Art Letter

July 2008 Archives


I know.  It's been a while since I've written. I just haven't seen enough good shows opening at a given moment to get out there and preview them - until now.

Dawoud Bey is one of Chicago's finest artists. He is always stepping up his game, helping others, interacting with his community and maintaining an ongoing relationship with his former Columbia College students and artists of all stripes who get him excited. Not only does he work with kids on the precipice of trouble by showing them a world of possibilities, but he has a helluva blog and is curating some mighty fine exhibitions.

Yes, an artist curating is different than a curator curating.  Curators are not artists - though most seem to want to be - and their point of view is developed entirely differently than an artist's. Look at it this way; with a truly good artist we get a sense of that person's soul. Now think about any curator of your choice.  Can you tell me anything about that person's soul?  Okay, then.

Opening Sunday (but the reception is not for a while) at the
Hyde Park Art Center is Dawoud's exhibit, with 9 young photographers; Are We There Yet?, where he looks at the nebulous relationship between place and mobility - travel and/or movement in a post 9/11 world. Notions about freedom of movement, freedom itself, borders and boundaries and some damned good photography abound.

No longer is being an artist solely about making art. It can encompass changing society. And that's precisely what Dawoud Bey is doing.  Just watch him.

Having denigrated curators in the foregoing paragraphs let's have a look at the work of one of our finest curators,
Lynne Warren at the Museum of Contemporary Art.  Thoughtful, thorough and a brilliant researcher, she has created another beautiful exhibit in her companion exhibition to the MCA's fine Jeff Koon's show titled Everything's Here: Jeff Koons and his experience of Chicago.  Koons has generously acknowledged the influence of numerous Chicago artists that affected him even before he was a student at the School of the Art Institute. 

Wonderful and not often seen work by
Ed Paschke, HC Westermann, Roger Brown, Robert Lostutter, Jim Nutt, Karl Wirsum and my favorite Christina Ramberg add insight to the Koon's show downstairs, but really, this show is a gem all by itself.

Don't overlook the HC Westermann woodblock print upstairs whose motif is the background for Koons' memorable Elvis painting downstairs (the one where the inverted lobster is a stand-in for the gymnast Westermann.  (Yes, there is a lot of funk and easy flash to
Jeff Koons.  And there is also vast depth, significant cultural awareness and an amazing work ethic.)

Artists are known for taking risks.  Most galleries are more like troglodytes. So when a gallery like
KN Gallery, most know for exhibiting artists like Milton Avery, Hans Hoffman or Wayne Thiebaud presents a summer show of emerging artists (curated by Jill Lanza and Ally Beck) my curiosity is piqued. Fortunately the pieces by Val Britton, Sarah Cain, Amy Chaloupka, Melissa Jay Craig (Chicago), Ana Teresa Fernandez, Sarai Givaty, Chris Natrop & Jen Pack are really good.  For me, it is a profound pleasure to look at good art without knowing how much it costs, without having any sense of the artist's history, and to just deal with the art on its own merit. It's good. The show is fun. And the people at the gallery are very nice.

William Lieberman at
Zolla/Lieberman has done over 10 exhibitions with Michael Nakoneczny.  I've seen quite a few of them. Nakoneczny has grown and matured over the past two decades and this is probably the best show I've seen of his, which happens to include a lot of small works on paper. Seems Nakoneczny sees himself as an outsider, an opinion reinforced by looking at his art and learning that he lives in Fairbanks, Alaska.  I bet he thinks it's hot here.

Also at Z/L is an impressive demonstration of virtuoso painting by
Maria Tomasula. Some remind me of Breugel, but mostly I'm just impressed. There are works in the show that took 6 months to create. That kind of patience, forethought and perseverance is unusual today. Not only that, the show opens tonight and every piece is already sold. In 30 years of running a gallery I never had a show sell out. Obviously they are doing something right

There are two other exhibits opening tonight that I have not had the opportunity to preview, but are certainly promising. At the
Co-Prosperity Sphere in Bridgeport is Hic et Nunc (Here and Now) A survey of new guard photography.  I want to see this show.

Old Gold is a seat-of-the-pants occasional gallery that shows kick-ass art.  This time Kat Parker, who works at Rhona Hoffman Gallery, has been asked to curate a video presentation. Daily, she gracefully bridges the gap between the established career-track artist and the  fledgling.  Here she explores the middle ground, having assembled a collection of about a dozen videos by an impressive group of artists, half of whom I'm familiar with.  This outdoor presentation is a one shot deal. Tonight only.  And it should be a hoot.

And a footnote:  in the new wing of the
Art Institute, opening next spring, 2 rooms will be dedicated to Chicago artists. One will be for the Imagists and Hairy Who and the other will be for contemporary Chicagoans.  Neither room will be identified as Chicago-centric.

You know what else?  Besides the shows the I responded to positively are quite a few other exhibits opening tonight that you might really enjoy. There are certain things I'm looking for in art, which could easily be different than what you're after.  And obviously, I have no corner on aesthetic correctness. You can follow my thoughts as a guide, but heaven-forbid you should agree categorically or allow me to think for you. Summer is a fabulous time for seeing new, fresh, and fun art.  Go see for yourself.

Thanks much,
Paul Klein