Art Letter

September 2008 Archives


As I beat a path on my rounds to preview gallery openings, I think about what I'm seeing and try to place it in a larger context.

There are several trends that are gaining traction--all of which result from the advent of the Internet. The art landscape has changed because the Internet has affected the relationship between artists and galleries--and artists and collectors too.

Evidence of this is clear when
we see Damien Hirst selling $200 million of his art directly at auction, through Sotheby's, without first having it grace a gallery's walls.

Further evidence is the proliferation of social networking websites which allow artists to more readily keep track of one another and inform their fanbase of their growth and exhibitions.

And perhaps most importantly artists and collectors can communicate directly with one another without having to rely on a gallery's meddling mindset.

The Internet facilitates globalization. Artists can explore affinities with artists all over the planet instead of just down the hall. And now, when artists get dissatisfied with their exhibition possibilities, they can stage their own gatherings, without the expense of postage.

The practical, colloquial definition of an artist has changed. Instead of being "I am a good artist because I have a gallery," it has become "I am a good artist because I take responsibility for my art and my career and I do lots of things to enhance my success," whether or not they have a gallery.

Anni Holm is a perfect example. Loosely speaking, her art is about performance in public places. But at some point, she must have said to herself "Why stop there?" Opening this weekend is the second incarnation of artXposium. This show is a blast. It is out of town. You get a nice drive. There are 80 artists who have taken over a former, now vacant, hardware store that's going to get torn down someday and filled it with their own vision. No middleman. Just artists--and their artwork--cooperating. Some of it is truly outstanding. You'll meet people and see things that are memorable. You are also likely to experience some drek. This is a different kind of art event with it's own special energy--artists doing it for themselves. I just hope CamoSanta and MattressBunny play nice!

Liz Nielsen is another example of the multifacited, multidirectional artist. Besides making her own art, she works for the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and has just opened a gallery with Joshua Kozuh. Named Swimming Pool Project Space, the gallery does rather feel like a swimming pool, with its blue floor.  Opening there tomorrow (Saturday, September 20th) is an all video exhibition curated by Alicia Eler who is an arts writer and curator, and Peregrine Honig who is an artist, curator and has her own gallery in Kansas City. This is what has to be done by the competent artist to create sufficient dialog and exposure possibilities; collaborate with friends, show art you like, grow your audience and get people working ensemble to raise the level in the pool together. I've watched all the videos by Rob Carter, Rochelle Feinstein, James Gulliver Hancock, Abhishek Hazra, Julie Lequin, Mioon, Julie Orser (my favorite), Luana Perilli and Taras Polataiko. I like the breadth of content and styles. And I like the juxtapositions. These artists come from all over: Korea, Italy, Ukraine, French Canada, Australia and the U.S.

Tony Fitzpatrick is the archetypal role model of the accomplished artist taking responsibility for his career. And he is generous. He is sharing his successes with younger artists, mentoring them in his storefront studio and on occasion exhibiting their art (and taking no commission when it sells). This evening is one of those occasions featuring the art of Steve Griff, who died recently and suddenly, but was fortunate enough (I guess) to have two pieces of his acquired posthumously by DePaul for their ever growing collection of Chicago art. Also on exhibit are Julie Murphy and Dmitry Samarov. Tony's doing a damned good thing here, besides his wonderful New Orleans project. He's sharing a lot of knowledge, insight and connections with a bunch of young artists who he has no reason to help, except that he cares. Impressive.

Do you see what is going on here? Artists are taking more and better responsibility for themselves. They are not adhering to business as usual. They are out there breaking the mold. And they are succeeding. The old model is not defunct, but it does feel dated. 

There's a wonderful energy to the artist that takes more control over his or her success - and a comparable energy in the events they participate in. Tonight, and this weekend, are prime opportunities to get out there, to see it and to feel it.

Thank you,
Paul Klein


The Passion of an Exemplary Art Collector

Originally published on Huffington Post.

June Spiezer is the most passionate, exemplary collector of art I ever had the pleasure of working with, though working seems like entirely the wrong word.

June, and her husband Francis, who is no longer with us, have been collecting predominantly Chicago art for decades and there's an exhibition of a glorious portion of their collection that opens Sunday at the
Johnson Gallery on the Carthage College campus in Kenosha.

There are certainly lots of reasons to collect art. For me, and the Spiezers, it's about the passion and vibrancy of being stimulated. Invariably it's a personal thing. Even the most loving of harmoniously married couples often disagree about what kind of art moves them. That's okay.

But for Francis and June Spiezer it was the passion that moved them both. And beyond the passion they personally experienced in every work of art they acquired, it was the passion the artist put into the work that they sought. They insisted on getting a sense of the artist's soul, knowing the artist, embracing the vision and giving back to the artist the passion they got out of the artist's effort.

The Spiezers certainly weren't wealthy in the traditional sense of having money. They were wealthy in a more important way. They were wise, fun and young, even as they got old, even as Francis was making his exit. When I had a gallery they'd say things to me, usually after an hour or two-long conversation filled with love and a few off-color jokes, "Paul, we want to buy this painting (or drawing, or sculpture). We just love it. Only problem is we are presently paying off 4 other pieces around town and we can't even start on this one for 5 months, not even a down payment. Is that okay?" Of course it was okay, these people were the best.

I remember introducing June to the director of the Museum of Contemporary Art at the time and asked her to tell him how many works of art she and Francis owned by Chicago artists. Without missing a beat June said "287." I was amazed. I had no idea.

For June and Francis collecting was not about keeping art in crates, it was about living with the passion and the joy and hanging it on the walls of their not very large 3 bedroom apartment.

As the time came 15 years ago or so to consider what to do with the collection for perpetuity, it was clear that neither of Chicago's major museums had the alacrity, wisdom or foresight to show interest in the collection that reads like a who's who of Chicago art. But the Rockford Art Museum did, so the best collection of Chicago art resides out of town. That's a shame for us and a shame for our institutions.

Too often our laudable museums follow the money and not the art, pursue the glitz and the bling and not quality or substance. Too often their perspective is skewed by the myopia of confusing genuine with hyperbole.

Take for example the relatively new phenomena of museum guided collecting, which is alluded to in the literature and title of the Collecting for Chicago exhibition of drawings at the Art Institute. It is suggested that major donors were told what the museum wanted to ultimately receive as a donation. Think about it. The collector is encouraged to become the emotionally disengaged custodian of something they really never wanted. Yes, the museum gets the art they want. Yes, it makes for a handsome exhibition. And yes, it is wrongheaded.

The Spiezers collected for themselves and for love. And love is about reciprocity. Their love helped, inspired, and propelled artists who knew for once that their effort to communicate was appreciated, received and returned.

There's an unusual condition the Spiezers placed on their collection when they gave it to the Rockford Art Museum. They mandated that the collection be shown publicly every 10 years. It can't lay in hiding like most donations. And it's beautiful to see a fabulous selection of the highlights at Carthage College.

The works on exhibit at Carthage are often seminal works by significant Chicago artists. And a lot of the reason they're seminal is that the Spiezers couldn't afford, or wouldn't pay exorbitant prices to acquire art with bloated prices. They'd acquire art that excited them by artists on the way up - not necessarily young, new, in, or de rigueur, just affordable.

Here's a sampling of the artists in the show:
Phyllis Bramson, Roger Brown, Antonia Contro, Tom Czarnopys, Susanne Doremus, Julia Fish, Josh Garber, Michelle Grabner, Steven Heyman, Richard Hull, Gary Justis, Terry Karpowicz, Jackie Kazarian, Mike Lash, Jim Lutes, Gladys Nilsson, Jim Nutt, Ed Paschke, Dan Ramirez, Joe Siegenthaler, Hollis Sigler, Tony Tasset, Chuck Walker, Margaret Wharton, Ann Weins, Karl Wirsum and Ray Yoshida.

The Spiezer's collection is about love and the passion, power and joy of art. This is a wonderful exhibit to see, to share and appreciate.

A lot of people love June. She's a very special lady.

Thank you,
Paul Klein


It happens all over again tonight; Chicago's art galleries, and most of those around the world, begin their Fall Season.   In Chicago, it's a big party with throngs flocking the galleries and the streets of River North and the West Loop.

I previewed about 25 exhibits that I was optimistic about and culled those worthy of recommendation.

There are a lot of galleries showing Chicago artists - I like that - supporting one's own. In River West Diana Guerrero-MaciĆ” is opening at the Tony Wight Gallery.  I've been following her work for at least 10 years; always with words and always with fabric, literally a hands-on, contradictory approach to fine art.  Sometimes the phrases, typically drawn from our vernacular, are easily decipherable.  But the new work gets more layered, in actuality, from the layers of fabric, and with content. The work is fresh, tactile and accessible. That's good.

It is such a pleasure to see so many galleries emphasizing Chicago artists and to see them growing with those artists.  A lot of the global artworld prefers to embrace the newbies.  I'm afraid to suggest we have more substance here, but I'm seeing a trend that suggests we make a propriety of relationships and conviction, instead of blindly following the School of What's Happening Now.

I've got to give
Western Exhibitions, recently relocated across the hall from Tony Wight, credit for perseverance.  When they first worked with Stan Shellabarger, he was a guy who would glue sandpaper to his shoes and shuffle for days on a board, leaving visual documentation of his performance. Sometimes he'd spend an equinox shuffling back and forth outside.  And sometimes he'd fill notebooks with repetitive phrases ad nauseam. Tough way to make a living.  Shellabarger's new work has both transcended and melded his past. Now, he's made gorgeous, wall works that are the result of walking on beautiful lengths of paper that he's placed in unbound books, but presents them splayed for exhibition. So now, besides the time-based mantra of walking, rubbing and transferring, we have profound beauty. Excellent show.  Excellent growth.

Across the street at
Monique Meloche is one of two exhibits by Rashid Johnson opening tonight. Rashid used to be a Chicagoan and still has family in Evanston, but moved East seeking, and finding, greener pastures.  (We need to give our artists more reasons to stay - which is certainly one of the reasons I write these missives.) The last time I wrote about Rashid, I chastised him for taking the easy way out.  This time the show is strong, with a lot of artifacts from his youth; memories of family, ritual and the daydreams we had, but forgot. The work isn't all that complicated. I just think a white audience (me) is prone to expecting deep, meaningful, Black content when we don't expect white artists to create work laden with white content. Yes, there's a lot of African-American content here, but it's more about an artist reflecting - and he happens to be Black.

We'll get back to River North shortly, but I want to segue to
Richard Gray Gallery where another Rashid Johnson's exhibit appears.  Here, he is showing a series of work called CosmicSlop. Lightheartedly inspired by a failed Funkadelic album from 1973, Johnson made seductive, dark pours from black wax and black soap, which is thought to have healing powers.  They feel contemporary and they feel ancestral - with a lot of ritual.

Okay, back in the West Loop,
Rhona Hoffman Gallery is always a destination that's easy to recommend. A curated show (IE, not assembled by the gallery) titled Angles in America presents a range of artists who work with shape, geometry and line. I found the show uneven, but several pieces so good that the presentation was memorable. And I always like second guessing curators. 

Linda Warren is presenting her second exhibition with Conrad Freiburg. Conrad is young, smart, knowledgeable, and dexterous.  This body of work is based on the Declaration of Independence and the physical (again literal) destruction of our rights and freedom.  Every piece - with the exception of the drawings - is interactive. We can affect the art and in a de facto manner, vote to, at least philosophically, create our own demise.

The itinerant gallery,
Allegoric, shows up at the Architrouve.  Working with a variety of local artists they seem to emphasize well-made, well-considered, solid, sometimes provocative, sometimes fun, art. With 7 artists in the show there were two that I felt fresh appreciation for.  Michael Pajon's collages have taken a handsome leap forward. No longer as referential as they were just last spring, his art is finding it's own voice, humor and confidence. And Joseph Lappie's harrowing, vertical figures with shadows of text were brand new to me, yet they made so much sense.

I told you there were a lot of shows opening tonight - and te ones I'm writing aobut art just the tip of the iceberg. Go out and find out for yourself.  And even if you disagree with me, you're certain to find a lot you'll like. In River North two shows looked really good.
Hammer Gallery is presenting Michael Hernandez de Luna. Hernandez designs and prints his very own profane postagestamps, sticks them on contradictory envelopes and mails them to himself from often obtuse places. They are art, documentation of a performance, and a pithy commentary all sorts of hypocrisy. Ouch.

John Fraser's new exhibit at Roy Boy Gallery continues his exploration of bookbindings as a quiet, yet charged, embodiment of nonspecific content.  Clean, but laden, they are calm, meditative and beautiful. These are about looking.

I've saved the best for last.  And this show at
Glass Curtain Gallery (affiliated with Columbia College) opened last night and not tonight. Not only that, I don't think anything is for sale, which is invariably the assumption we make when we visit a museum or college gallery, but I know better than that. Curated by Mark Porter, the exhibit sings with playful, thoughtful, meaningful, stimulating, memorable art by 5 female sculptors - which I was told was not by intent.  All the site specific installations transcend their common materials to discuss waste, beauty, and frivolity.  Pieces shimmer, drip, sparkle and ooze.  I think more exhibits should do that.

There's a fabulous exhibit curated by
Lisa Wainwright that's already had its opening reception, but this show is so over-the-top wonderful that you should use any excuse you can to see it. Titled Ah Decadence, this show is a brilliant celebration of the opening of the School of the Art Institute's new Sullivan Gallery.  All works are by Chicago artists, wondrously installed with fascinating juxtapositions.  Too often curators seek to force a point of view on the art they select, but here it feels much more like insightfully unveiled relationships are revealed. See it with a friend.  This show is worth sharing.

And finally, never forgot the wonderment of Ed Marszewski (aka Edmar) and the very many hats he wears. Tonight he's hosting a bash at his
Co-Prosperity Sphere, celebrating the Bridgeport All Stars, a fine batch of artists from the community, some of whom are damned good.

You want more? You have something left?  Saturday, Check out
Flugtag Chicago at North Avenue Beach. The Air Show - Human Powered. Expect it to be rather crowded.

Lots to see.
Lots to do.
Paul Klein