Art Letter

June 2010 Archives

6/25/10 Calder and the Kids
Maybe all of us, or if not us, our children, can cite Alexander Calder as the first artist who intrigued us. After all, it is Calder who invented the mobile - that ubiquitous, mesmerizing, floating thing that hung over our cribs.

As much as others have tried to improve on Calder's brilliance, it is damned hard to improve on the master. Likely, most of us have seen monumental Calder stabiles (a sculpture that implies movement) dotting our major cities. Throughout our lives we have seen and enjoyed Calder's wonderful art. What art can be more accessible than that which taunts a cat and intrigues an infant?

Yet, none among us has seen a full blown Calder exhibition, nor one as impressive or as beautifully installed as that which is about to open at
Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art.

Fully, half the first floor of the MCA is turned over to Calder -- in a vast room without wall dividers, full of undulating, slowly transforming primary colors. The room, the balance, and our perceptions are in constant, slow flux. The room sings with the joys of color, movement, balance and composition. This is art for people who like to smile. Age doesn't matter. Infants will love this, as does my crotchety self, but I think you need to leave your cat at home.

Across the hall are the kids -- contemporary artists who have been directly influenced by Alexander Calder;
Martin Boyce, Nathan Carter, Abraham Cruzvillegas, Aaron Curry, Kristi Lippire, Jason Meadows, and Jason Middlebrook.

For me it is Aaron Curry and Jason Middlebrook who resonate the most with my aesthetic. Curry's balance, dichotomies, constructive use of negative space and intelligent, luscious surfaces reference not only Calder, but
Noguchi and Arp as well, yet the work is fresh and stands fully on its own merit.

I've known Jason Middlebrook since he was 8 years old. He looks pretty much the same, but his aesthetic and art purpose has certainly matured. (Jason's father,
David Middlebrook, is a fabulous sculptor whose art I first exhibited in the mid-1970's. With most artists, we can trace a line through their careers from early works to those more recent, observing continuity, growth and maturity. With the Middlebrooks, I see that line continue from father through son -- I love it!)

Jason Middlebrook's work is intelligent. It consumes us with its power, weight, diversity and idiosyncrasies, while we are being seduced (typically unbeknownst to us) by its content -- all that art hanging from the atrium ceiling was scavenged from Chicago alleys. Middlebrook is an artist to pay attention to for decades to come.

The MCA show, which I've nicknamed Calder and the Kids, is further evidence of
Director Madeleine Grynsztejn's gentle hand shaping the course of the museum: establishing new relationships between artists; engaging young artists in participatory, hands on installations; presenting art that is cross generational; and art that is relevant simultaneously to scholars and toddlers.

Three cheers for a job well done, from Grynsztejn, to curator
Lynne Warren who did the "heavy" lifting, to all the artists who are here to rejoice in their accomplishments and shared energy, to the installers who got it right.

This is a show that people will travel to. And this is also a show that travels, broadcasting the MCA's imprimatur and spreading Grynsztejn's, healthy, atypical vision. A bright show on many levels.

Thank you,
Paul Klein

6/15/10 Ten Plays in One Night
Theater reviews are not something I've done - at least not so far, but Collaboraction's immersive, accessible, vibrant, interdisciplinary, multiracial, multigenerational Sketchbook festival of 19 plays, each 7 minutes or less, is definitely not to be missed.  Take your kids, take your parents. Just go.


(all photos are by
Saverio Truglia)

The 19 plays are spread out over two different nights (except for the opening and closing nights when all the plays are presented in a marathon.)  Half one night, half the next. I went to the opening night last Saturday where all 19 plays were presented over four plus hours.  My 16 year old son went with me, under the agreement that we could leave anytime he wanted after 9 plays. We stayed to the end.

Over the course of the evening I laughed. I cried, I danced in my seat.  I was intellectually provoked and never bored. (Do not go if you see a theater as a place to sleep.)

There were plays about love, murder, Hitler, race, ageism, children, mariners, black women duplicate universes, lesbians, blueberries and more - oh joy.

The sets are modified in seconds between plays.  The props and technological gimmicks are brilliant - I like looking at that stuff - the how'd they do that mystery that transforms strong acting into mesmerizing drama.

I feel like I saw 100 actors through the course of the evening.  Perhaps the youngest actor was 7. I'm hoping the oldest was older than me. There is so much talent on view all night that you come away feeling good about theater, good about theater in Chicago, stimulated and good about yourself.

I've been on Collaboraction's board for several years. I've not written about them before.  With this production they've surged to a new level of exciting theater, breaking more ground in the 10th year of Sketchbook.  Collaboraction has hit their prime.  Though it's obvious massive amounts of love and 1000's of hours of labor have gone into Sketchbook, the whole thing feels effortless.

There's great music, with different musical guests each night, playing between all the sketches - all of which happen to be world premiers, some of which in years past have been flushed out into significant, award-winning full length plays.

This is fabulous fun for the Jeff Award type theatergoer - those who go to plays 3 nights a week and a joy for any teen who's never been exposed to theater. - and all of us in between. There are great child actors and wonderful adult actors. The point is there's something we can all relate to.

I'm going to go again. Say hi if you see me!

Thank you,
Paul Klein

6/04/10 Diaphanous? Chicago?

Diaphanous.  I like diaphanous and all that, but there are other things in life. I'm seeing it too much.  I'd hate to think the rough n' tumble iconography I associate with Chicago would be supplanted by diaphanous.

I'm not suggesting any of the artists discussed cease their exploits, but yeah, if I were a gallery I'd move on

There's a show of strong work at
David Weinberg.  Each of the artists, Rhonda Wheatley, Yvette Kaiser Smith and Marissa Glink are solid on their own. Together, their diaphanous trait is emphasized and their work is lessened - that is, if you are like me and see the works in relationship to one another , even though they aren't in the same room. The good news is that the art looks really good, especially that which benefits from getting seen in the more intimate spaces.

I like seeing the growth in the work of
Heidi van Wierrn and Jerome Powers at Roy Boyd.  I'm told both artists continue to apply their medium, be it van Weiren's inks and paint or Power's horsehair or graphite, to multiple layers of Elmer's Glue. I'm not sure they are benefitted by being paired. The show feels a touch crowded.  Two different meditations interrupt each other. I was told that Jerome Powers see his pieces as mountain studies and I see them more akin to da Vinci self portraits.  Van Weiren grew up on the other side of Lake Michigan. Her newest pieces are studies of the lake.

It's a difficult question to answer; whether the artists were better served in the exhibitions above by the juxtaposition and proximity of other artists?. If you were the artist, if you even had a clue about what the other artists art would look like, would you have spoken up?  There's a lot of responsibility the artist relinquishes to the gallery. 

Architrouve is the very talented Donna Hapac, whose art I wouldn't have thought of as diaphanous unless the theme was already established.  Though I've been following her for years, her work still feels fresh; perhaps naive.  She's good new in the way that allows for clunkers to be included. (Artists, if you can't edit, get someone you trust who can!) Here Hapac is paired with Paul Clark. Though the theme goes on, I like the pairing.

Watch out for angels,
Paul Klein


PS:  I don't know if you've been to Longman & Eagle, a fabulous artbar right off Logan Square. Elegance for the working crowd.  Upstairs is a veritable inn, inaugurating Saturday night with a show of art in the 6 rooms, enable by Harold Arts.  There's a worthy opening night benefit. See you there.