Art Letter

September 2004 Archives


One of the things I like so much about the art world is the absence of rules.  And simultaneously that seems to be one of its problems.

A look at the
Emerging Artists discussion on the Art Letter Bulletin Board shows a conversation about "edgy and emerging" and corresponding position-taking about whether young, mid-career or seasoned artists or most worth looking at or acquiring.

I guess since there are no rules many feel the need to take a side. 

Somehow I look at it differently.  If there are no rules, everyone can be right. Argumentatively, your aesthetic is as good as mine, your opinion is as good as mine, and whatever involvement you have in the art world, for whatever reason is just as good as mine.

Personally, I like it that way. 

Ultimately it is about agreement.

When I had a gallery, when I would look at an artist's slides or digital images, it would not be a judgment of whether the work was good.  That's too finite, too small. Of course, I would say to myself, and maybe even aloud "This is good. This isn't," but what I meant was "I like this. I agree with this, or I don't."

This is really what is going on when I (or you) walk into a gallery: How do I respond?  It should be about the aesthetic experience of The viewer.  Ultimately my opinion is irrelevant to you.  There is no Truth.  There are many truths. There is no right or wrong.  This is not like diving where degree of difficulty and execution are rigid scales, and evaluation can be learned and formulated.

Art isn't like that. You as an artist can live and breathe art 22 hours a day or 3 hours a months, you are both artists, albeit with a different commitment.  You as a collector can like paintings of petunias or paintings worth 6 digits, you are both collectors.

So when I go to a gallery and I look at a work of art, I am looking for me.  Not you. Not them. (Unless I'm going to the gallery to buy something for someone else - but that's another story.)

Then there's the problem of art criticism. There's some assumption that a good art critic, like a good baseball coach can advise a hitter to lower his elbow a tad, and he'll connect more often. But the critic can't say "add a little red to every right hand corner and you'll do oh, so much better."

Heck, we don't even know what the scale is?  Sales?  Museums? Critical attention?  Shees, some of these are antithetical.

Art has lots of purposes and what it communicates is as much up to the viewer as it is up to the artist.  What I like in art, you may hate. That's okay.

I went to several galleries yesterday. First one I went to was
Flatfile. They've just moved to a new location at 217 North Carpenter. I think the location is great and the space is great.  Maybe I'm just a sucker for the smell of fresh paint (likely related to the word vernissage), but this place is fresh.  It also feels confident and brave. The gallery is a block or two off recently beaten path.  Its location speaks of independence. I like that. The feeling is reinforced by a large darkened project room given over to a single work by Claire Beaulieu.  I don't think the work is saleable - it is a suspended glow-in the-dark oversized detail of a genetic code, but who knows. (As I think I've made clear, my taste is just mine.)

I liked that this piece was just there. It said a lot. It said they had enough space that they could dedicate some (a bunch) to a piece that was unsaleable.  It said that sales were not the only criteria.  That's good.

I left the West Loop and headed over to
Perimeter Gallery in River North.  These are some of my favorite people in the art world. I've known Frank Polach since he was a whippersnapper and he has been the director just about that long. Honest and savvy, they present some great exhibits.  And as much as I am a sucker for things Chinese this show by the Zhou Brothers is not one of them.  They make competent abstract paintings that feel like high-decorator to me, just plain void of emotion, feeling, or meaning. The Zhou Brothers themselves are fascinating individuals working together as a team with a great studio space.  And a lot of people like their work.

From previous letters we know that I like
William Conger's work on view at Roy Boyd Gallery.  Roy tells me it's been there since November but his is the first time I've noticed the new hardwood floor (which replaced the tired carpeting) and it looks great. The room feels more expansive, giving Conger's paintings more space to breathe and they reciprocate

The exhibits at
Zolla/Lieberman Gallery left me torn. Most of the space was dedicated to a full, photography exhibit. I'd heard that it was overhung and went expecting to see a mess. But I didn't. I saw an attractively installed show.  The lights, the darks, the big, the large, all balanced - really well. I guess that was exactly the problem for me.  I can't remember one single photo in the show.  There we so many I don't think I really looked at any.  And I was more taken with a seven by ten foot drawing of Jim Lutes' that was splayed across the floor. The general consensus was that it is an albatross. The reality is that it is damned compromising to give up a whole wall to something that has no likelihood of selling.  (I'm reproducing about a 3 x 4 foot section of this special piece.) I loved the swirls, the dialog between shapes, the iconographic Lutes forms, the shifting scale, the directness, subtlety and sureness.  It's a great piece, especially if you have a weakness for out-of-scale drawings, like I do. And on one hand I hope it doesn't get included in the show because I think I can talk Jim into letting me store it for him (on my living room wall).


Also nicely installed at Zolla/Lieberman was an excellent sculpture show with vertical pieces on view as you walk in and 3 lower lying pieces in a smaller room.  In this grouping is a small sculpture / large maquette by Josh Garber that he submitted and won a substantial commission for downtown Cincinnati.  (You recall that I used to represent Josh.)

The installation of Peter Stanfield's wall pieces was fine, but it felt so tertiary being shuttled off to a side room / office.  Peter's work is formal and fun, a tad self conscious in a pleasantly disarming way. Framed within brushed aluminum armatures, mad-scientist's light bulbs and vials of off-colored fluids, Stanfield's snippets from probably non-existent short stories are warm and completely balance the starkness of the presentation. I like the ambiguity and the arena it creates for me to wonder around in.

Oh my, but I have rambled. Oh well. The point remains that it's up to each of us. We are each responsible for what we see and how we respond.  You will not be graded. I can guide and you can agree or disagree - that's okay. There is lots out there to see this weekend - not many openings, but lots of good exhibits.

Paul Klein


Being an art dealer for over a decade has got to skew one's perspective and yield a vision about art that is simultaneously more informed and correspondingly confused.

What art means and how it functions gets embroiled in whether it can be sold and for how much.

Likewise, why a gallery presents a given exhibit is not necessarily as pure as we might perceive it to be; they love this artist and think we should see it / buy it. Very often there are tangential considerations: a scheduled show got canceled and they need a replacement super quick, they've swapped exhibits with another gallery to get exposure for one of their artists and all they have to choose from in return is drek, an artist they've made a commitment to has had a vision and is now gluing plates to velvet.

There are two shows I just saw that made me second guess the galleries' intent.  A lot of times "meaning" comes from "accident," the pairing of two works of art, or two artists, an unintended dialogue - a new meaning.

These shows I'm talking about are September exhibits - season opening shows, so their significance is more purposeful and less serendipitous.

(An aside: do you ever notice how art reviews besides really only describing the art and hardly ever saying much constructive, rarely (never) talk about the installation, the lighting, the number of pieces - all the things that go into enabling and defining the viewing experience, the things they give movies Academy Awards for but remain reticent about with art? )

There's a sculpture show at Carrie Secrist Gallery called "Outside In."  It raises all kinds of issues for me.

It's loaded to the brim with topnotch mainstream sculpture with some quirky inclusions. 

The "thing" about this show is that they are bringing outside art in to the gallery. To get this point across there are tranquil landscapy scenes projected on numerous walls.

I can't say "gestalt" without getting too artsy, can I?

Maybe the reason people are frequently uncomfortable in an art gallery is because they are asked to "suspend belief," to accept that something transcends its materials and becomes a metaphor. This "leap of faith" is performed by the viewer.

Too much guidance over informs, and limits - too little thwarts.

In the Secrist show, instead of visualizing these sculptures in my idyllic outdoor setting, which I might do in a room with blank neutral walls, I am compelled to thrust them into the landscapes provided. That was hard for me.

Part of what made it hard was the vast range of sizes in the show, from a Henry Moore, no larger than my fist to a Bernar Venet that was so big I spent more time wondering how they got it in.

I wasn't comfortable sticking a piece of a given size into a landscape of a specific setting and scale - especially since all the scales in the room were real disparate. I would have been better off without the landscapes, or with urban settings as a possibility, but nothing would have been best.

It is really hard to make good Money selling art.  There is frequently an internal conflict between showing what you believe in and showing what you think your audience will purchase. Resale, the reselling of works of art which have been acquired and are returning to the market, can be lucrative and is how many galleries keep their doors open to show the art they are more committed to.

There is a definite onus to appearing commercial.  Resultantly most galleries adhere to ridiculous, illogical business models. The objective becomes commercial viability without appearing to be commercial whatsoever. And where to draw the line and when is the oh-so-tight rope the successful dealer must walk.

Carrie should be congratulated.  What a huge undertaking this was just to install the exhibit! With curator Joseph Antenucci Becherer, from the Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park, Grand Rapids, Michigan she has a assembled a superb group of predominantly, exemplary sculpture. 

That there are too many and that their relationship is to nature - not to one another is a "belief" I couldn't suspend.

I end up frustrated by an exhibit I'd really looked forward to seeing that had just as many good pieces as I expected, which I thoroughly enjoyed seeing individually, and was reduced by too much information.

How much information to present is always an issue.  I think if there is a one to three person exhibit it is a good idea to put the artists' names on the wall and if it is a group show I think it is mandatory to be able to easily figure out from a price list whose piece is whose.

At Donald Young Gallery I frequently feel like I don't have enough information and I'm never sure if it is me or them.  A lot of shows I see there leave me scratching my head. Days, weeks later, perhaps after seeing a tangentially related item, article, or exhibit, there'll be a thud and the significance of what Donald has taught me will become evident. The past Josiah McElheny and Rodney Graham exhibits certainly did that and so does half his current exhibit.

I am really taken by Joshua Mosley's video and sculpture installation, A Vue, 2004. It is charming and melancholic providing just enough information to be engaging, provocative and memorable. Meaning evolves over time. This is a good thing.  We are not being dictated to. Engagement first. Content second.

I like too how technology is at the service of the content in Mosley's art, which is, in part, a commentary on how that the new technology brings with it the same pitfalls we had before.

I think this is fun stuff. Deciphering, exploring, pondering. I think I'll go back.

I might have to go back for Gaylen Gerber too. Maybe I'm about to pay him the highest compliment: I don't get his work.  I never did.  I've even read about it. I've tried to understand it. I've tried to not understand it. That didn't help either.

In each of the individual works of art spread across the back wall Gerber has collaborated with a friend and/or associate. I think that's supposed to yield some democracy to the whole art making experience, thus everybody, but, damn, not me - I feel left out.

I liked what I saw at Peter Miller Gallery.  Brian Ulrich and Jonathan Gitelson do fun fresh work. I like Peter's aesthetic.  I like how the different artists the gallery shows reflects different facets of Peter's personality.

More and more, art is where you see it or find it. A gallery's grasp on things aesthetic is not as strong as it once was.  Maybe in a way it is in fact becoming more democratic and maybe it is more about seeing than making.  I like that in Ulrich's work I find someone who sees some of the same ridiculous things I do. I guess that's gratifying.

Gitelson's work is well paired with Ulrich.  Both of them are looking, seeing some of the fun and basic attributes of society and are letting us in on the chuckle.  I don't think it's profound, nor do I think it is supposed to be.

Okay, so what impressed me most as artwork was Joshua Mosley's show at Donald Young.  Really good work. I'd think about buying it.

What didn't impress me was that I was not capable of being unequivocally supportive.  It's out there. And I'll keep lookin'. And when I find it, I'll let you know.

Paul Klein


I think Millennium Park is mind-bogglingly incredible.  It makes me proud to live here.

Millennium Park is different than any park I have ever seen and so is the art there.  It is interactive and participatory. It is majestic on a grand scale. It inspires dreams.  It generates wonder.

It isn't just for the rich, or a special effort for the underprivileged. It is unequivocally for everyone.  And everyone is there. Divide our society anyway you want and there it is at Millennium Park. Standing side by side, old, rich people with walkers and young hip-hops with dew rags, mouths agape, wondering, living, enjoying; responding.  This is a shared joy.

It changes something about Chicago.  In one fell swoop I think it totally alleviates the "second cityness" of Chicago.  We have something no where else on earth has, just like London, Paris, New York and Singapore. 

All of a sudden Chicago is world class.  And art did that. That's incredible. And very exciting.

Art by former Klein Art Works' artists is currently on view.

Dan Ramirez is showing 20 Contemplations at the Museum of Contemporary Religious Art (MOCRA) in St Louis.   His work and photographs of religious architecture by Richard Meier and Steven Hall play off each other gorgeously.

Josh Garber is exhibiting the maquette for his Cincinnati commission in a group show at Zolla/Lieberman Gallery.

Heidi Van Wieren and Jerome Powers and now represented by Roy Boyd Gallery where Jerome will be having an exhibit in September.

New Shows I Like: (opening Friday, September 10th and  listed in the order I received them)

I have always been fascinated by Henry Darger's work which will be on exhibit at Carl Hammer Gallery, perhaps because it is just about the opposite of everything I exhibited when I had a gallery.  But in being opposite it is in a certain way a direct parallel.  Darger was a recluse. To get by in life he credited a fictive world.  He didn't seek to exhibit his work. It was not an endeavor at communication.  It was his salvation, his only way to find enough peace and calm to function.  Seeing his work gives insight into the alternative realities that many around us might know personally.  As such it leads me to ponder the differences between me and others around me, and to appreciate what I have.

Herbert Migdoll's "photographs" at Flatfile Galleries (in a new location) are about movement. Migdoll has worked for years with the Joffrey Ballet, designing sets, and photographing the dancers. I love how his art comes out of his experience, but looks so different than static photography; his images are quite horizontal with components overlaid upon one another somewhat like an unrestrained Muybridge.  I believe there is a unique honesty, innocence and focus to ballet and modern dancers and I see the same integrity and focus in these photographic images, a palpable pureness.

Honesty and innocence abound at
Bodybuilder & Sportsman Gallery in the work of
Leslie Baum.  I see a oneness in the work and person of Leslie Baum. Much like undiscovered gems whose subtlety is only revealed through quiet pursuit, her work is a fresh observation of the familiar; the things that are right there in front of us, but we just don't see until someone more perceptive than us points out the
obvious. An ah-ha experience, this work wears really well.

Margaret Evangeline's paintings at Byron Roche Gallery intrigue me. I have not previously known her work, but they contain a lot of elements that I respond to, like dots, texture, purpose and power. Not only does she paint but in a lot these pieces she shoots her paintings with a rifle. Paint one can edit. A gunshot is another story.  Reminds me of many years ago when I showed William S. Burroughs' shotgun paintings, but these are better, despite my being mentioned in one of his books

In part, because my son is fluent in Mandarin and travels to or lives in China with increasing frequency I have grown more sensitive and aware of things Chinese in particular and Asian in general.  Over the years I have been exposed to some of the best of Chinese art at Walsh Gallery and in a different way at Pagoda Red.  It was at Julie Walsh's that I first met Wu Hung, who has curated shows with her and is responsible in a large way for stunning avant-garde Chinese survey exhibits which will appear next month at Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art and the University of Chicago's Smart Museum.

A brilliant introduction to contemporary Chinese art opens Sunday at the Renaissance SocietyYang Fudong is an especially gifted filmmaker who simultaneously acknowedlges tradition and brakes new ground in his mesmerizing art. So often we watch artists grow for years before they attain the competence exhibited here. It is always a pleasure of the highest order to be exposed to things so new and so good at the Renaissance Society. (I've heard that the Renaissance Society does not have an endowment and must raise their yearly budget annually.  They are very worthy of our support.  A benefit auction of outstanding photography will be held October 2nd and is a wonderful opportunity to do good for them and yourself.)

Now we come to one of my favorite artists, William Conger at Roy Boyd Gallery. Rich, lyrical, complex, abstract imagery flows through Conger's paintings.  When I look at art I want a sense of the artist's soul. And I see it here. I see splendid dichotomies; strength and tenderness, confidence and fragility, loyalty and experimentation, as well as risk-taking and love.  There is truth here. And history. Too many artists run out of ideas by the time they hit 50 and start doing greatest hits. Not Bill Conger. I think his having to rally to confront challenges to his family's well-being a few years ago propelled him to a new strength and clarity that enables his paintings to just plain sing today.

Peter Stanfield's wall borne sculptures at Zolla/Lieberman Gallery
remain unique and multifaceted.  I've followed Peter's work for a long time and have shown it in group shows once or twice. His growth and ever increasing competence is a thrill to see unfold. The contrast/balance between the metal he sculpts and the words he writes creates an arena for diverse meaning and pleasure.  This is fresh work and guaranteed to remain so.

Certainly, there are other worthy exhibits out there.  These are just a few that I like.

The art world tends to be seasonal and Friday, September 10th is the opening of The Season.  There will be lots of people out and a friendly, raucous scene.  It's a great time to be out in the city.  Also this season-opening weekend is the annual Around the Coyote artsfest. There's certainly plenty to do.

I'll be out there. I hope to see you. And if we miss one another, please drop me an email.

I look forward to being in touch.

Thank you for your support,
Paul Klein