Art Letter


Having had and operated an art gallery in Chicago for over two decades I perpetually worked at honing my aesthetic.  I always felt that it was important for a gallery to have a point of view, so that an audience would have some sense of what to expect when they walked in the door.

Now that I don't have a gallery I find that my taste and aesthetics are changing.  I'm more interested in quality and attitude as well as a predisposition for art made in Chicago.  The same mindset applies when I am looking at galleries.  Some of the best stuff I've seen recently has been away from the centralized Chicago art locations and have been more about the venue than about the art.

Take for example Fraction Workspace in Bucktown.  When I walked through the open door there were 6 or 7 young artists sitting there in Goodwill vintage furniture having a conversation about art, exhibits, venues and their responses to what they'd seen and questioning what they should take in next. I thought it was great. They were open and accepting, inquisitive and caring. Some of the art the show hits the mark, some doesn't and I think that's just fine. What matters here is that they care, and that they are doing something about it.  They are part of the new "West Town Gallery Network." They understand synergy and they're having a good time.

Also a part of the same Network is 40000, where I found an equally good attitude and an exhibit that for me had more theory than substance. I'll go back because because I like the people and the place and I'm curious about the art

Definitely more mainstream, Carrie Secrist is pushing it.  She's getting braver, bolder and more creative by the day. Last month she was installing oversized Bernar Venet sculptures on Michigan Avenue. This month she's got a kickass exhibit titled "Tiny / Huge."  The show rocks. Unlike today's trend of museum curators making didactic statements reinterpreting artists' work to the detriment of the art and artist, Secrist is enabling the art to speak for itself and to seek a larger audience by giving it a fun fresh context. All the work is good, from Carolyn Ottmers to Ai Weiwei, though it's a Lostutter I think I'm going to buy. And then, last night I saw the movie Prime which had the same piece I'd seen at Carrie's in it - that was fun.

Across the hall at Thomas McCormick Gallery, Mary Beyer and Jessica Moss have curated, Into the Woods, a group exhibit about how artists interact with nature.  A fun easy show that just feels good, fresh and welcoming. I particularly liked Anna Kunz and Bryan Schuetze's waterfall inside a wall.

I also really like the NOVA spaces across the street where you've got an auto mechanic on the first floor and art on the second. In the shared lobby area is a tight presentation of paintings by the multitalented Fernando Orellana, who makes dumb paintings a la Philip Guston and quirky geeky new media work. Down the hall is the artists collaborative GardenFresh.  Though they most often present shows of non-member artists this is a group show solely of artist-members where one can experience an array of diverse fresh art. Around the corner is the showroom / exhibition space of f2, where husband and wife collaborators Marilyn and Peter Frank, make art, blow glass, create sculpture and write music. I like a lot of what is in there, but really responded to a sculpture/coffee table, moss terrarium.

Every space I've mentioned so far has a solid, positive, welcoming, participatory attitude and not the stuffy "we dare you to enter' attitude that so many (non-Chicago) galleries have.

The same is true at Flatfile Galleries which is all about educating its public, where a monochromatic, abstract geometry exhibit shows off the gallery in a new light.  Void of color the grays reign supreme and new relationships spring forward in the space that remains when the color left.

Over at Bodybuilder I enjoyed Ken Fandell's videos and continue to wait for the "a ha moment" to happen with New Catalogue's continuing series of mildly disturbing photos of Lost Cheerleaders.

Talk about good attitude!  There's a wonderful work of art by Cody Hudson, Juan Chavez, Mike Genovese and Thor in the West Loop around Ada and West Fulton Streets. Sprinkled throughout town, these guys make 3 dimensional installations with found materials that comment on our society and what we throw away. But more importantly, art is where we find it and wherever anyone chooses to make it.  We don't have to walk into buildings or anointed spaces to encounter good art.  It's just out there.

Over in River North I saw a couple of shows in galleries that are always cordial and beckoning. At Roy Boyd I saw Marco Casentini's newest paintings. I used to show him, and he just keeps getting better and the fervor the Boyds share for his work is infectious. I'm glad they've found each other.  

At Perimeter Gallery, Neil Goodman's sculpture continues to mature, mellow and grow. It gets stronger and more confident and more uniquely his own. Kudos.

And as we close out our discussion of some of the many art sites in Chicago with exemplary good attitudes let us not overlook the Photography Department of the Art Institute of Chicago where a gorgeous exhibition of three Chicago Artists is on view.  Titled On the Scene: Jessica Rowe, Jason Salavon, Brian Ulrich, this show salutes 3 young Chicago artists who are well on their way to being major contributors for a long time to come. I am proud of the Art Institute for having purchased work from this exhibit. Way to go.

We have much to be thankful for,

Paul Klein