Art Letter


Yesterday I had the distinct pleasure of seeing only good exhibitions. Three Chinese and one John Phillips, so let's talk about John first.

The John Phillips exhibition at the A+D 11th Street Art Gallery, (a part of Columbia College) is sweet and gratifying.  It was a real pleasure to see as it far exceeded my expectations.

As lyrical, sweet and light as his paintings appear they are equally methodical, intense and slow. Historically, for me, as I recalled the work from which the exhibit would be drawn, before having seen the exhibit, I considered years of tight exhibitions where the paintings spoke harmoniously to one another.

This exhibit is different - more like a jitterbug. It all fits into place, but it's hoppin'. Seeing examples drawn from the past 25 years is special. John has stayed the course.

Like a marathon the work builds upon its predecessors.  What seemed once like repeated refrains are in fact unique chapters whose tale grows from its history.  This is a really strong presentation; slightly overhung perhaps, but I would be hard put to eliminate anything either, even the really, small intimate pieces.

Well done John, I'm impressed. (John Phillips shows with Body Builder & Sportsman Gallery in Chicago.)


I am also impressed with the quality of curating of Wu Hung, from the University of Chicago. His Between Past and Future: New Photography and Video from China, which opens tonight at the Smart Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Art is a smash. 

When I go see an exhibit if I respond to ten percent of the pieces in the show I feel like I'm having an average day. Twenty-five percent is a great day and with these Chinese exhibits I thought I was hitting upwards of Eighty Per Cent.  That's amazing.

Also superb were the wall labels.  They were cogent and said something solid - as opposed to the gobbledygook we normally suffer through.

But let's acknowledge what's important - beyond the fact that having the show's title being media defined is a disservice to the exhibit. Better than any other exhibit I've seen that contained Chinese art, this show yields a solid glimpse into the breadth of the country and it's culture. That is a significant accomplishment.

And also important is that this exhibit does not feel third-worldly. There is little derivative in this show. Though not developed in a vacuum the aesthetics of the exhibit are more informed by the artist's personal experience and technology than by American influence. Too often I see shows of imported culture I feel embarrassed for.  I want to see work attain a global standard.  These exhibits at the Smart and the Museum of Contemporary Art are exemplary.

And while we are handing out compliments, I like that the MCA and the Smart are sharing this exhibit, but frankly I don't get it.  I suppose the show originated with the Smart Museum and that they offered a portion of it to the MCA.  This in some ways is unfortunate because the MCA could have easily hosted the whole show and by unnecessarily bifurcating the show the audience is split too and the strength of the exhibit is correspondingly diminished

Over at the Renaissance Society, just a short stroll from the Smart Museum is a one person exhibit of videos by Yang Fudong.  I went prepared to like this given that the images on the website are gorgeous, but I didn't find that these movies lived up to the advance billing. The newer pieces are better, but mostly I walked away feeling like this is one of those imported shows. It just wasn't good enough.

Tonight's fun diversion looks to be the Pilsen Art Walk.

Maybe I'll see you there,