Art Letter

March 2005 Archives


Because I am commissioning and purchasing art for Chicago's new McCormick Place West Expansion I have been soliciting art from area galleries and artists. As much as I thought I knew, it has been an eye opener.  I've looked at 1000's of presentations and realize more fully now how many artists are either thriving or surviving outside the gallery scene.  Many make art that physically won't fit in a gallery and others choose to avoid them. There is much more talent out there than I knew. In fact there is more talent than can be shown at Chicago galleries necessarily focused on showing salable art. Look to the nearby and excellent Hyde Park Art Center on the South Side and the Evanston Art Center on the North Side - both exemplary supporters and definers of Chicago & Illinois art. Slightly further out the Rockford Art Museum and the Elmhurst Art Museum focus on art by Chicago artists that is of gallery quality or higher that just won't show up in a gallery. It has been good having my horizons broadened.

It hasn't even been a year since I've closed and Heidi Van Wieren who I used to represent is having a one-person exhibit at Roy Boyd Gallery opening Friday. I think the growth in the new work is significant. There are more subtle color shifts and a refinement of spatial depth. While a lot of the pieces succeed I was particularly taken by those in the tan/orange warmer mid-range. Heidi's doing well. She's pushing it; thinking, focusing concentrating and then going with the flow.  The results are strong. When I was there no work had been hung yet but I could sense the temptation to overhang it; there was such an array of pieces, but if this show could just be limited to a selected few it could be incredible.

For years I've heard about the genius of Warrington Colescott, opening Friday at Perimeter Gallery, and for exactly that long I haven't understood the hoopla. He's no Reginald Marsh. These are salty, ribald pictures that don't convey much narrative to me though I think they want to. I just see cranky crowded space.

Carl Hammer has certainly done great working with a number of artists' estates and has brought to renown more than one recluse. It takes a great touch, a good eye, a good deal and a lot of confidence. Which makes me wonder how people will respond (opening Friday) to the vapid paintings of "newcomer" Joseph Garlock, who died in 1980. A good exhibition title and Carl's impressive track record make the art more "important" and therefore more salable,  and I still don't think it's going to fly. (Your response is always appreciated - by email or especially on the Bulletin Board.)

I love how certain coincidences happen, like two shows about bugs, and both these exhibits are enhanced by being compared to the other. Wrapping up River North is Ann Wiens' bug photos and bug paintings at Byron Roche Gallery. I think these are a hoot, but I frequently see humor where others don't.  Wiens has taken taxidermied bugs and mounted them on "sympathetic" fabric. Sometimes they stick out, sometimes they all but disappear.  I like the counterintuitive relationships.

In River West Rhona Hoffman leads the way with a with a thoughtful, sensitive, odd look at obsession and corresponding beauty and indulgence (opens Friday). Kutlug Ataman had documented "Stefan's" obsession with moths on 5 creatively suspended video screens making this a walk-in, absorbing experience better to be viewed after the opening than during. Bugs.

Now that I think about it those creepy crawly faces upstairs at Gescheidle by Heather Cox are bugs, more human bugs, but still bugs. I'm starting to think I like shows about bugs.

Nicole Gordon's paintings downstairs at Peter Miller Gallery (opening Friday) are a fun look at art history and an examination of what happens when you screw with scale and context.

Across the street at the accelerating Bodybuilder and Sportsman Gallery we see lots of legs in the sensuous watercolors of Tracy Nakayama.  I suspect her choice of subject matter, these Pearlsteinesque neutrally rendered portraits of peers engaged in sex and pre-sex is calculated.  I like them.  I'd prefer them in my bedroom than Bellmer, but I don't know that I'd want to be an artist who aims for the boudoir.

There's an attractive show titled Black at Thomas McCormick Gallery in which all the pieces by the 14 artists whose work are on exhibit are black. Some of these are important artists, some aren't.  Seeing these works hanging side-by-side Robert Richenburg's pieces stand out to me. I'd never heard of him before.

There's good art out there. The pleasure is in the search.

Happy Trails,


Nothing is better than to see a Chicago artist's work acknowledged by one of Chicago's major institutions while that artist is alive.  And as many significant pieces as he has made, I'm not sure than Inigo Manglano-Ovalle has even seen his prime. His pieces at the Art Institute are brilliant.  I particularly like the iceberg; its structure and contradictory lightness. Being able to scale it so that the hand rail on the second floor is the waterline is wonderful.  Very smart.

Over at the Museum of Contemporary Art I was disappointed by the Universal Experience: Art, Life, and the Tourist's Eye show.  This is one of those shows that just irks me for its presumptuousness. Or maybe the curator's, Francesco Bonami.  This is a show where the curator reinterprets every artist's intent to meet their own needs; in this case a glorification of globalization. I don't like how today's artists frequently end up subservient to a curator's agenda or even foolishly acquiescing to it.  Fine if the artist concurs or supports the proposition, but no group show is as good as a good one-person exhibit, and a curator making a large statement is abusing his or her power.

Similar issue at Gallery 400, the University of Illinois at Chicago's aesthetic outpost. Interested Painting presents 9 artists whose work has nothing whatsoever in common beyond being by "a selection of painters whose work prioritizes the imagination of the individual artist rather than prescribed structure or conventional subject matter." (their postcard). This does not make for an interesting exhibit. University galleries need to aim higher. This is not specifically a critique of Gallery 400, but the vast majority of university galleries who are dumbing down to their students.

I'm not sure about a lot of the policies at some art schools either. Faculty at the School of the Art Institute are either underpaid or overworked depending on if they are freelance or full-time. I showed Carolyn Ottmers' work many years ago and though I saw great potential in her and her art I felt she was being held back by her commitments and dedication to her job at the SAIC. I don't know what her current work status is, but her current art status rocks. Strong, unique work, utilizing her abilities, breaking new ground, acknowledging predecessors like Nancy Graves (and I won't say Harry Bertoia) Ottmers had several large pieces at Carrie Secrist Gallery when I previewed the show, which opens this Friday.  It looked like there were enough pieces scattered about to overcrowd the show.  I hope they didn't.

The "baggage" of the Black American artist is cumbersome.  Much more for them than it is for us.  Its an issue the white American artist doesn't even have to contend with. Do I deal with my subculture as sociological artifact or do I overlook it? McArthur Binion at N'Namdi Gallery does it all by focusing inward on his person history.  The rhythmic mark making of his paintings is reminiscent of childhood memories of picking cotton. I like this work.  It has a sense of independent purpose to it.

Tragic Beauty, which I didn't get to preview also opens this Friday with Bucket Rider Gallery at Open End.  This sounds really promising.

Aron Packer's enthusiasm for Tom Huck's woodcuts is palpable. His respect for the craftsmanship is appropriate, but the content feels old and dated for me, the same way Paul Cadmus does, except he is quite dated. There's a reception for Huck's show Friday.

Rena Leinberger's show at ZG Gallery is great. It's subtle, delicate, profound, sad, smart, dumb, reflective, humorous and slightly self-conscious.  And it's all about potatoes. It is thoughtful, frugal, insightful and moving too.  She works with sparse materials and multiplies their humble beginnings. This is one of those shows that is wonderfully installed, from the simple sand paper and wood Milton Avery-esque drawings, to the small photos of potato diaries and including the sculptures and the video - don't forget to look at the ceiling - you'll be amazed how much content is in this tight gem of a show.  (Their really is more to this than just potatoes.)

That's it for now. A select few good shows. Seems like some galleries are projecting / experiencing their late winter doldrums. Might be self-fulfilling. On the other hand, if you go where the energy is the reward is waiting.


Paul Klein