Art Letter


I am frequently surprised by where I find good art.  I think it's important to take some chance, push ourselves out of whatever habits we indulge and go look somewhere new or different.

Certainly the
11th International Open at Womanmade Gallery could be composed of some worn out and tired statements.  But I suspect curator Barbara Koenen had a wealth of material to choose from because the 48 artists she's selected bring a lot of breadth, savvy, humor and insight to one of the best exhibitions I've seen this year.  What's really satisfying is to be exposed to so many new artists who I've been unfamiliar with. I think there were three I knew previously.  This show opens tonight.

It is important to examine the reasons we buy art. For me, one of the main reasons is to support Chicago artists. I like getting a lot of substance for my dollar and Chicago art does that. Buying art by artists who haven't been anointed by the marketplace (which is wrong more than it is right) is another good way.  I am 100% sure that there is more good art for sale for under $5000 than there is good art for sale over $100,000. One of the things this tells you is that money does not buy taste. Another is that the market is hyperbolic with with lemmings void of confidence or insight establishing trends.  Screw that. Buy for yourself. It's much more satisfying, educational and genuine. 

Take a look at
Architrouve. This is a gallery run mostly as a service. Sometimes they have some really choice, thoughtful, small exhibitions; like the one opening tonight of paintings by Marianna Levant and Brenda Barnum.  I've been drawn to Levant's work for a few years now. She reminds me of a young Kandinsky, with flying universes of lofty ideals. Plenty of talent, which makes me all the more sad to learn that she moved from here to Seattle last fall.  This is precisely the talent that we want be able to keep - the one's who enrich our lives and make us look good in the process.

Barnum is a lifer. She's been creating solid artwork for a while. The kind of artist art chooses; the one who has no choice, who appreciates the nuances of a career and how art and art-making evolve over time; consistent growth, subtle progress.  It is the doing that is more satisfying than the product. These are paintings for artists, to examine the process, balance, composition and weight of each piece. They give a lot but insist that we participate.

John Phillips is a lifer too. His new exhibit opens this evening at the renamed, reconfigured and rebirthed Tony Wight Gallery.  Watching an artist like Phillips methodically, deftly explore new territory is gratifying. He and is art are intelligent, considered, thoughtful, studied, honest and sincere. Watching Tony Wight arrive is special too. I know his course has been difficult and his education demanding. Formerly Bodybuilder & Sportsman Gallery, he's learned by experience, and he's learned well.  He cares and his artists like him.  That's pretty much all I need to know.

There's a show closing tonight I wished I'd previewed and spent money at. 
KS Rives' closing is at the Chicago Art Department.  Her collages are painstakingly and meticulously rendered. They work from afar and from close up.  And they're rather wonderful technically for such a young artist when most others her age are still making 'dorm' art.  KS Rives is the first chapter of a Chicago success story, making good art, having a good selling, strong looking exhibit, and getting written up large in the SunTimes. Bravo. It can be done.

Marco Casentini is a marvelous example of how a competent artist can succeed through solidly taking responsibility for his own career. I first met Marco about ten years ago. He was an artist from Italy who spoke almost no English but had this vision that American galleries would like his art.  Through his gumption and agreeable nature, on his first trip to the US he ended up with a gallery in Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Los Angeles. He's good, but rest assured that he didn't succeed solely on the quality of his paintings.  It can be done people.  His new show opens tonight at Roy Boyd Gallery.

Several years ago one of the artists I respect most, T
ony Berlant, referred to Ed Ruscha as "an artist for the ages." Those are the kind of words that make me wake up and snap to attention.  I've always liked Ruscha, but this cast him in a new light.  Opening tomorrow at the Art Institute is a survey exhibition of sorts: Ed Ruscha and Photography This show allows us to track early work in Ruscha's long and steady career.  Despite always being at the front edge of the wedge Ruscha's work still looks fresh.

Better this week,
Paul Klein

PS:  Oh, and thank you to
Alan Artner for a solid critique of the heinous Kilimnik show at the MCA. Sometimes the MCA shows such good art and sometimes such drivel. I hope new director Madeleine Grynsztejn's first step is to institute a no-twaddle policy. Someone needs to take responsibility for the bad that gets shown there and hopefully to get credit for the intelligence that is on the horizon.