Art Letter

October 2007 Archives


I've recently written about Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art's need to redefine itself in light of the forthcoming onslaught of the Art Institute's contemporary wing.  The MCA's current show misses the opportunity to include and acknowledge its Chicago constituency - a selfish and shortsighted choice.

Faced with a similar need since its renaming and reopening,
The Chicago History Museum has embraced Chicago's visual arts in a relevant and constructive way.

Last year  the
Paschke survey exhibit was excellent with prime paintings from more expanded sources than Paschke's work is usually drawn from.

And now, opening Saturday, is the
Big Picture - a fun, engaging exhibition, mostly drawn on the museums own collection.

Look at the innovative things this once stodgy museum is doing: 

  • Presenting an overview of art made in Chicago

  • at an institution not associated with art

  • with Independent Curators

  • from a local - Chicago commercial enterprise.

This is great stuff. The show is didactic with informative signage, helping place the work in context within its period as well as the overall flow of the various themes running through the exhibit.

It's an imperfect, yet honest show covering over 100 years of art in Chicago with about 75 paintings.   Two/thirds of the paintings are from the Museum's collection and includes some great examples by
Archibald Motley, Jr., Morris Barazani, Leon Golub, and Jim Lutes, augmented by some borrowed pieces like a sweet Manierre Dawson.  Many of these pieces are important and it's great that they've made it into public view. A show like this helps us understand who we are - and to some extent why.  Art made in Chicago - in the Midwest - is different that art made somewhere else. it's a fascinating fact of life that's bigger than we are.  Think about that as you view this exhibit.

I used to try to dismiss Deborah Butterfield's work. It always seemed like it was too easy and too repetitive.  And I was always jealous that it sold so fast and for so much money. But actually, as is abundantly evident in her new show that opens tonight at Zolla/Lieberman Gallery, her work is powerful, sensitive, big sculpture. This is the biggest, best show I've seen of hers.  She continues to grow, to comprehend her subject and to become more versatile in her medium. With all the cheap mundane commercialism in the artworld it is nice to see an artist like Butterfield choose integrity over money. 

Each horse is cast in bronze - in an edition of one. Each horse is unique. Bronze is a medium designed for reproduction and Butterfield selects it because it accurately enables her to express herself aesthetically. The patinas are amazing; the bumps sinuous and real.  These are works of art that will reveal themselves over years.  That's one way I judge a work of art - what kind of staying power does it have? This show is worth seeing more than once.

There's something special about Bernard Williams and his art that you can pick up on in his show opening tonight at McCormick Gallery. You find yourself liking him and his art before you've fully grasped the depth of him and his content. Its the stuff that runs right beneath the surface, the stuff you don't quite see at first that gives the art its strength; the balance of warmth and familiar materials against the sharper more cutting commentary of his message - a passionate look at both black and white cultural icons with fondness and humor.  Williams is a chronicler.  He tells stories about people we don't know. He tells stories about us.

Thank You,
Paul Klein