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Zhou Brothers: TIME - A Portrait of History opens April 22

I visited the Zhou Brothers, DaHuang and Shan Zuo in their massive studio on a Friday morning right after the new year.  The place was buzzing, and people were going to and fro for a reason I did not yet know.  Quietly off on the sidelines were Shan Zuo's son Michael and his wife and new baby daughter, all watching the artist duo calmly while apologizing for the chaos.  I was only too happy to watch the action: photographers were trying manage the mid-morning light while trying out a variety of poses and angles, and the two brothers were trying to put the final touches on a very important commission.  Michael Zhou was about to tell me just who ordered the painting and for whom, but I had to keep the news under wraps until after January 18.  A very special figure had requested a painting from the Zhou Brothers to present to a visiting international leader. President Barack Obama planned to give the art work to the President of China, Hu Jintao, for his upcoming visit to Washington.  The date of my visit was January 7, barely 10 days before the painting was to be presented, and the artists had just received a green light and managed to wrap up a major painting that would be a part of history.

The painting, "Eight U.S. Presidents and the Great Wall" is an original, multi-textural oil painting on canvas, measuring 86" wide x 68" high. On January 18, 2011 the artists unveiled at the White House their most historical painting to President Obama, as a national gift to His Excellency Hu Jintao, the President of China, on the occasion of the state visit to the White House. This painting was the first time in their artistic career where recognizable figures appeared in their art. These figures are a stylistic representation of the eight American presidents who have governed since the opening of China's relationship with the U.S. by President Nixon in 1972. This rare honor instigated a refocusing of creative interest in their own personal history which triggered the shift in direction in their latest series. The Zhou Brothers were on hand on January 18, 2011 for the gift exchange between the two Presidents. With White House & State Department staff huddled around, the Zhou brothers explained the significance of the painting, what the gift symbolizes, & their passion for & love of America.

These two brothers have worked together for decades, collaborating on monumental works so large they needed a warehouse space to house them.  Their collaborative process is unique, and their artistic range is broad: they create sculptures, paintings, prints, even performances.  They've even created the mega art center at 1029 W. 35th street that we've all been getting to know as Chicago's newest art destination.  The Zhou Brothers have carried both the United States and their native China with them in their work, and the latest show takes cues from the Presidential commission and continues to expand on history.

TIME: Portrait of History

April 22, 2011, opening reception from 6-10 PM
Through June 12, 2011

Zhou B Art Center, 1029 W. 35th St, Chicago

Gallery sneak peek (1 image):

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Visit Province Restaurant and Enjoy An Arty Evening in the West Loop

Two of Chicago's oldest arts organizations, the Chicago Artists Coalition and the Lawyers for the Creative Arts, are hosting a special evening of art, food, and cocktails in the West Loop on Wednesday, August 18.  To start, dinner guests can visit Mars Gallery and tour the studio of artist Peter Mars "the leader of Chicago's Pop Movement for the past 20 years."  Celebrities have collected his works, and his works also often feature the world's celebrities. 
From the gallery, you can take a trolley between 5:15 and 6:45 to Province Restaurant - a West Loop restaurant that's been pairing with the the art world for a little while now.  From 6:30-9pm enjoy unlimited wine and 'artist-inspired' hors d'oeuvres created by Province chef Randy Zwieban.  The restaurant is bright and hip, and a great change of pace for a Wednesday night.  Even better?  The tickets are only $30 ($20 if you're a member of CAC.)  Also, 20% of proceeds from the sale of Peter Mars' work will benefit the Chicago Artists Coalition's membership programs (ie: tax deductible!) 

To purchase tickets, please email Alyson Koblas or call the CAC office: 773 772 2385 by August 16.

Gallery sneak peek (2 images):

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Tony Tasset's Lumberjack "Paul" at Nathan Manilow Sculpture Park

Everyone's been all atwitter over Tony Tasset's "Eye" in Chicago's Loop at State and Van Buren this summer, but if you'd like to see more, make up an excuse to head to University Park, IL to the Nathan Manilow Sculpture Park at Governor's State University.

Tasset's larger-than-life (even Paul Bunyan's life) sculpture of the woodsman to beat all woodsmen, Paul Bunyan, has been in the park since 2006.

"Paul" is one of 26 pieces, many by masters of contemporary sculpture, in NMSP's permanent collection.  And if you like the oversize scale and playfulness of "Eye", you'll enjoy the trip to the sculpture park.

According to NMSP: "Paul" was seen as a breakthrough work for Tasset, who has also explored artistic media such as photography and painting. It was his first monumental, figurative piece.  Both "Paul" and "Eye" are constructed of painted fiberglass over a steel frame. They are the same height - about 30 feet - and were fabricated by F.A.S.T. (Fiberglass Animals Shapes and Trademarks) Corp. of Sparta, WI.

Viewers notice that "Paul" looks like his back hurts after all the years chopping down trees, and he's spent time in the sun.  He's still strong, but starting to wear down.  And maybe he thinks no one will see him in this moment of natural fatigue.  The image is counter to almost all other representations of Bunyan, an icon of the frontier and hard work.  And it's this departure that conjures more emotion than usual from the viewer, and makes us realize Tasset's skill on such a large scale.  Revisitng the "Eye" now will perhaps show things from a new point of view.  

The Nathan Manilow Sculpture Park is located at Governors State University's main campus in University Park. The park is free of charge and open from dawn to dusk 365 days a year. For more information about the sculpture park, visit or call (708) 534-4486.

And just because I can't pass up the chance when we're talking Paul Bunyan, take a look at the always fantastic Monty Python "Lumberjack" sketch, featuring Michael Palin.

Gallery sneak peek (5 images):

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Chicago Artists on Bravo's Newest Reality Show: Work of Art

Art world watchers, insiders and pundits have been collectively buzzing for quite awhile about Bravo's newest endeavor, Work of Art.  And finally, the night has come: tonight, the show premiers (after the Blackhawks game, of course) and the rest of us get to see what the fuss is (hopefully) all about. 

There will be cheesy, camera-ready moments and lots of over-the-top themes and TV gimmicks, and there will be well-placed drama-magnets who drive us nuts.  Off the bat, I kind of can't stand the tag-line of 'the next great artist.' Ideally the show will challenge the contestants in productive, stimulating ways, and the audience will be enlightened about art production and inspiration.  However, this is, after all, intended to be commercial, and you're also dealing with artists who have egos large enough (or too big) to fit on TV.  

But the art world always wishes for more attention for its emerging talent, and TV is the world's common stage.  We just have to see what happens this time around.  And if people really hate it after they've seen it, well, that's still a lot to think and talk about...

We all know the reality TV drill by now, and Bravo's the network that's shown everyone else how things should be done.  How the hour-long frenzied competitions will play out in the context of the art world is yet to be seen, but the line-up of judges and contestants is solid-enough that it's worth paying attention for awhile. Jerry Saltz?  Simon de Pury, anyone? But as we all know, as long as there's enough drama and flair and ticking clocks, we'll pay attention - if not during the original run, who doesn't love a marathon? 

But the real tip here for anyone reading this blog is that several artists on the show have strong Chicago ties, and hopefully they'll all be fun to root for.  The clock is ticking!

Watch out for the following contestants (as always, sometimes I miss things, so leave any comments or suggestions for me and I'll update the blog!)

Peregrine Honig (definitely known in Chicago, though Kansas City-based)
Ryan Schultz (Northwestern Grad - exhibited at Flat Iron Building, Zhou B Art Center)
John Parot (check out his show at Western Exhibitions in the West Loop!)
Jaime Lynn Henderson (recent MFA from SAIC; showed at Around the Coyote and CAC) 

Checking Out the Zhou B Art Center

The Zhou Brothers are two very well-known super art personalities in Chicago, as well as around the world, and for the past few years, in addition to their large-scale, dramatic, collaborative works, they've also been the force behind the rapidly expanding art community located down the road from the home of the Chicago White Sox, the Zhou B Art Center.

I recently got a full, top to bottom tour of the center from Michael Zhou, son and nephew of the Zhou Brothers (Shan Zhou and DaHuang Zhou.)  Visiting the center for one of their big 3rd Fridays, or for a splashy private event is one thing, but a behind-the-scenes tour with the people who make it all happen is another.  

Gallery sneak peek (17 images):

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Chicago Artist Tony Fitzpatrick Dons Another Hat on Stage

This blog will cover many pieces and parts that make up Chicago's art world - the ins and outs of the gallery scene, artist studios, tours, museums, art schools, and more.  So, I thought highlighting a well-known artist would be a logical place to start the discussion. 

Someone I know whom I think epitomizes what's great and true about our city and its art community is Chicago's iconic artist Tony Fitzpatrick.  Tony's studio door is always open, and he's always ready to share his thoughts on art, art dealers, bullshit, independence, life, death, hard work, compassion, and sincerity.

Artists often lead many lives and wear many hats - to make a living and also to supply their  creativity.  Tony's art is well known (or should be) to many, and as many successful artists have done on their way towards the top (whatever that may be) he has held many jobs, including bartender, bouncer, and boxer.  Today, he tells stories about his more dangerous days and is most often at work creating his collages in the window of his studio on North Damen, while listening to whatever music suits his mood and chatting with the many friends and curious visitors who come through his door. 

Tony's also a poet, a playwright, and an actor.  He's written a play, in which he currently stars, called This Train.  It's on at The 16th Street Theater in Berwyn January 21-30, and following the Thursday and Friday performances he hosts a post-show dialogue with director Ann Filmer.  If you know Tony, take advantage of the chance to see him in another light.  If you don't know him yet, this is the chance, so be sure not to miss an evening with a Chicago icon.  I'll be there on the 29th...  If you go see the play, let me know what you think.

If you'd like to hear about the play from the man himself, listen to the recent WGN interview.

Oh - and where is Berwyn?  About 15 minutes from downtown, just a little way off of the Eisenhower Expressway.  Piece of cake.

Gallery sneak peek (4 images):

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