Chicago Art Review


Gimme Baby Robots @ The Empty Bottle (tonight!) by Steve Ruiz
August 31, 2009, 7:33 pm
Filed under: Chicago, Openings

In case you haven’t heard, there’s a sweet auction tonight at The Empty Bottle. If you’re looking for top shelf art on a dime, Gimme Baby Robots is your kind of event: auctions start at just a few bucks – and with works from over a hundred artists including Jason Dunmars and Mike Rea on the block, you’re sure to make those dollars stretch.

Melissa Steckbauer

Melissa Steckbauer

Gimme Baby Robots is tonight only, August 31st from 8:00 – 10:45 PM @ The Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western Ave.

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Google Searching for God @ ebersb9 by Steve Ruiz
August 26, 2009, 9:09 pm
Filed under: Chicago, Openings, Reviews

Despite what everything from the title to the content and presentation of the work might suggest, I’m pretty sure that Jason Ferguson isn’t really concerned with God, or finding God, as much as he is in searching for him. With only three pieces installed, two of which are photographic prints and the third a sculptural relic display, the latest show from the dynamic ebersb9 duo is much more of a thinker more than a looker – but that’s okay, there’s plenty to think about here.

Jason Ferguson, Google Searching for God

Jason Ferguson, Google Searching for God

If you’re into the classic omniscient Deity model, the idea of Google as God isn’t too far of a stretch. Even if you’re not ready to kneel on your keyboard, you could probably admit that there is something strange and magic and special about looking for something online. With the right eye, the search itself is fascinating.

Since we all add data to the searchable material (the internet) at a faster rate than any human can observe, the searchable material becomes (at least for the human user) functionally infinite. For every bean you count, two are being added to the pile. While less romantic than trying to count the stars (and filled with a lot more pornography), I’m sure everyone has at once time marveled at the kind of unknowable infinity of the internet. I’m sure Jason Ferguson has.

Jason Ferguson, Google Searching for God (detail)

Jason Ferguson, Google Searching for God (detail)

Ferguson’s sculptural piece (also named Google Searching for God) consists of a scroll on which has been inklessly typed the entire page source of Wikipedia’s God entry. Each instance of the word God has been lit from below, through cuts made on the wooden surface on which it rests. Like any good relic, it is both beautiful and appears supernatural, revealing a human craft and undertaking of monk-like dedication.

The important thing to remember is that like all religious material, the pieces in this show were artificial – not only physically but also in their content, determined by the crowd culturally or otherwise,  generated through emergence and individually selected on by the artist for elevation and confirmation. While this piece references God, the piece itself first references the Wikipedia page, another man-made structure and one that in this context makes a convincing real-time candidate for enlightened text.

Jason Ferguson, God Sighting A

Jason Ferguson, God Sighting A

Ferguson’s two Google Maps images, while not really adding anything to the content that wouldn’t be brought up in the scroll and sculpture, are none the less satisfying visual accompaniments to this central piece. Blown up and saturated, the satellite imagery works very well as art object, with their pixelation encouraging viewers to approach and retreat to bring them to focus in that well-known op-art gallery dance. If you feel like seeing the original to compare, here’s God Sighting A in its original context. It looks better at the gallery.

Jason Ferguson, Google Sighting B

Jason Ferguson, Google Sighting B

When you put these three works together and wonder at the point, you might come to conclusion that the deity most separate from humanity is most often found buried in its crawling development, its web-weaving, and its organic self arrangement. Wikipedia is the ultimate emergent model for knowledge, with millions of users determining its form; Google’s search engine runs on PageRank, a system is entirely dependent on the entire internet ‘s intelligence to decide what is most relevant and important; and the satellite/God’s eye image is constantly used as a method of illustrating the odd algorithmic growth patterns of human construction.

Using such real inhuman and limitless ways to search for the cultural embodiment of inhuman and limitless is a clever mirrored elevator, and it doesn’t bother me that this sort of recursion can easily come off as absurdity or humor. Recursion is always absurd, as in when I ask a dog to pronounce “bark” or put a car in your car so you can drive while you drive, and there’s always a risk that it may distract those who haven’t played blow-minded awe-struck with Google Earth for weeks like I have from getting past the humor. As potentially absurd as its premises are, if take Google Searching for God seriously, it crafts a compelling conversation between concepts as apparently diverse as the divine and the online.  Not bad for an end of summer show.

I give it a:

7.8

Google Searching for God runs August 21st, 2009 to September 19th, 2009 @ ebersb9, 1359 W. Chicago Ave, apartment B9.

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Transparent Reflect @ The Co-Prosperity Sphere by Steve Ruiz
August 25, 2009, 3:11 am
Filed under: Chicago, Openings, Reviews

The very busy culture masters at the The Co-Prosperity Sphere put together a new show for us this weekend which features nine artists’ contemporary takes on the tradition of portraiture. Specifically, it was about the overlap between self portrait and portrait, that grey ground that exists in the relationship between artist and subject, the choice of setting and treatment as a reflection of the artist. In short, its that added context that makes portraiture the fun it is.

While not strictly a “Portraiture in 2009” show, a challenge to any show like this is that it inevitably operates like a body of evidence: here are thirty pieces of art picked from nine artists, all of whom are young and human and generally doing the same thing which has been done for a long time. But while the show includes some very strong works, detectives beware: if you’re heading in expecting to gain by commonalities some insight about how emerging artists are viewing themselves and their peers at the end of this decade, you might not find much of an answer.

Swoon
Swoon

Speaking of really strong work, the fact that the two prints from Swoon came from Ed (Edmar) Marszewski’s personal storage makes me wonder what else he’s got up there. Back from “before Swoon was Swoon,” these two pieces which apparently never made it to the wheat paste were instead well framed and hung wonderfully against the east wall like sentries for the black lit hollow of fellow street artist Goons‘ installation. While the latter presented fun and illustrative and modestly fucked up paste ups, Swoon’s pieces had the hammer elegance and expansive community narrative that one expects to find in a Courbet rather than in an alley way.

Goons
Goons

Then again, Goons is alive and well and in Chicago and had a display of random shit for free.

Nick Wylie, Men I Would Marry

Nick Wylie, Men I Would Marry

I probably got the full title wrong, but Nick Wylie’s Men I Would Marry (Drawn for as Long as They Lasted) is one of the most immediately visible and the more challenging works at the show. Sixteen crotches and cocks, hastily sketched in charcoal and gridded large on the wall present a visual document of friends or lovers or both and their stamina in one way or another. I liked the work’s dependence on experience to deliver its form and though its probably the most fitting example of the curator’s theme, I did have problems with the form itself.

While the work’s appearance and construction are intrinsic to the idea that generated them (provided the title can be believed), I found Wylie’s charcoal on rag paper distractingly plain despite, okay, its art school attachments to the nude and yeah, its utility as a fast medium. I’ve probably been spoiled by artists who can figure out how to fit strong and interesting craft into any concept that doesn’t specifically prohibit it.

Matt Austin

Matt Austin

To some degree, I felt the same about Matt Austin‘s photography and audio piece. This was probably the most conceptually gripping piece in the show, with a narrative that followed me out the door, into the car, and back home, but the presentation didn’t always strike well with the content. The work consisted of a tent, with an audio reading of an e-mail exchange surrounding his father’s eviction and a slideshow of photos detailing that eviction projected against one wall. I thought it all worked together well, establishing a sympathetic space for its narrative, but was a little put off by the delivery of the reading, which, while pretty hard to listen to after a few minutes, did render the eviction tale less dramatic, more common, and maybe scarier for all that.

Zach Aubucker, Breaking Cycles Like This is Really Difficult For Me (from Sleep)

Zach Abubeker, Breaking Cycles Like This is Really Difficult For Me (from Sleep)

While painting was surprisingly light (only one painter was included, Kristen Flemington, and her work was pretty straightforward portraiture and pattern), photography was well represented. Maureen Peabody‘s sparkling misty glamor portraits were easy on the eye and light on the head, and Anna Shteynshleyger‘s wigs were an interesting departure and, with their culture and fiber, a bit heavier on the head. Zach Abubeker‘s Sleep photos looked familiar, but still made for damn fine portraiture.

Adam Golfer, from *kin

Adam Golfer, from *kin

Adam Golfer‘s three photos from his German *kin travel series are the strongest of the bunch, especially the one featured above and titled in the show but nowhere else (someone find this out for me). The history and tradition of the traveling artist, while now mostly limited to photographers, still just might be the best overlap between self and sight and other. This picture isn’t really anything clever or tricky, only that somewhere in the excellent composition and movement and the mysterious model/travel-partner’s clenched fists the work excels.  Such easy snapping of an apparently unposed shot suggests an experienced eye, which an online tour of Golfer’s work definitely confirms.

While there were one or two artists who didn’t do much for the concept of the show, I’d say that Aron and Caitlin did a good job putting it all together. While the strength of the work included in Transparent Reflect (especially the two Swoon pieces) would make the show worth a visit on its own, there is plenty of conceptual meat on the bone too. I give it a:

7.5

Transparent Reflect runs August 21st through September 24th (?) at The Co-Prosperity Sphere, 3219-21 South Morgan.

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Keil Borrman & David G.A. Stephenson @ The Suburban by Steve Ruiz
July 29, 2009, 5:49 pm
Filed under: Chicago, Openings, Reviews

Two little shows opened this Sunday at The Suburban, the backyard super-space of Michelle Grabner and Brad Killam. The first, Keil Borrman: I have not painted in a year. I have been listening to my stereo, is a small collection of works by Borrman and six others. The second, located in the original ten by ten space, is a multimedia installation by David G.A. Stephenson entitled Songs for Suburbanites, an art rock display shipped in from the United Kingdom along with the charming artist himself.

@ The Suburban

Amelia Saddington, Notes

I thought Keil Borrman: I have not painted in a year. I have been listening to my stereo represented interesting work from interesting artists, but casually presented. Borrman‘s four paintings were good but scrappy (all were suggestively entitled November 3rd, 2008), Divya Mehra‘s photograph was also enjoyable but was only a selection of a series, and Malika Green & Alex Jovanovitch‘s piece was a funny one-off exquisite corpse. The Virginia Poundstone/Bel Canto design pairing was smart,  and the Amelia Saddington was beautiful.

Keil Borrman

Keil Borrman

What I mean is that it’d be impossible to complain about the work or the quality of the work, but the whole show together felt like it was curated by way of “So, what have you been up to?”. I’m okay with that. These shows are one of the benefits of having alternative spaces. And it led me to watch Divya Mehra‘s holy shit, insane videos like this one.

Keil Borrman: I have not painted in a year. I have been listening to my stereo

Keil Borrman: I have not painted in a year. I have been listening to my stereo

While the outbuilding was still done up as it was when Konsortium installed their “Eurostyle” show last month, Sebastian Freytrag‘s wallpaper fit perfectly (and ironically) with David G.A. Stephenson’s installation. I really enjoyed the three pronged iconoclastic combination of Americana (though limited specifically to the overlap between artists and musicians) by way of English fascination laid on a background of German design.

The show featured clips and collages of music and art history from art reviews to raisin boxes to magazine spreads pinned to the walls or spread on the ground before a television which played videos accompanying musical pieces by Stephenson and about, well, art.

David G.A. Stephenson, Songs for Suburbanites

David G.A. Stephenson, Songs for Suburbanites

Stephenson’s tunes were great, both poetic and funny in an appropriately Lou Reed-y way, and I liked being reminded of the history of (and crossover between) art and music and appreciated Stephenson’s enthusiasm in pointing out all the polymathic artists who made it happen.

Here’s his song, I Want Paint a Joke Like Richard Prince:

And another, I Want To Hang Out With Ed Ruscha:

The Suburban has an extensive description of his life and work here. For now, at least.

Dave Muller (Untitled)

Dave Muller (Untitled)

Not a new show, but one that I saw for the first time and thoroughly enjoyed, was a show of xerox prints put together by (and with the proceeds benefiting) the long-time, longest-time running New York alt space White Columns. With each piece in editions of 50 and priced at or around $150, it makes for a really smart, affordable show, and a great way of fund-raising with excellent art on a relative dime.

Xerox Show @ The Suburban

Xerox Show @ The Suburban

Pretty cool stuff all around. I’ll mash both shows together and give the whole experience a:

7.6

Keil Borrman: I have not painted in a year. I have been listening to my stereo & David G.A. Stephenson’s Songs for Suburbanites both run July 26th to September 5th @ The Suburban, 125 N. Harvey, Oak Park. Hours by appointment.

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Signs of the Apocalypse / Rapture @ Hyde Park Art Center by Steve Ruiz
July 28, 2009, 2:27 am
Filed under: Chicago, Openings, Reviews

Mystery replaces history this month at the Hyde Park Art Center, where the heavy and the high of contemporary art have been shaken south for one of the hottest shows of the summer. Following the curatorial undertaking that was Artists Run Chicago, the Hyde Park Art Center’s Signs of the Apocalypse/Rapture is a doomsday blend of local and international artists curated by Front 40 Press, who publish the critical survey book of the same name and from which is born this exhibition.

Eduardo De Soignie, Saint Child of Atocha

Eduardo De Soignie, Saint Child of Atocha

Signs of the Apocalypse / Rapture immediately brought up place and time as contributory issues. However foreboding the subject matter of this show, the HPAC’s main gallery space is so beautiful that the imagery of ruin and whirlwind destruction echo like hellfire in a megachurch. Whats even stranger is that the content of the show seemed five years old and politically unsynced, as if some time around the re-election of George W. Bush would have been the more appropriate moment for this show, the peak of doom, back when we were fucked for sure whether it was the terrorists or the neocons or the fags or the devil who would push the button.

Jon Elliott, Continental Drift

Jon Elliott, Continental Drift

Back then I could stare at a Julie Mehretu and imagine myself exploding.

Back then if someone asked me how I expected to die, I would have said “violently.”

Today, I’d say “broke.” Its a different kind of horror.

Ricky Allman, Apocolyzer

Ricky Allman, Apocolyzer

Emilio Perez (detail)

Emilio Perez (detail)

But while the horrible specter of poverty might be overlooked in the content of the artwork shown in Signs of the Apocolypse/Rapture, the quality of artwork does invoke it. Putting an Emilio Perez next to a Julie Mehretu is enough to make any collector ache, and that pairing represents only two of the many top shelf artists who are represented. Though there are plenty of scenes of chaos and collapse, they’re matched with more somber images (David Opdyke‘s Undisclosed Location and Richard Misrach’s Swamp and Pipeline, Geismar, Louisiana) along with a few pictorial, appropriately scaled rapturous paintings (Nicola Verlato‘s Mothers 2, John Prianca‘s Autumn).

Caleb Weintraub

Caleb Weintraub (detail)

The only piece to actually disturb me was from Caleb Weintraub. I think. His painting is hung on the ominous black object in the middle of the gallery and, like the other pieces on that object, whether for misfortune or mystery or mistake, isn’t tagged so far as I could see. Hopefully they are by now.

Andrew Shoultz

Andrew Shoultz

Hisham Akira Bharoocha

Hisham Akira Bharoocha

In addition to the artwork in the main gallery, two wall pieces are included, both stellar and massive. The first is a boggling, visually ecstatic wall painting by Hisham Akira Bharoocha (who also has work in control c, control v), and directly across from it Andrew Schoultz‘ mural rampages down the hallway in a flaming ticker-tape parade. Both are excellent installations, and Schoultz’ piece is an especially appropriate up-sized companion to his painting in the main space.

Andrew Schoultz, Running with Chaos, Nature, War, & Power

Andrew Schoultz, Running with Chaos, Nature, War, & Power

I wish I had greater access to Front 40 Press’ Signs of the Apocalypse / Rapture book, whether at the show or online, as without the critical writing that informed the show I feel like I’m only getting one half the experience. I’m curious. However, when considering the quality and work on display, even my partial slice of the curatorial team’s complete vision may be enough. Signs of the Apocolypse / Rapture is simply an excellent show, a highly appreciated opportunity to see top flight work, and yet another excuse to get down to Hyde Park.

I give it a:

9.3

Signs of the Apocalypse / Rapture runs from July 19th to September 20th, 2009 @ the Hyde Park Art Center, 5020 S. Cornell Ave.

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Weekend Preview (i dont know what to dooo) by Steve Ruiz
July 24, 2009, 11:16 pm
Filed under: Chicago, Chicago Art Preview, Openings

This weekend is pretty light for openings, but here’s what I’d see if I were you:

NAH POP NO CAT

NAH POP NO CAT @ Roots and Culture

SAMAD @ Nightingale Theater

Shirin Mazaffari and Ehsan Ghoreishi have curated an exhibition of short underground Iranian videos which, due to political or otherwise controversial content, have never been screened publically in Iran. Very cool event that I will definitely miss, so here’s hoping it plays again somewhere. SAMAD will be shown @ the Nightingale Theater, 1084 N Milwaukee Ave tonight, Friday, July 24th at 7:00 PM. $5 at the door.

Meg Onli @ Twelve Galleries

More than just a travelogue, more than just an art show, Meg Onli‘s Underground Railway Project is a multimedia exhibit which traces her journey from Montgomery County, Maryland, to Dresden, Ontario,  following the path of Josiah Henson, the man who inspired Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Identity pilgrimage, very highway cool of course. Check out this more in-depth article (from Bad at Sports) and check out the show itself @ Twelve Galleries, 2156 West 21st Place (2nd Floor apartment) this Saturday, July 25th, 7:00 – 10:00 PM.

Keil Borrman @ The Suburban

Our friendly Oak Park ultra-alternative art space will be hosting a multi-media group show entitled Keil Borrman: I have not painted in a year. I have been listening to my stereo, with a bonus six-song presentation/wall installation from americana altrocker David G. A. Stephenson, and a triple double bonus of having bar-b-que for the opening. Check it out @ The Suburban, 125 N. Harvey Ave, Oak Park this Sunday, July 26th, from 2:00-4:00 PM.

And if you haven’t seen it yet, get down to the Hyde Park Art Center for their on-going show, Signs of the Apocolypse/Rapture. Say Hi to the Emilio Perez for me, I miss it already.

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NAH POP NO STYLE @ Roots and Culture by Steve Ruiz
July 23, 2009, 3:40 am
Filed under: Chicago, Openings, Reviews

I first dropped by Roots and Culture’s latest show on opening night, squeezed past the crowd outside and poked my head over shoulders of an unusually tall crowd to see the art, decided the tide had turned to afterparty early, and ran out. While too much crowd to see art with both eyes, not bad for a space looking to engage the community.

Luckily what I did manage to see convinced me to make a return stop.

Clay Schiff, Nine and a Half Objects

Clay Schiff, Nine and a Half Objects

NAH POP NO STYLE features art – mostly paintings – from Providence and Baltimore. Despite the geographic differences, the work here tends to homogenize; there isn’t enough dramaticly different between the art out of Providence/RISD vs. Baltimore/MICA to see the work separate into camps. That doesn’t really matter, except to say that the show doesn’t have as much internal contrast as a two-city show might suggest.

Geography aside, the work in the gallery was some interesting stuff.

Anabeth Marks, Rumspringa

Annabeth Marks, Rumspringa

I’ll run through what I liked quickly: Annabeth Marks‘ paintings were grungy, clever abstractions that made pukey pallete-goo oil paint look less gross than, say, Kent Dorn‘s Figutives,  but more fuck-around-ish too. Clay Schiff’s work was more reserved, but made up for straightforward material use with excellent composition and color choices. Blade Wynne not only has one of the most bad assed names in the world, but his gouache paintings were very skilled, advanced pieces too. Wynne was definitely a standout in this show and someone I’d keep an eye on in the future.

Blade Wynne, Garden

Blade Wynne, Garden

Lucy Campana’s work ended up using paint in a beautiful way, but for mediocre ends. I enjoyed her After Laughter Comes Tears up to the point where I recognized the profiles traced into the paint, at which time I tried hard to un-see them. The way she uses paint, I can imagine her work losing the pictorial or figurative elements and being better for it. Unfortunatey I have neither a photo or a link for Ms. Campana, so you’ll have to take my word on this.

(Update: You can see her work here.)

Quinn Taylor, (Untitled)

Quinn Taylor, (Untitled)

I liked Quinn Taylor’s two pieces both as works themselves and as foils to the work around them. The curatorial team (Michael Thibault and Hugh Zeigler) made good use of Taylor, and in turn Taylor’s pieces looked great in the show.

Chloe Wessner, The Last Walk

Chloe Wessner, The Last Walk

However much talent was on display at NAH POP NO STYLE, there was a new artist smell to some of the pieces, with work that seemed to spring from the art school structure rather than from a developed body of work. Chloe Wessner’s The Last Walk and Kandis Williams’ I Saw What You Did, Bitch (Cunty Whisper) both felt like one-off, pointed constructions. These may be other cases of wait and see.

Thomas Harrington, Untitled

Thomas Harrington, Untitled

While there were few pieces I swallow whole, and despite minor problems with some pieces, NAH POP NO STYLE is still one of the most interesting shows up in Chicago right now. Thibault and Zeigler have put together a very balanced show, rich in content and interplay, honestly beautiful in the space, and with pieces that generated more opinions and discussion than most shows I’ve attended and/or discussed. I may go a third time.

I give it a:

7.6

NAH POP NO STYLE runs July 11th through August 8th @ Roots and Culture, 1034 N. Milkwaukee.

P.S. This was one of the more difficult articles to write, only because of the very sparse online content. I nearly wore out my googler trying to track down information for some of the artists involved in this show. While I can (only reluctantly) handle the gallery not putting up a piece list/images for the show, the artists themselves should really have some online presence for interested parties. If you’re an artist without a website, please, for my sake as well as your own, go set up a blog and put your name and work on it. Put a tiny bio. Include the word artist. For me. Please.

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