Archive for the ‘Chicago Art Reviews’ Category

Western Exhibitions, June 12-August 1: Dutes Miller, The Ecstasyist

June 14, 2009

Dutes Miller

Dutes Miller’s installation The Ecstasyist is filled with penises – and other images related to the male body and its accoutrements – but mostly just penises. Sculptures of condoms, hanging and drooping in an Eva Hesse-style, hover mid-air while messy collages and drawings, sometimes framed, sometimes not, fill the walls. Although not cluttered, the word “full” is probably the most apt way to describe the use of space where every corner of the gallery has been used to exhibit a different aspect of Miller’s working practice in a different exhibition style, from the presentation of his untitled series of amorphic bodies in a never-ending circle, to the rigorous seriality of his framed untitled collages of cut-up nude male models.

I am reminded of a quotation, one loosely rememberd, by the blogger/curator of I Heart Photograph, that there were times when she would post images to her website that she really liked, but once she saw them in person at an exhibition, her reaction completely changed – a problem of online curating once you reach out to the challenges of “real” life spaces.  Miller’s work seems more DIY in person than online, but the Ecstasyist, whomever he is, cannot make up his mind. His influences are numerous, from dabbling in Surrealist collage to Mapplethorpe’s renditions of the male body (however, Miller’s are rendered far less classic and glamorous than the late artist). The Ecstasyist is schizophrenic about the treatment of his images – should he let the original text of the his cut up magazines show through in his collages and let dried glue ripple the paper, should he frame his works?

This frenzy of sources and styles confused and dissatisfied my friend who attended the opening with me, however I don’t care whether or not an artist is original. The works in this exhibition that contained the most prescient understanding of the installation as a whole are those small, circular collages of bodies that, without eyes or faces, still contain the source of desire, the sexual organs and the soft skin that contains it, yet the shape of desire is difficult to define, existing in various intensities without a constant goal. Unfulfilled desire is what drives the Ecstasyist, but the source of Miller’s uneven treatment of desire, materials, and source, was not identified in the exhibition, left dubious and unfulfilled, like the exhibition’s imagined creator.

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Post-Art Art Fair

May 5, 2009
Bucky, a Dymaxion car, and a geodesic dome

Bucky, a Dymaxion car, and a geodesic dome

There’s no way to describe in any succinct fashion Art Chicago, NEXT, Converge, and all of the events associated with this week’s fair, so here’s a few highlights:

  • Goffo and Jelly Wrestling
  • Finding out that Max Protech sells Buckminster Fuller works
  • Awkward exchanges between Midwestern curators and one from the Whitney
  • Recession hit the bar: the black VIP card would only get you free water on the Art Chicago level.
  • However, at NEXT, the Grolsch cart served free beer all day and night!
    Art Fair tourists, like those who came to take photos of art and those who told me that my booth’s flower arrangement was the “best-looking thing” they had seen all day. Really, not the art?

Case-by-Case Basis at the Lloyd Dobler Gallery, March 6 – April 11, 2009

April 6, 2009

The Southern Graphics Council Conference was held in Chicago last weekend. The culture of printmaking is one filled with extremes of application, from those that embrace the specifics of the medium or if its one based on the cultural implications of printmaking as a easily and instantaneously produced medium for circulation within the populace. Bad at Sports recorded a podcast in conjunction with the conference which, thanks especially to Mark Pascale’s contribution, helps to illuminate the discrepancies between what is printmaking in terms of an art practice in general.

This all-print show at Lloyd Dobler features carefully crafted, gorgeous works with a hint of mystery to them. Literally, something is missing, a ghostlike trace across the print in Alex Chitty’s works that distinguishes the present-day work from being mistaken for a 19th century print. This spectre points to the haunting of printmaking by its past, a fear still so real and tangible.

DDR/DDR screening at Conversations at the Edge, Gene Siskel Center

March 1, 2009

Amie Siegel’s 2008 film DDR/DDR weaves together strange tales of individuals living in East Germany after the fall of the Deutsche Demokratische Republik (DDR).  Not strictly a film about the people living in the DDR, the networks explored in this film consists of the technologies – in particular, the types of camera and recording technology used – architectural spaces, and even the fate of psychoanalysis during these years. Siegel positions hereself as an artist performing as psychoanalyst, mining the archives of  the Stasi’s films – a tremendous feat – and the spaces occupied by them. What has survived the approximately 20 years since die Wende has been shaped by the films of the DDR – a technophile’s dream!  Scenes of present-day German “Indian Hobbyists” discussing the East German films based on the American Western genre, filled with cowboys and “Indians,” are novel and disturbing to my Chicagoan eyes, but if I wasn’t so affected, then this film would be just another type of effort at multi-culturalism.

Andrea Fraser Speaks!

February 26, 2009

As part of the School of the Art Institute’s Right to Believe Series, Andrea Fraser lectured as the first voice. Bordering on a straightforward artist’s slide jam – which, unfortunately, is the type of lecture many artists perform, believing that it might be unbiased or distance themselves from the work, however boring the lecture in itself tends to be – and characterization of herself where Fraser slides in and out of the museum guide that she plays in “Museum Highlights.” This balance between real and unreal, subconscious and conscious states, became rifted during the question and answer series when Fraser started crying.

A performance? Probably. However, this is what to expect from an artist who controls her reception to a demanding degree.

Christa Donner, Re:Production. On view at Three Walls, through Feb. 14, 2009

January 16, 2009

Christa Donner with her work

Christa Donner draws and draws, on walls and in zines – even her animations are cut and pasted drawings.  Her intricate, obsessive, and simple graphic style animates the flat walls at Three Walls (116 N. Peoria St.). In case some of the works look familiar, versions of some of the drawings at Three Walls have appeared elsewhere, in New York City, Chicago, and Cleveland.

Yes, she draws vaginas and pregnant women, but this isn’t first-wave feminism. Donner researched the various ways he animal kingdom gives birth. An example of her research seen in this exhibition: a certain type of mite gives birth through their stomach, their offspring bursting through the stomach lining and out into the world. Gross, right?

From here, Donner anthropomorphizes the various ways animals give birth by drawing humans going through the same process, i.e. babies bursting out of fleshy stomachs.  Donner’s process of finding obscure information about reproduction and then substituting, say mites for humans, serves to demystify the pregnancy process.

Stereotypes still abound about pregnancy, from the idea that  it should be an entirely joyful process during month one through nine, to the idea that every woman will at some point want to be pregnant.  Showing how pregnancy really works in the rest of the world is one step to forging a dialogue about the still misunderstood topic of pregnancy.

When you go to Three Walls, remember to pick up a free mini-comic/zine by this creative documentarian.  In the comic, Donner illustrates her interviews with women about their reproductive organs. Just don’t expect anything typical.

Tank Traps and Hijackings, Old Gold, Jan. 9-Feb. 8, 2009

January 12, 2009

The best part about Old Gold is the bar permanently installed in this basement apartment. Seriously, the home brew beer at this exhibition, the “Viking brew” according to one of the Scandanavian-esque bartenders, was some of the best beer that I’ve had in a while.  Art openings are parties, therefore, I have every right and in fact, I have an obligation to discuss the type of beer they serve.

As an exhibition, the content of Shackleford’s sculptures and prints was dependent on place, dependent on the architecture of Old Gold and the people in it. By 9pm, Old Gold was crowded and the three sculptures became obstructions to people moving around, whether to look at the works, find the bathroom, or pet an adorable pug named Ruby who belongs to Kathryn, one of the co-0wners of Old Gold.  Throughout the night, people did end up walking into these wobbly, wooden sculptures. The experience invoked by these sculptures on this crowded night at Old Gold was vague. It was like listening to an inexperienced meteorologist who just tells you to “Watch out!” for bad weather, but not telling you what type of weather to expect.   I don’t want didactic art, but these gorgeous geometric sculptures merely told me to “Watch out!” for them while I wandered around to socialize,  an essential part of going to art openings.

“of or relating to the sky or visible heavens,” Western Exhibitions, Jan. 9-Feb. 14 <3 <3 <3

January 11, 2009
Carrie Gundersdorf

Carrie Gundersdorf

West Loop openings in January are bound to be unpopular. Last night, the weather wasn’t too bad–it was just snowy and the streets were covered with wet slush. Western Exhibitions usually holds two distinct openings, one taking place in the larger room, filled with windows, while the second exhibition space is smaller, about the size of a large closet or a small bedroom. It’s about the size of my own “cozy” bedroom.

The theme of this show is to be taken literally from the exhibition title, that it is about the “sky” and the more poetic version of the same word, “visible heavens.” Unfortunately, those works that depict the blue heavens with just this same literalness were the most banal.  I appreciate a simplicity that resonates with both aesthetics and the everyday, but the metaphoric gestures that artists including Carrie Gundersdorf, Shane Huffman, and Michelle Grabner used make the exhibition’s theme of the sky both an art phenomenon and an everyday spectacle.

Carrie Gundersdorf’s muted neon watercolor and colored pencil designs of the sky in her trio of works including Trails and space – yellow and blue, break down a possible landscape into symbols. Think of Color Field painters like Kenneth Noland, Morris Louis, or Helen Frankenthaler but with hard-edged, neon design.

Shane Huffman’s inkjet print Forevering, 2008, at first looks like an ethereal landscape taken by a NASA satellite. The materials used to construct the scene are anything but celestial, consisting of semen and menstrual blood.

Michelle Grabner’s corner work, Untitled Flock Drawing, 2009, hovers between drawing, painting, and sculpture. Made from rayon flock and spray adhesive, the fluffy white specks coating the corner of the gallery floated, creating a second, textural layer to the gallery walls. Although specks of the material were coming off the wall on the opening night, this work in process still suggested the process of its making (splattering, spraying) while mainting the quality of how it was made, splattered onto the wall.

Walking Books, Stan Shellabarger. On view at Western Exhibitions through October 15, 2008

September 7, 2008

The problem with repeating yourself is that you end up doing it more than once. Stan Shellabarger’s performance process is inescapably repetitive: he walks over and over a thing until he has left a mark on it, whether from charcoal, sandpaper, or another medium he has attached to his body. This emphasis on personal mark-making recalls 1960s phenomenological explorations from body to video art.

Shellabarger’s current exhibition heralds the relocation of Western Exhibitions in the 119 North Peoria Street building, just down the hall from Three Walls and Tony Wight. (A quick note on the new space: it’s just two rooms, and barely larger than my two-bedroom apartment, but it benefits from the quirky coziness that is the pastel pink information desk.)  The books and other papers document the artist’s obsessive shuffling over surfaces in order to create rubbings. The resulting materials are almost too beautiful, too austerely decorated.

Even though the artist’s process at one level appears to be a phenomenological exploration of how one relates to the outside world through an artistic medium, the result of his performance belies this literal explanation. What these works do is problematize  the reconciliation of the document as a product of Shellabarger’s specific experience with these materials because the document has no mark specific to his presence—the marks could have been made with a graphite pencil in hand, not graphite attached to his shoes.

Catherine Forster: They Call Me Theirs, Hyde Park Art Center, August 3 – October 5, 2008

August 16, 2008

Sometimes it’s hard to believe that anything happens outside of the general vicinity of the Blue Line. I at least want to ride my bicycle somewhere while still being able to get home without wanting to collapse, hunched over on my bed after pedaling too many miles on my rusty old bicycle. I really just need to stop being lazy–or buy a car–because the Hyde Park Art Center has an extensive programming and exhibition selection on view at one time.

One of the solo exhibitions currently on view, They Call Me Theirs, displays Catherine Forster’s multiple media installation. A reverie on the intersections of humanity and nature, the subleties that also make this a carefully crafted formal project reside in its focus on spectatorship. When walking inside Forster’s cabin, the didacticism of the artist’s emphasis on spectatorship becomes all-too-apparent: you must lean over, then peer into a monitor that literally frames nature for you. The motif of intimacy continues onto the walls outside the Black Box Gallery, with prints of what could be either a close-up view of flora and fauna or a neon-tinted AbEx painting.

Obviously, I need to get to Hyde Park more often.