Work by Anthea Behm
Golden Gallery is located at 3319 N. Broadway. Reception is Saturday from 6-9pm.
Work by Cristina Gonzalez, Juan Angel Chavez, Steve Reber, Sarah Belknap + Joseph Belknap, Micheal Rea, Mark Holmes, Josue Pellot, Montgomery Kim, Hao Ni, Kazuki Guzman, Matthew ‘Sighn’ Hoffman, Dylan Jones, and Holly Holmes
Chicago Urban Art Society is located at 2229 S. Halsted St. Reception is Friday from 6-11pm.
Work by Anne-Mie Van Kerckhoven
The Renaissance Society is located at 5811 S. Ellis Ave., Cobb Hall 418. Reception is Sunday from 4-7pm.
Work by Conor Backman, Magalie Guérin, and Matt Nichols
LVL3 is located at 1542 N. Milwaukee Ave, 3rd Fl. Reception is Saturday from 6-10pm.
Curated by Dawoud Bey
Hyde Park Art Center is located at 5020 S. Cornell Ave. Reception is Sunday from 3-5pm.
September 12, 2011 · Print This Article
GUEST POST BY MONICA WESTIN
As environmental art progresses and then doubles back again between earthworks and site-specific land art to more explicitly ecological work, there’s a real question hanging in the air these days about what kind of awareness art can or even should bring to the natural world, and what successful environmental art might look like or do. Michael Wang’s article in May’s Artforum about the contemporary merging of architecture and the environment focused on the process of making the invisible visible—such as the work of experimental architect Bernard Tschumi in Santiago, who uses polluted air as “material for design”—avoiding simple propaganda about air pollution in making public encounter part of a zone of aesthetic experience that includes the weather. Wang closes his discussion with a call to “make evident” the “dissolution of boundaries” between the human and the natural.
This might seem like an overly-heady invocation to an intentionally very family-friendly art show at the Morton Arboretum—and much of the art doesn’t lend itself to much discussing in academic terms, though it’s fun for the kids to look at, like a stack of tree logs with a huge bow on top or fluttering wisps of kite-like material improbably named “Soul of the Trees”—but there are a handful of pieces that are remarkably thoughtful, even groundbreaking in their approach to the question of this boundary between nature and human. While a few works seem completely disconnected from their environment in the arboretum, others offer new perspectives on the framing of nature and the issue of medium specificity. A couple offer explicitly environmentalist messages, and a handful of them—which are as cutting-edge and thoughtful as any other art I’ve seen in Chicago this year—actually reflect on the work of this frame itself and offer up a strong model for what a critical environmental art practice might look like.
First the slightly less interesting pieces. The You are Beautiful collective presents a huge namesake sign, not unlike the Hollywood sign, at the top of a hill—white from a distance, but yellow on the sides close up. The piece is about the relation of the work to space and the perspective of the viewer, but there’s no interaction between the work and its environment; it sits in a clearing, framed by nature. It could be anywhere. Slightly more interesting but falling squarely into the old activist ecological art mold are Theodoros Zaferiropoulos’ “How Far Have We Gone?,” which turns cross-sections of a tree trunk into stepping-stones eventually disappearing into a small lake; and Thomas Matsuda’s “Purification,” consisting of tree trunks burned to charcoal and displayed provocatively amongst the living trees in the arboretum. Both are visually interesting, but they take up an old rhetoric that sometimes makes my eyes glaze over, and it’s hard to read much meaning or self-consciousness into each about the environment of the arboretum itself.
This is where I owe a big citation to Chris Millers’ review of the show in New City; Miller points out that the arboretum is “more about science than aesthetics” and is therefore “an appropriate setting for conceptual art.” Just pushing it one step further, I would argue that the arboretum is slightly artificial, itself on the boundary between the human and the natural; many plants growing there are not native to the area, and the only reason that this refuge exists is because the Morton Salt company family are generous and progressive enough to create this sort of natural simulacra. We might even think of an arboretum as having the kind of “dissolution of boundaries” that Wang discusses… and I wish more of the work had commented on this liminal, weird environment in which their environmental art would dwell.
Juan Angel Chávez’s “Jimshoe” (named after a homeless man the artist met) seems more challenging. Built with found materials and resembling a cocoon as well as garbage, the piece holds—or possibly vandalizes—a tree that young visitors to the arboretum are encouraged to climb (the day I went, the work was framed off with an orange plastic fence). The work is closed, the tree is framed (twice over for me), and it’s hard to tell whether the piece would change much if the cocoon were surrounding an industrial swingset. Similarly, Letha Wilson’s “Wall in Blue Ash Tree,” while visually interesting—on one side, a smooth white wall with branches poking through; on the other, as though backstage, the unpainted and patchwork wood, and tree, supports for the piece–also doesn’t make any strong claims for nature/art relations or boundaries as such. What makes both pieces interesting visually has to do with the material relation between processed and raw wood, but I wanted more reflexivity about the boundary, about the framing process.
Which brings me to the most unlikely suspect for the kind of thought-provoking, meta-aware praxis of environmental art people are looking for: a crochet-covered tree called “Lichen It,” created by Carol Hummel and a number of volunteers. It looks exactly as you’d imagine, but with garish colors in yellow, red, and purple that make the tree look diseased. It’s easily the most popular piece of art, the most photogenic, and the most funny (at least for people who are familiar with yarn-bombing and/or grew up with a plethora of throw pillows and afghans strangling their bedrooms) of any of the works in the show. The first time I saw it, I took some pictures for a couple posing in front of the tree and didn’t give it a second thought—until I walked fifty paces away and saw, in a groomed, manicured hedge with flowers growing in between, the same color combination of yellow, red, and purple. This garden was just as unnatural as the crochet, and the juxtaposition posed real questions to me about material, form, the way we frame nature in everyday life as well as art. In other words, it makes the invisible visible. “Nature doubly framed and overly implicated,” the show should read, and the kids would still have just as much fun.
The show runs until November 27, and since I’m writing this delinquently late, you have probably already gone to see it if you were planning to. However, I’d urge you to go again, to see what happens to each work as the natural world, and its relationship to the work, changes.
Monica Westin is the former Deputy Editor and current contributing art editor to Flavorpill in Chicago, where she also regularly writes about art and theater for New City, Chicago Magazine, and the Huffington Post. A current PhD student in rhetoric at the University of Illinois, Chicago, Monica teaches courses on arts writing and new media in DePaul University’s Writing, Rhetoric, and Discourse department.
This week I do have a full Top 5 for you, and this isn’t all there is out there worth seeing this weekend. Golden Gallery is opening a new show, as well as their annex. HungryMan is hosting a solo exhibit curated by Jason Lazaus. NoCoast and Perigrineprogram are both rocking out with new shows over in Pilsen. Revolution Tattoo looks like it’s hosting some fucked-up version of the Muppet show, and the grand ole’ ‘Tute is beginning a fantastic tribute show to Louis Sullivan. And to top it off, you can go see punk-folk at CvsD. And this isn’t even the Top 5 picks yet! It’s squaring up to be a good weekend. No sitting at home drinking beer, get off your ass and go see some art!
The second iteration of a joint show featuring the works of Genesis Breyer P-Orridge and Daniel Albrigo. Also opening that night at WesEx: The Power of Selection, part 2, curated by Ryan Travis Christian and featuring the work of Evan Gruzis, Denise Kupferschmidt, Keegan McHargue, and Dana Dart-McLean.
Western Exhibitions is located at 119 N. Peoria St., suite 2A. Reception is Friday from 5-8pm.
Oh ICP, you will never cease to inspire amazing things. My Funhouse, a series from Johanna Wawro and Andy Resekis, is a photo and video installation about the Juggalo Family.
Eastern Expansion is located at 244 W 31st St. Reception is Saturday from 7-11pm.
And I quote, “A conglomeration of new photographs, drawings, sculpture, moving image and sound by the founding members of ACRE, Chicago’s newest Artist Residency (that takes place in the great state of Wisconsin!).” Including the work of Caitlin Arnold, Olivia Ciummo, Scott Cowan, Kyle Cronan, Melissa Damasauskas, Rachel Ettling, Aron Gent, Henry James Glover, John Paul Glover, Emily Green, Brieanne Hauger, Katy Keefe, Jason Lazarus, Greg Stimac and Nicholas Wylie.
The Hills Esthetic Center is located at 128 N Campbell Ave, G. Reception is Friday from 8-11pm.
And I quote, “The images depict influential, yet highly overlooked and occasionally controversial Christian figures who, had they lived in the present, might have been a source of inspiration to gays and lesbians.” Work by Robert Lentz, Lewis Williams, William Hart McNichols, and David Lee Csicsko.
La Llorona is located at 1474 W. Webster Ave. Reception is Friday from 6pm-1am.
And I quote, “Contemporary collage inspired work by Juan Angel Chavez, Lydia Diemer, Stephen Eichhorn, Clark Ellithorpe, Chad Kouri, Alexis Mackenzie, Leslie Mutchler, and Neva Sills.”
NEIU Fine Arts Center Gallery is located at 5500 N St Louis Ave. Reception is Friday from 6-9pm.
Hey ya’ll. There are quite a few shows I’m interested in the weekend, not all of which are getting dropped into the Top 5, but which still bear a mention: Bob Jones at 65 Grand, Ann and Maria Ponce at Packer Schopf, Joe Hardesty at Western Exhibitions, Creator/Curator at HungryMAN Gallery, and New Blood 3 at the Chicago Cultural Center. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to make it to everything, but you’ll be happy with any of the above mentioned selections along side any or all the shows listed in the Top 5 (which, by the way, are listed in no particular order). That’s it for now, get your ass out there and see some art!
Top 5 for 11/20-11/22:
1. Technically, It’s Art at Abryant Gallery
Abryant Gallery, run by Angela Bryant, is one of those spaces that Chicago is so good at producing, a space run by people just out of school, showing people just out of school, but actually doing it relatively well. For this round, Bryant is featuring the work of Eric Ashcraft, Madeleine Bailey, Mark Beasley, Rebecca Berman, GROUP CABIN, Andy Cahill, Lauren Gregory, Maxon Higbee, Aaron Hoffman, Nadia Hotait, Mik Kastner, Lisa MAjer, Gary Pennock, Sarah Perez, Micah Schippa, Briana Schweizer, Alan Strathmann and Synica Whitney in Technically, It’s Art.
Opening Reception: Friday 7-10pm. Abryant Gallery is located at 1842 N. Damen Ave., 4th Fl.
2. IN(DI)VISIBLE at Noble & Superior Projects
For their second exhibition, Noble & Superior Projects, a new apartment gallery space, is putting up the work of TW Li’ and Whitney Faile called IN(DI)VISIBLE. I am really impressed by N&S P, the couple who run it are damn professional, and though the work isn’t the best thing I’ve ever seen in Chicago (a bit of a tall order), they show some goos stuff for an apartment gallery. I am particularly interested int TW Li’s work (have a look at his website), but I’m a fan of their paring strategy, so I bet the dialog between Li and Faile’s work will be worth seeing.
Opening Reception: Friday 6-10pm. Noble & Superior Projects is located at 1418 W Superior St. #2R