Art Letter (10/17/08)
The art season follows the school year - perhaps because people are focused indoors more than out then - and the Ďart seasoní opened a month ago. Iíve noticed for years that many galleries present their strongest exhibits in the October / November slot and it is safe to say that the exhibits Iíve just previewed are superior to what I had to choose from a month ago.
Iíve known Stephen De Staeblerís art for over 3 decades. His exhibition of gorgeous sculptures opens tonight (Friday) at Zolla/Lieberman. I was once married to a woman who theorized that most artists starting doing ďgreatest hitsĒ by the time theyíd hit their mid-50ís. De Staebler, who zipped past 70 a bit ago, is showing by far the best work of his significant career. There are easy references to Giacometti and Pompeii, but the texture, forms and nuances are what are most striking for an artist who has been honing his expressive skill for half a century. These larger-than-life clay sculptures sing.
Enrique Santana was born in Spain and lives in Chicago and exhibits at Ann Nathan Gallery. Heís been painting buildings in downtown Chicago, but he crops them interestingly to highlight his painterly abilities. Heís very good at capturing the nuances of light and the shadows that are cast on the buildings. To some extent the paintings are about Chicago, but to a larger extent they are about the technical issues and the paintings could be anywhere.
Alfedena Gallery, has been an important gallery in Chicago since it opened two years ago. And theyíll be closing the middle of next month. Over the two year span they presented over 20 exhibitions of mostly mid-career Chicago artists. And now theyíve lost their financial backing. The last exhibition features Steven Heyman, whose work has been about the abstract qualities of light for many years, who renders his content quite differently than Santana. This most recent body of work is an extension of the large commissions he recently completed for the International Terminal at OíHare. Downstairs at Alfedena, Paul Sacaridiz is presenting several large installations that expand on his interest in ornamentation and decorative architecture. This is good work that takes time to decipher.
Lora Fosberg, whose show opens tonight at Linda Warren Gallery, has a fun perspective on an array of issues and concerns that are common to many of us; natural disasters, societal advice, personal wisdom, or the lack thereof. But her perspective is different than mine and more fun. Clearly she cares about the subjects she draws, but she laughs at them too and then she laughs at herself for laughing at them. Fun show. In the back room at Linda Warren are some really beautiful and slightly strange photographs by Tom Van Eynde. I happened to have been in his studio about a year ago when he began working on this series. He was buying different kinds of plastic flowers and photographing them. I didnít know at the time - and Iím not sure he did - where this work would take him. I really didnít see much potential in the work I saw a year ago and Iím really pleased with how they came out.
In the West Loop, at Tony Wight, Tamar Halpern makes photographs that result from an unusual process. She works the same way a painter a might; starting with a photographing a random item, other photo, or artifact, and uses it the way a painter might a random mark. She then combines images as she composes. The result is always abstract, though the contents might not always be. I found it relevant that she mentioned listing to Sun Ra and how sheíd noticed the sound of a shuffling footstep would be incorporated into the music.
At ThreeWalls, Amy Mayfield makes warm, playful environments for drippy, creepy content, which is sometimes disarmingly charming. Taken in parts, the pieces are slightly eerie. Taken together, it sort of feels like somebody in the Addams Family went to art school. I like the work. Itís different. I wonder if Iím affected by just having finished watching Hellboy.
Across the street at Monique Meloche is an exhibition opening by Carrie Schneider whoís just returned from a year in Finland, courtesy of a Fulbright, after getting a graduate degree for the School of the Art Institute. Her work also has a bit of an eerie quality reminiscent to me of how I felt while watching Chinatown. Schneider challenges nature in her work, creating a persona that interacts uncomfortably with nature, or she postulates impossible notions, like learning how a derelict feels by emulating a derelictís motions and activities. This is a young artist with a solid exhibition and is worth remembering and paying attention to.
I receive digital images from artists and galleries frequently. Sometimes the work looks better on my monitor and sometimes it looks better in person. If I know the artistís work I usually accurately grasp how the art will look in person, but when I donít know the work seeing it in real life can be different. And thatís the case with Doug Smithenry whose show opens tonight at Aron Packer. Itís much stronger in person. Like the previous few shows the work is concept driven - Smithenryís fascination with fleeting fame on the internet, like Lonelygirl15 and many others. A bit like Jason Salavon sampling internet content, Smithenry picks and chooses, like a painting with people named Tom, Dick and Harry - heck, itís possible even you show up in one of his paintings.
Lastly, thereís an exhibit I didnít get to preview that opens tonight at the Chicago Cultural Center. Titled Made in Chicago: Photographs from the Bank of America LaSalle Collection, the show features lots of black & white images of scenes in Chicago by photographers like Harry Callahan, Aaron Siskind and Robert Frank. There are 150 photographs in the show, taken over the last 75 years.
Lots to see. Lots to do.