There’s some genuinely superb art on view in Chicago right now.
One of my favorite Chicago artists is Joseph Kohnke. It wouldn’t surprise me if you were not familiar with him. He tends to be a bit too reclusive. He is smart, young, fresh, insightful, different, relevant and has outstanding craftsmanship, upon which the success of his art relies.
As a result of a recent vacation to Costa Rica he was overwhelmingly impressed with the affect of humans on nature; the imprint we have left on our environment. And this awareness has altered his art.
There are five fine examples opening this evening at the Chicago Cultural Center’s Michigan Avenue Galleries. Instead of being heavy handed or laden with guilt his work approaches the subject with humor, irony, and poetic reversals. Elegant phone poles and phone lines run the length of branches and comment on what we and our technology have done to the landscape. And in my favorite piece we find an almost real, yet perky potted plant sitting atop a pretty highly gadgeted pedestal, cords and wires descending from the plant to some kind of sensors and motors at the base. Turns out the motors are also motion detectors, so that when we approach the plant the leaves droop and it looks dead for as long as we are standing there.
Joseph Kohnke is a special artists with a gifted way of communicating. He’s worth paying attention to. He’s got a long career ahead of him.
I’ve been impressed with Mary Lou Zelazny’s work for a long time; so much so that I recommended her for a commission for the new McCormick Place Expansion. She seamlessly combines collage and painting, as is in ample evidence at Carl Hammer Gallery in an exhibition opening tonight. When I think of the great artists working in collage I first think of Kurt Schwitters, then Tony Fitzpatrick, Tony Berlant, Wesley Kimler and Zelazny. She’s right up there with the big boys.
Of course I don’t like defining an artist by his or her medium, but there is a different way about how my eye deciphers a collage than a painting or sculpture. There is the seduction of figuring out what’s created and what’s replicated, how they interact, and what the artists’ motivations and choices are. What’s also interesting to me is how different the work of the 5 artists I’ve referenced are from one another, yet they are all united in how my eye reads their art.
Zelazny’s work is unique; both in technique and vision. I find it refreshing, void of cliché, and particularly honest, in the sense that it is not referential; it is hers. That’s impressive. Maintaining one’s ‘core’ to that extent is not easy.
And then there are a few exhibits that opened last week that are noteworthy.
First and foremost is Rhona Hoffman’s first of three installments of her 30th Anniversary Show. I started about that long ago. I know what the artworld and artmarket looked like then and who Rhona Hoffman showed and who she championed is not only impressive, it is prescient. Wonderful art - a nostalgic trip down memory lane in full bloom. Kudos Rhona.
Upstairs at Gescheidle we get to indulge our voyeuristic tendencies looking at Chris Verene’s remarkable photographs. Filled with too much information and too much honesty we get to go with him as he photographs friends and family in Galesburg, Illinois. Oh, I certainly do wonder what those people think of us. And there is something about the immediacy of Drew Beattie’s ‘paintings’ that share the gallery that balance and enhance Varene’s work nicely. This is Gescheidle’s last show in this space as she moves to a new building and it’s a strong show.
So too is Howard Fonda’s show at the diminutive and sincere Duchess. Fonda worked with me a few years ago. I learned things from him. I’m sure we challenged each other. He is particularly smart, intuitive, trusting and confident. This show reveals all these traits. Pretty special.
And in some great news for a Chicago artist, Dzine (Carlos Rolon), who is also one of the 30 artists who received a commission for the McCormick Place Expansion, was just selected to participate in this year’s Venice Biennial. Exciting.
And spring is right around the corner.