Mike Cloud’s paintings are layered in symbolism and meaning, which can be hard to grasp if you look only at the surface level of his “Star of David” paintings, which not only reference the complexities of the history of Nazi Germany and the identification of Jews during World War II, but also theories related to “deathliness,” abstraction, color and shape. Combining text, imagery and mark-making, Cloud interrogates politics and his place within the political system. Lately Cloud has explored “the spark of life and hope paintings can possess” during time under quarantine by creating abstract portrait paintings of marriage scenes and personal heroes The newly tenured associate professor in Northwestern University’s Department of Art, Theory and Practice will present a solo exhibition this fall at Frieze London’s virtual fair, will participate in the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago’s ”The Long Dream” exhibition and at the top of 2021, as well as sharing a duo show with Sam Jablon at the Landing Gallery in Los Angeles.
Lin Hixson and Matthew Goulish
You can’t overstate the influence Lin Hixson and Matthew Goulish have on the performance world. The oeuvre of Goat Island, the pair’s renowned experimental performance group, was the subject of an ambitious retrospective last year at the Chicago Cultural Center, which included nine commissioned performances from international artists and teams. Their current group, “Every house a door,” is at work on the large-scale performance “Aquarium,” a commission from the Croatian National Theatre, for the European Capital of Culture 2020 (postponed to 2021). The group performed an iteration of this project earlier this year at the Art Institute of Chicago, and have been contemplating the future of live performance in their newsletter, opening with “The Heightened Impossibilization of Performance.”
As an artist long concerned with spatial justice, Maria Gaspar’s work is primed for this moment. We’re more attuned than ever to the safety and accessibility of public and private spaces, from prisons to art museums to the streets. For the recently tenured SAIC professor’s 2018 project “Radioactive,” detainee-made audio and visuals were broadcast onto the wall of Cook County Jail. In addition to a 2021 exhibition at Wofford College, her work will be displayed at MoMA PS1, in conjunction with the new book, “Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration.” Read the Artist of the Moment interview for more insight on Gaspar’s work.
Edra Soto’s ongoing “24 Hours” project, in which she collects and glorifies discarded liquor bottles, and her GRAFT series, inspired by the iron rejas screens in her native Puerto Rico, have heavily influenced the trajectory of her art career and public interventions. These bottles and iron-wrought kaleidoscopic and geometric formations have graced her home in Garfield Park (where she also co-directs The Franklin, a backyard artist-run project space); the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago; the Blue Line Western Station; the Chicago Cultural Center and, most recently, Millennium Park, where her first public art commission “Screenhouse,” will be on view for two years. This year also allowed her to imagine and expand the project to new heights with the support of the MacArthur Foundation in cultural exchanges in Cuba, Brazil and Puerto Rico, and an upcoming residency at Manhattan’s Abrons Arts Center, where she will create a public art project. Her work will also grace the cover of Poetry magazine and the permanent collection of the DePaul Art Museum.
Brendan Fernandes is a master at seamlessly melding countless parts—body, sculpture, movement, textile, rope, chain, sound—into flawless productions exploring vulnerability, strength, control and labor. Since moving to Chicago in 2016, Fernandes’ work has been featured at Chicago institutions, including the MCA and the DePaul Art Museum. A variation of his 2018 Graham Foundation installation,“The Master and Form,” in which ballet dancers pushed the limits of their exertion against sculpture—when not performing live, audio recordings were played to highlight the absence of working bodies—was in the 2019 Whitney Biennial. So much of Fernandes’ work is about liveness, gathering in social spaces and collaboration as acts of protest. Pieces like “Ballet Kink,” in which dancers are forced to find new ways to move while bound by rope, signal that bodies can adapt, protest and progress together in moments like this. At work on a new piece exploring protest and protection through dance, primal voice and the use of Masai fabric as part of the São Paulo Museum of Art exhibition “Histories of Dance,” Fernandes will push the boundaries of what’s possible in a virtual space with a Zoom performance hosted by the Art Gallery of Ontario.
At the start of this year, Candida Alvarez published “Candida Alvarez: Here: A Visual Reader,” an art book documenting her 2017 retrospective at the Chicago Cultural Center that places her four-decade career as a painter into deeper context. The book was released concurrently with her first solo gallery exhibition in Chicago, “Estoy Bien,” which featured paintings inspired by her connection to Puerto Rico following her father’s death and Hurricane Maria. As an artist-teacher, Alvarez says she is “always in touch with so many voices, so many conversations, so many perspectives,” which echoes her process. She is in conversation with her surroundings, too: the resulting memories, ideas and references are mapped by way of color, shape or figure, for someone else to join the conversation when they’re ready. Of this precarious moment, she says “it’s time to feel raw. It’s time for reinvention.”
Faheem Majeed’s practice can best be understood as “a collage of underappreciated things together, that are large and grand,” a metaphor for the underused knowledge of people. Majeed’s socially engaged art practice is deeply rooted in creating environments that encourage viewers to leverage their own power, as he believes that it’s ultimately people that are monuments. Majeed’s collective project, “Floating Museum,” creates new models through artmaking, community building, architecture and site-specific public engagement. The project became a literal floating museum in 2017 when it traveled up the Chicago River, featuring a ten-foot-high bust of Haitian figure Jean Baptiste Point du Sable, the first known non-Indigenous settler of Chicago. In collaboration with the South Side Community Art Center and the Hyde Park Art Center, Majeed will use a $50,000 Joyce Foundation award to present a body of charcoal rubbings, made using the architectural designs and textures of the South Side Community Art Center, where he was executive director and curator from 2005-2011. These works are anticipated to be revealed in the spring of 2021.
Long a member of art’s vanguard, McArthur Binion is finally getting the recognition he deserves. The visionary minimalist painter, now in his seventies, is represented by Richard Gray Gallery, which mounted a stunning solo exhibition at Gray Warehouse this September. On view are pieces from his “DNA:Work” series, oil stick paintings that appear as simple grids from afar, but are pasted with personal effects, and drawings from his “Under:Conscious” series, labor-intensive works featuring marks made simultaneously by both hands. Binion had solo presentations at Lehmann Maupin locations in Seoul, New York and Hong Kong last year, as well as at Massimo De Carlo in London and Hong Kong. The former Columbia College professor also has a forthcoming solo exhibition at the Museo Novecento in Florence, Italy.
A part of the historic Hairy Who collective, made up of School of the Art Institute graduates who exhibited provocative, colorful work at Hyde Park Arts Center in the sixties, Gladys Nilsson’s work continues their tradition of transgression with joie de vivre. Her watercolors and collages look like stills from a psychedelic cartoon that might break into motion at any moment, although that might be the sheer volume of life contained by canvas or paper. There are bears, there are fish, there are giant ladies, as well as small ones crawling over others. At seventy-nine, Nilsson recently exhibited her most extensive solo show yet, featuring her largest piece to date, “Gleefully Askew,” at seven feet high. Now in social isolation, she has spent so much time in her attic studio that she’s run out of canvases.
Amanda Williams transforms materials in order to question how people move through space based on gender, race, class, culture, geography and history. Best known for her public art project, “Color(ed) Theory” (2014-2015), she has since taken on major commissions, such as “Thrival Geographies (In My Mind I See a Line)” for Dimensions of Citizenship at the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale and “Our Destiny, Our Democracy,” a forthcoming public monument to Shirley Chisholm, in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. Since 2015 Williams has demonstrated, through color and form, how a vacant, soon-to-be-demolished home, painted in Flamin’ Red Hots, can spark local and international conversations on value, spatial politics and the histories of redlining. She hopes her work encourages the general public to investigate for themselves how to make spaces “to feel free, and be free.” At the moment, the color that Williams is most excited by is Black: Black as a signifier of Black cultural practices. Her inaugural solo exhibition this fall at Rhona Hoffman Gallery will showcase new multimedia works in a range of hues initiated by her popularized Instagram series, “What Black Is This, You Say?”