Art Letter

October 2009 Archives


Chicago artists are making a difference. There are more artists taking initiative than I've seen in some time.  More artist run, alternative spaces are merging.  Some of the intent of only lasting for a few months and some only for a single show.

Obviously there are not enough galleries here to address the quantity of quality art that's made here. And though that appears to be an indictment of our galleries, there is also an insufficient number of collectors (even just buyers) to adequately support the gallery scene

The smart galleries stay ahead of the curve. Old models don't work the way they used to.  For decades
Richard Gray Gallery has been exemplary, and under the guidance of Paul Gray, and his coterie of co-workers, steps up their game yet again this weekend. They've commandeered a lot of space on the floor beneath them and given it over to a one-person installation of sensitive work by Jan Tichy who just received his Masters from the School of the Art Institute. Last seen in a MCA 12 x 12 show, Tichy's work incorporates projected video, often onto objects he's sculpted. His calm, meditative, memorable work is worth seeing all by itself, but observing how a first-class gallery expands its program as it morphs forward, even in embracing what appears to be a thoroughly noncommercial presentation, is a joy unto itself.

I like seeing artists take initiative, to be responsible for the well-being of their careers and to not wait to be anointed by a gallery in order to get their work shown. I've known
Mike Bancroft since he became the best Pancake Flipper I ever had for my myriad gallery breakfasts.  Bancroft works day in, day out, with disadvantaged kids in his neighborhood, and after doing this for 7 years he's got kids coming back from the colleges they never thought they'd get to, to teach in his program. And still Bancroft has one of the more charming, though slightly skewed, senses of humor I've encountered.  Garage Spaces is a 3 month project with 3 scheduled exhibitions; the first being Stolen, an exhibition of 'prosecutable' works of art - a fun, pithy commentary on ownership and possession, and the juxtaposition of found, lost and appropriated

Also tonight is a celebration by 4 artists who are presenting
Ultrasheen in a vast space they found that is only available for the night. As soon as they decide their prices I think I'm going to spend money.

It's empowering for artists to go through with making their own presentations, to share mailing lists, to learn how to hang art, especially in consort with other artists, even to figure out what kind of libation to arrange. Once these artists better understand some of the activities that are intrinsic to galleries they are either more appreciative of what a gallery does, or they are better prepared to insist on galleries doing what's right for the artist. Either way, the artist benefits, and that's how it should be.

The exhibition of
Cleve Carney's collection at the Elmhurst Art Museum is joyous.  I don't recall when I first met Cleve, or for that matter when I first sold him a work of art, but it's clear from the exhibition that he's had a passionate, infectious drive to acquire prime examples of Chicago art for at least two decades. There must be 100 pieces in this survey exhibit - and from the murmuring at last Sunday's opening the consensus was that this show is a mere 20% of the Carney Collection.

Cleve Carney's taste runs toward minimal, but it's obvious from looking at the show that there are many occasions where his passion led him to diverge from his core affinity.

First, this is a really wonderful presentation with some delightful groupings of paintings, probably orchestrated by guest curator Debra Lovely. But also, this show is a testament to the quality, breadth and excitement that has been Chicago art for quite some time.

I'm excited this show is at the Elmhurst Art Museum. It's a good example of what is possible and the breadth that is Chicago art. It provides a fascinating counterpoint for the equally passionate presentation of predominantly Chicago art from the
Spiezer Collection just seen at the Rockford Art Museum.  Both shows included perhaps 50 artists, but there is very little overlap. Maybe, just maybe, we should give ourselves more credit.

Okay, here's a confession of sorts.  About a year ago I started making art again, after having given it up shortly after college.  You know what?  It is friggin' hard to be an artist!  I've been giving artists advice for at least 30 years - hopefully passionate, loving advice, but for once I decided to follow the advice I'd been giving artists and try my own hand.  A year ago I made maybe 40 small inkwash drawings and showed them to Tony Fitzpatrick who professed to liking them a lot - for a half dozen reasons that had little to do with my intent - so I quit.

Then, for a boffo-cool one night show generated by
Industry of the Ordinary I was asked to make an artwork relevant to one of 39 verbs. Apparently randomly chosen, mine was "Dream." And that got me started again. This group I like better and actually have sufficient cajones to let the art out in public.

One night only. At
Packer Schopf. I'm in good company. I even put a proper frame on my piece.

What a strange thing for me to attend an opening as an artist instead of as a dealer, a collector, or a fan. It has a different energy to it.

Well, thanks, if you made it to the bottom of the page,

Paul Klein


Only recently have I been paying sufficient attention to the Smart Museum on the University of Chicago campus.  I don't know if it's me or them that's awoken (probably me), but I'm getting more and more impressed with what I see there.

For any museum to mount two original, innovative and relevant shows in a row is rare.  And the Smart, first with
Westermann over the summer and now Heartland, opening tonight, has done precisely that.

This is a meaty, substantive exhibit exploring the multiple layers of what being in the Heartland means, both from the point of view of those inside the Heartland, and those outside.

I always enjoy looking at solid work that's new to me. By intent that's what this show presents and accomplishes.

Parenthetically, let me say that I think something is going on here in Chicago.  I can't tell yet if it is happening elsewhere or just here.  In a recent
ArtLetter I wrote about how Madeleine Grynsztejn is redirecting the MCA towards a dialog with Chicago's aesthetics and sensibilities. And now I see the Smart moving similarly.  I'm hoping we're seeing the beginning of a new significant way museums function. I'm sure tired of the old one.

Conceived in two parts, and co-curated with the
Van Abbemuseum in the Netherlands where a variation of the Heartland exhibit was presented a year ago. That exhibited presented many different artists because a European audience has a different familiarity with the subject. At the Smart, there are but a couple of Chicago artists, whereas in Europe there were more.

I don't believe the curators began with any specific artists in mind but traveled the cities along the Mississippi and its tributaries and took copious notes.

The show that results is diverse, multimedia, often fun, frequently serious and easily worth more than one visit. There's a lot of words in the pieces by Chicagoans
Deb Sokolow and Kerry James Marshall and though I've heard for years about this fabulous body of work Kerry was focusing on I've not seen any evidence until this show.  What we see are the story boards for what could be a movie. They're wonderful.

It was great to see
Artur Silva who lives in Indianapolis where I met him a year ago, though he is from Brazil.  Silva's art considers the American public's relationship to capitalism. For his new piece he watched the Oprah show ad nauseam and created a huge banner that plays with the contrast between Oprah's woman-empowering show and the happy-homemaker advertisements that undermine her message.

opening is tonight, Thursday.

We don't often get a chance to see work by our own
Wesley Kimler, (though there is a great and large painting presently at the MCA) unless we stop by his studio, which I did recently and learned that Kimler has a small, hot, exhibit of his drawings opening Friday night at Eyeporium Gallery.

My buddy
Richard Polsky has been both a private and public art dealer in the 30 years I've known him. He is honest, ethical and funny. He knows his art cold and has a damned good memory.  One of the the very best art books I've read recently is his brand new I Sold Andy Warhol (Too Soon). The stories he relates about his dealings with some of the most self-inflated art poseurs had me laughing out loud. There's even a chapter plus about Chicago artist, Tony Fitzpatrick.

Constellations show at the MCA closes soon.  Seeing it and the Heartland Show at the Smart will give you fodder for creative thought for a while

Let me know what you think is going on.

Paul Klein

Greg Knight is retiring after 32 years at the Chicago Cultural Center where he has probably done as much as anyone to bring excellent (and a helluva lot of Chicago art) to us as anyone - and for free.  Greg and the Cultural Center are special.  Thank you Greg and congratulations.