(Kathryn's Editor's Note: the writers have no say in their headline title. I take full responsibility. I'm in breaking-news-scandal mode. Actual title below)
Highlights from the Opening of the Fall Gallery Season: River North
Narrative by Jeriah Hildwine
With a benefit of a week and change to digest the rich slurry of art projected our way at fire-hose velocities by the opening of the gallery season on Friday, September 11, we are now left to piece to together our memories of that night, to see what work survives the harsh mnemonic selection process necessitated by over-stimulation and facilitated by flip-top beers and bottom-shelf wine.
Leading a small army of my students from Wilbur Wright Community College, Lillstreet Art Center, and the Hyde Park Art Center, my wife Stephanie Burke and I set out on a breakneck tour of as many spaces as we could manage. Byron Roche (http://www.byronroche.com/), one of my favorite gallerists in River North, was nice enough to not only tolerate my giant entourage, but in fact treated us to a guided tour of the work on exhibit and an artist's talk by Jeremy Vajda (http://www.byronroche.com/vadja.html). This was much appreciated, and only reinforces my fondness for Roche and his space, thanks also to Mr. Vajda!
The stack of galleries at 300 W. Superior provided us with a high-speed injection of work, encompassing both painting (Jason Rohlf at Judy Saslow, and Amy Casey at Zg) and photography (Social Landscape, a group show at David Weinberg, and Hiroshi Watanabe at Catherine Edelman). Of these, my strongest memories are of Jay Wolke's Factory Fire, 2am, and Dylan Vitone's digitally-stitched panoramic photographs, both at Weinberg. Neither is revolutionary, but both are visually striking records of compellingly ordinary moments, and solid examples of documentary photography. I'm glad I saw them, and I remember them.
Down the block and across the street, at 311 W. Superior, the collection of galleries in that building put their best faces forward as well. Robert Barnes' New Casein Drawings at Printworks (http://www.printworkschicago.com/) and Carolyn Cole at KH (http://www.gallerykh.com/) were typical of the well-crafted if somewhat conservative work for which River North is best known; the small display of Hans Hoffman drawings at KH were a pleasant surprise, easy to miss if you didn't know to look for them, but well worth seeking out.
What really impressed me in this building, however, was Russell Bowman Art Advisory (http://www.bowmanart.com/). Bowman is rapidly becoming one of my must-see spots in River North. Bowman exhibits top-notch secondary market works, and is run with a museum director's sensibility (Russell Bowman was director of the Milwaukee Museum of Art from 1985 to 2002). Last spring I was thrilled to see a Gee's Bend quilt on display at Bowman, and if anything I was even more excited by this month's opening. On display were a large sculpture by Marc Quinn (Internal Saline Evolution, 1999), a dazzling Ed Pashke (Emploi Stable, 1986), and a sideshow banner by Snap Wyatt (Rubber Man, c. 1950) as well as works by Roger Brown, Ray Johnson, Elizabeth Murray, Jim Nutt, David Salle, H.C. Westermann, and more. For a collector with deep pockets and sophisticated taste, Bowman is the top game in town for museum-quality (in the most literal sense) works by very well-known and established artists, modern, contemporary, and self-taught. For the rest of us, it's like a little modern art museum, free of charge, in the heart of River North. Bowman is well worth a visit, either during an opening, or during their regular hours (Tues-Sat., 10-5:30).
Just around the corner is Zola Lieberman, another excellent gallery and another highlight of my night. Dominating this show were paintings of stacked newspapers by Xiaoze Xie, and paintings of Antarctic ice by Adam Benjamin Fung (http://www.adamfung.com/). Both are excellent technicians, each with an original vision, and the work is very solid. Their work is timely and relevant without being didactic, and merits both observation and contemplation. Fung's solo show last year was very solid, and the current exhibition is just as good.
The last gallery we had time to hit in River North was Nicole Gallery (http://www.nicolegallery.com/), who shows Haitian, African, and African-American art. The current exhibition, Art In The Eye of a Needle, features the micro-sculptures of Willard Wigan (http://www.willard-wigan.com/). Wigan makes sculptures so small, they are nearly invisible without the use of magnification. The works in this exhibition consisted of sculptures of celebrities, pop culture personae, and fictional characters (Bart and Homer Simpson, the Hulk). Wigan's work is undeniably amazing, in terms of the incredible skill, steadiness of hand, and concentration which must be required to work on this incredibly small scale. The work is straightforward, without irony or critical comment, a presentation of familiar subject matter and unquestionable craftsmanship. It exists less as a part of the contemporary, critical, postmodern art scene, and more in the tradition of amazing curiosities like the anamorphic sidewalk drawings of Julian Beever (http://users.skynet.be/J.Beever/pave.htm). Free on opening night, the exhibition regularly charges an admission fee of $5; understandable since few viewers are likely to spend the high five figures these pieces command. As an impressive visual phenomenon, even if not a piece of visual critical inquiry, Wigan's work is impressive to see, and well worth your time.
By the time we'd finished at Nicole Gallery, Stephanie had sounded the rallying cry: time was drawing short, and we still had a mission in the West Loop. Rounding up the survivors, we rallied around the shuttle stop, and packed into that free shuttle like it was the last helicopter out of Saigon. The sun was low in the sky, and I was beginning to feel the effects of my first couple drinks. Tightly packed, we rumbled off for the second half of the night.