Art Letter

September 2006 Archives


What a pleasure to see some strong, engaging, thoughtful, fun art.

Last week I previewed the opening of the fall art season.  This weekend, a week later, the newer, fringier, off-the-beaten-path galleries step forward with art at least equal to the overall quality of what the substantially more established galleries presented.  Certainly these fledgling galleries are less concerned with commercialism (salability) but conversely are more involved with issues of survival. The art I saw at several venues was a more complete art experience than I've had in a while.

Huong Ngo was raised in North Carolina which helps explain her interest in dichotomies. Exhibiting at Duchess (owned and operated by two of Rhona Hoffman's star employees, Kat Parker and Katie Rashid) Ngo is interested in how we humans interact with civilization and nature. And sometimes both.  She asks us to don these playful, humorous, slightly ridiculous costumes to better come to grips with ourselves and to help her better understand her heritage and her life. Though compact, this is one of the stronger exhibits I've seen recently, measured by the thoughts it provokes and the time they endure. Though the questions it raises are serious the strategy it employes is fun and playful, better allowing us access to participate. Well done. The opening reception is Saturday the 16th from 7 to 10 PM.

More cerebral, more challenging, more levels, more difficult to pull off, yet somehow similar is John Neff's brilliant installation at
Western Exhibitions.  Reminiscent of Alice Aycock's fantastic machines or Dennis Oppenheim's indulgences Neff is creating a machine that will replicate anything from strange vegetables to pornographic images. Dualities abound here and in the nether land between reality and fantasy there's a lot of room for humor and viewer participation. John Neff is smart.  His art is smart and there is more here than I can readily understand.  His explanations are comprehensible and fleet as I generate more questions than I can remember. His techniques are fresh; his vision engaging and his exhibition winsome.

Western Exhibitions is in a new location.  Now on Hubbard, they once again share space with Lisa Boyle Gallery. There first shows in their new spaces open Saturday night from 6 to 9 PM

Lisa Boyle, Jeffrey Beebe creates mythical, urban, fairy tales; devices to better understand his dreams and exploration of human emotions. Somewhat akin to Henry Darger's reclusive work and Max Klinger's late 1800's narratives, we get a glimpse of what seems to be going on, think we sort of understand and know full well that there are layers upon layers of additional meaning to decipher.  The work is seductive, well executed and purposeful, all necessary tools to engage us sufficiently to undertake the task of getting more than a surface reading. 

Also on exhibit at Lisa Boyle are the two and/or three dimensional works of
Andrea Myers.  I've got to confess I'm a sucker for work that explores the realm between two and three dimensions.  It is an area reserved for a few of us and I suspect engages both the right brain & the left brain, though I could be making this up. Myers is a recent graduate of the School of the Art Institute. These sculptural, yet painterly objects embrace the wall or floor or both and to me are akin to magic, existing in neither world, or both at the same time.  I think they are special, but wouldn't be surprised if they leave a lot of people uncomfortable.

All right. Shane Campbell has opened a second location.  His first has been in Oak Park for a while coexisting with another exceptional gallery: The Suburban, both of whom have opening receptions in Oak Park this Sunday.  We are fortunate to have a Campbell Gallery come to Chicago.  To me, it is a gallery like no other. Shane Campbell is a smart, aware art historian.  He brings a special and unique point of view to his gallery.  He is perceptive and trained to notice trends and the microcosms that exist and coexist in our artworld. He makes clear things we look back upon and didn't quite see, but when he presents it we look and nod in agreement.  He writes didactic essays on the art he exhibits and opens our eyes like the best artists do, but he does it in service to the artists he exhibits and represents. Here.  Keep this in mind: Shane Campbell Gallery had more artists in the most recent Whitney Biennial than all other Chicago galleries combined.  How the hell do you live up to that?

Campbell's first Chicago exhibition is based on his observation that we are seeing a resurgence of primitive art today reminiscent of the 1980's
Basquiat, James Brown, and German Expressionist revival. The art on exhibit is simultaneously fresh, new, referential and dated, made all the more relevant because of Campbell's unique perspective and ability to write about it. This exhibit also opens Saturday from 6 to 8 PM

Land Escape is a group exhibition at the
River East Art Center curated by Joe Tabot, who has worked with the outdoor sculptor program Pier Walk for several years.  Land Escape has solid, established Chicago artists in this show, and some who were unknown to me.  On exhibit are Scott Anderson, Leslie Baum, Lora Fosberg, Anna Joelsdottir, Shona Macdonald, Christopher Patch, Scott Roberts and Michelle Wasson.  I like the mix of the artists and I like the premiss.  I like the notion that landscapes are the jumping off point, and these are certainly not regular landscapes The art exhibited all relates less to one another than to the title, allowing each artist to stand alone together and enabling us to appreciate the each artist's new pieces more.  This is what I like best about this show, that it is a great opportunity to see new pieces by a lot of talented Chicagoans that I wouldn't be seeing already otherwise.  The opening is tonight.

In preparation for Sunday's opening of his exhibition at the
Renaissance Society, Avery Preesman has been working in Chicago for about a month. Though he is Dutch and comes with a bit of a Mondrian quality to his ostensibly loose, earthy work there is a quirky Midwestern quality present too. I like that subtlety.

Hyde Park Art Center's accessible, affordable, fun Just Good Art September 30th benefit and sale goes on view in their galleries the 18th and is online now.  There is probably no better opportunity in Chicago to acquire work by a broad spectrum of Chicago artists at low 3 digit prices than this one. And even if you are not going to buy a single thing you can sample a wonderful array of Chicago talent just by looking first online and then in person. Want to take it a step further (and maybe indulge your voyeuristic tendencies)? Tickets to the benefit are $35 and enable you to mingle with more artists, more collectors and more supporters of culture than you can for $100's more anywhere else.

Let's go,
Paul Klein



A special moment: the opening of the fall art season in Chicago starts tonight. After a relative dearth through August there is a corresponding excitement in all the galleries right now as the galleries put their best foot forward and show off what they think distinguishes them from the other galleries in town. I saw a lot of art and yet there are many worthy galleries I haven't made it to.  Plot your own course or stumble around like I sometimes do.  The point is to find and appreciate new experiences, go where you haven't gone, and discover something - maybe in yourself - to cherish.

There's a lot of painting in the galleries I visited, much more than I have previously and a lot of it is quite strong. Far and away the best paintings I saw were
Kehinde Wiley's at Rhona Hoffman Gallery.  I've got to admit that I almost bypassed this exhibit because I've been so unmoved by Wiley's previous body of work.  Something got me through the door though and I was immediately thunderstruck by what I encountered. Now Wiley has, and still does, embrace his paintings in gaudy, oversized, thick, gold frames, but they weren't on the paintings yet. And I don't know if their absence is relevant or not, but this work flat out sung.  I used to think his work was convenient, facile, immediate and shallow, and since yesterday I think exactly the opposite.  This work is thoughtful, considerate, rich in content, subtle, subversive, deep, intelligent and refined. There is a really nice synergy between the content and the technique.  They work harmonious together and reinforce one another.  This is an exhibit worth studying. Wiley is thoroughly accomplished and unusual because of it, but not unique, and we can all learn and benefit by extrapolating from his considered process and powerful results.

Conrad Freiburg, a 2000 graduate of the School of the Art Institute, stayed here and we are damned lucky.  His show at
Linda Warren Gallery is right up there with Wiley's for powerful content and execution.  He has built a fantastic wooden roller coaster in the gallery with full-size bowling balls flying through the space at scary speeds, all based on Chicago's 1893 Columbian Exhibition. Freiburg thinks big and is pulling it off. The work examines Chicago's coming of age and the universality of the Columbian Exhibition's scope from a contemporary perspective. The relationship of the content to the execution is exciting.  I've already been twice to marvel at the contained power of the bowling ball and to reflect on how amazing the Columbian Exhibition was.

Freiburg is new and we suppose a solid future. Chicagoan Doug Fogelson (at Kraft Lieberman) we've seen before and it is thoroughly satisfying to see the resulting growth, maturity and strength of his newest photographs. Fogelson takes multiple exposures overlapping the images in his camera.  The "in the camera" part is significant because it innovatively conveys motion and fluidity in a static image and because it is not a computer generated effect. This body of work captures water, waves and water in motion like no one else. It is fresh, new, competent and worth paying attention to.

Kim Keever (at Carrie Secrist) is also an innovative photographer, generating historic looking landscapes of otherworldly nonexistent places.  Created in huge "aquariums" he constructs he is capable of generating just about any landscape he can conceive of. I think the antiqueing he applies makes the art more believable and correspondingly meditative.

Laurie Hogin at Peter Miller makes beautiful paintings of some pretty scary looking animals - usually small animals with sharp teeth. And though the website says these are a commentary on commercialism, I see them more as a discourse on human's relationship with our environment, our disregard for nature and the potential consequences, but that may be the same thing.  Her work has always been seductive, for its technical prowess and disarming beauty juxtaposed with her harsh imagery. A talented Chicagoan; there's a lot here.

Monique MelocheLaura Mosquera's paintings have grown since I last saw her work. These aren't a quick read. There is a lot more substance than initially meets the eye.  She lives here and has shows at the MCA and other significant venues but it's been a while since we've had a new body of work to look at. Her painterly abilities yield images that are vaguely reminiscent of David Hockney; a revealing look at people in their context.

There certainly is a lot of "process" in the art we've been discussing. I remember a now decades old conversation with
Mary Boone who spoke about how "art must transcend its materials." Of course it's rather obvious, but if we look at Scott Fife's work at Bodybuilder and see cardboard the art is not transcending its materials. But oh how it does. He marvelously produces busts of famous historic figures and more often that not makes them more sculpture than statue by displaying them on their sides or even upside down. The gallery has contracted over the summer and has a new front door down the hall from where it was, but the new space is better, more exciting, more intimate and better lit - a good move.

The old front door now opens to
Gallery 40000, run by Britton Bertran whose gallery was one of the exciting West Town storefront galleries before this summer.  First things first, Britton is a really nice guy. Second, he thinks for himself. Third, I've seen him skateboarding in the park with literature in his hand.  And most importantly he really believes strongly in the artists he represents; like his first show with Josh Mannis who painstakingly makes composite images and videos ostensibly digitally clipped from a stack of National Geographic magazines - another artist not put off by endless work.

 I used to exhibit
Josh Garber's work; now at Zolla Lieberman in River North. We published a catalog eons ago and the author of the essay, Tom Garver, referred to his work as a 'mantra of labor." And it is still true today, but the work has grown.  Always tangentially related to his first love of ceramics, Josh welds zillions of short rods together to form undulating, organic, seductive sculptures that are vaguely reminiscent of Kenny Price's best work; something that hadn't ever occurred to Josh when I mentioned it to him yesterday. There is a breakthrough element to this new work. It is more detailed, more accountable, more accessible and more open.  I'm really happy to see Josh flourish.

Up in the Hancock Building is a wonderful show of new paintings by hometowner
Jim Lutes at Valerie Carberry Gallery.  It is clear from looking at his paintings that he loves to paint. Some artists like finishing a painting, and seeing the results.  Others prefer process.  Lutes pours himself into his work, loves the mark making process; the revelation / obfuscation of content and even the historic, difficult egg tempera technique he employs.  This is tough beautiful art.  We can get lost in deciphering the image and find love long before understanding. It has been a long while since we've seen a Lutes exhibit. (Not only is his work arduous, he has been busy with commissions.)  And this is a triumphant return - well worth the trek.

I'm mildly fascinated by the phenomenon of two married artists, who don't show all that much, having openings in two different galleries in the same city on the same night. 
Kim Piotrowski and Jim Lutes are married. Piotrowski has a strong show (we're back to the West Loop) at Skestos Gabriele Gallery.  Her new paintings are confident, strong, and clear. She doesn't second guess her paintings. She makes a mark.  She leaves it. These are not simple marks.  They are quirky and irregular, yet crisp and purposeful.  I like that.

Aron Packer has just merged his gallery with Schopf and now the new entity, Packer Schopf is located on Lake Street.  The first exhibit is a composite of the galleries artists and Packer's scheduled one person show with Dee Clements who makes social commentary through her embroideries.

Gosia Koscielak has a new space in which to show the high caliber international and local art she favors.  Her new show is with Susan Sensemann.  Susan has been making art and teaching in Chicago for a long while - always solid work. Maybe you saw the article in Wired Magazine discussing the two kinds of geniuses: those who are geniuses early and those who are geniuses late.  Susan is of the second variety.  The work she is doing is more exciting, braver, more intriguing than ever. Beautiful and meaningful all at once.

Also new this summer is Architrouve, which will most often feature Chicago artists. However they are presently presenting a strong exhibit of photographs of New Orleans in the wake of Katrina by New Orleans native
Joshua Mann Pailet.  The recovery of New Orleans needs to be on the forefront of all of our thoughts. This exhibit passionately conveys the pride and the tragedy that remains in New Orleans. This week we are experiencing multiple anniversaries and the American response to this situations is telling. For us to succeed it must be more about participating than observing.  Knowledge, wisdom and action must prevail over apathy.

There're a lot of good things going on. Chicago's
Renaissance Society has its annual benefit this Saturday night.  The Ren does 5 shows a year almost always showing us artists for the first time who whose names will be on the tips of all our tongues a few years from now.  This is an operation whose purpose is much more to enlighten, reveal and educate than a commercial gallery.  And their mission is much more immediate than a museum's. Too often, when I miss a show, a year later I'm kicking myself for not having gotten in on the ground floor.  Check them out - frequently.

This weekend is the
Around the Coyote Festival where 100's of artists not only open their studios in the Wicker Park - Bucktown neighborhoods, but also participate in presentations of dance, music, literature and film.  Lots of opportunities to engage with artists. Lots of fun.

I hope to see you out there.
Thank you,

Paul Klein