Art Letter


With 12 Months to Go, the Best Show of the Year Opens Tonight
Quite a few shows open the winter art season tonight, and a couple of them are flat-out exceptional. 

This Vivian Maier show, and the story behind it, are as good as it gets.  Vivian Maier was well over 80 years old when she died.  She was a fabulously gifted, female, street photographer and a nanny.  For almost 50 years she took photographs on her days off.  But she never showed them to anyone, not the people she worked for.  No one.


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She stored the negatives and a few photos in a storage facility in Chicago.  Advanced in age, she forgot about keeping her rental payments current and the owner of the facility put her contents up for auction.  Fortunately, John Maloof, a young Chicago artist, stumbled upon the sale and bought a significant portion of the 100,000 +/- negatives and 3000+ undeveloped rolls of film.

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Unlike the unfortunate story of Henry Darger, whose trove of art was discovered by his questionably motivated landlord, Maloof's heart and actions are securely anchored in doing what's right for the art. Besides a movie and a book, which are in the works, there's a great show opening tonight at the Cultural Center's Michigan Avenue Galleries.

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Though some poopoo her lack of artistic training, Vivian Maier was a brilliant photographer with a disarming ability to capture a moment, rivals all our established photographic heroes. What a talent, and how fortunate that it was Maloof who recognized that quality (with help). 

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Inspired to buy equipment to scan negatives to generate prints, Maloof put a few prints on eBay.  As the prices escalated he realized he was in unchartered waters.  So, he posted some images on a Flickr street photography blog and the photography community grasped his passion and understood his enthusiasm.  They guided him, sharing valuable knowledge about how to push the developing of out-of-date film, and where, and how to seek exposure for his trove.  

912.jpgWe are the fortunate beneficiaries who get to see this outstanding work first hand - an addition to our understanding of Chicago and the value of quality,beautiful photography.  (My favorite comment from the Flickr blog was about the value of film and what might happen 50 years hence if someone came across a DVD containing an equal number of great images.  Would they even be able to see them?)

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And that's not the only great show opening tonight.  The complete graphic works of seminal, Chicago artist Jim Nutt opens this evening at Russell Bowman.  Forty years of work date to the Chicago Imagists and the Hairy Who.   Most were made for the pure joy of making them - not for capitalism, per se.  Most are not editioned and some exist in fascinating, multiple states. This is a lesson in the glory of pure artistic pursuit.  It's not surprising that Nutt inspired followers in town.  His eye and hand remain fresh. A wonderful talent and beautiful show.


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Catherine Edelman has another strong photography exhibit at her gallery with the labor intensive work of Lori Nix, who builds ealistic-looking, fictive sets that she then photographs.  Months in the making she carves anything that serves her purposes as she manipulates and makes everything we see.  Fantastic - in more ways than one.

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I feel like I've been watching Gordon Powell's work since I landed in Chicago in 1981, but it couldn't be that long.  Powell's work keeps growing in a constant, elegant vein.  Wood is passionately worked, altered and recombined; sometimes as sculpture and this time reading as painting. The is warm, considered beautiful work at Perimeter Gallery. It's fun for me to look into the sides of the art to see the mounts and realize that not every front facing piece is supported by a substructure.  Well done.

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I own work by Chicagoan Dennis Lee Mitchell whose aberrant approach to art making is highly seductive.  His former works in clay where typically fired with a blowtorch, in lieu of a kiln.  Still intrigued by fire, Mitchell is making drawings on paper and ceramic plates with smoke, on view at Dubhe Carreno .  Translucent, with thick and thin layers of sooty black, Mitchell heightens the degree of difficulty in his works by braking the ceramic platters before he draws on them with smoke and then recombines them. Obviously he loves the process as well as the results, because it takes dozens of attempts before he is pleased with the texture and aesthetics of a given peace.  Sinuosity at its best.


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There are other strong exhibits, but these are the ones I liked the best.  Thanks very much!