This year for ArtSlant Chicago's Fall Review we did something a little different. Both Mia DiMeo and Abraham Ritchie hit the West Loop galleries and wrote their summaries in a timeline that reflects the hectic night while charting the course of the evening, the art, the galleries and the people they met. Each wrote their accounts independently and Ms. DiMeo's narrative is in black and Mr. Ritchie's is in gray.
4:30 P.M. (Abraham Ritchie) There’s this tendency that I have when looking at art to keep going and going in spite of hunger or thirst. This usually leads to an incident where I am dragged out of the museum/gallery by my companions so we can go eat. This year I decided to avoid this and got a light dinner before hitting the West Loop galleries with Richard Holland and Duncan MacKenzie of Bad at Sports, artist Meg Duguid, Jason Foumberg of NewCity, Adam Brooks from Industry of the Ordinary and Anna Kunz of Kunz, Vis, Projects.
6:30 P.M. (Abraham Ritchie) Fortified with dinner, everyone scatters in the way that usually happens when there’s a lot to see. I head to the 119 N. Peoria building to see the new exhibitions there and begin my live tweeting of the opening weekend.
Outside the 119 N. Peoria Ave. building on opening night. 2011.
6:30 P.M. (Mia DiMeo) I’ve missed the dinner, and I’m getting rained on. I meet a friend at McCormick Gallery, and head to the beverage table after dodging some awkward encounters and talking to an acquaintance about her wedding for twenty minutes. I suddenly remember that the big fall opening night is less about the art then it is about everything on the periphery—the artists, the galleries, the collectors, the groupies. And the booze, but the silver bucket is empty, the rain has stopped, and the room is clearing out. Smooshes of bluish green paint on canvas fill the walls with some expressionistic beach scenes (looks like some fingers were involved), and a few paintings of cylindrical chocolate cakes. I misread the title of one of the landscapes, Happy Mesa as Happy Mess.
Installation view of Zachary Cahill's "USSA 2012: The Orphanage Project" at threewalls. 2011.
6:45 P.M. (Abraham Ritchie) First up in the 119 Peoria building is threewalls, right at the top of the stairs. Threewalls opened their season with an exhibition by Zachary Cahill, who created artworks ranging from video installations to drawing to sculpture. I overhear several visitors voicing confusion about the exhibition and its politics, with huge pink foam letters spelling out USSA and capitalism and socialism addressed throughout; it looks something like a Tea Party nightmare via John Armleder. Bringing in everything, Cahill calls a lot into question. The installation in the back gallery is particularly effective. The gallery is completely blacked-out except for the light of a video playing, that greenishly illuminates a cave-like setting of stalagmites made of chicken wire and sprinkled with glitter. The video shows the artist licking a rough wall with vigor, but like Sisyphus he continues on and on. Given the politics of the exhibition, the whole setting struck me as a metaphor for the free market system as well.
7:00 P.M. More paint in Carrie Secrist Gallery, and it’s electric, if not electrocuting. There are flourescent green shapes floating in space, ‘70s-style rainbows, and arms and legs (tube socks and all) poking out where you least expect them. The paintbrush is a huge star in Andrew Holmquist’s “Worlds Collide!” and I like it.
Healing, a two-channel video installation by Todd Mattei traps me in the backroom with the sound of heavy breathing and images of two, very archetypal lamps pulsating in and out of focus. One is a classic linen shade with a golden glow; the other looks like it could be in an industrial studio space or an operating room. Freaky.
David Hartt. Cubicles at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, Midland, Michigan. 2009. Framed chromogenic print mounted to dibond. 48in x 60in / 122cm x 152cm. Edition of 6. Image courtesy of the artist and Golden Age.
7:30 (Abraham Ritchie) Like good neighbors, threewalls has opened the door it shares with Golden Age, allowing one to walk right from one gallery to the other and perhaps coincidentally from one political show into another. With the tenth anniversary of 9/11 only two days away Golden Age is one of surprisingly few Chicago art venues to acknowledge it, via their exhibition from David Hartt. The artist presents a single large-size photo depicting two cubicles with miniature American flags on them, overt displays of patriotism that became ubiquitous after the tragedy of 9/11, like the American flag lapel pin. The exhibition gains another layer when you learn that the photographs are taken at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, which originated the Overton window, “a policy framing device used to adjust public opinion on a particular subject by positing radical viewpoints and thereby shifting the frame of reference closer to an intended outcome.” With extremism grinding our country’s political process to a halt, and another kind of extremism leading to 9/11, Hartt’s stark photograph reminds the viewer of the danger on either side.
7:45 P.M. (Mia DiMeo) Kavi Gupta Gallery is swamped, and the presence of gray-haired collectors is highly visible. I see one meditating on a gold and violet composition of oil skins, and several flanking Angel Otero, who is opening his second solo show this year after Lehmann Maupin’s “Memento” in Chelsea last spring. He just has a "Dangerous Ability to Fascinate Other People" (shameless, I know), as his “deformation” process of drying oil paint on glass, peeling it off and collaging it, continues to yield interesting results. A few of the wrinkly abstractions reveal the faint images buried in his process, while others are content with indistinguishable Ab-Ex strokes. I’m anxious to continue watching him work things out with paint, as I’ve already seen his work change since February when I visited his studio in New York. There are no text works here, but the romantic titles he's been doing remain. Judging from this place, I’m just one of Otero's many fans.
Installation view of Jason Lazarus' "The Search" at Andrew Rafacz Gallery. 2011.
8:00 P.M. (Mia DiMeo) Andrew Rafacz is showing Jason Lazarus, and I’m excited. The white stepped structure takes up most of the space in the gallery, and I climb to the top to see two people sitting in the space inside. I'm told I can repel down to join them, but I'm still not sure if that's true. According to the description of the piece, The Search “will internally house conversations between pairs of interlocutors, sourced from Chicago’s vast and diversified community of writers, artists, scientists, philosophers, entrepreneurs, and politicians,” paired by the artist. This all sounds great, but right now people are sitting on the steps drinking. I am still a participating spectator to something, I guess. I'll come back and see this another day.
8:15 P.M. (Mia DiMeo) Barbara Kasten’s show at the Tony Wight Gallery is a mix of new geometric photos of Plexiglas and wire screens with cyanotypes, Polaroids and drawings on photo paper from the 1970s. Her simple materials and the studio process show themselves at will, but the bigger pieces are their own dark worlds to get lost in. “Ineluctable” is enticing and deserves more time, but I’m running out.
Opening night reception at Western Exhibitions. 2011.
8:30 P.M. (Abraham Ritchie) I’ve been running into people non-stop and am no doubt behind schedule as I leave the 119 Peoria building. My final stop there was Western Exhibitions that are showing Stan Shellabarger’s new work. Shellabarger is conceptually interested in the idea of the trace and his new work follows in this line of inquiry, particularly the Dragging Book where the artist dragged his hands across ten steel plates while wearing sandpaper-covered gloves and pacing to-and-fro. Using the resulting plates, he printed an artist book that is on display. Shellabarger’s show was quiet and meditative, one I will have to revisit on the weekdays when the gallery is quiet, meditative.
In Western Exhibitions’ Gallery 2, the work of Maria Petschnig is presented in the exhibition “With the Door Closed.” Sure enough a door had been hung across the entrance to Gallery 2, though it was propped open for the packed reception. Inside, the gallery space has been converted into a domestic room with a lamp, a shag rug, a TV. and photos of an unidentifiable body (later learnt to be that of the artist) wearing various bondage/fetish clothing. The TV plays a video of the artist wearing the clothing, just sort of lounging around after what appears to have been a day’s work. The perspective of the video is voyeuristic, like that of a hidden camera planted in a hotel room. The whole feeling of entering the room was that of intrusion, or stumbling on a secret better left unknown, like finding your Dad’s hidden porn collection. It brought to mind the Kinsey Reports, which shocked 1950s America by revealing that we’re a whole lot kinkier than we let on.
As I left Western Exhibitions and the Peoria building I ran into Mia DiMeo whom I had been trying to meet up with.
8:30 P.M. (Mia DiMeo) The 119 Peoria building is spewing people out of its doors. I shuffle up the stairs and run into Abraham Ritchie in the hall, but push through to Western Exhibitions. Stan Shellabarger’s woodcuts teach the old media new tricks, and beyond their conceptual and performative stories, they look pretty, and the long, narrowness of several of the pieces fit the gallery space perfectly. The central, accordion-fold artist book is a six-color reductive woodcut print made from the artist pacing across the panels with sandpaper attached to his boots; another book is made with sandpaper-covered gloves. Two black and white photos show a man walking what looks like a crop circle through leafless tree branches—documents of the artist’s 1993 performance where he encircled the space intermittently for an entire year. I’m intrigued.
Gallery 2 is decorated with a green shag rug and a lamp and it’s hard to get a good look at Maria Petschnig’s work because it’s crowded in the tight space. My friend and I admire her bondage gear—repurposed 1980s/1990s neon-print swimwear, artfully shredded, with mesh, and straps. Photos of the artist in the costumes, some of which appear in the video performance “An Evening at Home” are cropped with formalism in mind, and I’m reminded a bit of Chicago Imagist Christina Ramberg’s truncated fetish paintings of the 1960s.
At threewalls I overhear no less than three people saying that their whisky and ginger tastes “smoky” and “like burnt wood.” Time is running out, and Zachary Cahill’s “USSA 2012: The Orphanage Project” has a lot going on, but I can’t see the drawings on the wall very well because of a large brown sculpture on a platform dominating the narrow space. It’s relational, all right, and there’s lots of subtext about capitalism, “the mythic Orphan, torn from any root or history and presumably set-free to self-author,” and so on. There are big pink letters, and a trash bag-lined “cave” with wire stalagmites with an upside down. Hmm. I get one of those smoky cocktails and try to like it all, but I think it's best saved for a clear head on another day.
Jason Lazarus sits atop his construction in "The Search." 2011.
8:30 P.M. (Abraham Ritchie) I’ve made it over to the Andrew Rafacz Gallery for Jason Lazarus’ “The Search.” When Lazarus and I sat down for an interview for ArtSlant a couple of years ago he was identifying as a photographer, but he has since moved into a conceptual art practice. It is a logical progression since the conceptual aspect always drove his photography. His stepped ziggurat-like structure at Andrew Rafacz by this time of the night had accumulated many little scuffs from visitors climbing up it, turning it into a physical record of the night and the participants. And climb up it you must, since at the top you reach a ladder where you can climb down to an cozy internal space, again den-like with lamps and chairs, where Lazarus has arranged for conversations with “interlocutors.” I enjoyed watching an actual physical metaphor for the art world in action, and partook in climbing to the top of the pyramid as well, but I arrived too late in the night for an encounter with an interlocutor it seemed. So I climbed back out to chat with the artist about his move to conceptual practice on the steps of the structure. We resolved to talk more at another time.
8:45 P.M. (Abraham Ritchie) It’s across the hall to Kavi Gupta Gallery. Apparently their reception had ended forty-five minutes early at 8 o'clock so I ended up having the gallery lights turned off on me as I tried to take in Angel Otero’s new work. Yet another place to revisit.
9:15 P.M. (Mia DiMeo) We try to make it to ebersmoore, but stop at Linda Warren where they are showing too many bad portraits that look like the conflation of Jim Nutt and Francis Bacon.
Installation in "Young Contemporaries" at CourtneyBlades. 2011.
9:15 P.M. (Abraham Ritchie) I miss both ebersmoore and Packer Schopf by heading a few blocks north to a newcomer to the Chicago West Loop gallery scene, CourtneyBlades. This is clearly the new art school gallery of the year, featuring an exhibition aptly titled “Young Contemporaries.” This would also account for the dance party that was gearing up as I checked out the basement installations of artwork, the highlight of which was a blinking neon sign that flashed “OM” next to an enigmatic spigot sprouting from the wall and dispensing even more enigmatic purple drink, spiked with vodka. Now that’s instant karma.
9:30 P.M. (Abraham Ritchie) Just steps west from CourtneyBlades is 65GRAND, beginning their season with paintings by William Staples. I see a reclining St. John, instantly recognizable from Poussin’s St. John on the Island of Patmos, so it’s immediately clear that Staples has been spending a lot of time in the Art Institute of Chicago with the master painters and it has been productive. Other paintings confirm that, as Staples seems to wrestle with Cézanne, particularly as seen in Flowers, one of those rare moments in art where you just catch your breath and stare. I’m pretty sure I held Claudine Isé’s ear for an uncomfortably long time about this work, but it was the most amazing piece I saw all night. So many artists strive for the new without considering the significant challenges of the past masters. Staples is willing to take on those challenges on his way to producing something new and the work he creates is distinctly fresh, cerebral, firmly painterly and highly rewarding.
William Staples. Bathers, 2011. Oil, acrylic, sand and string on linen . 12 x 17 in. Image courtesy of the artist and 65GRAND.
9:30 P.M. (Mia DiMeo) I finish at the two West Town neighbors, CourtneyBlades and 65GRAND. Maybe I’m fading, but “Young Contemporaries” does little for me. I’m told later that I missed out on something in the basement. I reunite with Abraham at 65GRAND, where he is gushing over the William Staples show, “Picture Framing,” especially an ochre canvas of flowers in a vase. It’s not my favorite in the room, but I do like the warmth and use of sand in Bathers and Mountain (after Poussin) and the stained look of the paint on canvas. Consciously referential but somehow renewed, modernist tendencies have followed me most of the night, ending up right here.