Art Letter

May 2008 Archives


There are three excellent exhibits opening tonight.

Russell Bowman's mission has been to present strong Chicago material from the time of the Imagists to the present alternating with shows of international caliber artists whose work is not often seen here. In so doing he places the older Chicago art in a national context and narrows the gap in value of the historically under appreciated Chicago artist.

Tonight he opens a show of Imagist art from the 60's into the 80's.  This is a fabulous opportunity for Chicagoans with a hankering for more knowledge about the period to get a insightful introduction. There are great works by City favorites like
Roger Brown and Ed Paschke.  But to be reminded of the strength of Gladys Nilsson, Christina Ramberg, Margaret Wharton, Karl Wirsum and Ray Yoshida is an absolute treat.   Today's Chicago artists cannot escape the influence of the Imagists, but many are not cognizant of where or how that influence comes to affect them. This show warrants being seen by artists so they can embrace, reject, or just learn about their predecessors. Good stuff.

Dominick Di Meo's influenced the Imagists.  He was a member of the Monster Roster of the 1950's that included Leon Golub, June Leaf and Seymour Rosofsky.  Di Meo's early works can be seen at Corbett vs. Dempsey.  Even though they have not been restored or cleaned they look remarkably fresh and vibrant. Some images remind me that Jean Dubuffet gave a highly controversial lecture in Chicago in 1951 and made a major impact on collectors and artists here (which has something to do with why there is a sculpture of his downtown). Some look like Leon Golub who shared a studio with Di Meo in the 50's. Others show the influence of Joan Miro.  And H.C. Westerman was a friend. Mix these influences together and you arrive at the unique vision of Di Meo. Looking at this show you can begin to see how Chicago art history evolved.  Start where you want. Maybe with Ivan Albright (earlier is even better). Connect to H.C. Westerman, Leon Golub, Di Meo, the Imagists and Ed Paschke.  A lot of things start to make sense: Chicago's aesthetic independence, awareness of national trends, preferences for figuration, a surreal tangent and visual integrity.  We are fortunate to have exemplary dealers who show great art, know how to do business, orchestrate their exhibitions, teach their public and allow us to learn by looking.  Thank you.

I'm impressed with
Harold Mendez and I'm impressed with is art.  Years ago he was in an exhibit at my gallery that was curated by Sabrina Raaf. Since then he's gone back to school, studied with Rodney Carswell, and emerged as a thoughtful, contemplative, serious artist. His show, which opens tonight at the Contemporary Art Workshop is special. I feel like we are allowed the indulgence of a meditative look inside the artist's studio, psyche and soul. This is not an easy show.  There are references to Beckett and Sartre, thoughts about Mendez's exploration of self and the large ethereal questions. Here he is being particularly vulnerable, revealing his thought process and his work process, considerations of future pieces and work that he needs to explore outside the walls of his studio.  Mendez is definitely an artist to watch.  He's very good.

Kasia Kay, an artist from China is showing some rather fun and intelligent photographs. I remember being in China maybe 8 years ago and visiting a handful of successful artists.  I was impressed by the lack of vision and a desire to provide whatever they thought capitalism would spend money on.  It felt like a scam.  Since then so much of the Chinese art that appears at auction and sells for ridiculous sums feels exactly the same way - soulless, thoughtless and vapid.  Not so with the art that I see at Walsh Gallery on not so for Maleonn at Kasia Kay. The art is fresh, obviously from somewhere else, considered and charming. 

Stacie Johnson is a good Chicago painter.  It is insufficient to just have a good idea.  The work needs to be made well too. Her show, opening tonight at ThreeWalls, is evidence of her technical ability and insightful, intuitive studies - personless portraits, if you will. This being the 5th anniversary of ThreeWalls the show delves into the history, personalities and physical space of ThreeWalls. I thought it was fun and well done.  As you know, ThreeWalls, our favorite little, local, not-for-profit, the recipient of a rather large Warhol grant, a world-class curator reviewed in Artforum, with artists they've introduced here in Chicago now appearing in the Whitney Biennial, also has a residency program where they bring in out-of-town artists, put them up and show their art. This month ThreeWalls is swapping exhibits' with the older, Philadelphia NFP powerhouse, Vox Populi. Good for them. Good for ThreeWalls.  Check it out.

Rowley Kennerk Gallery has a fun exhibiton/series titled Rotations / One Work, in which they present a sole work of art for one week (ending on a Saturday) and then hang a new piece the following week. Up for another couple of days is the work of Joseph Grigely who is deaf and has saved the communication people have scribbled on paper in order to communicate with him.

Mariano Chavez whose show opens tonight at Linda Warren Gallery, has been anointed as a "break-out" Chicago artist by NewCity.  His work is certainly brash, bombastic, attention-getting and not very pretty.  Impressed by the mass media bombardment of our senses he seeks to compete, but mostly the work looks like that of an adolescent teenage boy who was weaned too soon. Clearly Chavez has talent and a lot of ideas. I look forward to seeing him do something with his ability.

Karen Reimer's show at MoniqueMeloche doesn't open tonight, but it's the first time I've had the opportunity to see the show and it's a winner. The work is beautiful and moves progressively from being obvious to obtuse, from easy to damned near impossible, from realistic to conceptual - all while using the same set of constraints. Each piece has a number on its face that is the same height in inches as the number.  That number dictates how pieces of fabric the artist has sewn together to make the piece.  Once the numbers get taller than the art and are folded back on themselves the work moves from visible to concealed, thin to thick, comprehendible to mysterious.  There are an awful lot of Chicago based artists make some damned good art. Reimer is among the best.

Hey, it's good out there.
Go have a look!
Paul Klein


With the Art fairs that just ended you'd think there wasn't much going on in Chicago this weekend. Well, there's not many things, but there are 2 big things.

Tony Fitzpatrick hasn't shown in Chicago for quite some time, which doesn't mean he's been laying low. He's just finished the last drawing/collage for the 3rd volume of The Wonder - Portraits of a Remembered City which opens tonight (Thursday - 6 to 8 PM, upstairs) at the Chicago Cultural Center which reflects on the Chicago Fitzpatrick remembers with and through his father, a rougher, more visceral city that grew up to what we have today. If we can't remember the antecedents we can at least feel them in Tony's art which typically combines a central figure of his creation with a slew of artifacts from years gone by.

It is the combination of real and fictive that facilitates the works' impact.  No one since
Nelson Algren has Chicago pulsing through his veins like Fitzpatrick.  He sees beneath the sometimes pretty skin the rest of us see and sees a richer beauty and uglier truth.  Tony Fitzpatrick is our guide to our home, introducing us to what we know is there but prefer to gloss over or lack the trained eye or trained mind to perceive.

Tony is a friend and shaman. It is not that his ideas or perceptions are mystical. It is that they resonate with the basicness of human truth.  I know no other artist as good at making his career a success as Tony. Look at the difference in tonight's reception and ever other one you've attended: a nice announcement card - standard. And then all the rest:  A poster, 3 books, free beer, free food.
2 pages of editorial in the Sun-Times and the network of friends and supporters who will show up in force. Then extrapolate from that experience - especially if you are an artist - to your own career.  There's a lot to learn.

Walsh Gallery is opening a good exhibit of paintings by Li Lin Lee - a Chicago painter whose work I've been following for about 20 years. Indonesian, raised in Chicago, these are fairly philosophical meditative exercises which for me question the relationship of the self to society and the self alone. I respect the work by am equally intrigued by the occasional similarity to Yinka Shonibare's paintings (not sculpture) and how culturally different I assume their stimuli to be. And I'm fascinated by the poetry of Lee's brother, Li-Young Lee.  All these parallels and dichotomies enrich the work for me, and its strong already.

Looptopia is back - this Friday night, from 5 PM to dawn in Chicago's Loop. Lots of art and "art;" dance, music, theater, and visual art. From the Art Institute to the Goodman Theater.  From Sears to the Chicago Cultural Center.  Art saturates the Loop. Admission is free everywhere.  All night long.

As I am sure you can imagine, I spent quite a bit of time every day at the Mart's art fairs. I particularly enjoyed the NEXT Fair where I found fun, engaging art without the pretentiousness I so frequently find at art fairs.  A lot of dealer and collector friends were at ArtChicago where less cutting edge art ruled.  The Artist project could have been so much better. It was crammed with mediocrity.  Lost potential - so severely screwed up I hear the show has been canceled for next year. And the Antiques Show and Intuit just don't belong.  I'm glad the shows were here. It was good. It could have been great.  I doubt it will ever get there.

Paul Klein