Art Letter


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