Art Letter

November 2007 Archives


More and more, as a viewer of art, I look for impressive content accompanied by quality execution. Rarely is it sufficient to have one without the other. I see a lot of crap masquerading as art, but pretty much it's just crap.

I previewed a lot of exhibitions for this ArtLetter and frankly some of them just don't measure up, and frankly neither do some of the galleries.  There is no excuse for an absence of professionalism.

Let's start at the top.  There are two special shows at
Rhona Hoffman GallerySiebren Versteeg is smarter than me. His art is accessible, but not easily decipherable.  He's exploring notions of non-linear time, like the way (algorithmic) computer formulas fold back on themselves, or if you want to think more simply, the way times compresses and expands when we pass through time zones.  Fascinating, heady, beautiful literal examples abound in his work. I find it warmly challenging, making me feel younger as I'm compelled to embrace and comprehend new ideas. 

Also at Rhona's juxtaposing Siebren's mainly monochromatic mental exercises are
Chris Garofalo's organic, luscious, sensual and fantastic ceramic "creatures." Looking like animals resembling plants there are imaginative sea anemones like I've never seen.  It is easy to get lost in the macrocosm of the installation while examining the microcosm of her detail. This is an exhibit that makes me happy.

Next door at
Monique Meloche, Laura Letinsky's new photographs show impressive growth accomplished over a short few years.  Classically beautiful, arranged compositions, of contemporary detritus expand on her vocabulary.  The work remains a little eerie, somewhat lonely, but oh so lyrical, subtle and strong.

Across the street at
Bodybuilder is a small group show featuring works by a couple of my favorites: Ken Fandell and Diana Guerrero-Macia, among others.  I was particularly impressed with Diana's new work.  There's significant growth in her work too - more layering and more challenging composition. I find it really gratifying to enjoy the artistic growth I witness in artists who I've long respected.

Juan Angel Chavez is savvy and talented.  His art at Bucket Rider is smart, direct, multilayered, fun and compulsively anti-elitist. He makes art people can relate to - art about and full of life.  More than most his art transcends his materials.  He creates elegance from the mundane.

Renee McGinnes has been making art in Chicago for at least a decade. When I first encountered her art I thought it was pretty weak, without much ability and without much to say.  She's always been a gracious person, attending openings and visiting galleries and she's always cared. Her show at Packer Schopf is evidence that, over the past 3 years or so her art has undergone significant change.  Her ability has skyrocketed and her content has matured. She's become a wonderful artist.  The point is - that for some - perseverance has genuine rewards. It sure has for Renee.

Each of these artists we've seen exhibited in Chicago in the last 18 months. Each has grown since that last exposure. Each is making better work that they ever have.  This is predominantly a young to pretty young crew, making a living from their art.  They are competent and professional.  We should be proud and more importantly we should be supportive.  I think it's time to spend some money.

A noteworthy enhancement to culture in Chicago is the expansion of the
Spertus Museum, which opens tomorrow night.  With a glorious new facility on Michigan Avenue next door to where it has always been, curator Staci Boris, who used to be at the MCA, gets to strut her impressive curatorial ability with an exhibition focusing on varying amounts of Jewish content in contemporary art.

It's good out there. Let's be a part of it.

Thank you,


A couple of weeks ago I was in London enduring the lucrative lunacy of the artworld. To a large extent the relationship between quality and value is a thing of the past. As my friend Frank says, "Money doesn't buy taste."  Unfortunately true.

So when possible, I look at art without looking at the prices. That makes a lot of sense to me, unless of course we're looking at Chicago artists whose art is  less expensive than artists elsewhere.

That said, I had the significant pleasure of previewing 5 solid exhibitions that open tonight, or this weekend.
I have no idea how
Barbara Koenen does all she does.  She works for the Department of Cultural Affairs and is responsible for the valuable and exemplary Chicago Artists Resource website (CAR). She is an accomplished artist with a painstakingly difficult medium - she uses spices to mimic prayer rugs, and now she has curated a powerful exhibit at the Hyde Park Art Center titled Consuming War, a show in which she should probably be exhibiting, but had the very good sense not to curate herself in.

Consuming War (opening Sunday) draws on a coterie of Chicago artists whose art engages the way American media and consumer culture manipulate and influence our perceptions of war. The HPAC has grown into their new space beautifully, increasing their vision and depth as they go.  This is a meaty show, with provocative art. I left with a desire to continue the conversation the art had begun.

No doubt, this is the kind of response the
Museum of Contemporary Art was after when it conjured up its rock 'n roll show. But the difference is the Hyde Park Art Center had the smarts to entrust an artist immensely knowledgeable on the subject of art and war to curate a show whereas the MCA looks like they turned to their marketing department to concoct a disingenuous mishmash.  Talk about Bang for the Buck. . .

On a substantially brighter note, the MCA has announced their new director,
Madeleine Grynsztejn, who will take over next spring.  Madeleine is great and has lived an worked in Chicago previously, when she was a curator at the Art Institute.  She has a history of being a diligent curator who listens to others and makes up her own mind. I'm thrilled with her selection.

And I'm very pleased to see
Cody Hudson's warm, engaging, youthful, accessible and downright fun 12 x 12 exhibition at the MCA. A consummate artist, Hudson makes art whenever, wherever he sees the opportunity - in doorways, on fences and sometimes in galleries. All those divergent, street smart, collaborative, playful energies play together here. A byproduct of his is that it crosses so many cultural barriers; ages, ethnicities and venues.  Take the kids.

I like seeing good art - even if it isn't done by locals. And there are 3 exceptional exhibits opening that bring work we rarely if ever see in Chicago. the
David Weinberg Collection is collaborating with the Chicago Humanties Festival and presenting wonderful pieces by Tara Donovan and Maya Lin, among others. Tara Donovan is a glorified recycler, taking common materials - in this case mylar - and transforming the mundane into exquisite, labor intensive objects of beauty.  I'm fairly certain this is the first time her work has been presented in Chicago. I saw a piece at the Frieze Fair in London, but it was nowhere near as good as what Weinberg has.

KN Gallery has a solid and substantial show of work by Fernando Botero, who I've become more impressed with since his recent Abu Ghraib paintings - an artist will to use arts power to communicate even if he must, for a moment, make un salable art. Though these paintings are not on view there's plenty of impressive work - particularly the oversized drawings which are invariably studies, but the technique and immediacy make them my favorites.

On Saturday,
The Art Institute of Chicago is opening a major exhibit of 130 works focusing on a finite aspect of Jasper Johns' oeuvre: Gray. The subtlety, shades, tones, variations and absence of color speak volumes about Johns' concerns and the range of art an artist can explore. There are valuable lessons here for the casual viewer and the artist about what can be accomplished in art and life about the intricacies of looking.

Starting today, and running through the weekend the
SOFA fair is at Navy Pier.  This is a fun exhibit that covers a lot of terrain - high craft, art in nontraditional media. With galleries attending from all over the world this is a gret opportunity to broaden our horizons and sample art and art forms we don't see on a regular basis.

There's quite a bit of excellent art in Chicago right now. Let's go look at it.

Thank you,
Paul Klein