Art Letter


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