Art Letter

September 2011 Archives

The Fall Season Opens, Part II
We've got another weekend of strong exhibitions opening.  The long awaited arrival of the new DePaul Art Museum is here.  The first show, opening Saturday, is titled Re: Chicago and is exceptional; full of treasures, contexts and curiosity.  Some 40 Chicago art personalities (for lack of a better term) were asked to nominate an artist who should be known, with emphasis placed on the selection not being from the usual cast of characters.  



L1050329.JPGBesides a beautiful new venue for seeing art in Chicago, the show is fun because of its imperfections.  This is curation by committee and it makes for curious juxtapositions. There are artists you might not think warrant inclusion, others that might be too obvious and some where collectors suggest an artist - and a piece - from their own collection.


Seeing the exhibit makes one mindful of the strengths of good curators and the strengths and certainly weaknesses of assigning selection decisions to the others.


Regardless, there's wonderful art here not seen sufficiently in Chicago in a long time, like Macena Barton, Maniere Dawson, Ralph Arnold, Arthur B. Davies, Gertrude Abercrombie and Harry Callahan, along with a number of contemporary favorites.  For lots of reasons, I find this a thoroughly wonderful show and definitely hope there's a curated sequel sometime soon. 


Rhona Hoffman presents a painting show curated by former Chicagoan, Hudson of Feature. Hudson has long had a prescient eye.  I remember walking in to his Chicago gallery in the early80's as a show was being installed and the artist sitting on the floor injecting mercury into basketballs surrounded by Dr. J posters.  In the show at Rhona's, the premise is the 80's began a long stretch of 'brainy' art, where the art was predominately about theory and conveying information.  This show, and a lot of Feature's agenda, is about visceral art that elicits a body reaction and not solely a mental one,  He finds it more ambiguous and inclusive.  There's a lot of art and a lot to talk about here.

L1050343.JPGDonald Young is presenting new work by Bruce Nauman, one of the first artists to succeed by agitating and annoying, pushing the envelope and expanding boundaries.  Never one of my favorite artists, I acknowledge that he has contributed to the freight train of art history, but his work invariably leaves me cold or bored.  Nevertheless, his dexterity is impressive in a new video where he follows his own prerecorded commands about how many and which fingers to hold up - supposedly "an exercise of coordination  as both artist and participant wrestle between body and language.".  I just wonder where his head is.

There's another divergent, non-mainstream, solid exhibit at FireCat Projects where Ellen Greene offers an updated take on the tattoos of the 1930's and 40's, painted on long gloves and presented in pairs. There are also several paintings in this earthy, populist exhibit.

L1050353.JPGIn an answer to the question about the relationship between the work artists make and their straight day jobs the exhibit at Architrouve presents 3 painters who work in painting conservation and restoration.  I don't suppose any restorers actually make sweeping, gesturalbrush strokes as there's clearly an affinity here for 'tight' work, but the question I'm still left with is whether these artists make this painstaking work because they are restorers or the other way around.  Regardless, the relationship intrigues.

Go for it,
Paul Klein

The Opening of Chicago's Fall Art Season
It's here.  The day we've all been waiting for - the start of Chicago's fall art season, one of the few weekends of the year when the majority of Chicago galleries open in consort and present some of their best art which tends to define the gallery and indicate it's direction. Hold on to your socks; this could be the ArtLetter with the most pictures yet.

I started my previewing at Russell Bowman because I can always count on quality there and because I like the conscientious approach the gallery makes to educating the public about recent developments in Chicago's art history.  On view were a fine selection of very early paintings and drawings by Ed Paschke, whose prices have been close to a quarter of a million in NYC, but here they are more tempered.  (There's a great show of Chicago Imagists opening at the Madison Art Museum this weekend, which I'll discuss later.)


I find Kelli Connell's photographs, opening tonight at Edelman, beautiful and disarming - a nice tension and confusion - maybe what I used to call a Positive Ambiguity. The photographs are brilliantly manipulated to pose the same model twice in each image, suggesting a dynamic, but uncertain relationship.  


Mary Lou Zelazny has been one of Chicago's finest artists for quite some time, as was evident in her survey exhibition at the Hyde Park Art Center last year.  The new work on view at Carl Hammer Gallery is damned near a breakthrough - as if she's been freed from constraints by having a survey exhibition sum up her past and enable her to step forward anew.  Still using collage and paint, Zelazny's work is more complicated, competent and focused.

John Torreano's art at Albano completes the galleries I visited in River North.  I'm not sure what it is about Torreano's work.  I do, and have, found it seductive for decades, even though his growth has been incremental at best. To an extent, loose daubs of paint replace or echo some of the encrusted jewels, but that's about it - and I still like them.

Carrie Secrist has married and altered her gallery's agenda to greater emphasize young and emerging artists and she starts of the season with a bang.  Andrew Holmquist is a recent graduate of the School of the Art Institute.  Some of his paintings are glorious, a few are clunkers. some are humorous and all are brave. Holmquist has joyous talent and trusts his aesthetic impulses, which over time will surely get honed, but for now he's sharing his not very bridled gusto with us.  I love the vulnerability. 



Walsh Gallery is closing their physical space to be better able to navigate the world and serve its artists.  Knowing Julie Walsh and the passionate, thorough exhibits she presents, I doubt this will be an economizing move.  Vivan Sundaram's art is so good I didn't recognize it.  I thought he was a fashion desginer because the garments he makes are cutting-edge beautiful.  Only on closer examination did I realize that an entire man's suite was made out of maxi-pads. The show will have live models showing off his mesmerizing work who, for the run of the show, will be replaced by mannequins.  

At Western Exhibitions, the walker, Stan Shellabarger has another profoundly different knockout exhibit.  In a long, edtioned, fold out print (book), Shellabarger has trod across printing plates on the floor, inked them, printed an image, walked some more, reinked, reprinted and repeated till done.  In another he's walked in a prescribed pattern on paper laid on diamond plate steel. There's definitely a mantra of passionate labor that yields these beautiful results and singularity of focus. 

At Tony Wight, Barbara Kasten's crisp, oversized photographs of glass and plexiglas are formal exercises with a high degree of difficulty. I like these formal works and recognize  the work involved to get them to this place that they look simply elegant. (I did all my previewing with Angela Watters who wanted to familiarize herself with all the shows opening, before she ventures out as "Gallery Opening Barbie" and tweets comments about the shows from 60%H20.)

It's amazing how many galleries are opening their season with Chicago artists.  One who isn't is Thomas Robertello who has a charming show of new paintings by Bret Slater, from Dallas.  Having just completed a memoir on Phillip Guston, this work reminds me a little of him.  Some of these ostensibly abstract images can be seen as faces, hats, teeth.  Solid, fresh,  accessible, fun art, this show surpassed my expectations. 


Takohl isn't really an art gallery. Instead it's a jewelry gallery in the middle of an district, but it was here that I found tintypes by Gayle Stevens.  Hers is an antique process that delivers sensitive contact images of found objects and artifacts, brought to life and recombined to present delicate, personal meaning and affinities.  Really good work that warrants time to unravel and discover. 

Ed Valentine's paintings at Linda Warren are light, fun and virtuous.  Here's a man who can obviously paint as good as he wants, but prefers to mix his talent with his humor to give us a different look at people.  There's an 'everyman' quality to his work and the notion that the image we're looking at could be us.


There are two shows opening where I've seen the artists work enough over the years to have a sense of where they've been.  But where they are is different and/or more mature.  Not long ago Angel Otero was an art school graduate student making paintings with what looked to be Silly String that flirted with painting and sculpture simultaneously.  Those melded into abstract, unmounted painting skins that were interesting, but amorphous.  The new work. at Kavi Gupta, builds on those, mounts them on canvas and serves as a substrate for more, smaller skins that grow to become a rich, undulated painting.

L1050302.JPGLorraine Peltz has been painting chandeliers for a while now. Initially they were intermingled with paintings of other domestic objects, but it's the chandeliers that have won out in her new show at Packer Schopf. Over time, they have become richer and more intriguing.  They move around the canvas, get combined with other markmaking and take on a life of their own.  Their richness is her territory now. 


Ebersmoore is a small gallery with a powerful program.  Rob Carter's apocalyptic, two-screen video is an example with large, crisp projections of a jungle encroaching upon a fictive stadium.  The quality, pace and soundtrack seduce to the point where we wonder if vines are growing around our ankles.

Okay, I've been saving some of the best for the end. Dan Gunn has a show opening at Monique Meloche and a 12 x 12 show at the MCA.  His work riffs on art history while obfuscating it with diverse 'inappropriate' materials, a quirky vision and solid craftsmanship to the point that the works reveals, yet transcends, its materials.

L1050323.JPGAs much as I got around to a lot of shows, there are some that I couldn't get to or weren't available when I did. Jason Lazarus and Cody Hudson are at Andrew Rafacz, Juan Angel Chavez is at the National Museum of Mexican Art and numerous artists are up north at what used to be Fort Sheridan and is now the Openlands Lakeshore Preserve (who should really add the artists' names; Sharon Bladholm, Kate Friedman, Olivia Petrides,Ginny Sykes & Augustina Droze (Chicago Public Art Group) and
Vivian Visser to their website) - this Saturday.  These are permanent installations.

KFriedman.nature.jpegAlso Saturday is a wonderful exhibit of Chicago Imagists at the Madison (WI) Museum of Contemporary Art,  They sent me images of the show, which is almost entirely from one non-Chicago collection, which means lots of solid work we haven't seen before.



Lots of art. Let's go!

Paul Klein 

PS: I want to share one of my favorite resources with you: The Visualist will keep you on top of what's going on in the visual arts in Chicago. 

Art: Preseason
The Chicago fall art season opens in one week with a massive number of galleries presenting strong art, and they're all jockeying for position and your attention.  But right now there are some strong pre-season shows opening - if you want to see some good show ahead of the herd.

I'm on the board of the Collaboraction theater company and was asked by them to work with Wesley Kimler to select art for their exhibition program in Mush Room, the adjunct space they have.  We put out a call for art and got some wonderful submissions from which we are crafting shows.  Tonight's opening pairs Alyssa Miserendino and Matt Tuteur, both of whom deal with the decaying artifacts of a society in transition. Miserendino's photographs are of spaces vacated by people who couldn't afford to stay in their home, inspired by her family's need to do precisely that 7 years ago.  Some of these properties are occupied by squatters, and the dichotomy between what clearly was and is hurts with its sensitive awareness of disarray.


Matt Tuteur, like Miserendino, is a renegade photographer, who conducts research to find hidden, dying, decaying, disappearing footnotes to Chicago's colorful past.  It is not as if you find Al Capone's subterranean lair on Yelp and access it with a police guide. Chicago has a colorful, and not always comfortable, past.  There is honesty, angst, and beauty in Tuteur's broad and considered documentation.  Both photographers' work is complemented by a poignant 'flower" arrangement by Rick Wroble that is was once beautiful and is now dying like the content of the images around it.

One of the things that I genuinely like about Chicago is that it cares more about what you are doing than what you've done - just look at some of our aldermen.  Not that I know anything about what Jenny Lam has done, I'm impressed by what she's doing - creating, finding, following her own path in the Chicago art scene.  She's been on my radar since spring. A recent college graduate, she's just just curated a charming show at Fulton Street Collective titled Exquisite Corpse. Expanding on the traditional notion where multiple artists work on a single piece without knowing what the other has done, she's solicited, culled, and matched 40 artists who don't know each other to collaborate on creating art.  In most cases the pieces are fun, competent, multi-faceted and engaging.



In another concept for a group show, the Beverly Arts Center is presenting 3 longtime friends, where some of the work relates, and looks at how paths diverge and/or remain intertwined.  I'm particularly drawn to the art of Erik DeBat, once a street artist and now drawn to importing that aesthetic into a contemporary fine art vernacular. There's an impressive grit, play on words, and structure that succeeds with fresh beauty when it does. 




Lots of art in the weeks and months ahead, and it starts now.

Thank you,
Paul Klein