EDITION #29

April 28, 2014 · Print This Article

City Still Reeling from MFA Show

This years edition of SAIC’s annual behemoth was as sprawling as ever. Each person’s account sounds like a completely different exhibition than others, but I think we can all agree that SAIC is “on trend.” If we covered every piece in the fair MFA show this column would never end. Within the leviathan there were a few clear winners, and who wants to hear about losers anyway?

Andrew Holmquist Video

If you missed Andrew Holmquist‘s video you need to return to go and start over. Immediately on your left as you walk into the Sullivan Galleries, Holmquist’s video is reminiscent of video work by Alex Hubbard, flattening the world of objects into the two-dimensional register of his paintings (and maybe a little bit of the reverse).

Shining Shimmering Splendid from Andrew Holmquist on Vimeo. From the exhibition Temporal Figuration at LVL3.

In a similar shorter video piece, Shining Shimmering Splendid, shown recently at LVL3, Holmquist can be seen positioning the objects in a pair of black high heels and a sheer aquamarine raincoat. In Painting Space and Time at the MFA show objects (mostly) appear to be propelled by an unseen force, leading me to imagine the Rube Goldberg contraption of Fischli and Weiss’s The Way Things Go in Technicolor. Despite the conjuring of a million references, the color, light and sound are distinctly Andrew’s own, bringing his painting practice into time and space in a imaginative and captivating way.

Naama Arad window piece

Naama Arad‘s Bahad 1 was another personal favorite. Made simply from perforated xerox prints and tape the work was more impactful than a robot or any number of gigantic fabricated tongues. The hanging shifted subtlety as the sun set downtown, and mingled effortlessly with the throngs of visitors to the exhibition.

The title of the piece, Bahad 1, takes it’s name from the training bases of the Israeli Defense Force, the first of which is a well known school for training officers (according to Wikipedia). Rather than a geometric abstraction, the large scale print is an image of the old synagogue at Bahad 1, designed by Zvi Hacker with Alfred and Naomi Nueman in the late 1960s. Who knew the Bauhaus was so prominent in IDF architecture? Is Arad’s lattice something more sinister? We hope this promising artist doesn’t leave Chicago too soon after graduation, we want to see more.

These works and a whole lot of other stuff is on view at the SAIC Sullivan Galleries until May 14th. The shows tumblr-ish website isn’t half bad this year either.

#Scene at the MFA Show & Not

Painting MFA Caleb Yono and friends making a scene at Sullivan.

The crowd through McKenzie Thompson’s installation.

Thompson (right) with SAIC Curatorial Fellow, Alda Tchochiev.

The Weatherman Report

Helen Frankenthaler, Vuillard’s Chariot, 2006, Lithograph in 7 colors on Rives BFK paper, 24 3/4 x 30 1/8″.

Chromatic Consortium Vibrant

The Franklin, the sukkah-looking gallery located in Garfield Park, is one of the most thoughtful and innovative exhibition spaces in all of Chicago (it’s also the coldest in the winter). The stylized outdoor exhibition space seems to effortlessly adapt to the demands of it’s exhibitions, ranging from solo shows to large group exhibitions featuring dinners, bonfires, black metal and, of course, Edra Soto’s signature pineapple upside down cake.

Work by Leslie Baum, Radames Juni, Easton Miller and Candace M. Briceño-Connolly.

Closeup of work by Leslie Baum.

Soto, who built the gallery in the back of her home with partner Dan Sullivan, does far more than just bake cakes. The gallery is clearly the result of her love for art and the joy she experiences sharing it with others. Chromatic Consortium, which closed this past Saturday, was a prime example of Soto’s broad range as a curator. Only Edra could (or would) pair paintings by her students at SAIC with work by artists in the Whitney Biennial and make it work.

Works by Ryan Richey, Lisa Alvarado and Iryne Roh.

As Soto toured me through the exhibition it became apparent that what really binds the show is her relationship to the artists and her genuine interest in their process and production. Each artist has some personal connection to Soto, or she admired their work so much she decided to contact them cold. Who could resist Edra’s big smile and warm heart? She discusses a portrait made by a second year student with the same reverence as any #WhiBi artist. The consideration for each work position relative to the small space makes the exhibition click without feeling overcrowded.

Work by Leonardo Kaplan, Maya Hayuk and Mara Baker.

If you missed this show then we’re sad for you, but all is not lost. For the Franklin’s next exhibition Soto is teaming up with the firebrand Sabina Ott (proprietor of her own experimental ourdoor space– Terrain) for SCAPE with work by Alison Ruttan, Alex Tam and Assaf Evron, Joe Jeffers and Ott. The exhibition opens this Saturday, May 3rd at 6pm. Praying for no rain, but as Edra pointed out to me, nothing can dampen The Franklin or the art inside.

Honorable mention to Dan Gunn’s Instagram.

Header image features a detail image of Naama Arad’s Bahad 1, on display at the SAIC MFA Exhibition until May 14th.

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The lovely Ashley Drapes with Daniel Romeu.

What’s Black and White with Red lips? Gan Uyeda, Raven Munsell and Sharmyn Rivera.

Meanwhile in the West Loop: Ryan Travis Christian with Mike Rea and Heidi Norton at Christian’s exhibition Check Please! at Western Ex.

The drapes match the curtains at Check Please!




EDITION #22

January 21, 2014 · Print This Article

Amelia Peláez

Amelia Peláez’s Havana Hilton Hotel mural, ca. 1957. Cuban Heritage Collection, University of Miami Libraries.

Travelogue: Three Cities, Three Retrospectives

It’s been a wild winter break, but What’s the T? is back in Chicago in time for dibs season and motivated by the artists brave enough to exhibit in the tundra. For those of you holed up in your apartment licking the radiator for warmth (like I am), here’s a recap of some shows outside of the snow globe.


Closing next Sunday, February 2nd (with a performance by Kim Gordon), is the exhibition that’s been blowing up my feed since it opened at PS1 in October of 2013. Mike Kelley’s retrospective is a 40,000 square foot sprawling colossus of an exhibition. Although I could have lived without the seemingly endless rooms of Kandors (a reference to the miniaturized capital city of Superman’s rival Brianiac) on the first floor, the exhibition impressively filled the sprawling school house and gave me a new appreciation for the artist.

Birdhouses by Mike Kelley

Birdhouses by Mike Kelley at PS1.

Never before in my life have I seen so many swastikas and phallus and felt pretty ok about the whole thing. Arguably the greatest mindfuck in the entire exhibition (taking up an entire floor, the cacophonous a/v installation Day is Done was a close second), Pay for Your Pleasure, a corridor of large portrait paintings and quotations from famous intellectuals effectively complicated the relationship between violence and creativity. By the time I reached the end of the corridor I had completely lost the ability to tell right from wrong.

Mike Kelley banners

Kelley’s banners in the hallway at PS1.

The oft-posted Deodorized Central Mass With Satellites was among the least interesting rooms (also the one with the longest line). Watching people pose in front of the hulking mass of leftover toys, I wondered how Kelley himself might have felt about powerful installation’s transmutation into a selfie photo-op. I did pop a huge boner for the dysfunctional birdhouses and the artist’s drawings of his own name. Most disappointing though was PS1’s lack of snacks. The M. Wells Dinette conceptual Mike Kelley menu was admirable, but would it kill PS1 to sell a girl a croissant or fruit cup? I traveled all the way to Queens for this.

Mike Kelley signatures

Mike Kelley at PS1.

Thankfully, we missed the Turrell retrospective at the Gug (heard the lines were unbearable even if the hole was amazing) in favor of seeing the exhibition in full splendor at LACMA. Apparently the artist, an LA native, made moves to stem the line issue by limiting the amount of guests allowed through the exhibition each day (and no photos allowed!). By the time my party of 5 arrived at LACMA , the $25 exhibition was completely sold out for the day. It was only through the loophole of student membership and my lovely friend, Conor Fields, that I was even able to see the exhibition. The antidote to the packed Kelley exhibition, my first glimpse of Afrum (White), the exemplary white cube that is the first of many light installations, was as religious an art experience as I’ve ever felt.

#today in (art) history

Carrie Mae Weems

Carrie Mae Weems, The Assassination of Medger, Malcom, and Martin, 2008. Archival pigment print, 61 x 51 inches. Courtesy Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

The Weatherman Report

Benjamin Bulter, Leafless Trees, 2008, Oil on canvas, 16 1/10 × 19 9/10 in. Tomio Koyana Gallery.

Other works, such as “Bullwinkle,” a modest projection in the shape of an antique television screen, featured plaques helpfully suggesting minimal viewing times to aid visitors in experiencing the desired effects of Turrell’s complex combinations of light and color. Guests moved leisurely through the exhibition. The immersive installations were smartly punctuated with wall-based work, such as the artist’s delicate aqua-tint etchings and hologram series. Despite the 20 minute wait, the paramount moment of the exhibition was Breathing Light (2013), a absorptive environment that mindfucks you in an entirely angle than Kelley’s Pay for Your Pleasure. Heats of eight are invited to take their shoes off, don booties, and spend five minutes in the space which features rounded walls and a deeply saturated bath of LED light that slowly gradients between red and blue. Shout out to the world’s best docent, Rikki Williams, for doing an impeccable job at keeping the antsy visitors to Breathing Light in check (and for letting me stay an extra minute).

LA’s other most famous dude, Frank Ghery, also deserves a shoutout for the unbelievably well designed Calder exhibition in the same building as Breathing Light and the other (reservation only) large-scale immersive Turrell spaces. Having seen a couple of attempts of shoving a bunch of mobiles and stabiles into a large room (including the MCA’s most recent attempt), I can truthfully say I’ve never seen a better presentation of the artists work. Ghery’s specially built pedestals wind around the gallery and create niches that isolate and accommodate each piece. His specially designed walls and plinths allow the viewer to see the delicate balance present in individual works instead of a mess of primary colored circles and wires hanging everywhere.

Ai Wei Wei

You’re okay too, Wei Wei.

Not to be outdone by other major metropolitan areas massive surveys of mostly male work, the Perez Museum of Art Miami (still known to me as the Miami Art Museum) opened it doors in December with an inaugural retrospective by Ai Wei Wei. While the exhibition has a few highlights, I found the smaller retrospective of works by little known Cuban modernist, Amelia Peláez, to be a far more compelling and apt exhibition for the brand new bayside contemporary art museum.

Amelia Peláez

Painting by Peláez at PAMM.

I thought the inclusion of the furniture was a little much, but I loved the objects made by Peláez herself. Her ceramic work epitomizes the bright colors and modern, bold markings of her still-life paintings on shapely vases and cups. I would take the espresso set. The show was thoughtfully put together and I was delighted to learn of the artist’s life and work. Now I just wish I could go back in time to Cuba and see her Havana Hilton Hotel mural.

Amelia Peláez

Adorable.

Amelia Peláez

These too.

Back in Chicago, I’m waiting on my invite for what will be either the awesomest or worstest retrospective in Chicago history: David Bowie Is. Stay tuned.

Reading is Fundamental

  • The Return of Steve. Local critic, Steve Ruiz, has finally returned from his extended jaunt across the pond! Not only has his Chicago Art Review site been ressurected, he’s also jumped right back into the scene with this meditation on Sofia’s Leiby’s recent exhibition The Drama of Leisure for Daily Serving.
  • Sofia Leiby at Devening

    Leiby in coversation with Anthony Opal at the closing of her exhibition last Sunday.
  • Alicias take on Faith. Threewalls just opened the ambitious Faith Wilding: Fearful Symmetries Retrospective. If you’re looking for a historial feminist context take on the exhibition, check out Alicia Chester’s review on ArtSlant. Bonus points to Chester for managing to fit #Beyoncé into the review. More interested in the techno future of feminism? Try Alicia Eler’s piece for Hyperallergic surveying the re-performance of Wilding’s “Waiting.
  • Faith Wilding Performance

    Still from Faith Wilding’s “Waiting” performance as seen in the 1974 film “Womanhouse” by Johanna Demetrakas, (1974, USA, 47 min.) (courtesy of Johanna Demetrakas and Three Walls Gallery).
  • The Weekly debuts with hilarious email chain. Sunday was a big day for Chicago poet, Anthony Opal. Not only did he trudge through the snow to talk drama with Sofia Leiby at Devening Projects, he also launched The Weekly with some “Revolutionary Interactive Storytelling” by the very entertaining and all around solid dude, Fred Sasaki. Enjoy.




Thoughts from Across the Cultural Divide: #23 (Bruce Nauman: Call of Duty)

February 11, 2013 · Print This Article

Breakfast Club

Breakfast Club

On my first day of class in Wisconsin, I dropped a “Breakfast Club” reference that thudded like Judd Nelson’s career after “From the Hip.” And I immediately felt a compulsion to familiarize myself with contemporary popular culture.

A man in my upper 30’s, my touchstones for affective metaphorical connectivity seemed to be mossy and only getting mossier, so I set out on a mission to brush up on my understanding of Rihanna, Drake and to discover what the heck Aeropostale is, through a strict regimen of MTV and regular trips to Brooklyn’s Fulton Mall.

I think this is a pretty common anxiety for professors who try to relate knotty concepts to their students by drawing from more familiar examples. I begin every Contemporary Art class by comparing art to fashion, and knowing fashion beyond what I might have worn to a Temple of the Dog show in 1993 would certainly behoove me.

I showed my class an image of a guy in a fine suit and asked, “If you were raised by English-speaking wolves, and encountered this person, would you know what he was trying to express through his choice of clothing?”

A resounding “no.”

The students agreed that the English-speaking wolves wouldn’t know that suit to be any more fashionable, or business-like, than a banana leaf loincloth. I suggested that works of art often function like fashion, though hopefully not always. I said that the best works, as Peter Schjeldahl has noted, communicate ideas, while the vast majority merely occasion them. In other words, less successful work needs to manufacture meaning, and thus should be understood within a self-enclosed system of signs, rooted in the history of art and ideas rather than in experience.

Anna Betbeze, Courtesy Kate Werbel Gallery

Anna Betbeze, Courtesy Kate Werbel Gallery

This held their attention for a moment, but I lost it again when I showed one of Anna Betbeze’s tattered wooly rugs and a Tom Friedman sculpture of accumulated pink eraser shavings. I got a version of the ‘anyone could do that’ complaint from a hockey player in the back of class. I usually match such pat resistance with a line from a comedian in order prove that a simple, elegant observation can ring as legitimate as a baroque painting that took weeks. I performed a clumsy version of the Jerry Seinfeld bit about how if someone from another planet saw humans cleaning up after dogs they’d naturally assume the dogs were in charge.

I think my problem was that I went for the whole impersonation in addition to the joke, and impressions aren’t my strong suit. Either way, they didn’t relate. I imagined my class as me, and me as my dad recounting Klinger jokes from M*A*S*H on a morning in 1979. Eyes rolling back.

This second thud, compounded by the “Breakfast Club” dud, sent me poking even harder for common ground.

So I finally broke the fourth wall, and asked directly what they found amusing.

“Chris Rock?”

“John Stewart?”

A collective “meh.”

“Whatta about music. What do you listen to when you hang out and study?” I kind of felt like a viral marketing specialist conducting a focus group for a new energy drink.

“How about Beyonce..is she still big? I saw her at the Deuce in Miami two years ago and she looked pretty FINE.” Trying to seem cool.

“What do you do to waste time when you’re sitting in your dorm rooms when you’re not reading your art history book?”

I told them that in undergrad I used to sit around eating Chef Boyardee ravioli and watching “Real World” marathons when I should’ve been studying. I also had a roommate that watched this movie called “Army of Darkness” over and over and over and that I couldn’t stand it because it was like a watching a video game without having the pleasure of interactivity.

And then I caught a twinge in my audience. A spark of vitality. A flicker in an eye in the back of the room; a twitch of a thumb in row two.

Video games. Yes!

Most of the class, including the girls, lit up when I mentioned video games. And someone exploded giddily that the game “Call of Duty” was going on sale at midnight, and it was quickly clear that most of my class would be in line to purchase it. A major event in a world I didn’t know anything about. Before I could get dismissive, I recalled waiting in line outside at Kieff’s Music in Lawrence, KS at midnight to purchase R.E.M.’s “Automatic for the People.”

Karate Champ

Karate Champ

I haven’t played a video game since a stand up arcade version of Karate Champ in 1985. So my mission to relate to my students would prove far more complicated that laundering old Seinfeld jokes through a newer and more relevant comedian. I’m up against a behemoth. A new paradigm that I don’t understand.

Considering now all the Johnny Depp and Major League Baseball and James Patterson Books I’ve dropped as relatable examples, I can’t help but wonder how much pedagogical ground I would’ve gained if I would’ve known anything about the game “Halo.” If I could only trade all of what I know about Seinfeld for a vague knowledge of which video game console is which. You’re never too old, right?

Maybe sometimes you are.

As the last few minutes of class melted away, I had a revelation. What these millennials need is a video game that bridges the gap between alternative visual culture and first-person shooter. A video game with substance. A video game that matches its phenomenological impact dynamic graphics with hearty intellectual concepts. What these millenials need is a video game about contemporary art.

And as a man already on a mission, I pledged in that moment to bring it to the world. Stay tuned for what will be my greatest masterpiece: “Bruce Nauman: Call of Duty” – A first person shooter game where the act of shooting turns into a feedback loop of self-awareness, making the player uncomfortably self-conscious and forcing them to stop and do something else after a few minutes.

Bruce Nauman, Call of Duty

Bruce Nauman, Call of Duty