nobody else could have dreamed up, much less hand-crafted. Like a life-sized dog chasing a raccoon up a tree; or a floor-standing pair of baseball players swinging the same bat; or a three-masted schooner sailing across the floor; or an ornamental wall frieze of E.T. chatting up some children. Remember E.T.—the extra-terrestrial creature from a blockbuster film made thirty years ago? Maybe not, unless you’re as old as the artist and, actually, all of these toys seem to be more about the dreams and fantasies of his own childhood than anyone else’s, back before children could play in electronic, virtual realities. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Elijah Burgher/Western Exhibitions

Drawings No Comments »
"Bachelor Machine," 2013

“Bachelor Machine,” 2013


Has Elijah Burgher been initiated into some kind of sex-magic cult? Details of the ceremonies are scant, but they appear to involve one or two trim, naked young men interacting with large geometric symbols attached to the walls or floor.

Burgher’s exhibition is something like an anthropological exhibit at the Field Museum. It includes several original artifacts: the large-scale, ceiling-hung magic symbols that may once have been used in cultic rituals, as well as highly detailed color pencil depictions of those rituals in preparation or execution. These drawings have been made with descriptive objectivity and conventional pictorial skills akin to nineteenth-century artist/explorers. There’s a distant coolness and rationality about these drawings that is sometimes incongruent with the subject, as the handsome young dudes seem about to calmly participate in a medical procedure at a health clinic. Read the rest of this entry »

Eye Exam: Friends Curating Friends

News etc. 12 Comments »
At "Shit Is Real," Devening Projects + Editions

At “Shit Is Real,” Devening Projects + Editions

By Pedro Vélez

Gallery hopping in Chicago can be a real pain in the ass since there is not a single substantial gallery district where to spend a Saturday afternoon. Art spaces are spread all over town and to reach at least a handful of them one must do it by car. What we do have are conglomerates, kind of like pimple colonies where a few successful commercial galleries are surrounded by a bunch of alternative spaces that seem to grow out of nowhere every two years, making themselves visible in a blemish and vanishing away without notice. It’s a gallery scene in eternal puberty. Consider yourself lucky if in four hours you manage to see at least ten galleries.

That is why I cringe every weekend when I receive invites to see exhibitions curated by my friends’ friends. I do so because the people curating my friends are my friends too. Which means I must make an effort to see my friends in their friends’ show if I don’t want to offend them or their friends. The fact that I might have seen my friends’ work in a dozen shows through the year is no excuse for missing their new thing. So I do what everybody else does, inhale, put lotion on the palm of my hand, and pat my friends on the back, and their friends’ backs too, for a job “well done.” Read the rest of this entry »

Eye Exam: Top Art Picks for 2012 in Chicago and the Midwest

News etc. 1 Comment »

By Pedro Vélez

1. The Museum of Contemporary Art

From Heidi Norton’s impressive glass herbariums of common houseplants buried in layers of colored wax to an accessible yet highly competent, and somewhat melancholic, revisionist survey of art made during the culture-wars era in “This Will Have Been: Art, Love & Politics in the 1980s,” the MCA has placed itself right at the center of the national conversation. And they have done it by transforming what used to be a forgotten elitist institution into an exemplary multicultural operation. It seems the MCA can turn anything it touches into gold these days. Think of satirist Jayson Musson and his first-ever museum performance or the urban excitement produced by Martin Creed’s public kinetic sculpture “MOTHERS,” which has become the most talked-about piece of public art in this city since the dreadful Marilyn—in a good way, of course. I wouldn’t be surprised if in a few years from now the MCA is leading the pack. Follow their addictive Twitter handle @mcachicago, which is one of the coolest among all the other museums in the nation. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Mark Wagner/Western Exhibitions

Collage, West Loop No Comments »

Mark Wagner, “Mr. Handshake’s Last Gasp,” 2010


While the rest of the country was completely consumed by a bitter election that gained the dubious honor of being the most expensive ever at the cost of over six billion dollars, you would never know it if you took a trip around the West Loop galleries a weekend or two before the election. The art on view seemed blissfully unaware of the outside world to the point of bordering on irrelevancy.

The exception was Mark Wagner’s “Voting with Your Pocketbook” at Western Exhibitions, where the simple acknowledgment of the events beyond the gallery walls felt like a breath of fresh air. Framing itself as “an exhibition of money art,” the work uses the dollar bill as its medium, which Wagner then collages, paints or draws over.

At other times and in other situations using the dollar might feel a bit facile and gimmicky; and though doubt never entirely disappears, against the backdrop of the election and disinterest of other galleries in current events, Wagner’s gesture comes off as both relevant and urgent. Indeed, the artist winks at art’s perennial detachment in several works. Looking like a conceptualist work from the seventies, “Ink Value Study” builds to full black-and-white over a sequence of six bills. Elsewhere, Twombly-esque scribbles and strokes appear atop their money medium.

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Art 50: Chicago’s Artists’ Artists

Art 50, Artist Profiles 6 Comments »

Artwork and Photo by Matthew Hoffman ( )
Matthew is a 2006 Newcity Breakout Artist

“A friend recently confessed to me that he secretly ranks the participants in Chicago’s art world according to their importance,” wrote artist Molly Zuckerman-Hartung in this publication. Molly’s friend doesn’t work at Newcity; although we annually rank half-a-hundred scenesters of the stage and page, this is our first line-up of visual artists. But everyone intimately knows Molly’s secret friend—the shuffler of the big rolodex, the line cutter, who maybe crept through a Deb Sokolow conspiracy, who buys all your friends’ artworks but never yours. Guess who? It’s you. You made this list and you ranked it and you live in it. You’re either on this list or you’re a product of this list or you’re on this list’s parallel universe (maybe, the Top Fifty People Who Read Lists list). Congrats!

We agree that a linear fifty names is simplistic. Instead, picture this list as a family tree that’s been trimmed into an MC Escher hedge maze. Or see the names as intersecting circles, a cosmic Venn diagram, or raindrops hitting a lake. There could be a list of fifty (or 500) best painters, or a new list for every week we publish this newspaper. For now, here are fifty people who have made an impression on other peoples’ lives.

Who are these people? They are mentors, magnets, peers, alchemists, art mothers, Chicago-ish, artists’ artists, evangelicals, alive today, polarizing, underrated, retired, workhorses and teachers. Lots of teachers. If you’re an artist in Chicago it’s likely that a handful of these artists trained you, or showed you that art was even a possibility. The bonus of local legends is that we can learn from them, face to face. Many lead by example.

About the selection process: Artists only for this list. (Power curators and other hangers-on get their own list, next year). To rank these artists we surveyed hundreds of local living artists, racked our brains, had conversations, wrote emails, canvassed the streets with art critics, cast votes, then recalls, called important curators in London who promptly hung up on us, drank pumpkin latte, checked emails and then finally wrote it all down. And now, we present to you, the Art 50. (Jason Foumberg)

The Art 50 was written by AJ Aronstein, Janina Ciezadlo, Stephanie Cristello, Alicia Eler, Pat Elifritz, Jason Foumberg, Amelia Ishmael, Anastasia Karpova, Harrison Smith, Bert Stabler, Pedro Velez, Katie Waddell and Monica Westin. Read the rest of this entry »