Art Letter


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