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Art Letter (09/08/06)

A special moment: the opening of the fall art season in Chicago starts tonight. After a relative dearth through August there is a corresponding excitement in all the galleries right now as the galleries put their best foot forward and show off what they think distinguishes them from the other galleries in town. I saw a lot of art and yet there are many worthy galleries I haven’t made it to.  Plot your own course or stumble around like I sometimes do.  The point is to find and appreciate new experiences, go where you haven’t gone, and discover something - maybe in yourself - to cherish.

There’s a lot of painting in the galleries I visited, much more than I have previously and a lot of it is quite strong. Far and away the best paintings I saw were
Kehinde Wiley’s at Rhona Hoffman Gallery.  I’ve got to admit that I almost bypassed this exhibit because I’ve been so unmoved by Wiley’s previous body of work.  Something got me through the door though and I was immediately thunderstruck by what I encountered. Now Wiley has, and still does, embrace his paintings in gaudy, oversized, thick, gold frames, but they weren’t on the paintings yet. And I don’t know if their absence is relevant or not, but this work flat out sung.  I used to think his work was convenient, facile, immediate and shallow, and since yesterday I think exactly the opposite.  This work is thoughtful, considerate, rich in content, subtle, subversive, deep, intelligent and refined. There is a really nice synergy between the content and the technique.  They work harmonious together and reinforce one another.  This is an exhibit worth studying. Wiley is thoroughly accomplished and unusual because of it, but not unique, and we can all learn and benefit by extrapolating from his considered process and powerful results.

Conrad Freiburg, a 2000 graduate of the School of the Art Institute, stayed here and we are damned lucky.  His show at
Linda Warren Gallery is right up there with Wiley’s for powerful content and execution.  He has built a fantastic wooden roller coaster in the gallery with full-size bowling balls flying through the space at scary speeds, all based on Chicago’s 1893 Columbian Exhibition. Freiburg thinks big and is pulling it off. The work examines Chicago’s coming of age and the universality of the Columbian Exhibition’s scope from a contemporary perspective. The relationship of the content to the execution is exciting.  I’ve already been twice to marvel at the contained power of the bowling ball and to reflect on how amazing the Columbian Exhibition was.

Freiburg is new and we suppose a solid future. Chicagoan Doug Fogelson (at Kraft Lieberman) we’ve seen before and it is thoroughly satisfying to see the resulting growth, maturity and strength of his newest photographs. Fogelson takes multiple exposures overlapping the images in his camera.  The “in the camera” part is significant because it innovatively conveys motion and fluidity in a static image and because it is not a computer generated effect. This body of work captures water, waves and water in motion like no one else. It is fresh, new, competent and worth paying attention to.

Kim Keever (at Carrie Secrist) is also an innovative photographer, generating historic looking landscapes of otherworldly nonexistent places.  Created in huge “aquariums” he constructs he is capable of generating just about any landscape he can conceive of. I think the antiqueing he applies makes the art more believable and correspondingly meditative.

Laurie Hogin at Peter Miller makes beautiful paintings of some pretty scary looking animals - usually small animals with sharp teeth. And though the website says these are a commentary on commercialism, I see them more as a discourse on human’s relationship with our environment, our disregard for nature and the potential consequences, but that may be the same thing.  Her work has always been seductive, for its technical prowess and disarming beauty juxtaposed with her harsh imagery. A talented Chicagoan; there’s a lot here.

Monique MelocheLaura Mosquera’s paintings have grown since I last saw her work. These aren’t a quick read. There is a lot more substance than initially meets the eye.  She lives here and has shows at the MCA and other significant venues but it’s been a while since we’ve had a new body of work to look at. Her painterly abilities yield images that are vaguely reminiscent of David Hockney; a revealing look at people in their context.

There certainly is a lot of “process” in the art we’ve been discussing. I remember a now decades old conversation with
Mary Boone who spoke about how “art must transcend its materials.” Of course it’s rather obvious, but if we look at Scott Fife’s work at Bodybuilder and see cardboard the art is not transcending its materials. But oh how it does. He marvelously produces busts of famous historic figures and more often that not makes them more sculpture than statue by displaying them on their sides or even upside down. The gallery has contracted over the summer and has a new front door down the hall from where it was, but the new space is better, more exciting, more intimate and better lit - a good move.

The old front door now opens to
Gallery 40000, run by Britton Bertran whose gallery was one of the exciting West Town storefront galleries before this summer.  First things first, Britton is a really nice guy. Second, he thinks for himself. Third, I’ve seen him skateboarding in the park with literature in his hand.  And most importantly he really believes strongly in the artists he represents; like his first show with Josh Mannis who painstakingly makes composite images and videos ostensibly digitally clipped from a stack of National Geographic magazines - another artist not put off by endless work.

 I used to exhibit
Josh Garber’s work; now at Zolla Lieberman in River North. We published a catalog eons ago and the author of the essay, Tom Garver, referred to his work as a ‘mantra of labor.” And it is still true today, but the work has grown.  Always tangentially related to his first love of ceramics, Josh welds zillions of short rods together to form undulating, organic, seductive sculptures that are vaguely reminiscent of Kenny Price’s best work; something that hadn’t ever occurred to Josh when I mentioned it to him yesterday. There is a breakthrough element to this new work. It is more detailed, more accountable, more accessible and more open.  I’m really happy to see Josh flourish.

Up in the Hancock Building is a wonderful show of new paintings by hometowner
Jim Lutes at Valerie Carberry Gallery.  It is clear from looking at his paintings that he loves to paint. Some artists like finishing a painting, and seeing the results.  Others prefer process.  Lutes pours himself into his work, loves the mark making process; the revelation / obfuscation of content and even the historic, difficult egg tempera technique he employs.  This is tough beautiful art.  We can get lost in deciphering the image and find love long before understanding. It has been a long while since we’ve seen a Lutes exhibit. (Not only is his work arduous, he has been busy with commissions.)  And this is a triumphant return - well worth the trek.

I’m mildly fascinated by the phenomenon of two married artists, who don’t show all that much, having openings in two different galleries in the same city on the same night. 
Kim Piotrowski and Jim Lutes are married. Piotrowski has a strong show (we’re back to the West Loop) at Skestos Gabriele Gallery.  Her new paintings are confident, strong, and clear. She doesn’t second guess her paintings. She makes a mark.  She leaves it. These are not simple marks.  They are quirky and irregular, yet crisp and purposeful.  I like that.

Aron Packer has just merged his gallery with Schopf and now the new entity, Packer Schopf is located on Lake Street.  The first exhibit is a composite of the galleries artists and Packer’s scheduled one person show with Dee Clements who makes social commentary through her embroideries.

Gosia Koscielak has a new space in which to show the high caliber international and local art she favors.  Her new show is with Susan Sensemann.  Susan has been making art and teaching in Chicago for a long while - always solid work. Maybe you saw the article in Wired Magazine discussing the two kinds of geniuses: those who are geniuses early and those who are geniuses late.  Susan is of the second variety.  The work she is doing is more exciting, braver, more intriguing than ever. Beautiful and meaningful all at once.

Also new this summer is Architrouve, which will most often feature Chicago artists. However they are presently presenting a strong exhibit of photographs of New Orleans in the wake of Katrina by New Orleans native
Joshua Mann Pailet.  The recovery of New Orleans needs to be on the forefront of all of our thoughts. This exhibit passionately conveys the pride and the tragedy that remains in New Orleans. This week we are experiencing multiple anniversaries and the American response to this situations is telling. For us to succeed it must be more about participating than observing.  Knowledge, wisdom and action must prevail over apathy.

There’re a lot of good things going on. Chicago’s
Renaissance Society has its annual benefit this Saturday night.  The Ren does 5 shows a year almost always showing us artists for the first time who whose names will be on the tips of all our tongues a few years from now.  This is an operation whose purpose is much more to enlighten, reveal and educate than a commercial gallery.  And their mission is much more immediate than a museum’s. Too often, when I miss a show, a year later I’m kicking myself for not having gotten in on the ground floor.  Check them out - frequently.

This weekend is the
Around the Coyote Festival where 100’s of artists not only open their studios in the Wicker Park - Bucktown neighborhoods, but also participate in presentations of dance, music, literature and film.  Lots of opportunities to engage with artists. Lots of fun.

I hope to see you out there.
Thank you,

Paul Klein