Art Letter


2/10/05

Every time I walk out the door and go visit galleries I find something I like, but as I was explaining to my son this afternoon, meaningful experiences don't always have to be positive - just real.

Two of my favorite artists have exhibits opening Friday night at Roy Boyd Gallery.  I've known John Fraser ever since I came to Chicago in 1981. He makes gorgeous minimal work and his new works are breakthrough gorgeous.  I am thrilled to see these new pieces.  They are subtle, radiant gems.  The distance he has traveled and the dedication he manifests are significant. When I first knew John he was a financially successful "artist" who exhibited in street art fairs, like the the Gold Coast or Wells Street Art Fairs.  He wasn't satisfied with just making money; he wanted to make art so he dropped out of that scene and went to art school.  Of course he was good, but for years his cash flow didn't come close to when he was aiming lower. And that never slowed him down.  His work has long been about the quiet parts of books, the end pages, the parts we don't much pay attention to.  His work is calm and passionate and the new ones meld his interest in books with his passion for wood. This work isn't for everyone.  To appreciate it one needs to slow down and really look, and when we do John's art really gives back.  They are a treat. Give them a moment and see if I'm not right.

Upstairs at Boyd my friend Vadim Katznelson is stumping me again with a body of work that is magic in its creation. This work fascinates me. He makes paint look like a skein of yarn's endpieces, and despite our friendship he won't tell me how they are done. I've learned a lot about Vadim from playing poker with him and in case you are curious there is a oneness about his art and his poker: he plays both thoroughly and methodically.  Raised in Russia until he was 13, Vadim is a product of both cultures.  His art gives a lot, but really reveals itself over time as we decipher the myriad layers of method and content he loads into his pieces.

Across the street Carl Hammer is presenting two shows. I'm intrigued by the "photographs" by Wei Hsueh. She lays her whole body directly on an oversize flatbed scanner and "takes a picture."  Check out how small her pupils are in the pieces where she leaves her eyes open.  She is both the artist and the subject.  Some shots work better than others. It is not sufficient to be fascinated by one's medium to the extent that content gets pushed out of the picture. That's not happening here, but I am more intrigued by the process than the results.

Upstairs at Carl Hammer Gallery is an impressive display of photographs by Bill Steber, a photographer from the "old" South. It is not that his work is old; it is that he knows the terrain so well that he captures indigenous content that the rest of us never see - old musicians, old cotton pickers who still pick by hand and a valid heartfelt look at the land and content that will soon be as gone as we thought it was.

A little bit further south at Gwenda Jay / Addington Gallery a new body of work by Robin Denevan is on view. I've always associated this gallery with an earthy perspective, an appreciation of nature, its power and influence.  This show supports that view.  Denevan's encaustic (wax) and oil paintings are contemplative studies of nature and forest light.

Around the corner at Perimeter Gallery is a three-person group show of works by Lana Bernberg, Greg Murr and Nathan Joseph.  I've known Joseph's work for a long time and have enjoyed tracking his solitary growth.  He has always worked with forms that look like painting but in fact are welded, colored steel. This time he has abandoned his Hans Hoffmanesque compositions of colored steel rectangles in favor of smaller, more linear elements, which I personally find more successful.

Across the street from Perimeter, Jean Albano Gallery has mounted a show of new works by John Himmelfarb.  John is a long time Chicagoan and I see him as an intellectual.  He always has a lot of ideas going, from an interest in language, hieroglyphics, symbols, to subliminal meaning and just good fun. Tangentially reminiscent of Adolph Gottlieb's early pictographs, Himmelfarb's work is solid and uniquely his own despite the many other artists his work refers to.

There are several shows up whose openings I missed.

Next door to Jean Albano, at Maya Polsky Gallery, we are treated to an impressive memorial exhibition of paintings by Ed Paschke. His death at Thanksgiving was a huge loss for the Chicago art community. Ed was a Chicago artist with a galactic (global) reputation who stayed in Chicago.  That the Art Institute and the Museum of Contemporary Art treated him like they tend to treat all local artists speaks loud and clear. Ed was available, accessible and a friend.  He made a difference in life and is already making a difference in death.  He is a stimulus for significant changes to the art landscape to come.  I promise.  Maya's show has work as old as 1969 and a piece that was not quite finished when he died. There is a lot of work: I'd probably rather see fewer pieces more often, but at least Maya is doing what the museums should have, enabling our joy and sorrow about the life of Ed Paschke, a great artist and human.

In the West Loop, at Kavi Gupta Gallery challenged me with Susan Giles's ostensibly disjointed show. It was hard for me to believe that the two portions of the exhibit were by the same artist. There is an awesome installation of white "steel" girders in the man room, with familiar angles on the threshold of cognition.  In a smaller room I watched a video that looked like someone had strung together moving images from video cameras dangling from tourists' necks as unintentional glimpses of major attractions are perceived but not quite seen.  Reading the explanatory text, I learned that it is indeed about tourism, the familiarity of the overlooked and that those white girders were a 3 dimensional rendering of the base of the Eiffel Tower.  It was provocative. Susan is a good artist and I haven't yet made up my mind about this show.

It sure was good to see Mary Sprague's art across the hall from Kavi at Kraft Lieberman Gallery. Mary has been a friend for years and she draws big ol' quirky pictures. I like her and I like her art. I don't see enough of it in town, but seeing it here felt good.

And finally, but certainly not last, at the River East Art Center is a group of paintings by Corey Postiglione that is not in a gallery per se, but rather fills a space that would otherwise be vacant.  Corey comes close to being a Renaissance man, teaching at Columbia College, curating exhibits for various regional galleries, writing critics and publishing catalog essays.  It's a wonder he can make art with so many aesthetic influences pushing him in divergent directions.  His art maintains a clear vision and constant exploration.  Resembling a labyrinth, this is thoughtful, vaguely geometric, open abstraction.  I like Corey a lot.  He gives more to his community than most. And personally I'd like to see him spend more time with his art.  He has a lot left to communicate visually and I for one want to see it.

That's it for now. There're some people out there whose work is worth seeing.  And I appreciate your looking. Together we are making a difference. A gallery owner told me today that they'd sold art to someone who'd said they wouldn't have known about the show if it weren't for the Art Letter. I like making a difference - and so are you.  So, thank you.  Paul