Art Letter

September 2007 Archives


Damn. I want to like Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art, and I sure wanted to like their new show Sympathy for the Devil (named for a Rolling Stones' song.)

Yet this show is just another unfortunate example of "curator as artist."  What a wrong idea.  I'm seeing it way too much.  With all the hyperbole in the artworld, curators want to be stars too.  Bad!  Curators should perform a service to artists and connoisseurship.  Plain and simple, curators are servants.

Well that's not what's happening in Sympathy for the Devil.  Curator Dominic Molon delves into remote, inaccessible references, using art in ways not intended by the artists to make a point that invariably does a disservice to the artists and their artwork.

Oh, the point is there all right: that art and rock 'n roll are intertwined, but so many others have explored the relationship of music to art so much better previously, so much more didactically and beautifully. like
the Joint Show from long ago or the Hyde Park Art Center's recent Sun Ra exhibition

This MCA show is the kind that leaves me feeling insufficient, like I'm supposed to comprehend Molon's arcane, indulgent references, when the fact is that it is the show that is insufficient.

Upstairs the MCA is presenting highlights from their collection acknowledging their 40th anniversary celebration. There are some great pieces owned by the MCA. And a lot of them have been paraded out so often I gather that there are a lot of holes.  Yes, there are a few pieces by Chicago artists, but the ratio of great local art shown here does not correspond to the amount of great art made here. One thing that is particularly illuminating is that all the didactic wall text for this show is in the artists' own words.  Now that's innovative and relevant. Bravo.

I want to like the MCA.  I want them to be exemplary. (I do like that they are having
free admission the next 40 days as part of their celebration and are also having scads of Chicago artists on site just about daily.) I bet I've seen every exhibit and been to the museum every month for going on 3 decades. I donated lots of money, pushed them for thirteen years before they began the 12 x 12 series and funded it for the first 2 years. They have some great curators there and they've presented some great shows.  Yet going forward they need to do better, much better.

What is it about government that makes it think it can act in its own self-interest - or for that matter even have a self-interest?

Let's just speak locally and keep it art related. After the insult of the City's public art ordinance that effectively removed the public from public art, we now have the Chicago Park District contending with a lawsuit generated because it trashed a long standing Chicago work of art. 

I'm talking about
Chapman Kelley's wildflower painting, sculpture, garden that has graced Grant Park since Harold Washington was Mayor.  How dumb is it for the Park District to ignore the law and arrogantly alter the art?

Chapman Kelley sued. Chapman Kelley won.  The Park District stands to lose $1.5 million. So many people are trying to do so much to benefit art in Chicago and all by itself Chicago screws the arts again.  Damn.

Paul Klein


Having taken the summer off from writing largely because I haven't seen much worth writing about I think it is time to raise the standards. My revised intent is to write about art that I believe is worth seeing.

With the start of the fall art season opening tonight I previewed about 20 shows that I had high expectations for.  When I go out looking for art I ideally want three things: 1, to see art of substance. 2, a glimpse into the artist's soul. 3, art that knocks my socks off. Here are the exhibits that met my criteria

Jacob Hashimoto at Rhona Hoffman. This show flat out sings.  A graduate of the School of the Art Institute who no longer lives here, Hashimoto and his kite referential art are calm, deep, sensitive, expansive, meditative, harmonious and exciting. His art has grown leaps and bounds in the past 5 years. See this knockout show.  Watch him grow.

Todd Pavlisko at Monique Meloche. I've known Todd for maybe ten years, since he was at graduate school at Carnegie Mellon. He was always a very big thinker. Now he's got the means and the moxie to pull it off.  Stimulated by Stephen Hawking's zero gravity flight, this exhibit explores our human condition of Hope and Hopelessness; the duality we address everyday but rarely really acknowledge. Ballsy, different, brave, challenging, fresh, focused and freethinking Pavlisko is an important artist on the threshold of real recognition. 

Chris Millar at ThreeWalls.  This is work to be awed and amazed by.  Maybe reminiscent of Tony Fitzpatrick, or Chris Ware but rendered in paint, this Canadian artist gets more content into a small work of art than I could absorb in a year. Fresh, crisp, dynamic and lewd; this show is a visual treat. And down the hall, check out Chicagoan Cayetano Ferrer at the brand new ThreeWallsSolo.

Wesley Kimler at Architrouve.  Kimler has been making art for years and yearly, if not monthly, his art, its power, its ability to communicate and affect us keeps getting better. Lots better. In this two-person exhibit (with photographer Sandro's fascinating photographs of large black women pressed onto sheets of plexiglas) Kimler ratchets his drawings up a notch by adding heads and faces to his large torn and reassembled sheets of paper saturated with dense black, soulful marks. I read them as eulogistic antiwar statements, meditating on larger universal life and death issues, as they brush Leon Golub aside with their vigor, guts and staying power.

Heather Marshall at Linda Warren. In her first one-person exhibit Marshall delivers lucid, crisp, transcendent paintings whose scale belies their size. Visualize a Jeff Wall backlit photo.  Shrink it to a foot in size and make it an oil painting. The exhibit, appropriately dedicated to her teacher and mentor Donald McFadyen, who died too young at 45, shows that his spirit lives on.

thank you,
Paul Klein