Chicago Art Review


Heartland @ The Smart Museum of Art by Steve Ruiz
October 31, 2009, 3:18 am
Filed under: Chicago, Reviews

Heartland is about mid-western art: its existence, its creators and their motivations, its role and its history, and its place in the larger context of American and global culture. If that sounds like too big an undertaking for one show, you’re right – the Smart Museum show is only a  younger sister, the second iteration of the exhibition which was first installed in the Van Abbe Museum in the Netherlands a year ago this month. Even with two halves and a thick catalog too, attempting to describe anything as complex, geographically expansive, and nuanced as a “mid-western aesthetic” just might be an exercise of well illustrated curatorial over-reaching.

Greely Myatt, Cleave

Greely Myatt, Cleave

I might as well address the issue of text, as the written word was so present in this show that it deserves first mention. Beside the many expository didactics and expansive catalog essays, almost every piece in the show included text in some way, whether the handwritten notes of Jeremiah Day, the speech bubbles of Kerry James Marshall, the acrylic tangents of Deb Sokolow, the books and magazines of Design 99, the annotated maps and posters of the Compass Group, the display case documentation of the Detroit Tree of Heaven Woodshop, the post-Katrina environmental guide notes of Marjetica Potrc; or even in the on page cursive titles of Joseph Yoakum, the pointed imagist exhibition posters, or the trippy and spare signage of Whoop Dee Doo.

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Marjetica Potrc, House and Modernism Outweighed

Not only does this ubiquitous text element slow down and weigh the show, leaving few moments for the deep breath of visual experience and instead reducing many visual elements to on-site illustrations of written messages, it also projects a skewed view of mid-western art as overly wordy and prosaic. However appropriate text is in the individual installations comprising the show, including so many artists who use text in their work is simply inappropriate in a regional show like Heartland where commonalities will be mistaken for generalities. While it has its place in our history, I don’t consider text as all that uniquely mid-western and certainly don’t see it as the most salient aspect of mid-western art as suggested by its outstanding presence in Heartland.

Carnal Torpor, CalmDome

Carnal Torpor, CalmDome

Other than that the mid-west loves to write on their drawings, what do the Heartland artists here say about mid-western creative expression? For one, we are a people engaged in specific problems. There is little contemplation of the sublime or ephemeral or critically artistic, but many questions of the realities of race, class, poverty, urbanism among agriculture, and the repeating theme of the landscape, the river, the plain, and of narratives within them. Carnal Torpor‘s CalmDome might be the most lofty of the works included, and its about hiding from those realities.

Design 99, Heartland Machine

Design 99, Heartland Machine

For fans of Deb Sokolow‘s work (and really, who isn’t?), Heartland provides a healthy dose with Sokolow’s three-wall Dear Trusted Associate. While not very different in content from her recent large installations, it did have some added  physicality, some minor but exciting roughness with her limited materials that I hadn’t noticed in her Spertus piece, The Way in Which Things Operate (speaking of which, check out this bizarre and absolutely awesome video version her cousin made for that one). In the context of the show, Sokolow’s direct references to real businesses and even people grounds the work in Chicago, but suggests a daydream longing for dramatic narrative within a mid-west mostly devoid of spectacle, intrigue, or surprise.

Deb Sokolow, Dear Trusted Associate

Deb Sokolow, Dear Trusted Associate

The big standout in Heartland is without question Kerry James Marshall’s Dailies, the masterful ink on newsprint drawings of which the Netherland crew got to see all forty but which only a limited selection could be exhibited here in the Smart Museum. Drawing from his Rhythm Mastr series, Marshall presents multiple, weaving narratives with heady dialog instantly translated in a foam of speech bubbles, as if each speaker were a South Side polyglot demon. Marshall is still a powerhouse, and I was thoroughly impressed.

Kerry James Marshall, Dailies (detail)

Kerry James Marshall, Dailies (detail)

There were plenty of other works present, including a rare collection of Imagist work, including the grossish and rocky exhibition flyers from the Hairy Who show; the large scale Oprah inspired digital collage by Artur Silva; a very strong double video piece by Julika Rudelius, which left me wondering among other things where and whether I can buy the leather furniture of the powerful; and a room full of curious but extremely poorly lit landscapes by Joseph Yoakum.

Imagists!

Imagists!

If you’re unable to visit the show, or if you want to read the accompanying essays, you can thankfully view the entire Heartland catalog online – however the good people who extended this kindness decided to do so while shitting all over the images by compressing them as much as possible. While a minor slight against every interested party who does not live in or near Chicago or Eindhoven for the sake of selling catalogs to those who do, this choice to digitally deface artwork in preference to the written word speaks volumes about the secondary role the visual side of visual art plays in Heartland.

Peter Friedl, Map (as seen in online catalog)

Peter Friedl, Map (as seen in online catalog; I mean, come the fuck on)

In the end, Heartland just felt a little off, with content too dense and prosaic, and a context that not all the work included fit well into despite their individual quality. I would recommend seeing the show, but only because of the strength of certain artists’ installations, not the success or relevance of the exhibition’s thesis. I give the show itself a:

7.5

Heartland opened October 1st, 2009 and will continue through January 7th, 2010 @ The Smart Museum of Art, 5550 Greenwood Ave.

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Weekend Preview – Midwestern Twerk Ethic by Steve Ruiz
October 29, 2009, 9:00 pm
Filed under: Chicago Art Preview

Going to do this quick and superficially, since I’m supposed to be out the door already. Quick note: the search term “Liu Bolin” is generating more hits for this website than anything other than “Chicago Art Review,” perhaps because his work looks so well on the tiny images of the internet. If you’re interested in the work, his show closes this Saturday at Schneider Gallery.

Yes Men @ Co-Prosperity Sphere

The very reason I need to run out the door, the two famous pranksters themselves will be appearing in our fair city and in our fair Bridgeport to premier their latest work and organize some kind of action to follow their latest film‘s premier at the Music Box Theater. The event begins tonight, Thursday, October 29th @ The Co-Prosperity Sphere,  3219 S Morgan St.

The Yes Men

Rob Carter @ ebersmoore

Video installation and photographs from Rob Carter; images depicting and exploring political structures within an urban setting. Show opens Friday, October 30th, 6-9 PM @ ebersmoore (formerly ebersb9), 213 N. Morgan, #3C.

Rob Carter, Stone on Stone

Rob Carter, Stone on Stone

 

Fall Undergraduate Exhibition @ SAIC’s Sullivan Galleries

Come see the exiting fall class from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago put on their closing exhibition. Over 50 graduates are showing, with a total cost to educate close to that of ten Tomahawk cruise missiles! Reception this Saturday, October 31st from 7-9 PM @ Sullivan Galleries33 South State Street, 7th floor.

Tomahawk Cruise Missile

Tomahawk Cruise Missile

Still digging for more events, so check back tomorrow to see if I’ve added or amended. Happy Halloween, see you at BOO HAUS.

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Seven Artists of the Week – We were cured. by Steve Ruiz
October 28, 2009, 5:43 pm
Filed under: Artists of the Week

This week’s seven picks from Ryan (well, six, and a bonus from me).

Jonathan Runcio, Untitled

Jonathan Runcio, Untitled

Robert Colescott, Ode to Joy (European Anthem)

Robert Colescott, Ode to Joy (European Anthem)

Dana Dart-McLean, I am OK

Dana Dart-McLean, I am OK

John Copeland, Graceland in the Window

John Copeland, Graceland in the Window

Gianna Commito, Shade

Gianna Commito, Shade

Thomas Bayrle, Condolezza

Thomas Bayrle, Condolezza

Brennan McGaffey, KC-135 Ground-Tracking Network

Brennan McGaffey, KC-135 Ground-Tracking Network

Hump day.

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Australia @ Concertina Gallery by Steve Ruiz
October 26, 2009, 5:48 pm
Filed under: Chicago, Openings, Reviews

Since Logan Square’s Concertina Gallery is pretty fresh and steaming, I’ll introduce their newest show  by introducing the space itself: as I understand it, Concertina Gallery is the apartment gallery lovechild of directors and SAIC graduate students Katherine Pill and Francesca Wilmott, who, along with co-founder and former resident Corina Kirsch and design help from current resident Caitlin Bauler, are sharpening their curatorial teeth with a series of professional shows within their living space as well as their street-level storefront windows. Having heard that their first show was a success, I dropped by for the opening of their second, a two person exhibition featuring a film installation by Anthea Behm and photography from Aron Gent, titled Australia.

Aron Gent

Aron Gent, Australia and Mountainside

Strangely enough, the Concertina directors were able to run into two artists who were using the film Australia, an endearingly surreal but ultimately mediocre 2008 Kidman / Jackman joint from director Baz Luhrmann, who you might remember from his other endearingly surreal but ultimately mediocre films, Moulin Rouge and Romeo & Juliet. While both artists are working with and from the same, very specific source material, the artists worked separately, without knowledge of or intent for a double exhibition. However, the rarity and possible pointlessness of a film like Australia as a source of overlap makes it a pretty good curatorial hinge for both artists work to swing from. Neither artist is dealing directly with the content or themes of the film, only using it as an available corpus to serve their processes.

Aron Gent, California Landscape

Aron Gent, California Landscape

For Gent, the film provided a sex scene for his Jennifer project, a serial narrative dealing with pregnancy and abandonment within a west coast landscape. The image Australia captures the entire film’s sex scene through a long-exposure photograph, and is paired by a photograph of a mountainside, where rocky forms suggest concave breasts; and a large wall mounted photograph of a California landscape, with rolling mountains fading to mist. Though the work can’t expected to convey the same content as the entire Jennifer series, the essentials did come through. Themes of sex and time and place, each presented in a drawn out and extended form, effected in me that same feeling of quiet drift as produced by a Less Than Zero, a mid-career Ed Ruscha, or of a strong drink at a high altitude.

Anthea Behm

Anthea Behm

Behm’s work used Australia to examine the act of observing. In one darkened room, a small monitor rests on the floor with the film playing. A projection in another room shows a video of an unknown woman watching the same film and describing what she is seeing. That these two elements of the piece are in separate rooms makes observing both at once impossible, but in a suitably quiet setting a viewer could watch the film and hear the second viewer’s description of the film at the same time. Experienced in this way, Behm’s second viewer functioned like a disruptive feedback device, an imperfect and voiced mirror to my own internal, unvoiced observations. However as the gallery became louder, and as the reverse-moth social effect brought more people to crowd into the darkened room, the monitor became less important. Instead, the projected film became its own piece, presenting the inadequacy and pointlessness of a human being as vehicle for automatic representation, highlighting the difference between the thing itself and its description.

The irony of me describing this piece is not lost on me.

Australia

While both artists’ present different content in their work by very different means, I never felt like they constituted two separate shows. There were three questions at work here, two presented by the artists and a third, presented by the curators, on the measure and nature of overlap necessary to unite artists into a unified group show. We’ve seen plenty of group exhibitions justified by media (works on paper, collages, paintings) or geography (Chicago artists, Baltimore artists), but not so many brought together by source material alone.

I give it a:

7.8

Anthea Behm and Aron Gent‘s Australia opened October 23, 2009 and runs through November 15th, 2009 @ Concertina Gallery.

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Weekend Preview – Haughty Canadian Accents by Steve Ruiz
October 23, 2009, 9:15 pm
Filed under: Chicago Art Preview

One day late but twice as nice, here are my picks from this weekend’s openings. Today’s juicy news: Tony Wight Gallery will be moving next year to a new location, 845 West Washington Boulevard. Don’t worry, its just around the block. Speaking of moves, ebersmoore (formally Ebersb9) is closing its current show by opening its doors for the first time tonight at their new West Loop location, 6-9 PM @ 213 N Morgan #3C. The new space looks great.

Zombies @ Antena

With a fall theme and work from just about everyone in the city, Antena’s Edra Soto curated Zombies: A Mindless Affair looks like it’ll be a fun show down in Pilsen. On the project wall space is Irene Pérez – wish her goodbye and good luck, as she’ll be celebrating the exhibition this week by moving to Spain. Opening reception Friday, October 23rd, 6-10 PMAntena1765 S Lauflin, 1R.

Night Cemetary

Deborah Boardman, Night Cemetary

Fred Sanback @ Rhona Hoffman

Consider if you will the minimalist installations of Fred Sanback. Opening Friday, October 23rd, 5-7:30 PM @Rhona Hoffman Gallery118 N. Peoria.

Fred Sanback

Fred Sanback

Australia @ Concertina

The new and buzzworthy Logan Square apartment gallery Concertina holds its second opening this weekend, a strongly concept driven show featuring the exhibition specific work of film artist Anthea Behm and Co-Prosperity Sphere curator / artist Aron Gent entitled Australia. Doors open Friday October 23rd,7-10 PM @ Concertina Gallery, 2351 N. Milwaukee.

Aron Gent, Australia

Aron Gent, Australia

John Chiara and Sean McFarland @ Swimming Pool Project Space

Fresh physically static work this weekend at the Swimming Pool Project Space in Albany Park, with work from John Chiara, who is apparently too cool for negatives and directly exposes his photos instead; and the phenomenal collaged and rephotographed work of Sean McFarland. Show opens Saturday, October 24th, 6-10 PM @ Swimming Pool Project Space, 2858 W. Montrose.

John Chiara

John Chiara

Ah yes, Chicago, where the only caribou is a fucking coffee shop.

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Seven Artists of the Week – A Sokolowian Plot Twist by Steve Ruiz
October 21, 2009, 5:36 pm
Filed under: Chicago

This week’s picks from Ryan. As always, click images for links.

Trenton Doyle Hancock, from Cult of Color: Call to Color

Trenton Doyle Hancock, from Cult of Color: Call to Color

David Altmejd, The Spiderman

David Altmejd, The Spiderman

Dzine, Out of Nothing

Dzine, Out of Nothing

Glen Brown, To Wit, Wise Humor

Glen Brown, To Wit, Wise Humor

Pia Fries, BEROTEL Y6

Pia Fries, BEROTEL Y6

Chris Johanson, Totalities

Chris Johanson, Totalities

Chris Burden, Urban Light

Chris Burden, Urban Light

Closing remarks!

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Eric Lebofsky @ Western Exhibitions by Steve Ruiz
October 21, 2009, 1:04 am
Filed under: Chicago, Openings, Reviews

Western Exhibitions opened a pair of new shows last Friday, Eric Lebofsky‘s Superfreaks and Melissa Oresky‘s A Wilderness of Edges. The two are pretty separate and operate in very different ways, so I’m going to review these two separately, starting with Superfreaks and hitting the sister show next. To prove I’m serious:

Eric Lebofsky, Superfreaks

Eric Lebofsky, Superfreaks

A few months ago Eric Lebofsky began using the blogging service Tumblr as a host for a daily drawing / blogging project titled Superfreaks (link points to the blog). His characters, each rendered at a comfortable scale in ink and colored pencil, are heroic transformations of common satirized personalities like Introverted Extrovert Man. Here in Western Exhibitions second gallery space and separated (though barely) by frames rather than by posting dates, Lebofsky’s heroes hold themselves well, funny by way of observational comedy and clever by way of creepy absurdity.

Eric Lebofsky, Superfreaks: Introverted Extrovert Man

Eric Lebofsky, Superfreaks: Introverted Extrovert Man

Like any good joke, the work has its serious implications as well, and with Superfreaks we see work that both throws light on makes light of the natural tendency to view others entirely by way of their faults, especially neroses and personality flaws, or simply by their occupations and attached stigma. To see these characteristics manifest physically, with the nervous eyes of the Political Advisor or the retro constitution of Anachronism Man, gives the drawings a functional element which also allows the identities/personalities in those pieces without text to be questioned and understood by their deformities.

Eric Lebofsky, "Superfreaks"

Eric Lebofsky, "Superfreaks"

While there is content to take home, the volume and production method does make the work come off as an elevated kind of art made to entertain friends. Stumbling on the blog where these are posted, an unknown guest might even mistake it for a bizarre single panel web comic. Whether that all matters or not may or may not matter at all – they are entertaining drawings, choosing to revel in their conceptual content rather than critique it.

Eric Lebofsky, Superfreaks: Allen Ginsberg

Eric Lebofsky, Superfreaks: Allen Ginsberg

I give it a:

7.4

Eric Lebofsky‘s Superfreaks opened Friday, October 17th and will continue through Saturday, November 18th @ Western Exhibitions, 119 N. Peoria.

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