Monday Morning Quarterback: 3/18/11-3/20/11

What a long weekend. We hoofed it like hell all over the city and saw some amazing stuff:

Friday night we hit Corbett vs. Dempsey, Noble and Superior Projects, Sullivan Galleries, and Pentagon. Saturday we hit Studio 1020, Defibrillator, Monument 2, and Gallery Provocateur. Sunday was HPAC.


S: Ok, so, first stop, CvD. John Sparagana: Between the Eyes was up in the main space, with small works by Tim Berresheim in the front alcove. Sparangana’s work immediately tips its hand of pop influences, through both titles and instantly identifiable visual motifs. What was funny to me was the fact that I wasn’t bored looking at them. The homage to pop (Kelly, Stella, and Warhol are all mentioned in name on title cards) has been done, and will, for better or worse, continue to be done ad infinitum and ad nauseam. These works, however, somehow manage to scooch around the gulf of potential pop re-hash tedium and emerge as engaging, visually vibrating, contemporary feeling pieces. It’s like Rosler and Rosenquist high-fiving over a kid’s moving picture toy (see below). Fantastic work that needs to be viewed in person to be truly appreciated.


80s-90s Kid’s Moving Picture Toys

J:  I’m actually not familiar with those toys; when Steph described them to me all I could think of was the weird plastic case for Tool’s album Aenima, a lenticular jewel case which allows you to view little two-frame animations of, among other things, Alana Cain going down on herself.  But looking at Sparagana’s work, I thought more of mosaics (of which these were sort of a form), and more so the practice of slitting two photographs into long strips and then weaving them.

S: Next we popped into NobSup to see Post Smithson, featuring work by Emilie Crewe, Isabelle Gougenheim, and Emily Irvine. Jokes about making a Spiral Jetty in the toilet aside, this group of works, aimed at countering/undermining/questioning/reacting to Smithson through “unmonumental earth art, film, video and collage with content created from alchemical combinations of natural materials” engaged with contemporary ideas of nature, the local, the small, and the concentrated. Just as home canning, knitting, canvas bags, and locavorism are all the rage these days, this work engages with the intimate aspects and moments of nature, both beautiful and cruel, as old time vingettes. There is an interesting cross pollination going on in my mind between this show and another exhibition up right now, The Age of Aquarius, specifically Carol Bove’s La Traversee Difficile. Two contemporary takes on retro utopianism. You have homework: go see both. Discuss.  

J:  Well, no matter how I put this, it’s going to be a perfect “that’s what she said,” so I’m just going to go for it:  I love Emilie Crewe’s back-room orifice with all the worms in it.  It was, at first, super gross, but then you notice that they’re just earthworms, red wriggers probably, and we keep a bin of those in our pantry.  They eat our fruit and vegetable scraps and aren’t gross at all.  Now fruit flies, those are gross.

My overall impression looking at this show, though, was an amazement at how well-integrated it was.  The show was incredibly cohesive, and really read more like a collaborative installation than the work of three separate artists.  I don’t know if there was any kind of interaction between the artists, or if they were just really well-chosen, but the show hangs together really well.

S: Next we hit the massive cluster fuck that is SAIC’s BFA Exhibition. Too much stuff in too much space, it’s like going to an art fair, and seriously SAIC, you fleece your students for enough cash every semester, you could fix the air condition in Sullivan, it was a freaking sauna. Common themes Jeriah I I found: Houses, fans, work you can draw on. I met an irate parent looking at “Assholes,” a work with it’s own set of problems that will be addressed in a future article. Here are a few of the artists I particularly enjoyed: Casey McGonagle, Alex Herrera, Emerson Granillo, Montgomery (Bum Joo) Kim, Xiaoli Ma, Nicholas Moyer, the giant Zelda game, the rusty farmhouse, the lotto scratchers, and the Voldimort ass-peach. Oh SAIC.

J:  While we can go into it in a future article, here’s the deal with “Assholes“:  it’s a series of photographs by Vanessa Macholl, depicting the sort of bent-over and spread open buttcracks of what look, to me, like African-American males, although they could be well-tanned, dark-haired members of any race, and I guess they could be really, really hairy women…but I’m pretty sure they’re men.  Okay, so here’s the deal:  that woman, that irate parent that Stephanie dealt with, she IS the entire problem here.  It’s people like that, people who get their panties in a twist over some asshole pictures, who give each generation of undergrads the encouragement to make work like this.  Now, in one sense, that’s a good thing:  I like work that pushes boundaries.  Show me a taboo and I want to find the artist who’s breaking it. The problem with “Assholes” is not that it’s racy, edgy, disgusting, inappropriate, or anything of the kind.  The problem is that it’s too tame.  They’re modestly sized (although Stephanie pointed out, they are pretty much life-sized, which she liked), the lighting seems perfunctory, maybe even shot with a flash.

So I was getting set to say that it reads as a gimmick by someone who thinks they’re being edgy, and they’re not, but then I check out Vanessa’s website, and I see that she was in the show Younger Than Janis, at Noble and Superior Projects, and hey, I saw that show!  So I go looking through the archives and I think I found which piece was hers (kids leaning on railings on rooftops, or something like that), and between that and the work on her website, I’m having a hard time reconciling these bodies of work.  Vanessa’s photography on her website and from Younger Than Janis is nothing like these straight-on, in-your-face snapshots of assholes.  So I’m torn between this being a one-off “fuck you” gesture by someone who’s graduating, realizing how much debt she’s gotten herself into, and wants to at least piss off a few uptight parents while she can, or a more serious investigation that is more coming from the perspective of observation:  like the rest of her work, a sort of, “Here’s something I saw, thought you might like to see it, too.”  Since Stephanie and I are planning on treating this subject at greater length in an upcoming article, I’ll leave it at that for the time being.

[CORRECTION:  Patrick and Erin from Noble and Superior have informed me that the kids-on-the-railings photos from Younger Than Janis were in fact by Lucas Blair.  Vanessa’s work from that show were these landscape photographs of marijuana buds blown up via macro photography to look like trees.  That makes somewhat more sense in context of the assholes, but perhaps less sense in context of the work on her website.  So now I’m even more confused than before.  It seems like she’s got two bodies of work:  one, on her website, which is formal-optical, concerned with light, color, composition, beauty, and observation, and another, such as the assholes and the budscapes, that are more pranksterish, puckish, playful, naughty, dirty, and fun.  I don’t entirely understand what’s going on here, but I’m interested.  Thanks for the correction, guys!  -J, 03/25/2011]

In addition to the works Stephanie mentioned, there was a sculpture I liked, a cut-and-welded steel sculpture of a lion with six wings, obviously one of the four “living creatures” described in the Book of Revelation.  I’m a fan; I did a painting of one of those things when I was in undergrad, myself.  They’re pretty sweet.  I didn’t get an image of it or the artist’s name, so um, if this is your work, why don’t you post a comment with a link to your website, or something?

S: Finally we headed over Pentagon for dichroma, a show of work by Jason Smith and the collaborative team of Caroline Carlsmith & Leo Kaplan. True to its title, the Pentagon space was split into two chromatic schemes: the red room (or, as I loudly proclaimed from the street, “Dude, Michael’s place got turned into a bordello!” room), and the white room. The white room was the more successful of the two. Initially it looks like a bad Flavin rip off, until you see the portraits. I was told (I think) that at least one of them was supposed to be a zombie head. The white on white motif, something I usually associate with high design or fashion boutiques, serves as a reveal much like the ominous music and darkened space of a horror movie.

J:  Michael “modified” one of the image lists for this show, using red pen to change the “h” to a “k”, making the title of the show “Dickroma.”  I thought that was pretty funny.  That aside, I liked this show, both the red room and the white-on-white portraits.  I didn’t see that they were zombies, I kind of thought one of them was Obama.  They were cool to look at, though, I liked how you had to move around laterally to see the subject.  The red room did have a bordello-like quality to it; it also made me think of the 1997 Simpsons episode, “Realty Bites,” in which Todd Flanders parodies The Shining by saying “Red room…red room…”, referring in fact to a room of the house (possibly haunted) that they’d moved into.

S: Arg…it’s Saturday! First off we hit up a surprise party, gobbled some pizza, drank some beer, and wished some hearty Happy Birthdays. Then it was time for Studio 1020 to see Distribution, featuring epic woodcuts by Matt Taber. I became enamored with what was, apparently, the theoretical key to the works, a print featuring AutoCAD designs used in geology. When I ran into these patterns in college (looking at archeological site maps), I loved trying to figure what was where on these maps that were almost indecipherable. The show operates in a similar way, combining patterns and ephemera into a mosaic of static and code.

J:  These works were sweet.  Not quite as accessible as Taber’s large portraits, which are a direct and easy crowd pleaser (translation: they’re fucking awesome), Taber’s newer works are smaller, about 20″ x 30″ I think, and are extrapolations of some basic little rules including the size, the presence of a black border, and maybe some other things, which leaves them open to include woodcuts, digital prints, and more.  Matt is a super nice guy and was good enough to spend the lion’s share of the event talking to me about the work while I guzzled gin and tonics.  If I understood him right, the works in the main space were investigations of what was possible within these rules, while the back room (which had been totally emptied and remade) functioned as…now how did he put it…like a depiction of the rules themselves?  Like the work was looking at itself?  I forget how he put it (blame the gin) but it sounded smarter than I’m going to.  The works in the back room were black outlined rectangles painted directly on the wall.  In their size and configuration they mimicked the rules followed to make the other works (20″ x 30″, black border).  I liked the way the black paint (flat black latex house paint, probably Behr brand:  I asked!) bled under the taped outlines, creating little variations in the outline that looked like the deckled edge of fancy printmaking paper.  I don’t think Taber had this association, but he told me about Sol LeWitt’s declaration that any imperfection in a wall on which his instructions were executed became a part of the piece.

Taber’s work, whether it’s his large portraits or these smaller, more conceptual prints, is absolutely amazing.  The large portrait he displayed at Sullivan was among the very best work at the BFA show, really standing head and shoulders above most of the work there, and reading as much more sophisticated than one would expect from an undergraduate.  Congratulations on your graduation, and best of luck!  Unfortunately I must report that Taber is joining the ranks of so many of the best artists Chicago produces, cutting his teeth here before moving away for whatever reason:  in Taber’s case, he’s got a printing job in New York.  He says that if he was making a move for his career, he might go somewhere else, but I can’t help but think his work will do well there, or anywhere for that matter. 

I’m going to take this opportunity to get up on my soapbox for a minute, on a topic that’s been broached many times before.  I remember reading, probably in Summer 2007, before moving here, that “Chicago is a great place for an artist to be from.”  Google is amazing; I think it was this November, 2007 article by Deanna Isaacs, quoting New Yorker art critic Peter Schjeldahl:

New Yorker art critic Peter Schjeldahl,
in town last week to lecture at the Museum of Contemporary Art, didn’t
waste any time putting us rubes in our place. “Chicago’s a great place
to be from,” he said. “It’s a place that has always sent talented
artists and creative types out–a net exporter of talent.” Schjeldahl,
who considers himself a New Yorker but admits to being a refugee from
small-town Minnesota (rube central, for what it’s worth), describes our
little burg as a kind of bin by the lake. “It’s a great place to be, if
you have a particular reason,” he said, “and a great place to visit. But
I would call it one of the great receptor cities of the world.

For better or for worse, Schjeldahl is right about one thing:  it seems like a lot of people come to Chicago to go to SAIC, or because they’re from somewhere smaller in the Midwest, or for whatever other reason, but many of the best (like Taber) leave for greener pastures after some time here.  Liz Nielsen and Carolina Wheat, of Swimming Pool Project Space, have recently pulled up stakes for New York; Carolina got an admissions job at a college there.  Sean Fader is from New Jersey; I met him in Baltimore while we were both a MICA, then ran into him again when he was in the photo program at SAIC.  He moved to New York to teach after graduating; he’s back, teaching here I believe, at SAIC…but his website still says, “Sean resides in New York City.”  And now Matt Taber. 

I’m not in the business of making policy, or even dictating it, but it seems to me like this is something worth talking about.  Why do we leave Chicago, specifically for New York or more generally?  Is it a problem?  And what can we do about it?  Taber, Wheat, and Fader left because they had better job offers in New York than in Chicago; none of them seemed to be chasing a doe-eyed dream of “making it” although Sean has had some exhibitions there and I doubt it’ll be long before the others do as well.  So, jobs.  There is probably also a sort of ego involved, maybe not with these three cases but perhaps with others, that having your website say “So-and-so resides in New York City” will make you sound better to national or international collectors, curators, etc. 

But I think that both of these, jobs and prestige, have to do with a collector base.  Do rich people in Chicago buy art?  That’s not the question.  Do they buy art, from Chicago artists, while in Chicago?  Some do.  But many more spend their money on other things, or buy art from New York or Los Angeles or Berlin-based artists, or even buy work by Chicago-based artists once it’s been “vetted” by being in an art fair such as Art Basel:  Miami.  It’s easy to tell another person what to do with their money, and probably pretty ineffectual.  But I think that what we can all do, you and I, dear reader, is to take a look at what we can do to improve the situation.  If you’ve got money, buy art locally.  If you’ve got time, write about the local art scene.  If you’re an artist…stick around.  (That being said, I wish Matt Taber the very best on his move to New York!)

S: Jeriah found out about the show going on at Defibrillator: Touch, then Push or Pull and maybe Nothing, while we were at Studio 1020, so we stopped in. We only got to see one performance, which was pretty awesome. To me it was a cross between twitching tableau vivant of Kahn & Selesnick crossed with a Moog mediated Fantastic Planet. Pretty awesome, except that I kept getting hit in the face with the umbilicus.

J:  Wow, that’s a pretty good analysis of that piece we saw, Steph.  I was having a harder time placing it, although it reminded me a little bit of Allison Fall’s 2009 piece “Tensile” from New Blood III at the Cultural Center.

S: We showed up way to late to Monument 2, they were actually closing when we walked in. I didn’t get to spend enough time there to check out the work (I was also distracted by the super cute kitty) very deeply, but it was an interesting jungle gym of wood mirrored by black and white stripe paintings. Sorry for being so late, thanks for letting us in!

The Frank Frazetta Tribute Exhibition at Gallery Provocateur was exactly what I expected. I’ll leave this one for Jeriah to discuss.

J:  Well, stuff like this is right up my alley.  I love illustration, especially hand-drawn illustration from the 1980s and 1990s:  Frazetta, Vallejo, Giger, Bradstreet, Barlowe…these guys were my heroes when I was a kid, before my head got filled with a bunch of muddy-minded theory and suchlike.  I still cleave more to the visual and visceral than the theory-driven.  So it was a real treat to see a bunch of contemporary fantasy artists working in this tradition.   I got to meet one of the artists, Sandee Pawan, who told me that she is normally a fashion photographer and did this kind of work as a more personal kind of thing, more for herself than for exhibition.  Pawan’s work was keyed into the erotic aspect of Frazetta’s legacy; others indexed on the action/violence/horror side of things, and a great many made direct references to Frank’s work:  there were quite a few Death Dealer images, for example.  The normal standards of art criticism fall away when looking at fantasy art, and you’re just left with your response:  does it hit you in the gut?  Do you feel it in your junk?  If so, they’re doing their job.

S: Sunday we hit Hyde Park Art Center to see the opening of It Is What It Isn’t, a solo show of crazy work by my friend Conrad Freiburg. This show was the culmination of months of work Conrad’s been doing while working as the artist in residence at HPAC. Telescopes, giant writing machines, a musical scale of chimes, it’s all pretty crazy.   
J:  I’m a huge fan of Conrad’s work, ever since I first saw it at Linda Warren Gallery shortly after we moved to Chicago.  It’s always great, whether it’s the more scientific, quiet stuff like the harmonograph drawings, or the more playful stuff like his destruction machines.  (Conrad would probably say that they’re both playful, but they’re different kinds of play.)  What I really noticed about this show in particular was the level of craft:  all the woodworking was done really, really well, from the platform of the drawing machine, to the shroud around the telescope used to view the drawings.  Reminded me of Michael T. Rea’s work, who is a favorite of mine, although in Conrad’s case it’s serving a very different purpose.  Conrad’s machines, while aesthetic, are also functional:  the giant harmonograph isn’t just a wooden sculpture, it is also a functioning drawing machine, producing spirals which apparently can in some way be “tuned” according to a harmonic scale…I actually understand this process even less than that made it sound like.  Conrad has explained it to me, and I can tell that HE knows what he’s talking about, but I have a hard time keeping up.  Apparently, in some way, things like lengths of pendulums can correspond to the Do-Re-Mi-Fa-So-La-Ti-Do kind of scale, and then you can “tune” the machine so the drawings are more coherent…or something.  It’s amazing.

Jeriah 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 Magazine
.  Jeriah lives
and works in Chicago, with his wife

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, is Editor-in-Chief of Art Talk Chicago, works as Managing Editor and
Director of Operations at Chicago Art Magazine, as well as maintaining 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.

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