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Art Letter (10/20/06)

ArtLetter is about previews. Everything I write about here opens tonight (well except the first one). If something intrigues you its fun to go to the opening.

Sometimes excellent art and art-like experiences come when and where you donít expect them. A couple of days ago I went to the newly remodeled, reopened and renamed Chicago History Museum.  I donít know that Iíve ever seen a fresh, clean diorama before.  These sparkled and made the leap of faith to the time they were addressing all the more real.  They were nice, but that wasnít what really moved me.  I choked up on the verge of tears three times.  First with the Ed Paschke exhibit. 2nd with the coverage of the 1968 Democratic Convention and 3rd while watch a video of Walter Payton striding. There were Paschkeís Iíd never seen before, old friends, and one Iíd even sold, and what was really great was the recreation of Edís studio and a powerful, full of life video recorded hours before Ed died on Thanksgiving day 2004.  The museum is better than ever. Welcome Back.

We have a lot of great artists in Chicago and beyond the pleasure of discovering them is the satisfaction of watching them grow, evolve and mature. It is sure true with the work of Richard Hull at Carrie Secrist Gallery where new moderately scaled works (I bought one) are balanced by an extra large wall drawing Hull was about to get started on.  To be made in situ, Iím going to go back a few times to watch it evolve. He is good enough, and mature enough to take chances and try something new, like taking his charcoal line drawings and having one converted into a cast iron gate.  Heís becoming a treasure; he has a unique vocabulary and a fresh vision.  If you arenít already, pay attention to what he does and where he goes.

Over at Architrove David Roth and Rhonda Gates are exhibiting together.  Theyíre both from here which makes it easier to pay attention to how theyíre progressing. Gates had a strong show at the Elmhurst Art Museum a year ago and made some rather large and strong work for their large walls. What she learned from doing that is  manifesting itself in the more intimate pieces she is exhibiting now. Purposeful marks, subtle shading, layers of content are all better; subtly so.  And David Roth. I was mildly shocked.  Still colored, stained, painted, ďpaintingsĒ on wood, the difference between this body of work and that of the last few years is night and day. The new work sings, is no longer rectilinear, but sensuous, curvy, free, intelligent, passionate and smart.  They are confident, subtle, not self-conscious and happy.  Growth like that doesnít happen very often, or so significantly. I was impressed.

Speaking of which, Iím impressed with how often I get educated when I stop by
Rhona Hoffmanís gallery.  She introduces me to a lot of talent.  This time itís Mickalene Thomas, a painter, a photographer and a compulsive sequiner. This work succeeds because it is accessible.  It draws me in, seduces me, and informs me while I am really paying more attention to surface considerations and process.  I like this work and if you pay close attention to the announcement you can see a painting in the exhibit that Thomas reworked after the image was photographed.  I like that too.  It shows that she has her priorities in the right order.

The Bad at Sports art commentators, the Edward R Murrows of the Chicago art world, are in residence at
Three Walls. Calling it like they see it, pulling no punches that I can tell they are upping the ante and doing more interviews with more people on more subjects than ever before.  Sometimes they are great. Sometimes they miss. But they are always fresh, vibrant, pithy and multinational.  Look for a discussion tonight with artists Tony Fitzpatrick, William Conger, Phyllis Bramson and curators Mark Pascale and Greg Knight on the topic ďWhat the Heck Do You Mean ĎChicago art?íĒ Subsequent conversations will include Kerry James Marshall, Rhona Hoffman, Francesco Bonami, Hamza Walker and even me. We can either laugh with them, at them or at ourselves when we tune in a Bad at Sports podcast, As much as they leave in, I wonder what they edit out.

Upstairs, thereís a brand new gallery opening tonight. Rowley Kennerk is a recent graduate of the School of the Art Institute with a degree in Art History and he has a point of view favoring minimal conceptual art.  Like when we see a quality new artist for the first time, this is but an introduction.  Itíll take a bit of time to understand his vocabulary to grasp the essence and to appreciate the subtitles. Thereís good work here, thoughtful, serious, yet with a touch of humor.  It is not easy art. Give it time.  The reward is worth the effort.

I enjoy watching Aron Packer settle into his new space.  As he is reincarnated into the merged entity of Packer Schopf Gallery with easily 3 times as much real estate he is learning how to use the space to his advantage.  The new Robert Horvath exhibit hangs better than his last show. The work has grown too. Still over-the-top candy-luscious the art is more subtle, feeling more like psychological portraits than people basking in colored lights.

Itís been too long since Iíve visited Navta Schulz Gallery.  Jodie and Ryanís hospitality, warmth and knowledge enhance the art experience there.  They are committed to their artists and grow with them Lisa Kowalski us a Chicago artist theyíve worked with for some time. She works in oil paint, wet on wet. Loose, seductive abstraction.

Iíve long been intrigued by the paintings of Terence La Noue on exhibit at
Zolla/Lieberman, who begins his art by working backwards, making marks on large panels.  After he has laid down enough paint that the paint itself has sufficient substance, he peels it off the panel and works on it further from the front and the back. It is a lot of work and an unusual way of visualizing a completed image, or for that matter, a work in process. It reminds we of the charming paintings of Jean Messagier, who almost 100 years ago painted on glass and presented his work shiny, glass-side forward.  Part of what makes art wonderful is being able to tap into someone elseís creative genius, to get a glimpse of how they see.  Of course, the results are important, but I often delight in the vicarious experience of daydreaming about how they got there. 

I canít do what he does, and I canít do what a lot of these people do, but my brain can emulate the process, and I get to bask and benefit in the art making process.  It is not just about enjoying, appreciating or being challenged by the glory of the finished work, it is about the experience, the creativity and the enrichment of the process that gives art value for me.

Trick or treat,
Paul Klein