Art Letter


April 2012 Archives

Tom Torluemke - whose expansive show opens tonight at Linda Warren - is a marvelous, prolific, once-troubled, insightful, gentle, considerate artist of magnitude.  His art is invariably autobiographical and touches on his difficult youth with an abusive father and a loving, deaf-mute uncle with whom a young Torluemke could only communicate by passing drawings back and forth.  Many artists start young, but I know of no other for whom it was a sole means of communication with a close family member.  Obsessively, Torluemke makes art every day and it keeps him sane, in touch, loving and gentle.  The show is a remarkable view into a diverse artist whose art is likely on the threshold of even broader, more significant, acknowledgement.   Also on view are the difficult and competent paintings of Jeriah Hildwine.  If you can distill the essence of these two artists, the dialogue between their art enhances each. 

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Opening Saturday at Carrie Secrist, the art of Liliana Porter, who I exhibited over 30 years ago, continues to explore, poke fun at and balance so much of what is popular in contemporary art today. Raised in South America, Porter is an informed outsider.  There's something charming, honest and satisfying about her work.

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Russell Bowman consistently finds and exhibits a broad range of contemporary art - not necessarily current - and mixes it with established local artists, as he has in Image / Abstraction / Object, with wonderful pieces by insufficiently seen Betty Woodman, DeWain Valentine, along with Roger Brown and Pete Voulkos.

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At Firecat, Nicholas Sistler's virtuoso, postcard-sized paintings and prints are inspired by the Kinsey Institute's images of sex in all its variations.  Couple that with Sistler's fascination with film noire and the multiple interpretations each specific, yet ambiguous, fragment can deliver, one finds a luxurious stage for exploring our, and his, psyche. 

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These are wonderful exhibits and a great reason to go look at art.

Thanks very much,
Paul Klein

Scads of Quality
Richard Hull's new paintings at Western Exhibitions are splendid.  They are completely different than what he's done before and they still look like him.  It's always informative to visit artists' studios or see pictures of them and observe what art and reproductions they hang there.  Over time those images creep into their work.  Like here, where Hull's new 'portraits' are loosely based on the ruffles in Velazquez's Las Meninas.  I can also project the influence of Francis Bacon. This work is masterful and entirely Hull's.  It's exciting to see an artist you've long respected break new and fertile ground.

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Neil Goodman's show at Perimeter also shows new growth and a seasoned artist gaining confidence and fully hitting his stride with bold, seductive, considered sculptures and innovative advancements in the medium of bronze. Too often our society makes a priority of the young and the new, yet here are powerful examples of mid-career artists making some of the best work around.

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Across the way at Albano, Margaret Wharton's new wall pieces reveal her ever-expanding and evolving imagination and inspired use of common materials like clothes pins, nuts and bolts, tennis rackets and chairs. When working with found objects (a notion we'll expand on in a moment), art must transcend its materials, as is exemplified here. 

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Perhaps that notion is true too at Tony Wight, where Matthew Metzger's beautiful paintings are probably not inspired by 19th Century, trompe l'oiel master John Peto, as Metzger recreates and renders the most beautiful truck mud flaps I've ever seen.  Sure, there's a bunch of theory behind this work, which is art historical, relevant and fascinating, yet the paintings as objects themselves are seductive and captivating.   Metzger's work is paired with the photographs of Sreshta Rit Premnath whose reworked photographs are inspired by M.S. Ramaiah who believed that if he ever stopped building he would die. A bust of the builder has been photographed and manipulated in a poetic response. 

L1060376.JPGL1060378.JPGCurious how most ArtLetters find a subplot or theme circulating through much of the work I preview.  This week it's art whose materials are recycled, reused or artfully replicate something in another medium - all of which can be found in the expansive show Chicago's 12, insightfully curated by Sergio Gomez at the Zhou Bros' southside art warehouse.  This is a 'green' exhibit focusing on artists who reuse, recycle and reconceptualize materials. It is fun, big, spacious and joyful.

L1060357.JPGL1060355.JPGL1060359.JPGThe Hyde Park Art Center's new exhibit, Hairy Blob, opening Sunday, looks to be good, but I got there before 90% of the art was unwrapped, so I'm going to have to go back.

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It was good to get back to the Ukrainian Institute Museum of Art where 3 Chicago artists and friends (Michiko Itatani, Claire Wolf Krantz and Susan Sensemann) participate in Mutuality, an uplifting presentation of mutual respect and synergistic art, that highlights the artists divergent experiences, source material, individual integrity and cooperative energy.

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In the already-opened category, Rashid Johnson's significant, large-scale paintings at Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art are both beautiful and meaningful.  As an artist I've previously been hard on for being too casual, I'm comfortable acknowledging that he has now found a powerful stride and ability to communicate a fresh and poignant look at his own history.  From that base he draws in tangential and substantive content, and reveals himself as a force that is to be contended with and watched for years to come. 

L1060344.JPGL1060343.JPGL1060341.JPGI enjoy seeing what architects draw when they don't have to.  Is it nature? Is it abstract?  Is it an extension of their work or is it counterbalancing?  For Stephen Wierzbowski, whose drawings are on view at Framing Mode & Gallery, it's beautiful and historical, predominantly European buildings in a variety of settings. Like sculptors, many architects draw well, and like sculptors those drawings often don't get seen much.  

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Paul Klein


Conscientious Artists
For a while now, I've been noticing that more artists are making socially conscious art, engaging with society more, creating less art for art sake, and are more engaged, with larger visions.  Perhaps this is in response and/or stimulated by Ai WeiWei.  Next Friday, the 20th the Chicago Committee of Human Rights Watching is presenting a screening of Ai WeiWie Never Sorry at the Museum of Contemporary Art.  I bought tickets long ago and understand a few remain.  Inasmuch as Ai has not been allowed out of China for way too long, this movie will be informative, insightful and as close as we are going to get. 

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Closer to home, Alison Ruttan's previous body of work was about the chimpanzees at Gombe, in Africa, who divided into 2 groups and waged a civil war against each other, until one group was eliminated. Extrapolating from the notion that if chimpanzees kill one another, it must also be human nature to aggressively go after one another, she has spent the last 2 years creating a ceramic body of work called Natural Disaster.  Her sculptures are based on internet-found images of Middle Eastern demolished buildings and bombsites.  Strong work at Adds Donna Gallery, opening Sunday afternoon.

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To an extent, Marc Dennis' work at Carl Hammer Gallery, is in the same vein, a critique of the pettiness of humans.  Good painting, provocative juxtapositions and a salient commentary.

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Nicole Beck is a dynamic sculptor whose distinctive new body of work sings with innovation and charisma and is more poorly installed than the paintings I once saw hanging on the posts of a corral.  A dozen works are crammed into a 15-foot entrance stairway at the Chicago Artists Coalition.  With some pieces 6 feet above your head and numbered with multicolored dots, the cacophony of mistakes ruins the triumphs of these wondrous new pieces.  A travesty; if I were the artist I would have bailed. 

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Matthew Cox's new pieces at Packer Schopf are as distinictive and special as Nicole Beck's, and are elegantly allowed the opportunity to breathe.  Don't you wish you'd thought of embroidering medical X-Rays?  Okay, maybe because I have a month-old titanium hip the subject's been on my mind.  This work is beautiful, fresh and flat-out fun. 

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Artists must take responsibility for their art and their careers, how and where the art is seen, and under what circumstances.  Creativity and innovation are rewarded. Stupidity is punished.  Mays Mayhew is an artist who is getting it right, commandeering a pop-up space in the Loop and inverting the formula.  Instead of putting the art on the inside facing in, where few of the Loop's thousands see it ,she has put it in the windows and it's seen by all. I commend her for her innovative creativity. 

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That's it friends.  More art is on the horizon.  Time to appreciate the weather and get on out.

Thanks very much,
Paul Klein

Good Art on View in Chicago
Invariably, I prefer to preview at least 3 openings to write an ArtLetter, but recently there haven't been all that many shows opening that I felt like writing about.  So I apologize for the hiatus.  I also had surgery and got myself a new hip.  So it was good to get out recently and visit exhibits whose openings I'd missed and see shows that are opening tonight.

Let's do these in something resembling chronological order.  One of the most memorable and engaging works of art I've seen in some time was at Believe Inn.  This roughly 10 x 10 x 10 foot installation was a collaboration of several artists and unfortunately I'm unclear as to who deserves the credit.  There are a lot of hand-made wood items that compose a cityscape.  All these items are props for a video projection that is flawlessly executed.  There's not a stray pixel and the 7 minute 'performance' is accompanied by original music.  This is just exciting, accessible, different and super fun.  

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Not far away, Firecat Projects has introduced an accomplished, who's never exhibited, Mario Desa, has thrived as a tattoo artist and is now seguing to fine artist.  It's a sweet transition with a lot of beautiful and complex images. The show enables one to consider the foibles, weaknesses, strengths and idiosyncrasies of our goofy artworld and who gets the gold ring and who gets taken for a ride. 

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Two thoughtful, and unintentionally related exhibits focus on the photographed figure. At the DePaul Museum is a show of portraits by the Malian portrait photographer Malick Sidibé, who also was prone to not considering himself a fine artist. With a sensitive eye to the cultural explosion happening in Mali in the 60's Sidibé chronicled     normal people at an abnormal moment.

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The Mickalene Thomas curated show at RhonaHoffman (tete a tete) expands on intentional and seemingly incidental portraiture as a means of considering several complex relationships; the 'place' of the African-American body in contemporary society and by extension, how people of any given cultural maintain and honor their own culture while integrating and participating in a larger, more prevailing one. 

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I still have mixed feelings about the Pop-Up galleries in the Loop, feeling that it uses artists to make downtown have fewer vacant spaces, more lights, warm bodies and parking meter revenue. But periodically a gallery or artists get it right and draw a crowd and engage people they wouldn't see otherwise, making for a win-win scenario.  Such is the case with the splendid Oak Park gallery, What It Is and Ex Nihilo, a group show of artists working digitally.

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Okay; that's it for shows that have already opened that are definitely worth seeing.  And I've been saving the best for last.  Elsa Muñoz's enticing, mesmerizing, beautiful paintings at Dubhe Carreño haunt and move us to slow down and perceive the beauty and horrific power of nature and the lofty aspirations of humans. 

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Before I moved to Chicago 30 years ago I was a print dealer in California.  Never in my life have I seen etchings as proficient and technically amazing as those of Catherine Brooks whose show opens tonight at AdventureLand Works on Paper (formerly FR Works on Paper) at 1513 N. Western. The details in her spiritual, delicate prints are astounding.  For years she worked for Kathan Brown, at Crown Point Press, one of the finest etching printers in the world and now Brooks has authored a detailed book about etching technique.  This artist is a master's master.  These prints are inspirational in their agility, a testimonial to the glory of well-made art. 

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Thanks very much - let's go see some art!
Paul Klein