Art Letter

January 2006 Archives


It is hard for me to describe how much I like the art of Preston Jackson, how much I respect his vision and how much I wish for great success for him. Chicagoan Preston Jackson has a one person exhibit opening in two of the three Michigan Avenue Galleries in Chicago's outstanding Cultural Center.

(Note: The first 4 images have links to written narratives.  Click on the image to read them.)

Sometimes life is serendipitous. I'd been chosen to curate and select art for the McCormick Place West Expansion - an addition of a 4th convention center to the McCormick Complex. Someone from the Bronzeville Community - the historically Black - culturally rich, vibrant community immediately south of McCormick had recommended Preston Jackson to my employer and it was passed on to me.

I'd seen Preston's work before, specifically his 70 foot long diorama presenting the narrative titled Bronzeville to Harlem.  It sits on tables of his creation and can be configured in a variety of ways. Preston had made it about ten years ago and it was traveling the college circuit, but wanted a permanent home. I was agonizing over how to include it and couldn't find a way to incorporate this art on tables because of the heavy traffic in a convection center.

So I made an appointment to talk to Preston and tell him in person.  When I walked into his Chicago studio and small scale gallery I saw a totally different body of work - some of the same work that opens tonight at the Cultural Center and I was overwhelmed.

I had goose bumps. I was shocked. The work was and is that powerful. Hey, I'm a professional. I've looked at art every day for over 30 years.  I've learned a lot. I've seen a lot. And I know a fair amount. Preston Jackson's art blew me away.

Most people seem to think that because the gallery I used to own and guide only showed abstraction that I only like abstract art. And that's not true, though it is safe to say that's what I've looked at the most.  Preston's art is obviously figurative thought mightily embellished and he certainly is not dealing with tame content.

One might say that Preston Jackson's art is reminiscent of Kara Walker, but since Preston is over 60 and Ms Walker is in her mid-30's, and Preston has been making art in this vein since before Ms. Walker could walk - well you get my point.

Let's not take anything away from Kara Walker. She is a great and powerful artist. This 4 and a half foot tall piece of hers, to the right, made from cut-out construction paper sold for $57000 last fall. It's unique. And so too are Preston Jackson's one of a kind bronze sculptures in his Cultural Center exhibit, and they sell for substantially less than 50% of Ms. Walker's paper pieces.

The point that I'm making is that I sincerely believe Preston Jackson is a giant in our midst,  superior to Walker, with a longer history of making great art.  He is incredibly undervalued.

His show at the Cultural Center is intensely powerful - more than I can absorb in one viewing, full of layer upon layer of meaning, derived from a history of hearing his mother and family recount handed down stories of the family's experiences of slavery and a contemporary overlaying of optimism, hope, and harmony.

There's a lot of text that accompanies the sculptures and it clues us in on the personal narratives that inspire Jackson's art. Like no other exhibit I've seen, they are worth reading.

The work is great and the man is fascinating.  He is a wonderful teacher at the School of the Art Institute, where his ability, knowledge and passion inspires students daily, and what is not know by many is that he is a helluva jazz musician jamming most Wednesday nights at the Velvet Lounge, on the South Side, not far from McCormick Place where he is going to have a very substantial commission honoring him and the rich cultural history of Bronzeville.

As if Preston Jackson's show isn't enough to convince you of the strength of the Chicago Cultural Center head upstairs to the 4th floor and enjoy Los Carpenteros's poignant, tongue-in-cheek, intelligent, vibrant, not quite young, convincingly executed commentary on life in Cuba. This team of artists from Havana poke's fun at their culture, the influence of the First World on their Third World and on life in general. We can all relate to the ironic wistfulness that pervades their work.  It is charming, effective and poignant.

Tonight, there's a members' preview for the Hyde Park Art Center's last show in their longtime, Del Prado Building home. How the HPAC has grown, nay flourished, under the guidance of Director Chuck Thurow is a wonderful tribute to the Art Center, the man, the community and the Hyde Park Art Center's very long history.  Unequivocal, profound congratulations are completely appropriate.

This is the last show - well only in a manner of speaking - because they are moving to new space; a vibrant, exciting, proper space - especially compared to where they've been and how much they've accomplished with a, shall we say, compromised exhibition venue.

This last show, titled For Real grew from the indefatigable, fertile mind, and cooperative attitude of Southside artist and arts activist Marie Krane Bergman and her team, Cream Co.  Oh, I do love these cooperative efforts where quality pushes quality and the synergistic result surpasses even the accomplishments of the individuals.

I'm going tonight, but maybe it makes more sense to wait until their public opening Sunday afternoon and tie it in with attending the opening of the "seasonal" show at the Renaissance SocietyYutaka Sone's, freewheeling extrapolations of Snow, ranging from the architectural implications to their psychological states, makes this an exhibit I've been wanting to see for some time now.

There is a fabulous show called Art in the Abstract at the Illinois State Museum Chicago Gallery that is only up for a couple of more weeks. It has dozen fascinating paintings by Manierre Dawson, an Illinois artist we should all be familiar with and a Rodney Carswell that amazed me.

And then there are the shows that I haven't seen yet, but probably will this weekend.

Made in China at The Museum of Contemporary Photography featuring half a dozen contemporary photographers including one of my very favorites Edward Burtynsky.

And at the Loyola University Museum of Art an exhibition about the art of Caravaggio, a truly great artist of the 16th Century and a fascinating character.  Notice I said "about" and not "of" the art - because this is an exhibit of 60+ lighboxes reproducing Caravaggio paintings true to size. I'm fascinated and truly wonder if I will love, hate or be ambivalent about this presentation.  I think we've got to see it to decide for ourselves.

So, per usual, there's a lot of great art to see in Chicago. And I look forward to seeing you out there,

Paul Klein



It's a new year and we've got a lot of openings tonight. Some galleries are presenting innovative, new, exciting art. As Chicago's Mayor Daley said just two days ago: Cities always have to change. If you don't change, you live in the past. If you live in the past, you don't have a future. The same is true for galleries and artists.

Of the shows I previewed two West Loop galleries presented particularly strong innovative, challenging yet accessible exhibits.  In the lower level of
Flatfile Galleries, Jason Peot is continuing his experiments with light and architecture, cutting open holes in the walls, installing lights and wooden slights, generating shadows, and altering the space in dynamic, brave and solid (well actually amorphous) ways.  He takes the mundane materials, common to us all and reinterprets our environment, our living spaces, and our lives.

Upstairs, in the main space, Peot's work is wonderfully balanced by the elegant, gossamer work of Bob Emser whose sculpture is less and less frequently found on the ground, and is more often found floating in space or hanging from a wall.  Like simplified space objects Emser creates warm elegant, translucent, spacious art.  And it's fun to see some of his daughter, Lindy's photographs included, with images of cracked earth that seem disparate from her dad's, but in fact their work resonates charmingly with one another.

Rhona Hoffman is rockin'. (Oh, wait. She asked me to speak more formally and less colloquially.) Ms. Hoffman acts on her conviction that artists need space to take chances and express adventuresome exhibitions. This is certainly true of Chicago-based Tania Bruguera, whose heady, inventive, engaging exhibit presents 6 novel interpretations of Samuel Beckett's "Endgame." Overlaying our assumed familiarity with Beckett's motifs Bruguera presents 6 movies and accompanying maquettes, offering interpretations of the issues she believes Beckett's characters are longing for; love, passion, excitement. It is a charming piece, challenging, speculative, yet accessible on many levels. This one is worth spending time with.

In the front gallery, Rhona is presenting remarkably vibrant, fantastic hanging ceramic sculptures by Chicagoan Chris Garofalo.  I've seen her work before in her studio shows, but nothing has ever come close the quality and excitement of this body of work.  Kudos to Rhona for delving deep enough to unveil the joy and competence Garofalo's work explodes with.  In some ways Garofalo reminds me of the incomparable genius of Claire Zeisler.  Two great, divergent exhibits.  Change, risk, growth, results. A pleasure.

I like the balance of the considered, thoughtful, high quality, expansive and energetic art presented by Stephanie Sketsos at
Sketsos Gabrielle Gallery. The new show, curated by former Chicagoan, now operating out of San Antonio, Jennifer Jankauskas, presents a group show of images of family. Some are photo-documentaries; some are collages.  It is fresh, warm and friendly. At some galleries it is nice to see old friends. At Sketsos it is refreshing to be introduced to strong, new talent.

Last month I visited
Bucket Rider Gallery where I saw Scott Roberts beginning his ten foot tall installation of cut corrugated cardboard. Now, 100 hours of labor later he has not only finished his installation but painted a portrait of Nietzsche on it. It's odd.  When you stand in from of the piece you can tell there's something going on, but you see all these disparate cardboard forms that resemble a mountains craggy peaks.  When you look at it through a camera lens you get the portrait and don't focus on all the mountainous texture your "naked" eye sees. This is worth experiencing.

In River North, there are numerous shows opening tonight, two of which I saw.  At
Catherine Edelman I saw a strong show of photographs by Bruce Davidson who has captured a lot of poignant pivotal moments from our collective past. Some of the work reinforces my memories of historic events; some educates because what I'm looking at is new to me.

Carl Hammer has an interesting show, All about Women, and maybe it's the word "all" that's important here. There is a progressive, groundbreaking new painting by Phyllis Bramson, and a fresh, old painting of Hollis Sigler's, yet the presence of a mildly prurient Timothy Greenfield-Sanders portrait of Jenna Jameson, though enticing, feels incongruous.

I revisited the fabulous Printworks 25th Anniversary exhibition, The Art of the Bookplate which features special works by 72 artists- just about everybody you'd think of and then some.  If you haven't seen this show, do.  If you don't you'll be kicking yourself later.  Promise.

And at Polvo you can warm up while expanding your horizons with a group show of artists from Texas.

Peripherally in the West Loop, BSD/Butcher Shop Dogmatic is showing 3 Chicago artists (Stacie Johnson, Lisa Williamson and Kristen VanDeventer) more known for being art girl administrators than for their artwork, but their art is definitely worth knowing about and experiencing. 

Further west, in Oak Park, two galleries, Suburban and Shane Campbell are having openings too.

And on the north side, Johnsonese Gallery, which specializes in emerging and accessible artists, is presenting Palimpsest, featuring David Harouni and Joey Wozniak.

I look forward to seeing you out there tonight.

And thanks!
Paul Klein