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Art Letter (10/1/09)

Only recently have I been paying sufficient attention to the Smart Museum on the University of Chicago campus.  I donít know if itís me or them thatís awoken (probably me), but I'm getting more and more impressed with what I see there.

For any museum to mount two original, innovative and relevant shows in a row is rare.  And the Smart, first with
Westermann over the summer and now Heartland, opening tonight, has done precisely that.

This is a meaty, substantive exhibit exploring the multiple layers of what being in the Heartland means, both from the point of view of those inside the Heartland, and those outside.

I always enjoy looking at solid work thatís new to me. By intent thatís what this show presents and accomplishes.

Parenthetically, let me say that I think something is going on here in Chicago.  I canít tell yet if it is happening elsewhere or just here.  In a recent
ArtLetter I wrote about how Madeleine Grynsztejn is redirecting the MCA towards a dialog with Chicagoís aesthetics and sensibilities. And now I see the Smart moving similarly.  I'm hoping weíre seeing the beginning of a new significant way museums function. Iím sure tired of the old one.

Conceived in two parts, and co-curated with the
Van Abbemuseum in the Netherlands where a variation of the Heartland exhibit was presented a year ago. That exhibited presented many different artists because a European audience has a different familiarity with the subject. At the Smart, there are but a couple of Chicago artists, whereas in Europe there were more.

I donít believe the curators began with any specific artists in mind but traveled the cities along the Mississippi and its tributaries and took copious notes.

The show that results is diverse, multimedia, often fun, frequently serious and easily worth more than one visit. Thereís a lot of words in the pieces by Chicagoans
Deb Sokolow and Kerry James Marshall and though Iíve heard for years about this fabulous body of work Kerry was focusing on Iíve not seen any evidence until this show.  What we see are the story boards for what could be a movie. Theyíre wonderful.

It was great to see
Artur Silva who lives in Indianapolis where I met him a year ago, though he is from Brazil.  Silvaís art considers the American publicís relationship to capitalism. For his new piece he watched the Oprah show ad nauseam and created a huge banner that plays with the contrast between Oprahís woman-empowering show and the happy-homemaker advertisements that undermine her message.

opening is tonight, Thursday.

We donít often get a chance to see work by our own
Wesley Kimler, (though there is a great and large painting presently at the MCA) unless we stop by his studio, which I did recently and learned that Kimler has a small, hot, exhibit of his drawings opening Friday night at Eyeporium Gallery.

My buddy
Richard Polsky has been both a private and public art dealer in the 30 years Iíve known him. He is honest, ethical and funny. He knows his art cold and has a damned good memory.  One of the the very best art books Iíve read recently is his brand new I Sold Andy Warhol (Too Soon). The stories he relates about his dealings with some of the most self-inflated art poseurs had me laughing out loud. Thereís even a chapter plus about Chicago artist, Tony Fitzpatrick.

Constellations show at the MCA closes soon.  Seeing it and the Heartland Show at the Smart will give you fodder for creative thought for a while

Let me know what you think is going on.

Paul Klein

Greg Knight is retiring after 32 years at the Chicago Cultural Center where he has probably done as much as anyone to bring excellent (and a helluva lot of Chicago art) to us as anyone - and for free.  Greg and the Cultural Center are special.  Thank you Greg and congratulations.