Art Letter


09/16/05

I've seen a lot of galleries recently, besides those I previewed a week ago. I saw a couple of really memorable exhibits and quite a few other good ones. 

I'm still seeing galleries overcrowding exhibits - one even had the "exact" same image hanging next to itself, just in a different size. This is what I call "subtraction by addition." There are better ways to let the public know that things can be had in different sizes besides sticking all the variables on the wall.

Here you go - my two favorite shows:
Catherine Edelman Gallery has two shows. On is really wonderful. Titled, The Animal Within, Catherine has in most cases asked her favorite artists to create sympathetic animal pictures. An animal rights activist, Catherine's sentiment is revealed through the artists in her show. There is not a specific point that is driven home in the dozen or so artists familiar to many of us; just slightly atypical images wonderfully enhanced by other compelling renderings in the same show. Also on view at Edelman are new "fantastic" photos by Joel-Peter Witkin.  If you have not seen his work before, you should.  He uses odd bits and parts from morgues and pathology labs to construct mildly gruesome images.  If you have seen them before, they were probably better the first time.

Susan Gescheidle has pulled out the stops this time. (Perhaps you've noticed I've been harping on how galleries are sacrificing the quality of the presentation (read Art) to ostensibly improve commerce - a thought process I consider specious.)  Well Susan has reversed the equation.  She is presenting two powerful exhibits containing lucid statements that are all but unsaleable.  In fact, they are so strong, and so unsaleable that I'm very tempted to buy something. Husband & wife team Tom Burtonwood and Holly Holmes make the most political of art - perhaps out of the Hans Haacke mold. It is a harsh critique of America's military mentality.  Bravo.  Furthermore, anytime a gallery blows a hole through a wall for the sake of art, something good must be going on.

Simultaneously presented is a monster wall-sized portrait by
Geoffrey Smalley of Donald Rumsfeld in Baghdad, except we can't see his face, just his tell-tale Land's End hiking boots. These are two really good exhibits at Gescheidle that reveal how strong a gallery can be when their priorities are in the right place.

Other shows I liked are sprinkled all over the place.  In the South Loop
A + D Gallery has a special show titled The Cartoonist's Eye. I feel like a newcomer to cartoon art. I've been overwhelmingly impressed with the brilliant technical work of Chicagoan Chris Ware; how he employs savvy compositional techniques and means of communicating a message that is, as far as I can tell completely overlooked, by the merely mortal painters I know. Too many of us have been looking down our noses at the "lesser arts." It's been my loss, but I'm now trying to catch up.  This show helps.

I like the
Maxwell Street exhibit at Stephen Daiter Gallery.   As I've said in other ArtLetters, I'm a sucker for good nostalgia. This show's a bell ringer

In the large front gallery at
Flatfile, Inga McCaslin Frick's intelligent, seductive, highly creative, trompe l'oeil works impress me - perhaps more because of their strategy than their content, but I like them regardless.  Gillian Brown's thoughtful, accessible works about The Creation bring Stephen Hawking to mind, with a feminine touch.  Clearly works dealing with "the birth of it all" are better addressed by a woman.

ThreeWalls rocks.  Jonathan Rhodes's project invites artists from out-of-town to Chicago for a month.  He provides them lodging and studio space.  During their month residency the artists creates an exhibit.  Once the month is over, the artists has a show (for the following month) and leaves. He's brought in some great artists.  This month show is particularly strong and timely.  Dani Leventhal presents a commentary on our Western Hemisphere's disparate economic wealth and the contrasts between our American "entitlement" and Central and South American disenfranchisement. It is beautiful presented in video, sculpture and text. Soulful and poignant, sad and glorious, all at once.

I thoroughly enjoyed
Jeremy Long's paintings at Linda Warren Gallery.  (Have you noticed that this guy (me) who was long associated with only showing abstraction likes an awful lot of figurative art?) These are complex paintings with scads of content and disarmingly accessible imagery.  I especially like the studio paintings in which other paintings in the show are seen.

GARDENFresh is not a new gallery but it has finally emerged from hiding to enter accessibility in the West Loop in Michael Workman's awesome NOVA project at 840 West Washington. I've always like the people who run GARDENFresh and like their first show in this new space of photographs by Justin Schmitz of pubescent high school wrestlers, full of potential, faux macho poses, new muscles, and pimples.

I think I liked GARDENfresh's show a lot better than the new podcasting commentators
Richard Holland and Duncan Mackenzie, but I completely enjoyed and appreciated their discussion under the aegis Bad at Sports. Give it a listen for another point of view of the Chicago Art Scene.

Scot Anderson's show at Kavi Gupta is an interesting case study.  I didn't like the work, looked at it, photographed it and moved on to the Susan Giles installation which I thought was a significant reworking of her last presentation.  Much stronger and much better presented. When I was done with Susan's show - 5 to 10 minutes - I went back to give Anderson's work a second look and the attractive young lady with headphones was still looking at the same painting she had been when I left a long time before. I asked her if she liked the work. She removed her headset and raved about the work, the fresh colors, the scale shifts, the unusual perspectives and mostly how it gave her access to her brothers' affinities for science fiction, which she'd never appreciated by came full circle in these paintings. (Clearly I was witnessing a cathartic moment!) Her epiphany led me to reconsider my response, quantify her input and appreciate the work in a way I had previously missed.  I guess my point is that by opening open to input from another I saw things that I would have otherwise completely missed.

Stephen Knapp's pieces at Kraft Lieberman catch me on the edge of acceptance and denial. With single light sources and lots of reflective surfaces Knapp splits light into its full spectrum of colors and casts the light on the wall. It's new.  It's pretty.  It's better than most.  I think it lacks soul.  I want to like it. And I almost do.

Other shows others have liked include these wonderful prehistoric birds with boat heads at
Bodybuilder and Sportsman Gallery- an anthological narrative about Mike Peter Smith's grandfathers.

Gladys Nilsson at Jean Albano Gallery is as good as she ever was.

Howard Hersh at Gwenda Jay Gallery keeps getting better and I believe has hit full stride with is lush encaustic paintings.

Carrie Secrist has a preview group show of teasers from shows that occupy the balance of the year's schedule.  I like Richard Hull's work.

Julie Walsh Gallery presents works by husbands and wives working together and husbands and wives work apart. Nice concept but for me it lack cohesion.

Bill Woolf at Aron Packer shows some funky-nice paintings about Chicago and history. Kind of naive feeling but clearly informed.  In the back gallery, Mark Crisanti's small paintings of birdmen on disparate backgrounds sing with quality, but I wanted more of a relationship between what the artists created and what he painted on.

Bucket RiderJason Lazarus, in the project room, I liked - fun, creative, pithy commentary.  The main show about the role of the landscape in painting is a vast notion with insufficient content - a nice idea, without sufficient evidence.

Those are my thoughts on the potpourri that's out there. There's even more that I didn't get to.  There's plenty of room for lots of opinions (listen to
Richard and Duncan's podcast) and as I shown, my opinion is subject to change. One of the things I like best about the art world is that the Truth is Subjective and open to interpretation. If you have thoughts send me an email, or post on the ArtLetter Forum.  There's always room for your opinion.

Thank you,
Paul Klein