Art Letter


2/03/05

I've been running around the last two days checking out the new shows. There are some good ones.

Julia Walsh of Walsh Gallery consistently does a great job of presenting strong, challenging, thoughtful exhibitions.  Anyone who is working as hard as I used to is making a significant effort. Julie goes back and forth between China frequently, creates thematically museum-worthy shows and keeps on moving. She's got at least as many irons in the fire as I do and is perpetually conjuring up new visions. Not only that, she tears down the walls of her gallery for each exhibit and reconfigures it to fit the show. Her new show, which opens Friday is called Face to Face and was inspired by the art and travels of Michael Miller whose art I first showed about 20 years ago. Miller teaches printmaking and the School of the Art Institute and I doubt he ever unpacks his suitcase.  He has an affinity for Asia and a fondness for Korea. Art provides a common language in his travels and while in Korea came across the exemplary and prolific linocuts of Won-Chul Jung.  There are faces in Miller's art and there are faces in Jung's work, who reveals the beauty of the underbelly of faces in Korea; the faces of the "women of comfort" who comforted Japanese during WW II, but these are their faces today, some 60 years later.  Or the faces of the white immigrants who are imported to do the dirty work. Julie Walsh does a great job.  Her shows open our eyes to another world and to ourselves.  I am moved every time I visit her gallery.

Downstairs, Rhona Hoffman has a special show of paintings by Adam Pendleton. These are paintings of poems - altered, structured, spaced to fit a canvas. As bold as they are, they are subtle.  It is not so much that the paintings are visually gorgeous; they are only slightly "prettier" than Joseph Kosuth, but they generate images all by themselves, beautiful powerful meaningful images.  I found the work fresh, innovative and genuine.

Monique Meloche is opening a solid show of new videos by Alison Ruttan who states "I am intrigued by responses that feel hard wired, particularly those that seem to undercut our ability to make a measured reaction." I've watched the videos. They are good yet, I still have difficulty with art that mandates one read the explanatory text to appreciate or even comprehend the content of the work.  I prefer a relationship between form and substance and if I choose to pursue additional information I want it available, but I don't think it should be mandatory. Alison Ruttan has the ability and the tools to make important art.  I can see the potential.  I look forward to the reality.

Across the street Jeff McMahon's paintings at Bodybuilder and Sportsman Gallery are intelligent, restrained, thoughtful, enigmatic exercises in looking, seeing, meditating and exploring. One doesn't see a focus and perseverance like this very often. The Day Sail Ship Series strikes me as important.  I bet a substantial portion of the series ends up in museums soon.

Down the hall Wendy Cooper Gallery is presenting a group show of an array of artists they are considering for representation, much the way many galleries' summer group shows present ideas they are exploring. There is some nice work in this show.  It'll be interesting to see if those I like the best end up as part of the gallery's stable.

Also opening Friday are some strong exhibits in River North. I Space is a university gallery affiliated with the University of Illinois, predominantly to showcase the talent at the school.  This exhibit features maquettes and artifacts of a Milwaukee architecture firm named Johnsen Schmaling. It is a good show beautifully presented. Maybe it's the presentation I'm most moved by.  The architecture is good, but the installation is great. And it is here that artists can learn by just looking; the way thinks are done smartly, simply, directly and differently, yet genuinely. Sometimes it takes something in a medium slightly removed from one's own to be able to see the gift o a fresh idea. This is that kind of show.  Also on exhibit is the Chicago Architectural Club Members Exhibition featuring many of my favorite Chicago architects.  I frequently get excited and grow from looking at innovative architecture. I want to spend more time with this show. And if that weren't enough the playful, absurd, glowing lamps from found objects by Ana Levan and Julie Force just make me smile.

Wrapping up the openings of the shows I previewed is the work of Anoka Faruqee and David Driscoll, called inherent order at Zolla/Lieberman Gallery. This is a good title for this exhibit of work so disparate, yet related by a fascination with "the order of things."  Faruqee's paintings are composed of meticulously drawn symbols reminiscent of "stars' from the game of Jacks. Over and over again she draws these marks in different colors and as they spread they generate an image just like an over-pixilated jpeg.  I'd go frickin crazy making just 5 of these starry things and each piece has a zillion of them. Not only that, she can compose anything she wants out of these marks.  There are a number of diptychs in the show that show off this ability. This mantra of labor would make me crazy. I respect the work, but as I vicariously ponder its execution I find sanity departing.  Also in this two person show is the art of David Driscoll who operates at the opposite end of the spectrum. He is the mad scientist artist, mixing quasi-compatible elements to generate Martian looking landscapes, an attractive rendering of a rocky terrain that seems entirely realistic and other worldly. Yes, there is order here, but it comes from joyously from outside, whereas Faruqee's comes painfully from within. I had to ask if these two artists knew each other, if they liked being in the same show together because I've never seen two peoples art be so diametrically different.  The answer was pretty simple; they're married.  You've got to see this just to ponder what their relationship must be like.

I saw some challenging exhibits in January, but not enough at any one moment to generate an art letter.  The following shows are still up and worth seeing.

City Selections: Art from the Galleries opened last Friday in the space across the street from the Chicago Cultural Center. What you have here is a selection of art from six of Chicago's contemporary, alternative galleries. This is an example of the city supporting private enterprise because it believes in the program sand quality of these galleries presentations. The exhibit is presented in a space used by the Department of Tourism during the 6 warmer months of the year (when more tourists are around) and is expanding its identity to embrace expansive and instructive shows like this one. More than anything this show is a smorgasbord; Mason invited 6 galleries to participate and they decided what they want to show.  It has a lot of good energy and it's the city helping the fledglings.  Kudos all the way around.

I like people and galleries with a healthy good attitude, a welcoming spirit and something to say.  That's why I like going to Western Exhibitions on west Kinzie. Solid shows. I don't always agree with the art or the philosophy of the artists on view, but it's always thoughtful and thought provoking. I learn something every time I go there and think about what I've seen for days to come. On view are works by Justin Schaefer and Gregg Perkins.  Their work is really disparate by the guiding philosophy behind each is amazingly compatible with the other.

Essentially Western Exhibitions sublets from Lisa Boyle Gallery, or so I've been led to believe. You've got to walk through Lisa's gallery to get to Western Exhibitions.  Most of these alternative galleries are only open on Saturday afternoons, which can be a little challenging for us, the viewer.  But when you consider that Lisa works full time for another, non-alternative gallery we have to appreciate the sizable labor of love these folks undertake to present art that is only on view 20 or so hours per month. Francis Fitzpatrick's works are on view at Boyle and when you talk to either Lisa (or Scott at Western Exhibitions) the conversation is about the art and, its meaning instead of the more common and less enjoyable sales pitch I feel too often at the more commercial galleries.

Over in the West Loop I was eager to see Liliana Porter's art at Carrie Secrist Gallery.  Twenty years ago I included Liliana's paintings in group exhibits in my gallery and I like charting an artist's progress over time. In Liliana case the medium has changed but the content remains essentially the same, albeit a bit more expansive.  It's about seeing and perceiving. What is and what isn't - and it's subtle.  A page torn from a book and an exact painted replica of that page. A figurine and a painting of it. Kind of gets to be like a friendly pun, warm slightly humorous, fun.

Around the corner, upstairs, in Aron Packer's back room is a most curious work of art - a Shark Girl standing in front of a drawing of Shark Girls. And there are more of them hiding in Aron's drawers (careful Aron).  I've pondered Casey Riordan Millard's sculpture for days and I can't figure a damned thing out.  Enigmatic and curious.  Somebody give me some clues!

That's it. This month it looks like there's something for everyone.  Get out there and check it out. Even the weather is going to be good Friday and Saturday.

Let me know what you think, or express yourself on the Bulletin Board (click on "Letters In.")

Thanks,
Paul