Art Letter


There are several shows opening today that I was eager to see.  The one that's had me in suspense the longest is Gordon Halloran's Museum of Modern Ice installation at Millennium Park for the month of February.

I haven't made up my mind about what I saw.  For starters, it's a good idea. Working with colored ice that is, But so much aesthetic control is relinquished to the medium - Halloran is not 'painting' with colored ice; he's taking candy-colored ice chunks and 'gluing' them to his ice substrata that's about 12 x 100 feet. Judging by what it looks like before turning it over to nature to melt, drip and refreeze, I'd say it's got potential - which is another way of saying that it's not there yet. Maybe once nature has unified its disparate elements it'll look less like a science experiment and more like art.

Ultimately it really isn't a painting at all, but a performance, or a collaboration with nature. How it'll look in two weeks is going to be the test. It could be awesome. Certainly the
Public Art Department took a decent sized risk here. And sometimes risks like this pay off handsomely.  Here's hoping.

I like Joseph Kohnke's art a lot.  I wouldn't miss an exhibit of his.  And this one pleased a lot; in part because I was already familiar with the work having seen it at ThreeWalls about 18 months ago.  But seeing the same art in a different venue is always intriguing because new issues arise. And I certainly was in for a large surprise when I went to see his show at the International Museum of Surgical Science, mostly because I've never been there and i was treated to 4 floors documenting the development of surgical practices, some of which are over two thousand years old.  Mostly I walked around repeating to myself "Oh my god.  They actually did that!"

And then I reached Joseph's work (he's showing on the 4th floor with
Jonathan Gabel) where he's created a piece that helped him work through his friend's dying of cancer.  In an email Joseph wrote:

    The piece is basically a player piano that reads a belt of photographed skin, playing the imperfections of  the skin out onto a resin body cast of me, and a taxidermy fawn. I made the piece after a friend died from melanoma. At the time it was therapeutic to make the piece, but now showing just brings back feelings and I hate it (but people seem to like it.)

It's a powerful work of art heightened by its being placed into the context of strange medical inventions, treatment and progress.  Yes, art has lots of purposes and yes catharsis is one of them.

I don't know how long it's been since I've seen a show of
Mike Lash's.  I found his work at GardenFresh refreshing today. There're are an awful lot of contemporary artists making lousy art and pretending it is highfalutin.  And most of the time their content is as vapid as their technique.  This is not Mike Lash's plight.  He makes really dumb looking art with some worthy concepts behind them. He doesn't pretend his art is well done. He just makes it direct, meaningful and sloppy.  But charming.  Lash is intelligent with too many divergent notions floating around his brain.  That a lot of these ideas come out in his art is healthy for him (one supposes) and a treat for us.

Also on view at GardenFresh, in their project room is an installation by Holly Holmes, who is most often seen together with her collaborator, Tom Burtonwood whose work, together, is a commentary on the role of the military in our society and life.  Alone, her works are similarly themed but more subtle, more layered and prettier, and just as biting.

I'm perpetually working on grasping the range and styles of John Arndt who has been around Chicago longer than I realized.  His show opens tonight at Rowland Contemporary. When I last saw his work a few years ago he was making large, abstract geometric shapes from large sheets of fabric.  This past summer he "worked" in Italy and has created a body of watercolors inspired by Italians' signs for lost dogs. The work is serious and humorous at the same time and he's particularly good at watercolor.  He's done a video too, overlaying beginner Italian catch phrases on top of touristy pictures of Italy. Given that I'm more Italian than anything else and that my Italian sucks I felt too comfortable watching the video. 

Having been in Chicago about 30 years, and having really enjoyed the talent and paintings of
Chuck Walker at the time, I've always wondered where he went. The answer is at the Hyde Park Art Center's Chuck Walker: Through a Glass Darkly exhibit opening Sunday afternoon and curated by Margaret Hawkins

There is no doubt that Walker is conversant in his medium - beautiful, brooding paintings, unusual paintings, elegant drawings. To me it looks like Walker is invariably trying to find difficult concepts or challenges to render in paint. In most situations he triumphs and in others we can see him wrestling with his technique.  It is fascinating to witness because the ability is definitely there, but what holds me back is that I don't get much sense of what makes Walker tick.  Given that his hands are so damned good, I want to know more about his heart and soul.

Thank you,
Paul Klein

PS:  There's been a lot of press the last few days about Robert Smithson's Spiral Jetty being jeopardized. For information look
here, here, and here.