Art in Chicago

Crown Fountain LED; Photo credit Genie Davis

Robust Museum Shows and Late Summer Gallery Offerings

Written by Genie Davis
One of the first things a visitor notices about Chicago is the huge – both literally and figuratively – commitment that the city has made to accessible public art. Within the downtown area alone, there are large-scale sculptural standouts that include Jean Dubuffet’s “Monument with Standing Beast,” the eye-popping orange/red of Alexander Calder’s “Flamingo,” and Pablo Picasso’s “Untitled,” works that draw visitors and residents alike. The Picasso even serves as an ersatz slide for little kids, with ten or more observed flocking to climb it during a brief visit. Perhaps the most magical is Crown Fountain in Millennium Park, which combines LED video art with water play in a really exciting interactive work. It’s the most recent addition to this group of works, having in 2004, created by Catalan artist Jaume Plensa and executed by Krueck and Sexton Architects.

With these public-pleasing works at in mind, it is hardly a surprise that both the Art Institute of Chicago and the Museum of Contemporary Art offer exhibitions that are must-sees even in the heat of summer.

At the Art Institute of Chicago, there’s Manet and Modern Beauty, an impressive exhibition by Edouard Manet focused on late images created as glowing, flowery, portraits of women, including his wife. While completely different than this superb exhibition, which is coming to the Getty in October, Eleanor Antin’s Times Arrow made a fascinating contrast in its own expression of the female image. The exhibition combines for the first time her self-portrait work in “Carving: A Traditional Sculpture” and “Carving: 45 Years Later.” Both projects feature the creation of 500 photographs over four months as a riveting, somewhat melancholy exploration of aging and time. In the later exploration, Antin notes that losing weight at an older age was a challenge, one that the artist felt her body fought “in a valiant and existential struggle to prevent its transformation into the skeleton beneath the protecting flesh.” Antin’s works “The Eight Temptations,” and her self-portrait in a red cape “!!!,” were also on exhibit.

Elsewhere in the museum, Dutch artist Christien Meindertsma uses art combined with research to explore the processing of natural materials often ignored in industrial society. Particularly compelling was an award-winning piece that displays the ways in which raw flax becomes a chair, with the self-explanatory title “Production for Flax Chair.” The works all have an ecological bent that focuses on sustainability versus overconsumption, while creating images that are beautiful as well as linked.

At the MCA, Virgil Abloh’s Figure of Speech had lines out the door on the weekend for its inclusive look at the fashion designer, sculptor, and creator; choosing a quiet Monday allowed ample time to take in the multi-gallery exhibition. The Chicago-born Abloh’s wide-ranging oeuvre makes him something of a modern Renaissance man. With a strong interest in urban architecture, large-scale sculptural works such as “Negative Space,” an unbranded bill board; and “Pink Panther,” created of insulation foam and inspired to some extent by Calder, are standouts. His neon “You’re Obviously in the Wrong Place” initially welcomed attendees to a high-fashion runway show, the Off-White Women’s Collection. Here, the work is paired with mannequins in 3-D printed foam, which were used at a Paris fashion debut of Abloh’s Louis Vuitton’s Men Collection earlier this year. The link between his fashion work and his sculptural pieces is firmly established here. A video interview with Abloh produced by the MCA and shown at the close of the exhibit, also bridged the disparate but linked creativity in Abloh’s different mediums together. The innovative show has been such a rousing success for the museum that it’s been extended through the end of September.

At Intuit, the Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art, current exhibitions include the drawings and poetry of Justin Duerr: Surrender to Survival. Stunningly mosaic-like works created with marker, pen, and inks are dazzling and mysterious, with a strong spiritual sensibility. The artist intends to connect the long, scroll-like works together in one mural. Already combined in a work that fills an entire wall of the gallery space is Jerry’s Map, from Michigan-based artist Jerry Gretzinger. He created an initial image as a doodle in 1963; the work now includes come 3600 panels, each 8 x 10”. The work represents a highly-detailed map of an imaginary world, and deserves a long look for its detail and innovative use of mixed media, including inkjet print, collage, acrylic, marker and ink based on his own instruction cards. Like Duerr, Gretzinger’s work shows an awe-inspiring attention to detail.

The Catherine Edelman Gallery offered the work of LA-based photographic artist Tami Bahat, in an inclusive, multi-gallery exhibition of her lush, painterly work, Past is Present. Bahat’s work often resembles that of old-school masters such as Rembrandt. Just closed, the show brought Bahat’s intricately created tableaus vividly to life with accompanying elements from her elaborate sets – a desk here, a chair there, and even a complete bedroom setting. The expansive gallery gave viewers a museum-like experience of Bahat’s work.

Close by, the Chicago Truborn Gallery, which bills itself as an “anti-gallery,” is currently featuring the work of another LA artist, Bunnie Reiss, in a lively mixed media group exhibition, 567. The show also features the work of Michelle Wanhala (zeyeone), Lady Lucx, Lauren Asta, and Liz Flores. A wild color palette and wide range of styles creates an eclectic show which has a distinct street art vibe. Along with exhibitions, the gallery also is busy with creating murals throughout Chicago – which brings us back full circle to the city’s obvious commitment to easily viewable public works that engage and enthrall.

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