Devastation and Space @ Eel Space

August 6, 2009 · Print This Article

Eel Space, a spanking new gallery just opened this past March in Chicago, is an artist run venue that focuses on thematic exhibitions and mostly local artists. The title of the show, Devastation and Space, honestly had me thinking about the apocalypse and dwarf planets. But the space was more visceral, and the devastation in the dialogue was emotional, physical and historical, not nuclear.

The show featured work from three artists, Emily Gomez, Snorre Sjonost Henriksen and Jesal Kapadia. Gomez’s work consists of five images on the wall when you enter, black and white landscapes, nice but not dazzling in content and composition. The first image is a strip mall of sorts, and in the center of the composition is a mound of earth, patchworked with sod. I was struck by how organic the strip mall appeared, how quickly I accepted it as natural, while the neat mound of earth seemed foreign and awkward in location. The second image is the corner of a parking lot and a hill, the hill divided by a fence running through it. Again, the position of the fence creates an strange divide in the hill, and seems arbitrary in placement. These first two images had me thinking about, obviously, constructed and organic, and the overlap between the two. However the literature about the show reveals that the locations depicted are actually sacred historical locations to various American Indian Nations. How depressing. Perhaps the most dismal was the portrait of the Tennessee Titans’ stadium built on a burial ground. Hot dog, anyone?


Kapadia’s work, a video projection entitled A vacant rectangle, left blank for a work expressing modern feeling, is a silent homage to the city of Chandighar in North India. The city was designed and built by Le Corbusier in the 1950s and the title comes from his book, The City of Tomorrow and Its Planning from 1937. The video is shot surveillance style of buildings that seem institutional and incomplete. Captions depict a conversation (real or imagined) between “I” and “he”. For example: “I asked what kind of vocation is profitable here, he said, Everything except poetry and writing”. There is a thick tension tangible between the modern brilliance that was clearly in the mind of the architect of this project, and the reality of what the buildings have become. This work is coupled by a diptych of glossy photographs taken from images in archives of Chandighar. There are flashes and reflections of exterior lights in the photos, which compoud the distance and disassociation one feels from the buildings.

The last piece, Henriksen’s Psycho Somatic was the work I was the least invested in. It consisted of a lab coat, hanging, with a message scrawled in red pen on duct tape reading MAKE UP YOUR MIND across the back. Playing on a small television was a video of a Henriksen and his collaborator Frans Ibon Svensen skateboarding along tunnels in what appears to be the basement of the institution. It seems like a video appropriate for YouTube, of some punkass kids trespassing and recording their shenanigans. The sound of the wheels grinding on the cement and echoing in the halls becomes a neutral sound backdrop for the repetitive action of the skateboarding and the words “Border” and “Clinic”. In the literature, I discovered that the location of the performance is in fact in the bowels of a mental instituion that the artist was breifly commited to. He and his collaborator and travelling the underground distance between the mental hospital and the Central Hospital of Telemark, the place for treatment of the somatic. He is physically transversing the space between the two to lay stress on the separation between the, you guessed it, psychiatric and somatic separation in the institution. Personally, the performance seemed disconnected from events it was alluding to, although I think the idea of transgression while using an amateur skateboarding video aesthetic was successful.

The work in this show felt like three separate explorations of devastation and space, specifically different types of devastation on physical space (human, emotional, ideological). It seemed like a fulfilling and thoughtful cross section of work on this theme. I’m excited to see more work in this space, and even if it is in a public transit gray area, I would recommend checking it out.

Devastation and Space will be up until the end of August, and gallery hours are Sundays 1-4 or by appointment.

LA Times looks into Obama Joker Face Image Origin or Lack There Of

August 6, 2009 · Print This Article

Obama Joker Face of Unknown Origin

Obama Joker Face of Unknown Origin

The LA Times Art Section takes an interesting look at the origin and context of the Obama Joker face that is growing around the net.

Scott Projects First International Show, Opens Saturday

August 6, 2009 · Print This Article

“Thumbing granite rocks into the womb of a marshmallow mermaid, sopping granite compound orgiastic waterfalls on the cotton fields of heaven.”

That is how the press release opens. Woah. This Saturday, August 8th, Scott Projects is welcoming London based artists Sopping Granite (Ben Vickers and Sarah Hartnett) for the show The First Letter of Every Word is You. Apparently, they exchange ideas via telepathy. Definitely check out their website, which seems to serve as part portfolio, part research notebook, and part collage.

Here is the link to the Facebook event page. Hope to see you there!

A short note on Elizabeth Smith’s MCA departure

August 5, 2009 · Print This Article

Last week the Chicago MCA’s Elizabeth Smith announced she would resign her post as chief curator at the end of the month, explaining that ten years in the position was long enough and it was time to move on. Fair enough. Curators are increasingly expected to be peripatetic nowadays, which suits our globalized art world and helps keep an institution’s perspective fresh and forward-thinking — but it also makes it hard for curators to maintain longstanding ties with local artists.

On a personal note, when I was an assistant curator in Los Angeles, I worked for the museum that co-organized Smith’s Lee Bontecou exhibition. At that time I was utterly taken by the romantic ideal that Smith’s relationship with Bontecou represented for me, and I still am.  Smith pursued Bontecou for years before being given access to the reclusive artist’s work.  When Smith was still a curator at MOCA in L.A., she organized a small Bontecou survey without any participation from the artist (though she tried repeatedly to get in touch with Bontecou). Bontecou eventually came to see the show, and wrote Smith a letter afterwards saying how much she liked it.

Over the years Smith developed a strong relationship with Bontecou, eventually gaining access to the treasure trove of work that the artist had kept mostly private after exiting the art world (or the New York art world, at any rate) in the early 70s. It’s no surprise, then, that Smith cites her 2004 Bontecou retrospective as a professional and personal highlight.

There are lots of different ways one can “be” a curator, but to me, Smith’s dogged pursuit of an artist who didn’t always want to be pursued, but knew she had to be, for the sake of art history if nothing else–represents a pinnacle of what the profession can accomplish. Smith’s low-key, artist-centric style of curating may be somewhat less in fashion nowadays, but I admire it tremendously. To me, she’s a model of how a curator can built strong ties and a relationship of trust over many years with artists whose work they believe in. Here’s wishing Ms. Smith the best of luck in her upcoming endeavors–I can’t wait to see what she cooks up next.

sculpture by Lee Bontecou

sculpture by Lee Bontecou

Bronzeville’s Sasaki and Collins Parks and Landscapes Razed at Gropius-designed Michael Reese Hopsital; Gropius Coalition in Chicago Warns More May Come

August 5, 2009 · Print This Article

We don’t normally cover Chicago architecture and landscape issues in any depth on this blog, given that a) we’re nowhere near experts on the subject and b) the city has several stellar architecture journalists reporting on the scene and blogging daily about it. But when I saw the pictures below, my eyes literally hurt. My soul did too.

Pfaelzer Park North

Pfaelzer Park North

Pfaelzer Park West

Pfaelzer Park West

Rothschild Park Southeast

Rothschild Park Southeast

These are before and after pictures of the Michael Reese Hospital campus in the Bronzeville area of South Chicago, much of whose landscaping was clear cut this month, ostensibly to make way for a possible future Olympic Village site (and, after the Olympics are over, some form of mixed income housing). Of course, we haven’t even secured the 2016 games yet, and there’s no guarantee that we will — but the City has moved forward anyway. The result? A park that was once lush, green and peaceful has been literally scraped off the face of the earth.

The images posted above are taken from the Gropius in Chicago Coalition website, which issued a statement yesterday on the park’s destruction. An excerpt:

In an act of cultural and environmental violence that has shocked the South Side, the City of Chicago and the Chicago 2016 Bid Committee have destroyed the beloved central parklands at Michael Reese Hospital. Sparing only a few trees, the community parks have been “clear cut.” Hundreds of trees have been killed, and all shrubbery, flowers, and ground cover has been scraped from the site. The new scorched earth setting, carefully masked from the surefire embarrassment of public scrutiny behind a thin veil of preserved vegetation and construction fencing, is a shock to all who have known and loved the campus in its original state. The landscapes at Michael Reese were designed by Hideo Sasaki (of Sasaki + Novak, later Sasaki Walker), and Lester Collins, two of America’s premiere landscape architects. The landscape designers both worked closely with Walter Gropius and his associates at The Architects Collaborative to develop the landscapes in keeping with Gropius’s architecture and site planning theories. Prominent Art and architecture Critic Lynn Becker has called these settings “some of the most beautiful landscapes in the city.” (Read the full statement by clicking here).

What’s worse, the destruction won’t necessarily end with the flattening of the campus’ landscape. The Hospital buildings, which were co-designed by famed Bauhaus architect Walter Gropius, may also be demolished.

Tomorrow, August 6th, the Commission on Chicago Landmarks will meet to consider “whether to recommend to the Illinois Historic Advisory Council whether the campus should be nominated to the National Register of Historic Places,” Blair Kamin reported yesterday in his Cityscapes blog for the Tribune. “If the campus were given National Register status,” Kamin notes, “it would mean that state historic preservation officials would be called in before federal funds could be used for demolition” of the buildings.

The Gropius Coalition has also put out an urgent call for Chicagoans who are invested in this issue to attend a critical community meeting next Tuesday August 11th. The meeting will cover the 2016 Olympic plans for the 3rd, 4th, and 20th wards (which contain Michael Reese Hospital) and will take place at the Chicago Urban League, 4510 S. Michigan Avenue at 6:00 pm.  The Coalition organizers note that

Alderman Preckwinkle specifically stated in an earlier meeting that the August 11 meeting is the preferred forum for Chicago residents to voice their concerns about Michael Reese Hospital. A large turn out is essential, so please encourage your friends and family to participate! This may be one of our best chances to make an impact to the 2016 Olympic Committee. Remember that demolition is proceeding and without our support, the campus may not survive even until the IOC vote in October.

If you’re not already up to speed on the issue, here are a few more links to get you going, starting with Ben Joravsky’s article in the Chicago Reader illuminating the political angle of this debacle. The article’s headline suggests that the fate of Michael Reese Hospital “is just a taste of how the Olympics will drive public policy if Chicago wins the games.” Read Joravsky’s reportage and analysis for the Chicago Reader here: Michael Reese Hospital: The First Sacrificial Lamb; it’s critical to understanding the full ramifications of this issue.

Chicago architecture bloggers Lynn Becker and Edward Lifson have also been following the story; two links follow below:

Tonight: Mayor Richard M. Daley’s Scorched Earth Obsession About to Obliterate Michael Reese?

Going, Going, Gone? Will Chicago Tear Down Buildings by Mies van der Rohe and Walter Gropius?