Art Letter


10/27/06

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