Art Letter

April 2006 Archives


It has been an emotional few days for art in Chicago.  Everyone has been getting ready for the influx of people, art, and fun generated by the 3 ring circus of art extravaganza brought on by ArtChicago, the NOVA Art Fair, and Version Fest.  And today they are open to the public.

Tom Blackman's ArtChicago ran into difficulties that seem like an extension of what I wrote last year.  There'll be plenty of time in the months ahead to examine what went wrong and why he had to shift venues at the 11th hour. This will be a healthy and cathartic exercise.

Right now what's impressive is that people here have stepped forward and enabled a show in need to get what it needed - a venue, and a good one at that.  The people at the Merchandise Mart are consummate professionals and have always been a solid part of the Chicago cultural community.  That they have stepped forward and embraced our art community is tribute to them and an acknowledgment of the significance of the arts in Chicago. Bravo. Behind the scenes, over the past 6 days and awful lot of Chicago's art leaders used their connections and their lawyers to press forward, eyes ever upward to make real what seemed impossible - to find a location and do a week's worth of work in 36 hours.  Everyone from the leaders who stepped up to the plate to the union laborers who put the plate in place have done the right thing as far as I can tell and participated in making something larger than themselves.  I find that noteworthy.

At the ArtChicago opening preview last night the prevailing sentiment was that "we've been hit by a tornado and we survived."  The show must go on - and go on it did.  Despite a few people who were still installing everyone actually looked good and were damned pleased to have a place to show their art - and not only that a ticket to ArtChicago gets you into the Antique Fair too. Definitely worth a look.

And as a result of ArtChicago moving it is now on the same El Line as the NOVA Art Fair. Incredibly accommodating.  As you know, I am the Executive Director of the Chicago ART Project and we are exhibiting the art of 50 Chicago artists at NOVA. There are about 40 galleries joining a couple of us not-for-profits.  I have never ever participated in an art fair with a better attitude than NOVA.  Efficient and accommodating I feel like they've anticipated our every need.  There are wonderful people presenting a broad array of strong array of predominantly inexpensive art on 4 floors of a hotel, with a different exhibitor in each room. It's an absolute blast and feels much more about art and sharing enthusiasm than about commerce.  I'm proud to be a part of this show.

Speaking of proud - every single person ever involved with the Hyde Park Art Center should stand tall and feel proud of the remarkable accomplishments of Chuck Thurow, Ruth Horwich, Deone Jackman, Claudia Luebbers and Doug Garofalo and their fantastic army of supporters.  The brand spanking new Hyde Park Art Center opens with a 36 hour art celebration beginning at 9 AM tomorrow, Saturday.

Also this weekend the Renaissance Society presents a provocative and for me personally, almost nostalgic look at the thrust in the 60's and 70's for alternative societies, like hippie communes. Based in glorious dreams completely lacking pragmatism next to none of these endeavors survived, but they defined a moment and residual influences remain from their existence. This exhibition of by Mai-Thu Perret delves into what was and what could have been and takes a closer look particularly at feminism in Chicago.

Okay, back to tonight.

Chicago's Cultural Center has a tour de force exhibit, with a reception tonight, of Nick Cave Soundsuits. Cave is a special artist with a substantial international reputation and is a significant example of the immense talent that works and lives in Chicago and is way under-recognized at home. It is an honor to know this man and his work, which deals with his African-American heritage, cultural displacement and resultant multicultural concoctions. This is great accessible art. Fun for kids; meaningful for adults, beautiful for all.  A giant in our midst.

I am a huge fan of Sabrina Raaf's art, which opens tonight at Wendy Cooper. I'm pretty sure Sabrina has traveled a few decades into the future and come back to tell us it's all safe but wacky out there. She makes fanciful machines that typically interact with their environment and human activity, like a machine that measures ambient carbon dioxide (the stuff we exhale) in a room and then draws a green line on the wall indicating the level of CO2 in the room and thus the number of people present.  Sort of looks like a field of grass around the bottom of the wall after a bit. Her photographs examine the affect of weightlessness on contemporary society.  And when you talk to her she seems so "normal."

Right next door and opening tonight at Bodybuilder and Sportsman is a titillating show of bodacious female pirates by Don Doe and a new video from D'Nell Larson whose work is about love and romance. Does it surprise me that her parents were lounge singers? Or that this video is about the love songs they sang? Well, yes & no, but I like it.

Across the street Rhona Hoffman has an awesome powerhouse gorgeous, smart exhibition of light works by Spencer Finch.  This work is not just super pretty - it's intelligent, like a piece that filters the summer light of Texas to recreate the color of Paris, France at dusk. Brilliant.

More signs of intelligent life exist next door to Rhona at Monique Meloche where Gabert Farrar's paintings "talk" about language, meaning and metaphors and deconstructs words through painting to create a painting that exists as documentation of the process. And they look good too.

Carl Hammer has a powerful show of paintings by David Sharpe, a graduate of the School of the Art Institute The work explores painterly issues and personal affinities in a disarmingly charming way. Strong, fun work that continues to give as we unravel the layers, meaning and compositional talent that Sharpe always brings to his work.

There are other openings tonight, but those are the ones I liked the most. Check here and here to discover others.

And for the best art party in town head over to Sharkstock tonight at Wesley Kimler's west side studio where art and music meld, clash and rejoice.

There's no time like the present,

Paul Klein




In anticipation of the two Art Fairs on view in Chicago next weekend many Chicago galleries are hosting openings tonight and many next week, during the fairs. I full expect both Fairs to be significantly better than they were last year. As you likely know I spend most of my time working with the Chicago ART Project. We are presenting a broad array of art by Chicago Artists at the NOVA Art Fair opening this Thursday night. Also opening Thursday is ArtChicago. The two shows are quite different, yet both are informative and fun while presenting different views of today's art.

When I look at art I think about how the art stimulates, challenges and satisfies my assorted needs and desires. I think about content, technique and quality. And then I think about the bigger picture.

I think about the artist and his or her decision making process. Rapidly the art becomes a tool for the vicarious wanderings of my mind. I see parallels between how artists think and their decision making process and my decision making, how people progress and grow, how when we look backwards we can see with a clarity that we cannot anticipate looking forward.

Several of the exhibits that open tonight explore this phenomenon quite admirably. At Valerie Carberry  is an exhibition of early work by Jack Tworkov, a superb abstract painter in the last years of his life until he died in 1982.  Most of the paintings on view were made when he was in his 30's and some in his late 40's. I am intrigued by the line that flows from his 30's work to his 40's work and can see the movement towards abstraction.  I can extrapolate from that middle period to his later work, but I see nothing in his earlier work that anticipates his late, and in my mind, strongest work. Then I think about my life and every time I look at how I got here it all makes sense, but it sure didn't then.  (Next door to Carberry is wonderful show of Suzanne Caporeal's new paintings at Richard Gray Gallery.)

There are similar issues in the work of Jason Rohlf.   I feel like I've been looking at his work for decades and was surprised to find out today that he is 35. Oh well. The show at Judy Saslow is strong. A bit reminiscent of the work of Terence La Noue, the art reveals and simultaneously hides its history in its creation. This too is a vicarious experience for me. What has been covered up?  What has been revealed? What is kept? What is discarded? I like second guessing and reaching my own conclusions. i like art that leaves room in its deciphering for me, art that doesn't dictate to me but engages me in a discourse that evolves over time.  Rohlf does that for me.

The same is true at Ann Nathan Gallery where there are quite large, wonderful charcoal drawings by Mary Borgman. This is solid, direct, confident work. And I'm intrigued by how she builds her image. All the marks are there and we can decipher the art while while exploring the process. These are exquisite drawings. 

Over at Belloc Lowndes, it's a pleasure to see Mary Sprague's supersized drawings of chickens. I've known Mary for at least 20 years. (Both she and Mary Borgman are from St. Louis.) Mary has a way with animals like no one I've ever seen and you can compare her work to the ever-popular powerful pieces of Joseph Piccillo at Perimeter Gallery. There are similarities in size and technique and differences in reputation and price.

A wonderful look at our history is revealed in Chicago Bauhaus: The Formative Years of the Institute of Design.  This show at Robert Henry Adams includes wonderful pieces by László Moholy-Nagy, Morris Barazani, Emerson Woelffer and Aaron Siskind among many others. Here we catch a glimpse of how Chicago influenced Modernism and begun to understand the synergy between art and architecture.  Bravo.

At Gescheidle, is a brilliant concept for an exhibition. Titled State & Lake, this show was curated by Annie Morse for the Contemporary Arts Council which presents one exhibition a year.  This show ambitiously asks how Chicago fits into the state of Illinois, how Lake Michigan makes use different from other cities and explores our social, economic and cultural production. I want to go back for a second viewing before I make up my mind.  There's a lot here.

Downstairs from Gescheidle is a tour de force exhibition at Walsh Gallery of Miao Xiaochun's interpretation of Michelangelo's Last Judgment, in which the artist has digitally substituted 3D renderings of his own body for every single figure in the original artwork. This took years of work and not only sheds light on the Miao Xiaochun's psyche but adds meaning to Michelangelo. That's an accomplishment.

To wrap things up, it looks to me like there's going to be a fun, perhaps absurd performance tonight at 10:46 at Three Walls, where Frank Haines' alter ego "marks the inauguration of L Francis in the waking world."  Hey, when I saw Frank Haines he didn't look anything like this photo.  I think there's a transformation that takes place involving the Earth, the Moon and of course, dance.

I hope this helps!
Paul Klein