Art Letter

October 2006 Archives


I haven't written about Corbett vs. Dempsey Gallery in some time. I got an email from them two days ago telling me about the great show they've got opening tonight.

I'm glad I heard from them because I've been thinking about excellence in the arts in Chicago ever since I had a long discussion with Paul Gray of
Richard Gray Gallery earlier in the week. Lots of people and organizations here are excellent. I've begun focusing on what distinguishes the excellence that exists in Chicago. I'm surmising that it is a midwestern trait, a mixture of honesty, directness, passion and sticktuitivenesst. It is not funk and flash. And it isn't immediate or transitory. It's more permanent, solid, incremental; persevering. I'm thinking about galleries, artists, and arts administrators that fulfill exemplify these qualities and I suspect I'll be writing more about this later.  If you agree with these theories please help me develop my thoughts, "nominate" folks, and tell me why. Heck, if you disagree, that's good too.

Jim Dempsey and John Corbett have taken a passion for mid-century Chicago art and grown a beautiful and successful business. These guys are artists and aesthetic theoreticians. They employ their knowledge and enthusiasm to break new, ground, to inform us about the present by revealing the past.  They are unique and they are fresh.

Corbett vs. Dempsey's new exhibit is titled Abstract Imagist and looks at the abstract art and artists affiliated with the Chicago Imagist movement of the 1960's, and those who work abstractly that were influenced by the Imagists.

For me, and quite a few others, Chicago art starts with the Imagists.  And this is flat out wrong, as is amply demonstrated in last spring's superb Art in Chicago: Resisting Regionalism, Transforming Modernism exhibit at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art.  This show drew a line from 1912 to 1985, right through the Imagists. The PAFA show taught me a lot, and so does the Abstract Imagist exhibit. 

The Abstract Imagist show generates a greater appreciation of the depth that exists here and assists in getting a few historical art threads in order. As
William Conger has written on Sharkforum and elsewhere the Imagists and abstraction were not antithetical. There were Imagists like Christina Ramberg and Sarah Canright who worked abstractly and figuratively. Yes, there were debates at the time, but the evidence presented in the Abstract Imagist exhibit demonstrates that history embellishes, modifies and misrepresents the truth.  Because of their passion and creativity Corbett vs Dempsey shines a strong light on what occurred and expands our knowledge. Check out the exhibition catalogue for more evidence of their solid thinking.

Paul Gray is a good guy; smart and honest, straightforward, a man of conviction. Those are traits of excellence that he and his gallery demonstrate, which explains in part why local collectors, and significant Art Institute supporters, Anne Dias Griffin and Ken Griffen purchased an $80 million Jasper Johns painting from him. Substance.

The same can be said of the Jaume Plensa exhibition that opened at
Richard Gray Gallery last night. Plensa is the artist who did the fabulous Crown Fountain in Millennium Park. As an artist he is a poet, musician and philosopher, imbued with history and passionate about the significance of Everyman.  Just as his fountain glorifies the beauty of every Chicagoan and their faces, this exhibit addresses oneness across ethnicities. The exhibition is enhanced by the catalogue and its interview/discussion with Plensa whose powerful life and art philosophy anchors his work and makes it relevant and beautiful for all of us.

Last weekend I journeyed 45 minutes south to the Manilow Sculpture Park at Governors State University, for the dedication of 3 new, major sculptures by 3 Chicago artists; Richard Rezac, Christine Tarkowski and Tony Tasset, whose work joins two dozen other major sculptors in a marvelous prairie setting where no two works are within 200 yards of one another. Tony Tasset's piece, simply titled Paul, is thoroughly exceptional and is indicative of the course change his work has taken over the past several years.  I'm all in favor of powerful, accessible art. Though there are some 30 sculptures in America of Paul Bunyan this is the only one where Paul is old, wizening, paunchy and sad. Bunyan has seen and been America.  This is a powerful commentary. 

The Park never closes and as prone as we are to make a trip to Laumeier,  Meijer or Storm King, we have a jewel right here in our back yard worthy of several trips a year.

Thank you,
Paul Klein


ArtLetter is about previews. Everything I write about here opens tonight (well except the first one). If something intrigues you its fun to go to the opening.

Sometimes excellent art and art-like experiences come when and where you don't expect them. A couple of days ago I went to the newly remodeled, reopened and renamed Chicago History Museum.  I don't know that I've ever seen a fresh, clean diorama before.  These sparkled and made the leap of faith to the time they were addressing all the more real.  They were nice, but that wasn't what really moved me.  I choked up on the verge of tears three times.  First with the Ed Paschke exhibit. 2nd with the coverage of the 1968 Democratic Convention and 3rd while watch a video of Walter Payton striding. There were Paschke's I'd never seen before, old friends, and one I'd even sold, and what was really great was the recreation of Ed's studio and a powerful, full of life video recorded hours before Ed died on Thanksgiving day 2004.  The museum is better than ever. Welcome Back.

We have a lot of great artists in Chicago and beyond the pleasure of discovering them is the satisfaction of watching them grow, evolve and mature. It is sure true with the work of Richard Hull at Carrie Secrist Gallery where new moderately scaled works (I bought one) are balanced by an extra large wall drawing Hull was about to get started on.  To be made in situ, I'm going to go back a few times to watch it evolve. He is good enough, and mature enough to take chances and try something new, like taking his charcoal line drawings and having one converted into a cast iron gate.  He's becoming a treasure; he has a unique vocabulary and a fresh vision.  If you aren't already, pay attention to what he does and where he goes.

Over at Architrove David Roth and Rhonda Gates are exhibiting together.  They're both from here which makes it easier to pay attention to how they're progressing. Gates had a strong show at the Elmhurst Art Museum a year ago and made some rather large and strong work for their large walls. What she learned from doing that is  manifesting itself in the more intimate pieces she is exhibiting now. Purposeful marks, subtle shading, layers of content are all better; subtly so.  And David Roth. I was mildly shocked.  Still colored, stained, painted, "paintings" on wood, the difference between this body of work and that of the last few years is night and day. The new work sings, is no longer rectilinear, but sensuous, curvy, free, intelligent, passionate and smart.  They are confident, subtle, not self-conscious and happy.  Growth like that doesn't happen very often, or so significantly. I was impressed.

Speaking of which, I'm impressed with how often I get educated when I stop by
Rhona Hoffman's gallery.  She introduces me to a lot of talent.  This time it's Mickalene Thomas, a painter, a photographer and a compulsive sequiner. This work succeeds because it is accessible.  It draws me in, seduces me, and informs me while I am really paying more attention to surface considerations and process.  I like this work and if you pay close attention to the announcement you can see a painting in the exhibit that Thomas reworked after the image was photographed.  I like that too.  It shows that she has her priorities in the right order.

The Bad at Sports art commentators, the Edward R Murrows of the Chicago art world, are in residence at
Three Walls. Calling it like they see it, pulling no punches that I can tell they are upping the ante and doing more interviews with more people on more subjects than ever before.  Sometimes they are great. Sometimes they miss. But they are always fresh, vibrant, pithy and multinational.  Look for a discussion tonight with artists Tony Fitzpatrick, William Conger, Phyllis Bramson and curators Mark Pascale and Greg Knight on the topic "What the Heck Do You Mean 'Chicago art?'" Subsequent conversations will include Kerry James Marshall, Rhona Hoffman, Francesco Bonami, Hamza Walker and even me. We can either laugh with them, at them or at ourselves when we tune in a Bad at Sports podcast, As much as they leave in, I wonder what they edit out.

Upstairs, there's a brand new gallery opening tonight. Rowley Kennerk is a recent graduate of the School of the Art Institute with a degree in Art History and he has a point of view favoring minimal conceptual art.  Like when we see a quality new artist for the first time, this is but an introduction.  It'll take a bit of time to understand his vocabulary to grasp the essence and to appreciate the subtitles. There's good work here, thoughtful, serious, yet with a touch of humor.  It is not easy art. Give it time.  The reward is worth the effort.

I enjoy watching Aron Packer settle into his new space.  As he is reincarnated into the merged entity of Packer Schopf Gallery with easily 3 times as much real estate he is learning how to use the space to his advantage.  The new Robert Horvath exhibit hangs better than his last show. The work has grown too. Still over-the-top candy-luscious the art is more subtle, feeling more like psychological portraits than people basking in colored lights.

It's been too long since I've visited Navta Schulz Gallery.  Jodie and Ryan's hospitality, warmth and knowledge enhance the art experience there.  They are committed to their artists and grow with them Lisa Kowalski us a Chicago artist they've worked with for some time. She works in oil paint, wet on wet. Loose, seductive abstraction.

I've long been intrigued by the paintings of Terence La Noue on exhibit at
Zolla/Lieberman, who begins his art by working backwards, making marks on large panels.  After he has laid down enough paint that the paint itself has sufficient substance, he peels it off the panel and works on it further from the front and the back. It is a lot of work and an unusual way of visualizing a completed image, or for that matter, a work in process. It reminds we of the charming paintings of Jean Messagier, who almost 100 years ago painted on glass and presented his work shiny, glass-side forward.  Part of what makes art wonderful is being able to tap into someone else's creative genius, to get a glimpse of how they see.  Of course, the results are important, but I often delight in the vicarious experience of daydreaming about how they got there. 

I can't do what he does, and I can't do what a lot of these people do, but my brain can emulate the process, and I get to bask and benefit in the art making process.  It is not just about enjoying, appreciating or being challenged by the glory of the finished work, it is about the experience, the creativity and the enrichment of the process that gives art value for me.

Trick or treat,
Paul Klein



I think the operative word is initiative.  Right now, I'm seeing a lot of art, artists, cultural entrepreneurs and a few galleries making innovative strides to present good art, or creative thematic exhibits, in some exciting new or different venues.

October is
Chicago Artists Month and there's a lot of good art in a lot of places. Some usual and some unusual.

There's a great show in a one-use space presented by the entirely new
Chicago City Arts with the wordy title: Structural Elements: Selected Chicago New Media Artists. With something like 20 artists in the show working with computers, projectors, light and sound there's all kinds of things that can go wrong, and so far it looks like everything is going right.  Curated by Matt McDermott with a little help from a lot of friends this show draws from established new media artists and those who are freshly out of school, or will be soon.  There's powerful stimulation here, plus a fair amount of interactive art, meaning you touch it and it responds, or you move and it changes, or you make choices and it participates. This is the kind of show where you'll want to ask questions and Matt will be on hand to explain. At the tonight's opening, just to make sure you have stimuli overload there'll even be live music.

Polvo has a particularly smart show that functions as a how-to guide for contemporary artists.  Titled Propagation, the show explores the dual mission of artists who invent art dispersal systems because their art just doesn't fit into conventional galleries. Clearly, there is a crossover between their message and their means. It is an informative exhibit that shows artists taking responsibility for how their art gets out into the world. Curated by Sabrina Raaf, the show includes Chicago favorites Industry of the Ordinary and Michael Workman, along with Patrick Lichty, Andrea Polli, subRosa and Amy Youngs.  Polvo is an exceptional gallery on the City's south side.  Low budget, they succeed by tons of hard work, travel, enthusiasm and diversity.

In one of the most dynamic art spaces anywhere (I can think of one better one in London) 30 to 40 Chicago sculptors are hosting a one-night presentation tonight at 1544 N. Sedgwick from 8 PM to midnight. This space is is wonderful - I think it used to be used to repair L cars, and the artists are solid, long time, art supported contributors to culture in town and around the nation like
John Adduci, Ted Garner and Tom Scarff. This is a rare opportunity to see where macho metal gets turned into civic art.

I love all these vibrant, creative, stimulating, original endeavors. Artists taking responsibility for not only making art, but getting it out into the world is wise and appropriate. Others get inspired, follow suit and present art it unexpected locations. Under the guidance of
Nixon Art Associates there's a bank presenting quality art because it resonates with its clientele. Metropolitan Capital Bank is presenting work by John Phillips, a strong Chicago painter whose art is informed by his huge collection of early Blues.

Up in Evanston, opening Saturday is a the
Open House Project, curated by Jodie Jacobi with work by Remy Barnes, David Coyle, Dana De Ano, Howard Fonda, Catherine Forster, Jodie Jacobi, Anna Joelsdottir, Darrell Roberts, Shannon Stratton and LiveBox.  This is an entire functioning home turned over to a exuberant art presentation.

A lot of good things are happening on the south side of Chicago, in Pilsen, Bridgeport and elsewhere. In conjunction with Chicago Artists Month the
Chicago Artists' Coalition presents the Chicago Art Open.  When they say "Open" they mean it; 300 artists, unjuried unfettered, unrestrained. It could be subtitled The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.  You get to go see what resonates for you and examine a very broad sampling of the art that gets made here. There is also a much smaller juried section where you can contrast the presumed quality here with the Open presentation. A good opportunity to learn something about the machinations of the artworld just by looking.

To top it all off, the tireless impresario Edmar and his cohorts are presenting the
5th Select Media Festival. Raw, vibrant and frequently quite good this is a great opportunity to look and to get involved.

I really like
Cody Hudson's work and he and Zakee Shariff are creating an installation in Hejfina, an upscale lifestyle boutique, to be unveiled next Thursday evening.  It promises to be fun, playful, and of course slightly irreverent.

Lastly, in the almost conventional
Walsh Gallery space the unconventional Von Kommanivanh, a Chicago artist born in Laos with a history of graffiti and tattoos delivers an absorbing, challenging sculpture around which the gallery has created a thematic group show titled Grounded, which examines the concept of immobility across mediums, which is kind of funny because Kommanivanh has mostly worked in two dimensions and is quite strong in in his first public foray into the third.

This is a really good weekend for finding fun art in fun new places. Chicago is alive.  I'll see you out there.

Thank you,
Paul Klein