Art Letter

January 2007 Archives


The kickoff of the second half of the Chicago gallery art season began last week with numerous openings in River North and is followed tonight by multiple openings in the West Loop.

Though the art I saw was good there a couple of changes underfoot that I think noteworthy. 
Susan Gescheidle will be leaving her space in late spring commensurate with changes to her program. I understand entirely. She wants a smaller location where she can focus on fewer artists and do more for them. This is a courageous move - following one's instincts and moving into uncharted territory. She will take space upstairs from NavtaSchulz. Navta Schulz is a wonderful gallery rapidly augmenting its presence in its first year in Chicago.

Not only is
Navta Schulz getting a quality new neighbor, they are doing something this month that Chicago galleries rarely do - sharing an artist with another gallery having simultaneous shows at two different venues.  Alexa Horochowski has shown previously with Meloche.  In this outing, her work looks really strong. There are about a dozen pieces at Navta Schulz and a few slightly older pieces at Meloche.  This is vaguely autobiographical work somewhat reminiscent of Henry Darger and Balthus.  Almost ever painting employs a central figure and an alter ego, such that nice and naughty can coexist at the same time.  It is an interesting insight yielding device.  The work has a powerful ambiguity, but because there are more clues given the work can also be more esoteric.

The earlier works at
Meloche enable us to realize the development, increased ability and confidence Horochowski has attained. I like the thread that draws the two galleries together.

Mariana Levant is a talented and intriguing painter.  Her work at Gescheidle is new and fresh and has solid historical antecedents.  Born in Russia, educated and living in Chicago, Levant's paintings have a spatial balance that reminds me Roberto Matta. There's a visual path that navigates its' way through the paintings that enables me to read this work sculpturally. I think this is solid work. I first saw pieces a few months ago. The vocabulary and cast of marks are different from other artists.  Seeing Levant's art more than once helps, which is often the case with gifted artists - it takes a while to comprehend their ability and language.  I'm getting there. I liked them the first time I saw them and I like them better this time.

Rhona Hoffman has a excellent show of pieces from Fred Sandback's estate. He is known for his drawings in space made with straight, stretched, yarn-like string. This show has that, but the work feels more sculptural to me.  The lines work together is some cases to create allusions to 3 dimensional form.   That was fun; seeing something different and new in an artist's work I thought I comprehended.

Anna Meyer and Jemima Wyman are certainly having a lot of fun.  The Gallery 400000 website says they employ "visual metaphors found within digital culture, while advocating a politics of pleasure generated from restrained ribaldry and otherness as subject matter," which makes me feel like I'm about to get indigestion at a too supercilious new restaurant.  Instead, I feel like these two are having a hoot after discovering scads of permutations of a hound's-tooth pattern. Though there is obviously seriousness underlying their folly, this is a predominantly a celebration of black and white, how patterns overlay and play with one another and how design, when altered a few degrees at every opportunity, enables a fun, satisfying yet challenging environment. This too is a good show. Quite a few young women are making strong creative statements in town this month.  And this show presents a fertile playground for us, and ultimately for the artists to draw upon, as they get their careers going.

David Parker (at Kasia Kay) is one of the few truly honest artists whose art is exploring his life, its trials and tribulations and his existence in suburbia, which he is clearly not enjoying.  If this is therapy, where Parker seeks to escape the grasp of the suburbs by launching himself into space (or a big city) from his trampoline, then I hope he doesn't get well.  Accompanying his honesty is a vulnerability and self-deprecation that resonates when I allow myself to get as intuitive privately as Parker does publicly. Good vicarious voyeurism opportunity.  Better him than me.

I used to present at least a couple of group shows every year. Now I don't feel like I like them as much - at least as a viewer trying to figure out the common elements the dealer or curator saw. I know when I curated group shows I liked them - they gave me a chance to make an aesthetic statement of my own, which I felt like I deferred on when doing a one-person exhibition.   Of the group shows I saw two were particularly enjoyable.

Linda Warren is smart and getting more savvy. Her exhibition is a cacophony of color meant to cheer up a drab, cold, gray, Chicago winter. And it certainly works. Titled Normal, the show explores peoples' desire to be normal. Heck, I don't even know what's normal in terms of Americans these days.  I'm sure I don't aspire to normalcy.  And when I see artists exploring the subject I don't really see normal either. I see a discussion about normal.  But it's nor reverential. There's fun work in this show; perfect for a summer day - or a respite from winter.

Maxwell Graham is an observant, freelance Chicago curator who presents Open and Shut at Skestos Gabriele.  Drawing on artists who work with text or words Graham has assembled artists who are not the usual suspects.  Predominantly monochromatic this exhibit is a nice foil to Linda Warren's.  It is thoughtful, contemplative, solid, and unobtrusive. The show is well hung and not crowded. The text is interesting, though I prefer to not focus on "reading", but using the text as stimuli, the same way I would brushstrokes in a painting.  It makes me think of the form - the visual presentation - of a poem.  Stephanie Skestos is honing her focus and finding her own important place within the Chicago art structure.  She's doing well and caters to a slightly different audience that other Chicago galleries, giving her (or perhaps a result of) a unique perspective. This is a good place to go to see strong yet slightly different art from what we see elsewhere.   That, all by itself, makes it worthwhile.

Thanks for coming along,
Paul Klein


This is a fortuitous moment. There are several excellent exhibitions opening in Chicago this evening and the weather is amazing for a night out in January.

Not only that, the long awaited opening of the brand new
Alfedena Gallery is here.  Director John Brunetti has been a seminal art critic in Chicago for years, championing Chicago artists in particular. Is it any wonder I like him? And now he is opening a gallery focusing on his peers - mid-career artists who are arguably making the best work of their lives.  Tonight's grand opening is with Vera Klement, the doyenne of the Chicago art community.  The gallery is expansive, ever so slightly removed from the other galleries and Klement's work is significant.  She is an exemplary painter, a woman of vision creating work that's full of content.  I like that the content doesn't beat me over the head, that it has what I call "positive ambiguity;" content that it is stimulating and open to interpretation. So we've got a great artist at a new gallery entering the fray at a high level. This is all unusual and worth checking out.  First or last stop material.

My sense is that art-making falls into one of two categories.  In the first, artists make art that is evidence of a philosophy.  The image is largely preconceived and exists to illustrate or prove a point.  In the second, the artist makes art to discover him or herself and brings us along for the ride. The process and motivations are quite different. Perhaps these affinities are ego driven.

Now, within each of strains of development, I like art that is accessible. I don't think art has to be snooty to be good. On the contrary, I like art that anyone can appreciate.  This doesn't mean that it need be simple, simplistic, or for simpletons; or that some study, knowledge and artistic awareness is undesirable. It means that it is not so esoteric as to be incomprehensible or so remote that it mandates massive wall-label reading or didactic explanations. A wall-label should enhance the visual and/or aesthetic experience, not determine it.

Sorry for the digression.  I was looking over some of the work that follows and one could argue that there's an example or two here of insider art meant for those who appreciate the pretense or are in on the joke.  Shees, they may make money, may be vogue today, but for my buck the joke's on them.

We already know that I like Vera Klement's art.  She's a good example. I think her work is intriguing on a purely visual level.  Read a little bit about it, or get insight from her informed dealer, and the work gets better. That's fine.

Take a look at
Vadim Katznelson's art at Roy Boyd.  I can't say that this is particularly serious work. I just find it a joyful riot of fun; a bombastic, visual experience full of discovery, questions, intrigue and fascination. Yeah, I bought one.  If you saw Katznelson's last show you can see how much he's progressed and how the work I thought successful once was in fact formative and how much better this art is. And you know what's interesting? I play poker with Vadim every now and then and he is so disciplined, studied, focused, serious and purposeful. To some extent his art is like that, especially the process, but mostly it's just fun.

Across the street at
Hammer Gallery is wonderful exhibit by the veritable doyen of Chicago Art, Don Baum.  Baum has been seminal and instrumental in a lot of the art that has been associated with Chicago, like the Imagists, the Hyde Park Art Center and Outsider Art.  He is an artist, a curator, a visionary and a friend and it is a tribute to Hammer Gallery for the quality and variety they have assembled. If you want to know about Chicago Art, of today and of the past several decades it is imperative to include a visit to the Baum exhibit and the Klement exhibit discussed above.

Maybe January is the month for the artists who have contributed to Chicago over the long haul. 
Ellen Lanyon has an array of solid works on paper at Printworks.  She has always drawn beautifully from and of nature, sometimes didactically, always sympathetically. There is a warmth and passion to her work that seduces and resonates. The hand, the heart and the eye connect. The pieces flow and follow. We learn about her and ourselves and she does.

Robert Hudson has been making a difference for quite a while too.  This is his second exhibit at Perimeter Gallery in as many years. I've known and revered his work for about 30 years. I find it formal, fun, whimsical, creative and pretty damned close to exciting.  What I didn't know is that he has been working in clay, besides metal, for a long time and this show at Perimeter is almost entirely clay. He comes from a Northern California tradition of the interplay of color and form, with peers like William Wiley, Bob Arneson, Tom Holland and Richard Shaw.  I'm thrilled that Perimeter is doing well with his work.  We get to see more of it.

I'm always interested in the relationship of an artist's personality to his or her artwork. Sometimes there is a oneness like with Klement and Baum, and sometimes they balance one another like Katznelson's art and personality. And sometimes I'm just not quite sure, as with
Michelle Grabner who is showing at Shane Campbell, opening Saturday.  Her art is special, thoughtful and meditative.  It is quiet and labor intensive. Mark after mark. One mistake and she throws it away and starts anew.  She is warm, friendly, considerate and accessible. I think her art is like that too. And she also writes about art, sometimes reviewing, sometimes philosophizing.  She has a point of view, is educated, and is a natural teacher. Maybe with Michelle the art, personality and writing balance one another and resonate too. That would be remarkable.  Maybe that's what it is.

Fred Holland's work, at Flatfile, is evidentiary and I like it.  His political, antiwar statements lead him into diverse media and expressions and generate personal, artistic growth.  Several months ago I was asked by Michael Bonesteel for examples of political and/or antiwar art.  I couldn't give him much. Now I'm seeing more which may be because he raised my consciousness. Holland is showing with Dread Scott.  Their art is pithy. Sometimes it makes me smile and chortle. Sometimes in makes me feel self-conscious and awkward.  Good art has lots of different kinds of power.  This is good stuff and not what we often see. We should see more of it.

Holly Holmes and Tom Burtonwood make political art too. They are in a group show at Allrise Gallery in a show about commercial excess.  And Burtonwood & Holmes's art sure fits. Looking like they've inherited Hans Haake's bailiwick, they build near life-sized tanks from cardboard and cover them with all the ads from the Sunday newspaper supplements. Greg Stimac and Jonathan Gitelson impress too. Consumerism and (anti)war. There is a relationship.

A show by Chicagoan
Scott Short at the Renaissance Society that opens Sunday confuses me.  This work is certainly process driven with little room for insertion of the artist's prerogative - well, maybe.  He photocopies copies of construction paper over and over until whatever was there is gone and all that remains is some black and white trace of something that was lost long ago.  He then blows the image up and rigorously paints it on canvas. Short has selected the image to paint based solely on personal whim and then removes his emotions and perhaps himself from the creative process, religiously transcribing the photocopy to the canvas.  Some find this a commentary on art and art history, and the state of art today. For me, the proof of the pudding is in the eating.  This is beautiful work. All the gobbledygook is irrelevant - even if it makes somebody feel good.

To end with a reference to where I began, John Brunetti has curated a fascinating show at the
Evanston Art Center that opens Sunday.  Titled Not Fade Away it includes Scott Short and delves into art about material and optical disintegration.  (For years Brunetti as been great at conjuring up concepts that inform the viewer, the artist, and the art without pontificating on something that the art is not about.) Also in this show are Noelle AllenMarie Krane Bergman (a personal favorite), L.J. Douglas and Jiwon Son.

Well, that's what I think.

Happy New Year
Paul Klein