THE INDEPENDENT VOICE OF THE VISUAL ARTS

EDITOR’S NOTE: This essay is the first of a series by various authors on alternative viewing and distribution venues for artists.

John Preus, Prussian Blue/Ground Floor Plan, at Rhona Hoffman Gallery

Loyola_Condenser, Orange, 9-9-2016, at Lawrence & Clark.

Photo courtesy of Lawrence & Clark

Andrew Holmquist, Shower Scene, 2010 at Carrie Secrist. Photo courtesy of Carrie Secrist Gallery

Chris Bradley, Cinnamon Scent Machine, 2010 at Shane ­Campbell Gallery

Jessica Stockholder, Catapult Anime Stack, 2015 at Kavi Gupta

James Krone, detail of Cus-Sub-Her-Vir-o Is Lim, 2015 at Kavi Gupta

Shane Huffman at 65GRAND, Was our first vehicle a mother or a meteorite? (My son holding Uncle Robbie’s bones in one hand and meteorites from the field museum in the other, pregnant woman’s breasts). Photo courtesy of 65GRAND

Dominick Di Meo, detail of Personage, 1971 at

Corbett vs. Dempsey

Daniel Baird, Capsule (the Malaise), 2015 at Patron

Orkideh Torabi, I’ll Catch You!, 2017 at Western Exhibitions. Photo courtesy of Western Exhibitions

Valérie Blass, Don’t be Shy, 2017 at Jeux D’Été

Rita Ackerman, Jezebels at the Soccer Club. Photo courtesy of the Soccer Club

Brendan Fernandes , detail of Free Fall, 2016 at moniquemeloche

Azadeh Gholizadeh , Drawing 8, Relic, 2017 at Goldfinch

Melina Ausikaitis, Honey’s Dead, 1992, 2016, at Regards

Jeroen Nelemans at the Mission

Gallery Weekend Chicago 2017 Features A Cavalcade of Chicago Galleries

 

 

The 2017 “Expanded Exhibition” iteration of Gallery Weekend Chicago offered 25 exhibitions by local galleries and curatorial projects all in one location. Expanded opened with a private preview party on March 8 and ran through March 12 at MANA Contemporary in the Pilsen neighborhood. I went to see the art and to learn about Gallery Weekend.

The first Gallery Weekend Chicago (GWC) was held on Sept. 16-18, 2011. GWC was organized by Monique Meloche and gallery director Whitney Tassie, working with an affiliation of several other local art dealers. The enterprise was modeled after Berlin’s successful Gallery Weekend. Eleven galleries participated at Chicago’s first GWC: Andrew Rafacz, Corbett vs. Dempsey, devening projects + editions, Donald Young, Kavi Gupta, moniquemeloche, Rhona Hoffman, Shane Campbell, Three Walls, Tony Wight and Western Exhibitions. Eight of the original galleries came back for the 2017 Expanded Exhibition.

In its first years, GWC was held concurrently with the much bigger, more established Expo Chicago. Now GWC has set itself apart by moving to a less competitive date. This seems appropriate. Expo Chicago is a blue chip playground whereas Expanded could be described as more contemporary, experimental and conceptual.

The question of what can be done to energize the social and commercial presence of contemporary art, on a practical community level, has crossed more than a few minds lately. The public has limited access to the art of the times, while many excellent and proven artists have no place at all to exhibit their work. Many galleries have been going out of business in recent years. Do we just live with this, along with so many other diminished expectations cast upon the times, or can anything be done about it? When non-stop griping eventually wears out its welcome, one can begin to look for ways to improve the situation. GWC Expanded Exhibition offered an opportunity to examine such questions while experiencing new artwork.

Gallery Weekend began in Berlin in 2004 as an initiative of Berlin galleries, curators, collectors and civic partners who all wanted to showcase their burgeoning local art scene. GWB has since grown and established itself as a leading event for contemporary art in Germany. The 13th edition of GWB takes place April 28-30, 2017 and involves 47 Berlin Galleries. There is a long list of sponsors and GWB has become an internationally utilized general model for organizing contemporary exhibitions. Original goals included: to serve as a point of contact for curators and collectors; to present the gallery as a space of exchange and discourse; and to present emerging and established galleries within the same context.

A fascinating aspect of the original Gallery Weekend Berlin model was that each gallery presented one show and GWB shuttled VIPs from gallery to gallery in sponsored black BMW limousines. Several galleries claim that GWB is their highest sales weekend of the year. That reminds me of a paragraph in Andy Warhol’s book “Popism” from 1980 wherein Warhol explained how he’d gotten all of those notable celebrities like Bob Dylan over to parties at The Factory by picking them up in limousines. A resident freak at The Factory had a gig driving a limo and few celebs declined the offer of a limo ride to Warhol’s parties.

The success of GWB has attracted competition. The two major annual art fairs in Germany are Gallery Weekend Berlin and Art Cologne. These two shows have always been presented on different dates to avoid conflicts. In 2017 Germany’s two most important art events will be taking place during the same week. Art Cologne has co-opted the same dates as Gallery Weekend Berlin, to be held April 28–May 1. It will be difficult or impossible for collectors to visit both shows because the two cities are a half-day travel apart. Galleries and curatorial projects must also choose where to participate. It remains to be seen how the conflicting schedules will affect business. Berlin is not happy about the change of date by Art Cologne.

 

Gallery Weekend Chicago, in partnership with MANA Contemporary, enlisted Vienna-based curator Michael Hall for the 2017 Expanded Exhibition. Hall has extensive contacts and experience within the Chicago art community. He founded the Chicago Project Room, a contemporary art gallery, in Chicago in 1996. Daniel Hug joined CPR in 1998. They moved the gallery to Los Angeles in 2000 and closed it in 2002. Daniel Hug is now the Director of Art Cologne.

The location is only a few miles from downtown but it’s more accessible by car than by public transportation. Situated near a recently shuttered coal-fired power plant, the building is industrial and mammoth. Finding the 2017 Expanded Exhibition wasn’t easy for newcomers to MANA Chicago.  There were no signs for the exhibition in the parking lot, entrance or lobby.  For a visitor arriving in the empty lobby, the only hint of an exhibition appeared when the large freight elevator came down and was opened by a liftman asking “what floor?”

The Expanded Exhibition was presented in an immaculate 20,000 square foot, fourth floor loft. Curator Michael Hall brought together 25 Chicago galleries and curatorial projects and suggested that each present a one-artist exhibition. As it was, two of the exhibitions were two-artist and one was multi-artist, all the rest were solo projects. Entering Expanded, one was immediately impressed by the un-crowded and minimal presentation. Temporary display walls set up for many of the exhibitors did not negate the open, naturally lit expansiveness because there were no walls in the entire center third of the space. This offered a shotgun view of the entire exhibition from each end. Large windows ran the length of the east and west walls and offered spectacular industrial views of the city through dirty and cracked windowpanes.

 

The first display upon entering Expanded was by “trans-interdisciplinary artist” John Preus at Rhona Hoffman Gallery, presenting an encampment of whimsical furniture made out of materials salvaged from closed Chicago Public Schools. CPS closed 50 schools in 2013, all in poor minority neighborhoods. Prussian Blue/Ground Floor Plan welcomes visitors like a rustic ranch entrance to a hippy commune out West. Timbers forming the entrance were artfully fabricated from deconstructed bits of the furniture and architecture of classrooms. Even the blueprint of the school’s floor plan is included. One might ask if this is what public education has come to, being ripped apart and transformed into expensive toys for art collectors. Close-up viewing of Preus’ constructed furniture offers many visual treats.

At Lawrence and Clark, Instagram artist Loyola_Condenser (Lisa Barense) presented a series of photographs of the scene looking out of her apartment window on Chicago’s north lakeshore. Like Monét contemplating haystacks, she presents the same view and the same format in each photo. The view is over the large flat rooftop of a shorter building upon which sits a 20-foot tall heating and cooling unit (a condenser?), looking quite small, past the rooftop, towards the horizon over the waters of Lake Michigan and up to the glorious sky. The same view looks quite unique in each image due to differences in time of day, lighting, colors, weather, zoom and mood, proving that there is still plenty to be gained from straight-forward observational work.

Carrie Secrist Gallery offered a large presentation of paintings, ceramics and works on paper by Andrew Holmquist, a recent graduate of SAIC (MFA 2014) who has already had four solo shows at the gallery and is included in the exhibition “Eternal Youth” at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art. Holmquist produces a steady stream of predictably delightful abstractions. Narrow stage depth is a common device in this body of work. Interestingly, the brightly glazed ceramic works relate to forms within the paintings. The paintings look methodical, smart, relatively easy, cheerful and commercial. What would happen with more ambition, tougher challenges and less concern for prettiness?

Shane Campbell Gallery gave up their entire exhibition space to one single work by Chris Bradley. Cinnamon Scent Machine (from 2010) hung from the ceiling and performed a Whirling Dervish sort of loud mechanical dance every 5 minutes or so, powered by an orbital sander and making a noise that was audible throughout the entire exhibition hall. It made for one bizarre headshot: an exploded basketball Cyclops with a cinnamon stick neck that left powdered spice in its wake on the ground beneath into which visitors scrawled words and names. It’s all very amusing indeed, for a few minutes, and loaded with easy metaphors. Like Edgar Allen Poe’s “Pit and the Pendulum,” Cinnamon Scent Machine turns one way, then the other, as inertia sets in.

At Kavi Gupta, we had Jessica Stockholder and James Krone. Both artists subscribe to the less is more approach to art. Krone offered a simple paint between the lines sort of picture of a parrot named “Francis.” Next to this was a twin Francis painting made by pressing the wet painting against another blank canvas, producing, in effect, a monotype print. On the opposite wall was the intriguing, similar but larger “monotype” painting Cus-Sub-Her-Vir-O Is Lim. Krone’s pressed paintings offer more mystery than his cool, clean, paint by number sidekick parrot.

Jessica Stockholder, Chair of the Department of Visual Arts at the University of Chicago, considers her own art to be an intersection of painting and sculpture. Before U.C., she chaired the Sculpture Department at the prestigious Yale School of Art. Stockholder says that her work “developed through the process of making site-specific installations.”

With the right idea, attitude, context, arrangement, manipulation, presentation and artspeak, almost anything can be art, right? That is indeed the zeitgeist of the times and Stockholder has received a freight train of accolades for adhering to the company line. Playful, yes; fun, yes; fill the museum like a party house, check; entertaining, yes; colorful, yes; universally acclaimed by academics, check; cute, check. Except, wait a minute, what about those of us looking for more than temporary amusement, hungry for art and ideas that might last longer than the dust that they collect? As much as I try to be curmudgeonly about Stockholder’s work, I can’t help but enjoy it. That’s pretty cool.

I like to take the time to experience art first before reading about it. Coming to Shane Huffman’s work for the first time at 65GRAND, with no previous knowledge of his work, I sensed interests in metaphysics, poetry and self-discovery. Then, looking for titles, I found instead lengthy literary descriptions, like the caption below:

Was our first vehicle a mother or a meteorite? (My son holding Uncle Robbie’s bones in one hand and meteorites from the field museum in the other, pregnant woman’s breasts).

Corbett vs. Dempsey Gallery exhibited two Dominick Di Meo paintings: “Personage” from 1971 and “Untitled (White Personage, 1970)”. The powerful pairing looked quite contemporary despite the vintage. It appears that the same stencil masks were used on each painting for the legs and heads. There’s quite a range of experimentation between the 1970 and 1971 versions. One personage sits above a pile of garbage, or is exhorted above the crowds like a general headed into battle, while the other is cozily jumbled up in a faded-out-to-white world, with legs detached, arm and hand reaching out.

At Patron, Daniel Baird’s 2015 Capsule (the Malaise) offers allusions, signifiers and metaphors: driftwood, large screen television, international power transformers, all in the service of non-committal abstract reflections, a stream of consciousness visual poetry.

Iranian born Orkideh Torabi is a 2016 MFA graduate from SAIC. The works on display at Western Exhibitions are from his series called “The Heads.” Working with fabric dyes on stretched cotton, Torabi is an exceptional colorist and subtle commentator. The Heads are too educated to be outsider art but share a similar sense of intense empathy.

Jeux D’Été exhibited a grouping of works by Montreal-based Valérie Blas, exploring different sculptural materials and techniques. Her work seemed to pose questions about female identity and human progress. An empty, hollow pair of woman’s pants on a pedestal strikes a very relaxed, fluid pose (Don’t Be Shy). Another female form made of Forton polymer, titled I want to be everything you didn’t know you were looking for looks a lot like a headless, plump piece of plastic meat. I see your nose grow is a technically ambitious, double-sided work on a thick slab of professionally shaped granite with a very slick laser-etched image on each side. This two faced monolith sails on the floor like Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 Space Odyssey through space, bearing images of clamping devices and a Neanderthal.

From the entrance to GWC Expanded, looking just past John Preus’ works at Rhona Hoffman, one could see moniquemeloche’s display of Brendan Fernandes’ work, consisting of a grouping of institutional, orange and chrome coat racks on wheels. There were no coats hanging, even though it was still coat weather in Chicago. Nothing exactly visually rewarding there, hmmm, must be conceptual art. My photographer’s eye went in close looking for an engaging shot and learned that the coat hangers (there were 1-13 hangers on each rack) were hand-pulled crystal. They are quite beautiful up close, like Cinderella’s glass slippers. One could devise a lot of narrative from that and still ask “so what?”

Chaveli Sifre entertained notions of spiritual healing at Produce Model Gallery. Hanging fabrics were dyed to represent auras, coconuts were filled with healing tinctures and plugged with crystal corks, and a humidifier produced custom scents. Sifre is an MA student of museum studies in Berlin, and her enthusiasm keeps up with bigger dogs in the show.

One of the most endearing features of Expanded was the airy, sunlit, uncluttered presentation that made possible contemplation of each artwork within its own space, while maintaining a grander view of the whole shebang. Soccer Club’s set up consisted of just one large album of photos on one large table. The photos are by Richard Kern and were all derived from a painting by Rita Ackerman from 2002 called Restlessness and Angry Optimism. Violence and sex co-mingle and the women are dressed to kill, literally, as if for ISIS. The photos are all from the concurrent book release by Ackerman and Drag City called Jezebels.

Goldfinch presented a strong selection from their flat files of works by several artists, including: Sherwin Ovid, Dianna Frid, Azadeh Gholizadeh, and Nazafarin Lotfi. Claudine Isé has a good eye and intends to offer quality original contemporary artworks at modest prices. Is price point a successful model for collectors or artists? There are probably a million answers to that question.

Regards presented a quirky mélange of works by Melina Ausikaitis, including: delightful child-like drawings, works made from stiffened items of clothing and gloves, lots of words, and song lyrics written in ballpoint pen on a lime green skirt (Honey’s Dead, 1992, 2016, canvas and silk skirt with the lyrics of Jesus and Mary Chain’s 1992 album “Honey’s Dead.”) Ausikaitis addresses vulnerability, childhood and femininity through seemingly personal, biographic or autobiographic routes.

At The Mission, Jeroen Nelemans presented works that use commercial, backlit electric sign kits to produce clever light boxes that juxtapose environments and light sources. Nelemans has a Dutchman’s mind for design. Also on view were a group of photographs from his “Scapes in RGB” series and a selection of ceramics.

At Weekends, a curatorial side project by GWC 2017 curator Michael Hall, Margaret Welsh covered the floor with two large, painted paper drop cloths, titled Mother and Ideal Woman. Both were painted with seconds from home improvement stores and somehow ended up looking like vinyl.

At Efran Lopez, multi-layered and transparent plastic paintings by Monika Bravo complimented aluminum sculptures of twisted beams by Amalie Jakobsen. The Franklin presented Jaclyn Mednicov, a 2016 MFA recipient from SAIC and a promising painter. Mednicov littered the floor with carpet squares painted white-on-black with poetic, personal urban scrawl.

 

Much of the work in GWC Expanded was experimental and, like poetry spoken to the wind, was probably intended to be temporal and to promote a heightened sense of appreciation of the moment. GWC Expanded had the fun feeling of a graduate thesis show at an MFA program. It would be nice if something sells, but so what if it doesn’t?

Donald Kuspit once spoke to me about being skeptical about everything presented as “art.” Indeed, warning lights should go on whenever retired hedge fund traders and wealthy individuals position themselves as the defining mavens of culture. Whimsical, non-committal and nonchalant is non-compelling by nature. For good or bad, some trends of the times were observed at GWC: efforts to obfuscate and trivialize meaning, a lack of compelling conviction, and an overuse of metaphor and ambiguity. I found myself searching for jewels and mysteries hidden within the details of individual artworks. It felt like having candy for desert but skipping the main course. That’s not necessarily good or bad; it’s just a sign of the times.

There was no place to sit down and talk shop at GWC. Maybe next time GWC will offer a guest lounge. Artists aren’t the only people who appreciate the ethereal, fleeting moments of life. GWC Expanded was not intended to be everything for everybody, but it was an important and successful exhibition of contemporary artworks in a city that needs more of that. Curator Michael Hall organized an intriguing show. It was a beautiful thing, watching 25 galleries and curatorial projects work together to create an inspiring cultural event.

 

Also exhibiting at GWC 2017:

Nick Albertson at Aspect/Ratio

Alison Veit and Jack Schneider at Beautiful

Clay Mahn at devening projects + editions

Sterling Lawrence at Document

Danny Giles at Andrew Rafacz

Jonathan Muecke at Volume

 

All photographs by Bruce Thorn unless otherwise noted.

 

Bruce Thorn is a Chicago based painter and musician. He has degrees in painting and drawing from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the University of Illinois at Chicago. He is also a contributing writer to Neoteric Art.

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