Art Letter

February 2006 Archives


I saw three shows opening tonight that knocked my socks off. Two by artists whose work I've known for a long time and whose current work is showing significant, solid, damned near breakthrough growth and one artist whose work I'm just learning about even if he himself is no newcomer.

I first included Diana Guerrero-MaciĆ”'s diminutive, sewn fabric collages in a survey exhibit in 1996 and then forgot about her for a while. By 2001 her collages and fabric assemblages had become quite large interpretations of vinyl record covers where she'd reproduce, in fabric, some of the words and implied meaning of near-contemporary albums. And now she is predominately working in a four by four foot format, playing with some of the lyrics of rather well known bands.  This new body of work opening tonight at
Bodybuilder and Sportsman Gallery is one of the best shows I've seen anywhere in a really long time. Considered and considerate, the pieces are magnificently strong all by themselves and together form a forceful, balanced, confident "lyrical" tour de force.

I'm not sure when Richard Hull's work began to change. I think I first noticed about a year ago that his pieces were getting more organic - bug like, instead of the houses that resembled stage sets. I respected the old stuff, but it was feeling tired and kind of safe.  The new work on exhibit at Carrie Secrist Gallery comes across with a lot more feeling, more playful, more experimental and resultantly much more engaging.  These images are complex. The bug-like forms still exist to some extent - in the exterior edges. These newest pieces are compartmentalized like his way earlier work, albeit in a more organic, intuitive thoughtful way. Richard has been making solid art for as long as I can remember and Chicago is a large enough place that you can readily know someone's work and never meet its maker. so that when I finally met Richard last year I was surprised to find out that he is relatively young - well under 50, instead of someone who I thought'd be much more "mature" because I'd been seeing his work for so long.  I guess the point is that Richard Hull is a major player on the Chicago art scene, well deserving of national and international attention, who is making the best work he ever has and is certainly going to continuing to do so.  This is a guy to be proud of, someone to pay attention to, someone whose work is unique, powerful yet subtle, and whose art reflects a lot of what goes on here in a subconscious, ready to be deciphered, kind of way.

A few days ago, I went to Philadelphia for the day, just to see the awesome Chicago based exhibition at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Arts. The show has a long and impressive title, but could just be called Chicago 1912 to 1985. I'll discuss this show in a moment, but one of the most impressive works in the show was from right after World War II by a Chicagoan named Robert Amft.

Robert Amft is alive today. He still paints about a painting a week and one of the very best galleries in Chicago, Corbett vs. Dempsey is opening a show tonight of Robert Amft paintings from the 1940's and 1950's. These paintings are direct, didactic, competent, sincere and meaningful.

What has to be placed in context is that Chicago has an art history all its own; that just like today, artists 50-60 years ago knew all about  art being made in the rest of the world (New York included) but had a stubborn confidence all their own that enabled them to make their own brand of rock-solid art.

You can see and sense this uniqueness, confidence and strength in the older pieces of Robert Amft's. There are pieces from the late 40's that look like Roger Brown cast an eye on them decades later and developed his own style based on what Amft had already done, or others that suggest the strength further developed by Philip Guston.  Amft is finally getting the recognition and money he has long deserved.  And this is because of the passion of John Corbett and Jim Dempsey.

This who thing is exciting.  The gallery opened 2 years ago as a fulfillment of their passion for Chicago art from the 40's to the 70's and Corbett and Dempsey  are making a huge difference, for history, for Chicago, for vintage artists whose reprise renews interest in their art.  It is wonderful for me to go look at art that is decades old and be able to draw a line from then through the Hairy Who to the contemporary art of today. If you have been to Corbett vs. Dempsey you know the passion and the pleasure of which I speak, and if you haven't you have a treat in store and tonight is a great time to bask in the quality they represent.

Which leads me to Philadelphia and Art in Chicago: Resisting Regionalism, Transforming Modernism. Curated by Robert Cozzolino, this is the best show of Chicago art I've ever seen, drawing a line from a century ago up to the modern era.  This exhibit reveals the continuity of vision, purpose and mindset that has been unique to Chicago artists for over 100 years.  It is a great opportunity for Chicago artists today to look back and see the bonds, the friendships and the evolution of style their predecessors had, how figuration took hold, how more often than not we led, not followed and how invariably Chicago's artists stood tall on their own two feet and made art that was informed and at the same time, theirs.

There's an article on the show in the Sun-Times this week that points out that this show has a strong and broad appeal in part because "one of the unique characteristics of Chicago is there's always been a very pronounced effort not to be derivative, to not follow the status quo," Cozzolino said.  They insisted on following their own vision."

This is a simply wonderful show. I'd like to see it in Chicago.

Thanks for being here,


Paul Klein


There are several openings tonight; two of which really impress me.

Not in a long time have I seen a gallery new to Chicago like
NavtaSchulz.  Located in the West Loop, this is their second location. The first is out-of-state. Most of their collectors are from Chicago, so sensing an affinity, they came here. This isn't a half-vast fledgeling effort. This gallery feels solid, confident, warm and strong. Because I didn't discern a single aesthetic running through all the work, I asked and was told the guide was whether or not they'd hang it in their home. 

I like the NavtaSchulz Gallery.  The space is clean, but not over done. And friendly.  Too many galleries are snooty when a stranger walks in before the show is completely ready for viewing, as if they have some pretense, pretext and predisposition that says they have to perpetuate artifice.  Not here. They didn't know me from Adam and they made me feel welcome. Then I introduced myself and their tone was consistent. 

Jodi Navta and Ryan Schulz clearly love the art and artists they are showing, some of whom are from Chicago. Though they surely have solid business instincts, it is the love and the art that comes first and guides the professionalism they demonstrate in their first exhibit.  Bravo.

Rowland Contemporary is another gallery I respect. And they are located nearby. They do not have an opening tonight but do have a tight, humorously challenging, stimulating, exhibit updating our notion of trompe l'oeil. Convincingly using technology and technique, Kelly Kaczynski and Todd Matei get us to question what we are looking at. I thought it was fun and it made me think. That's a good thing.

Okay, the other show that opens tonight that got my juices flowing is at Zolla/Lieberman Gallery. I've like Cheonae Kim's work for years. When I had a gallery I represented her. The art is fresh, abstract and intuitive. A lot of it comes from her knowledge of language and word structure. And a lot comes from her Korean culture which she didn't realize until she went back to visit after a decade long absence. It fascinates me that she has had substantially more success, read sales, outside Chicago than she has here at home. We should fix that.

In another one person exhibition at the expansive Zolla/Lieberman is a tour de force exhibition of 'archeological' sculptures by Stephen de Stabler. These works just plain sing.  I first saw his work 30 years ago and now, as an artist in his 70's, de Stabler is making his best work.  So many artists work so hard to grow, progress and rise to the top, that by the time they are 50 they either start doing greatest hits, or they just fade away.  What a joy to see the strength and understanding in these de Stabler sculptures.  He has mastered the media and explores wonderful nuances in his glazes and how they add to the content and meaning of his work.

Some museums feel empty when I visit and some don't. One museum that always impresses me as popular is Chicago's
Museum of Contemporary Photography which is affiliated with Columbia College. They have a special exhibit called Made in China.  I was surprised to learn that this quality exhibit was curated at the MoCP and does not travel.  I've really like the large scale, large content photographs of Canadian Edward Burtynsky since I first became familiar with him about 10 years ago. I just bought his book about a week ago because I couldn't wait to see his Chinese work and then at this exhibit I see them full scale.  And Burtynsky is only one of several photographers in the well-curated show that gives a fuller understanding of what China produces, how it produces it and what it recycles.  This is a beautiful exhibit that is as informative as it is artful.

Something special is being inaugurated tonight.  Five galleries  make up the Bronzeville Art District (Gallery Guichard, Neleh Artistic Expressions, Nicole Gallery, SteeleLife Gallery and the historically significant South Side Community Art Center). Together they've coordinated to have receptions every third Friday of the month. And to make it really easy for all of us they'll have a trolley that runs between all of them as well as McCormick Place.  Easy parking, easy accessibility, camaraderie, new art. This is good.

That's it,

Thanks for stopping by,
Paul Klein