Monday Morning Quarterback: 2/18/11 - 2/19/11

by Stephanie Burke and Jeriah Hildwine

President's Day MMQB.jpg

Steph: This was our first super busy weekend in a while, and we actually
managed to make it to almost everywhere we planned to go.

Steph:  I started off Friday at Donald Young Gallery in the Loop, which featured the work of Jeanne Dunning. Dunning’s work, at least in this exhibition, consisted of classically derived still lives with, as is almost always the case with classically derived still life art work, a twist. In this case the twist was decay, each piece of fruit moldered in the photographs, each crystal challis held a slimed-over liquid. The connections between Dunnings images and those of the other Chicago master of the photo still life, Laura Letinsky, are unavoidable, but Dunning’s work, with it’s meditation on the transience of living form and the literal representation of a dying form or art, holds its own.

I left Donald Young and hopped the Brown Line up to Zolla/Liberman (remembering to NOT bring my re-usable wine glass along) for their group show, Repertoire. The place was packed, with both people and work. Many of my favorite standbys were featured (Adam Fung, Amy Mayfield, David Lozano) as well as some people new to me. My favorite never before seen work were a series of optical illusion pieces in the first gallery. The works combined weaving and painting to trick the eye and confuse space, depth, and perception.

Jeriah:  Zolla Lieberman is sort of the rock star of River North, in the same way that Kavi Gupta is the heavy hitter in the West Loop.  (Kavi had an opening on Saturday but unfortunately Steph and I didn’t make it back from Indiana in time to catch it.  We were both really looking forward to it and are planning on catching it during gallery hours.)  There are some disadvantages to this:  young collectors are going to have a harder time finding works within their smaller budgets at these venues, and emerging local artists may have an even more difficult time than usual getting their work considered for exhibition in these spaces.  (At the same time, it is almost a given that any emerging artist would be more than thrilled to show with these galleries; I know I would.)  These spaces may also show something of “known quantities;” Tony Tasset and Deborah Butterfield are big names, well-known and established, and while viewers of their exhibitions may be treated to some excellent work, they won’t really be “discovering” anything.

This being said, there may be some new tricks left in these old dogs.  Kavi Gupta‘s most recent exhibition of Curtis Mann‘s work was really excellent (look for my review of it in the next issue of ArtPulse), for example, and this group show, Repertoire, at Zolla Lieberman has some real gems in it as well.  Amy Mayfield and I both taught at LillStreet Art Center, and we are from the same hometown of San Diego, California, to which she has recently returned.  However, I knew her and her work through her exhibition at ThreeWalls Solo, which was an absolutely astounding exhibition, one of the best ThreeWalls has done, and one of the best shows I’ve seen in Chicago, period.  I was absolutely thrilled when I recently learned she was exhibition with Zolla Lieberman.  It’s a major coup for her career, and she absolutely deserves it.  Her work has earned it.  Her small paintings made by an accumulative dripping technique, reworked with delicate, pen-and-ink-like lines, have a quirky, creepy charm, like if Tim Burton made poisonous candy, or if a mentally distrubed child had terrible nightmares about the old Beetlejuice animated series.  Everything looks like you’re on a new kind of drug in a strange world, full of things that want to poke, scratch, and tickle you against your will.  I love it.

New to me is Samantha Bittman, introduced to me by our mutual friend Melody Saraniti.  Bittman works in paint and textile, first weaving the fabric for her support and then painting a hard-edged geometric abstract response to the woven pattern.  My favorites were the black-and-whites, which add a new layer to the history of Op Art.

Other standouts are Dzine (represented in this show by a small painting, sort of a talisman or token of the artist’s much broader range of work), Adam Fung (a friend of Steph and mine, whom we have curated into an exhibition, interviewed, and chatted with at gallery openings on a pretty regular basis), and Roxy Paine.  Paine’s work for this exhibition is a large-ish work on paper in thin, watery ink, like one would use for a wash, but applied in a blobby sort of pattern.  Paine, like Dzine, is well known for another body of larger works, and this kind of secondary practice serves, again, largely as a reminder of his other work.  I like seeing works by these artists in a group show, even though it mostly leaves me hungry to see a solo show of their work: Fung’s solo show was the first I saw at Zolla Lieberman, and remains a favorite.  A single, small work by an artist whose major works you love functions like an unexpected greeting card from your grandmother: it reminds you that they are still around, that you can still look forward to new adventures and good times with them in the future.  Young-ish collectors wishing to own a work by a well-known artist can also find these smaller works to be a relatively affordable way to do so.

Steph: Then it was off to the West Loop. First stop was Packer Schopf, where, truth be told, my favorite work was on of the pieces in the basement that wasn’t even a part of the main three exhibits: Casey Gunschel‘s massive cow hide map pulled me in. Work involving animal skins is something that, as a baseline, appeals to me, but this went beyond simply pushing my skin buttond. The tooling on the hide was reminiscent of both saddlery work and the sailor art of schrimshaw, looking like something that was done during the dark months when nothing else could be done. That combined the the antiquated whales and the context created by the inclusion of only a smidgen of Europe and Africa worked to create a fanciful artifact at could be equally at home in a museum or a steam punk aficionado’s smoking room.

Of the work actually intended to be the focus of this exhibition, I have a particular fondness for Renee McGinnis. Her post-apocalyptic pleasure gardens tread a fine line between the beauty and folly of the hand of man.   

Jeriah:  I’m right with Steph on this one.  Casey’s cowhide map was absolutely amazing.  It’s a little bit cowboy, a little bit medieval, and definitely nautical.  I’m a sucker for grotesque vintage monsters, and this kind of “Here There Be Dragons” imagery is right up my alley.  Couldn’t agree more, this piece was definitely the highlight of the show for me.  One should never miss the “Lab” at Packer Schopf, as there is often some great stuff down there, aside from the headliners.  Thomas C. Jackson‘s show “Child’s Play” is the listed solo project in the Lab right now; they’re cool drawings (pen and ink, I think) that combine two images, like a diptych, in each piece.  A child stacks blocks above a woman’s legs in fishnets.  A hand holds a gun above a group of people sitting in a porch.  These pairings suggest narratives which cannot quite be named, or can be named but not quite confirmed.  Is a scantily-clad mother watching her child play?  Perhaps she is a prostitute whose child plays in a back room while she works.  Is the man with the gun about to murder the people on the stoop?  The work implies these narratives but you’re never sure what is intended and what you’re just making up.  They’re fun.

Speaking of headliners, I did like both of the artists who were showing their work in the main upstairs space.  

Steph: Next we headed over to ThreeWalls to check out the second round of Subtitles, a series of time based events organized around the works of a specific author, in this case Rhol Dahl, the author of the children’s classic James and the Giant Peach. I was unaware that Dahl was also the author of many classic Grim-like stories ostensibly for adults, one of which was read for us as an introduction to the session. I was reminded of the queer and dirty minds of many of those children’s authors we hold most dear, specifically the child-world famous and Playboy illustrating Shel Silverstein. I really do think that if you are going to write good books for kids, compelling ones that stand the test of time, you need to have a dark side, and Dahl obliges happily. Unfortunately we couldn’t stay for more, and had to be moving on.

Jeriah:  We could only stay for Matt Griffin‘s reading of the Rhol Dahl short story, which was awesome.  Matt has a good reading voice and the story was really, really engrossing.  I wish we had time to stay for more.  

Steph: We hopped in the ole’ Jeep and motored down to Pilsen to see Antena and the Painting FX show therein. Though I admittedly have a hard time with much tech-savvy art (I tend to fail at giving it enough time and thought) I did enjoy the playful aspects of this show. There was one piece in particular that sticks with me. It was a badly painted canvas leaning against a wall, with a constant projection of splashing techinicolor paint washing over it. It seemed like a giddy FUCK YOU to the materialism of physical painting, dwarfing the hand’s act with the Youtube ever play of constant color and motion available to us on every computer screen we see. It thumbed it’s nose and I happily played along.

Jeriah:  This whole show basically read like that to me, like a celebration of the triumph of video and new media over traditional forms of painting.  But it could be that what we are reading as a celebration was in fact a very tongue-in-cheek critique, or both at the same time.  PaintFX describe themselves as “a painting collective/ club/ company/ brand/ website/ blog/ party currently produced by artists residing at various locations of the internet.”  Their work…well, there was a laptop displaying a website (viewed in Safari), a board of swatches of various digital effects or images or marks, and as Stephanie mentioned, the canvas leaned against a wall with the projection.  The thing about the canvas is that, while Stephanie calls it “badly painted,” I would call it more like smeared with paint, or painted in the sense you might paint a house, than painted in the way one would make a painting.  For one thing the stretcher was painted on its reverse, that is, the side that is normally to the wall.  The whole thing had a pretty even coat of a vomit-like lime green, over which were streaks, blobs, and drips of blue and white.  It did not in the least bit resemble a failed attempt at anything other than what it was, which was (I believe) a nominally “painted” substrate upon which the digital video projection of the splashing paint could be projected.  Reading the argument as being one of supremacy of digital media over painting, this substrate serves as a “straw man;” one wonders how the impact would differ if the same video footage was being projected onto a serious painting, whether a Rembrandt or a Rothko.  Of course the possibility remains that this “straw man” argument is being made ironically, or (I’m hoping) in good fun.  The last read seems the most likely to me; under the nominally dry tone there seems to be an underlying sense of humor to this work.

Steph: We stopped in at the Zhou Bros compound to check out the figurative painting show at 33 Collective, but I’ll leave that to Jeriah to deconstruct.

Jeriah:  I think my favorite piece in Get Real was Jennifer Cronin‘s.  Its title was “Untitled no. 3 (from the peculiar manifestation of paint in my everyday life).” The word “manifestation” is used here as a sort of pun, for in the image, a woman is doing something mundane in a mirror (plucking her eyebrows?) while a spectral, anthropomorphic brushstroke sneaks up on her from behind and taps her on the shoulder.  Painted in green and violet interference colors, the apparition presents itself as both menacing and otherworldly.  This image has some real lasting force to it, and is not easily forgotten.  A great deal of the rest of the work in this show was exceedingly well painted, and some appealed to my personal taste, but I have to say Cronin really stole the show, at least for me.

Steph: We made it to our final destination, TYPEFORCE 2, at Co-Pro, around 9:30. I’m not a typographer or a graphic designer, but I loved this show. I loved TYPEFORCE 1, and thats why I cam back for round two. I was not disappointed. Typeface is one of those things that is constantly around us, and yet few people think about it. All one need do is simply watch the Helvetica documentary to realize the force that this medium plays in our lives, and how often what we see is simply a tiresome re-production of what we’ve seen a thousand times before. TYPEFORCE is so amazing because it takes something so vernacular, something so ubitiquous, and shows the possibility of a divine, diverse utopia. It was beautiful. Oh, and p.s. Miguel Del Valle gets my mayoral vote, since he was AT THE OPENING at Co-Pro talking to people. That’s awesome.

Jeriah:  Two pieces stood out for me from this show, and I’m sorry but I don’t know that we got the artist’s names.  One was a map of the world consisting nothing but the place names, printed in letterpress.  Looking at it, it just looks like a map, perfectly legible despite the color, borders, and continents erased.  It’s an interesting look at the artificiality of geography (the difference between one country and the next is something that, for the most part, exists only in our minds, in our culture, and not in the physical world, border fences and Iron Curtains aside).  The interest stops there if you think of this piece being made in Photoshop, just selecting all the text and erasing everything else.  But picturing it being made in letterpress adds a laborious meditation to the process, printing each place name and then re-aligning the paper to print the next name.  It becomes an elegant and simple meditation on the meaning of place.

The other thing I really liked from this show was the yellow-painted wall hung with a bunch of smallish (approx 9 x 12) ink drawings that combine text and image to illustrate quirky concepts.  A man with his heart leaping from his chest is captioned “you probably need a muscle relaxer because Vicodin is not for that kinda pain.”  Looping letters like bacon or expressways spell out, “I love you so much I’m going to use your toothbrush.”  They’re fun, and funny, and have an odd, witty mood to them.

Steph: My shoulder still hurts from Saturday’s round of shooting in Indiana. I love my Mosin Nagant carbine, but it is not forgiving to my shoulder, which is bruised. Saturday evening we headed to Roots and Culture to check out INSTRUMENTS OF RESURRECTION. I went to see my fellow grad Aspen Mays‘ new piece, fresh from Chile. It was classic Mays, elegant, comical, and pseudo-scientific. I also ended up rather enamored with a series of Marxist clay sculptures that seemed ideally situated for Wallace and Grommit Going Red.

Jeriah:  Instruments of Resurrection, curated by Elizabeth Chodos, features work by Zachary Cahill, Theaster Gates, Mathew Paul Jinks, Aspen Mays, and Cauleen Smith.  Mays’ work was a framed matrix of dots, each appearing to be an image of a star punched with a hole punch from a black-and-white photographic print, printed in the negative (like from litho film).  So each circle is basically gray with a darker, black dot in the middle.  It made me think of the fact that most people think of stars like grains of sand, interchangeable, one as good as the next…but astronomers know their names.

I did also like the Marxist clay sculptures.  The Wallace and Grommit association was pretty good, Steph.

Steph: We hit I HEARD HE’S AN A**HOLE, and headed home.

Jeriah:  This one-night show was curated by our friend Claire Molek from Studio 1020.  She puts on good shows, so we came to check this out.  I’d never before heard of the artist, Cleveland Dean, and the venue was just listed as an address, 1643 Milwaukee.  We got there, and saw that it was a very spacious storefront; one imagines that the “sponsored by Stammich Management” on the promotional materials might mean that the property managers provided the space for the one-night exhibition.  Despite its very large size, the entire space was filled, almost overflowing with work.  The show represents a retrospective of five years of Dean’s work, and if this space was everything an artist had made in five years’ time, it would still be an impressive tally.  Yet Claire told me at the opening that her job had been to pare down a much larger body of work to come up with the selection in this exhibition.  The quote is probably apocryphal, falsely attributed to Jospeh Stalin, but it certainly applies to Dean’s work ethic:  “Quantity has a quality all its own.”

In addition to his massively prolific practice, Cleveland Dean has a charismatic presence, which others have compared to Kanye West.  Judging by the heavy turnout at the opening and the warm cheers which greeted him, Dean is well-liked, despite the title of the exhibition which is almost certainly a form of self-effacing humor, making light of what must have been some criticism of his ego and confidence.  Dean certainly presents himself as a painter who draws more on the bravado, machismo, affectations and mannerisms of a hip-hop performer or a rock star than the typically shy, quiet, and reserved art star.

One piece from Dean’s exhibition stood out as particularly noteworthy.  “Sweet Home Chicago” consists of a tire, fitted with a vehicle immobilization boot, and painted with the city flag of Chicago.  I overhead someone saying that Dean thought of the piece as being like a turntable on a record player.  This pleased me as it was exactly the association I had with this work.  I liked this piece, and it really stood out, very different from the rest of the work in the exhibition.

Regarding the rest of the work in the exhibition, there were a number of different groupings, sort of clusters of work.  A certain amount of diversity is of course to be expected from a five year retrospective.  Dean, however, takes this to an extreme, and this solo exhibition could be mistaken for a group show.  One body consist of conceptual assemblages:  the painted tire, a pair of chairs flanking a framed noose, a toilet overflowing with crumpled sheets of paper…these works have the contemporary conceptual sculpture-installation vibe that would fit into many of Chicago’s apartment galleries.  By contrast, Dean’s large, glossy, ambient black-and-red abstract paintings look like the kind of serious, conservative paintings that might command five figures at a River North commercial gallery.  A third body of work draw their influence on Asian ink painting, and look quickly executed, some with perhaps a single gesture.  Other works are text-based, or have a Raymond Saunders sort of collage aspect.

Dean projects an air of success and goes far beyond mere confidence to outright bravado.  This bluster and swagger may be why you may have “heard he’s an asshole.”  But showmanship is one thing.  Dean’s “live painting” performances aside, though, the studio practice is another thing entirely.  I hope that this retrospective exhibition serves as a kind of capstone for Dean’s past five years in the studio.  Going forward, I’d like to see some of these concepts explored in greater depth, with perhaps less emphasis on a sheer volume of production, and greater mindfulness towards each piece.  His ink drawings could be improved by a careful study of Hokusai‘s single-stroke drawings, or Roxy Paine’s ink wash drip drawing currently on view at Zolla-Lieberman.  His large abstracts could benefit from a meditation on Rothko, on Albers, even Stella.  Text-based work is an entire field unto itself.  Dean may do well to maintain his bluster in public, but the greatest benefit to the work will be to set ego aside at his studio door, and look at his work with a more critical eye, an editor’s eye, cutting some limbs from the tree of his practice and following others as far as he can.  This will take time, and mean fewer pieces being produced, but I think they will be all the better for it.

Stephanie Burke
was born in Nevada City, CA in 1984. She received her BA in Studio Art
and Anthropology from Humboldt State University in 2007, and her MFA in
Photography from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2009.
Currently she lives in Chicago with her husband Jeriah,
makes work, teaches, writes for Bad at Sports, runs Art Talk Chicago, and maintains
her own blog, The Gallery Crawl and So Much More.
When not making, teaching, looking at, or writing about art, she enjoys
running around in the woods, drinking beer by bonfires, crazy quilting
and target shooting.

is an artist, educator, writer, and snack enthusiast.  You can see his
work at,
and read his columns at Art Talk Chicago and Chicago Art
.  Jeriah lives and works in Chicago, with his wife Stephanie

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