Art Letter

June 2005 Archives

Chicago Life #4
Let's get down to basics. Let's answer some reader questions. Why Art? How Should I Look at Art? How do I learn? And, How do I Collect? All of the answers are ultimately intuitive, but are frequently clouded by irrelevant hype and noise.

Why Art?

What's so wonderful about Art is that it isn't necessary. Certainly not the same way food and sleep are. You could lead a whole artless life and never know what you're missing. Art isn't about taking care of our physical needs. It's emotional and visceral. It's about taking care of our spiritual needs. Art lends depth to our thoughts, context to our feelings, meaning to our foibles and glory to our triumphs. It leads the way, yet shows us where we've been. It documents our very existence.

For me personally, the very best thing about art is the non-linear thought I experience. It's as if I can feel my brain experiencing, diagnosing, and working to comprehend a work of art - a rollercoaster flurry of activity, neurons firing, pleasure mounting. I guess I'd call it a gut reaction, or maybe an interpretation of an emotional response. Regardless, it leaves me feeling not only wiser, but more capable of living, appreciating and solving the diverse array of problems and challenges that shape our lives on a daily basis. Without art, without the stimuli, without its catharsis I would not be as competent as I like to think I am.

Not only that, I learn about myself by experiencing art. I learn my likes and dislikes. I notice how my taste changes over time. I learn about divergent ideas, an array of other cultures, concepts and contexts I would never have had otherwise. I am educated by art.

How to Look at Art

It'sthat simple. Look at it. Just look at it. Don't pass (much) judgment on it. It's okay to conclude that you like it or you don't, but don't worry about it. Just try to experience it. And keep your head out of it as much as you can.

Start looking. Then, after you've done enough looking to have forgotten the ones that are not interesting to you, ask yourself which ones were. What were the two or three favorite pieces that you saw? What if anything did they have in common?/p>

Look at those commonalities. If there isn't any unifying element, don't worry about it. Keep looking. If there is, acknowledge it. For now, focus solely on the things you like. In my mind if you "like" 10% of the art you see, you are having a great day.

An adjunct way to learn about art is to look at art magazines. Same rules apply - just deal with what you like. Pick up a magazine, find something interesting and read about it. All that other stuff that looks like gobbledygook, forget about it!

Over time trends will emerge. Your knowledge will grow. Tangential interests will evolve and you are on your way.

How to Collect

There are two initial ways to begin acquiring works of art: do it on your own, or get help.

If you are going to do this by yourself you are likely going to make some mistakes, i.e. purchasing things that are not as valuable as what you paid for it. This is okay, but protect yourself. Start low. Make it affordable. Live with a while. Learn from it. If it keeps on giving, great. If it doesn't, get rid of it. Give it to a museum (not likely), your temple or church, the kids. Move on to something that resonates. Keep learning. Keep growing. Keep on.

You could also hire an art consultant, who can educate, guide, steer and protect you. You will make fewer mistakes, but what you acquire will not have as much "you" in it. For some people that's a good thing.

Acquiring art shouldn't be an all at once experience. It is about growth and education. Buying the work of a living artist gives you the opportunity to participate vicariously in that artists' career. Buying the work of a non-living artist is a different albeit parallel pursuit.

A good art dealer welcomes the opportunity to educate, realizes that a sale might not come for months, if at all, and still is eager to share their enthusiasm. Trust and confidence are very important. Look to establish a relationship with a limited number of dealers you like personally and trust. Allow them to educate you.

You are now learning from multiple sources; reading, listening and most importantly, looking.

That's about it. Make and keep the process enjoyable. It is about you and your interests. Enjoy the process and art, and acquiring art can give you a lifetime of growth and satisfaction.


I recently saw two remarkably different exhibits, one of which I thoroughly enjoyed and the other which left me shaking my head.

At Dogmatic (at the Butcher Shop), so-called because it has moved from its Pilsen roots to a new location on West Lake Street I saw a healthy sampling of tight, little drawings by Paul Nudd (I even bought one, and a DVD too) along with other works on paper by Geoffrey Smith, Brandon Heuser, Dan Rule and Chris Uphues.  I like small, thematic group exhibits where the works enhance each other because of their relationship/juxtaposition.  This is an intimate exhibit; quirky, fresh and fun. Dan Rule's drawings of wood explore the absurd relationship of a tree or a branch to plywood and other processed forms in a way that reminds me of Neil Jenny's powerful pieces from 30 years ago.  Chris Uphues' work is lighthearted and playful. Works by Geoffrey Smith and Brandon Heuser are compulsive, masterful, personal drawings that quite differently explore shape, form and content from repetitious mark marking. Mistakes generate intent and we get to see not only the finished result but the process as well. But more than anything this show feels well curated with work that seems to dance with joy because it gets to play with the others in the show.  The gallery is hard to find. The signage is poor. The space is rough.  And in contrast the work shines.

Not far away at Donald Young Gallery whose shows I thought I always liked I viewed Helen Mirra's exhibit.  I've never heard anyone not rave about her art (including Alan Artner reviewing the current exhibit), or a couple of years back at the Renaissance Society.  As for me, both her shows left me shrugging my shoulders.  I want art to be accessible.  I want to be able to get something from the viewing. Here I have to read explanatory text before I comprehend much of anything and I find being compelled to do that elitist and pretentious. (On the other hand, if I want more knowledge once I already have an impression didactic information is a good thing.)  Then I wonder how one of these would look hanging in my house and it just doesn't do it. Hey, art is personal and she's doing just fine without me. Let's move on.

Shows That Are Opening Soon:

Given the timing of Memorial day, we have the start of the summer season tonight with a broad array of exciting shows.  I've broken these exhibits down into 3 categories, listing those "I can't wait to see" and moving through "yes," to "not sure." For the sake of full disclosure, none of the shows listed below have I seen, and I'm not going to pretend to review them from the press release. I'm just listing them in order of my fervor about seeing them.

Shows I'm Really Exciting About Seeing:

Things Fall from the Sky - at the Evanston Art Center - Reception Sunday afternoon, curated by Ciara Ennis and Ken Fandell, brings together varied and compelling works by artists: Chad Gerth, Angelina Gualdoni, Brian Kapernekas, Janice Kerbel, Amy Jean Porter, Corey Postiglione, Scott Roberts, Cristián Silva, Joe Sola, Christine Tarkowski. The exhibition is dedicated to the immense, limitless, and utterly quotidian subject of the sky and things that fall from it.

Todd Pavlisko at Monique Meloche.  Todd rocks. I've known him for years and it is great to see him getting attention from museums and galleries like Monique's. His art is about the "art system" and pokes a fair amount of fun at me and you.  If you like art about art like I do this show's a winner and there is no doubt that Todd is on a hot career track.  Fun to get on board while it is still early.

Elyn Zimmerman at Skestos. (212 North Peoria, I think) Brand new gallery - first show ever. Accomplished, significant environmental artist, 2 great people. Stephanie Skestos worked at the Art Institute for years and is now suffusing her vision in River West.

Sketchbook - not only art, but mostly theater - by Collaboraction. 18 short (7 minutes or less) divided into two programs (9 per night) - all new work, with art curated by James Rondeau (he's doing more in Chicago than ever - kudos James), Lorelei Stewart (she always was) and Julie Rodgrigues Widholm (so was she). Art by really good Chicago artists like Krista Peel, Carrie Gundersdorf and Doug Fogelson. And new music. Do Not Miss This - opens June 14.

Sarah Krepp is a wonderful artist showing at Roy Boyd Gallery.  As the gallery's solid website (of which there are so few in the artworld) says "Sarah Krepp creates work that presents a tremendous amount of data that comes from such sources as scientific charts, maps, music, and even dance diagrams."  Ultimately they are all about looking, but all the layers of information do make them more interesting.

Shows I Want to See:

Manifest. outdoor fun with Columbia College. in the South Loop- June 3rd only - from 11 AM to 9:30 PM.  This annual celebration focuses on the work of graduating students from each and every department on campus. Now in its 4th year, Manifest is a great start to the Chicago festival season, and an amazing way to celebrate the end of a dynamic school year. All events are free and open to the public.

The University of Chicago's Committee on the Visual Arts presents Research and Development, the 2005 MFA exhibition.The annual exhibition, running June 9-25, moves to Little Black Pearl, one of the newest additions to the growing south side art community.  The opening celebration on Thursday, June 9th, 6-10 pm will feature graduating MFA students Kate Baird, Michael Dinges, Ben King, Caroline Mak, Merry-Beth Noble, Julia Oldham, John Preus, Tara Strickstein, Lindsey Walton, and David Wolf.

Michael Schmelling at Bucket Rider.  A show for the voyeur in me.  More fun to look at a subculture than to be a part of it (I keep wondering about that statement), but at least someone is documenting it.

Rong Rong & Inri at Julie Walsh Gallery curated by Wu Hung.  Beautiful show and Julie rebuilds her walls for every exhibit. The gallery looks really good right now, and in my mind Julie is one of, if not the, most intelligent, creative, successful dealers in Chicago.  Talk to her - she's very real.

Miguel Cortez is the director of Polvo - a great gallery on the south side and Miguel is making a big difference to and in the Chicago art world.  Opening on June 17th is a show of work by Chicago talent Harold Mendez (I've shown Harold - he's exceptionally good, growing and getting better every time out) titled The Geography of War.

Steve Lacy, Zach Taylor and Jonathan Waterbury at Linda Warren Gallery.  I like Zach Taylor's the most, but you decide.

Mess Hall presents Potluck and Presentation: Vienna-based artist Michael Blum presents his video work "17 Aandbloem Street." Potluck at 7:30. Presentation at 8:30

Shows I'm Not Sure About

I wish the galleries (and museum) listed in this section had websites I could extrapolate from. Theoretically these shows have promise, but I can't tell how good they'll be.

The Chicago Solutions Show: At ARC Gallery, curated by James Rondeau.  James is getting out into the community. I appreciate that. That's twice in this "article."  Impressive, but I do not know how good the material he was presented to curate is. A great curator with bad material cannot perform magic with a sow's ear.  Nevertheless the show portends to deal with "Works directed toward posing solutions to significant social issues.  Sounds ambitious.

The MCA mentions the paintings of Nathaniel Robinson in their monthly 12 x 12 show almost as an afterthought, preferring to emphasize "hot house sounds of Chicago's DJ Plez." I think they have their priorities skewed.

At Bodybuilder and Sportsman we have "MARK BOOTH- Panda Bear Insemination Team Picnic and Other Thought Formations." 'Nuf said.

At Kavi Gupta Gallery there is Mystic Truths: Huma Bhabha, Yi Chen, Matthew Connors, Sarah Nesbit , Mike Paré, Tal R, Zachary Wollard.

And at Perimeter Gallery I hope to find beautiful pastel drawings by Kathleen Holder.

That's quite a bit of good art - things are not exactly slowing down here. I look forward to seeing you at the shows.