Arts & Culture » Art Feature

Our six best bets for fall visual arts

Expo Chicago and a look inside Studio Gang Architects highlight a busy season


Correction: The original version of our Best Bet item on "Afterimage" omitted and confused information relating to the main exhibit and its three satellite shows.


For better and worse, Chicago artists still work in the sloppy, funky, garish shadow of the Imagists—that bunch, including the likes of Gladys Nilsson, Jim Nutt, Ed Paschke, and Roger Brown, who hit their prime in the late 60s, practicing a sort of surreal, insurgent version of pop art. "Afterimage" is intended both to celebrate and question the Imagists’ legacy. Curated by Thea Liberty Nichols and Dahlia Tulett-Gross, the show features work by 24 of their aesthetic descendants. It will run through November 18 at the DePaul Art Museum.

There are also three "partner" shows on the same theme. At the School of the Art Institute's Roger Brown Study Collection (situated in what was once Brown's Lincoln Park studio), local artists Carl Baratta, Onsmith, and Edra Soto have been invited to create "micro exhibitions" that draw on knickknacks, curios, and art from their own collections—a way of exploring cultural influences they may or may not share with their famous forebears.

Meanwhile, "Spotlight Exhibition: Afterimage"--already up at Columbia College’s Center for Book and Paper Arts—takes a further look at Imagism's children. Along with more by Onsmith and Soto, it includes Eric Lebofsky's self-published books; experimental woodblock prints by Baratta, Isak Applin, Oli Watt, and Paul Nudd; and Lilli Carré’s marvelous animations. [see Lit Best Bet: Shadow Play] And "Afterimage: Selections from the Joan Flasch Artists' Book Collection" makes multigenerational connections by offering side-by-side examples.

In the Imagist spirit, the exhibits highlight links between high and low art, comic books and tchotchkes, as well as the aesthetics of heterogeneous agglomeration. But they also emphasize a great gift the Imagists gave Chicago: a vision of art as the product not of isolated genius but of communities—friends and colleagues, the dead and living, curators, artists, and everyone else—creating a joyful mess together. Noah Berlatsky "Afterimage": 9/14-11/18: Mon-Thu 11 AM-5 PM, Fri 11 AM-7 PM, Sat-Sun noon-5 PM, DePaul Art Museum, 935 W. Fullerton, 773-325-7506,, free. "Afterimage at the Roger Brown Study Collection": 9/15-11/18: Sat 1-4 PM and by appointment, Roger Brown Study Collection, 1926 N. Halsted, 773-929-2452,, free. "Spotlight Exhibition: Afterimage": Through 12/7, Mon-Sat 10 AM-6 PM, Columbia College Chicago Center for Book & Paper Arts, 1104 S. Wabash, 312-369-6630, "Afterimage: Selections from the Joan Flasch Artists' Book Collection": 9/14-11/11: Mon-Thu 9 AM- 7:30 PM, Fri 9 AM- 4 PM, Sat noon-3 PM, film screening event Tue 10/2, 6 PM, Joan Flasch Artists' Book Collection, Flaxman Library, 37 S. Wabash, #508, 312-899-5098,, free.

Expo Chicago

The most anticipated creation at the International Exposition of Contemporary/Modern Art and Design is the show itself. The studio of Chicago starchitect Jeanne Gang [see below] is designing the new fair, which runs September 20-23 at Navy Pier—the same place where John Wilson's Chicago International Art Expo reigned in the 1980s as one of the art world's hottest tickets. Gang's layout is "inspired by the urban grid of Chicago," with gallery-lined "streets" crossed by a diagonal "avenue." Huge Mylar cones suspended from the ceiling look like they'll generate reflections, like Anish Kapoor's Millennium Park "Bean."

The big question is whether Expo president Tony Karman can attract the big-bucks buyers who make or break fairs. Karman—who started out in the business as a security guard for the Wilson show—says he's emphasizing quality over quantity, limiting his roster to 120 "premier" international galleries. Look for a "young" galleries section; some large-scale installations; pop-up performance pieces; and a lecture series, starting Thursday, September 20, 10:30 AM, with a talk by one of my favorite art-world characters, New York magazine critic Jerry Saltz. Deanna Isaacs 9/20-9/23: Thu-Sat 11 AM-7 PM, Sun noon-6 PM, Navy Pier, Festival Hall, 600 E. Grand,, $20 for one day, $65 for a four-day pass.

Danh Vo: We the People

In 1979, when he was four years old, Danh Vo's family sailed from Vietnam in a wooden boat, headed for the United States. They didn't get here. They were swept up by a Danish tanker instead, and taken to Denmark along with about 100 other refugees. Settling in uneasily, they had to abandon Vietnamese conventions like that of putting the family name before the given name. Thus Vo Danh became Danh Vo—a transformation he explores in the ongoing Vo Rosasco Rasmussen, in which he picks up new surnames by marrying and quickly divorcing acquaintances.

As an emigre, Vo is drawn to issues of identity, memory, and colonialism. He engages all three with We the People, cohosted here by the Art Institute and the Renaissance Society. The work is nothing more nor less than a full-scale replication of the Statue of Liberty, displayed in pieces. Hunks of the statue line gallery floors at both venues, some of them identifiable—a hand, say—and some looking like anonymous shards. Vo reenacted the process by which the statue was molded, using copper as did Liberty sculptor Frédéric Bartholdi But there's one crucial difference: where Bartholdi built the original in France, Vo's version was made in China. Sam Worley 9/23-12/16: Tue-Fri 10 AM-5 PM, Sat-Sun noon-5 PM, Renaissance Society. 5811 S. Ellis, 773-702-8670,, free. Then 9/23-10/28: Mon-Sun 10:30 AM-5 PM, Wed 10:30 AM-8 PM, 111 S. Michigan, 312-443-3600,, $12-$18, Wed free. We the People will be accessible for free viewing 11/8-4/2013, when it moves from the AIC's Pritzker Garden to its Bluhm Terrace.

Building: Inside Studio Gang Architects

Jeanne Gang can't be said to suffer from underexposure. She was already plenty acclaimed when the MacArthur Foundation handed her a pile of money last September, just for being a genius. The fact that her most famous work to date—the rippling, 82-story Aqua Tower—was completed just two years ago suggests that there's much more coming from this 48-year-old Chicagoan who started Studio Gang Architects in 1997.

This fall the Art Institute hosts an appraisal of Gang's career, "Building: Inside Studio Gang Architects," which takes the measure of her output by holding it up against four criteria: "relationship to nature, questions of density, community-building, and architecture as performance." Those themes seem particularly well suited to Gang's work, which is preoccupied with issues of environment and community; her plan for a carbon-neutral environmental center on the far south side, for instance, calls for a structure modeled on a nest and built with materials salvaged from the area.

The AIC exhibit comprises two parts. One highlights the detritus of creation—sketches, models, and such from various Studio Gang projects. The other is a workshop space designed to serve as a home for "Archi-Salons": discussions meant to place Gang's work within the larger context of modern architecture. Sam Worley 9/24-2/24: Mon-Sun 10:30 AM-5 PM, Wed 10:30 AM-8 PM, 111 S. Michigan, 312-443-3600,, $12-$18, Wed free.

Occupy Berkeley from Solidarity by R.Black
  • Occupy Berkeley from Solidarity by R.Black

Solidarity: A Memory of Art and Social Change

Nothing depresses a progressive like a presidential campaign, and "Solidarity: A Memory of Art and Social Change" runs through the final month of ours, ending the weekend before the election—which also, rather poetically, happens to be the weekend ending daylight saving time. So, no matter which asshole survives to drive another nail into the coffin of the left, this show portends a benighted season.

But, ah, daylight! In the meantime we'll have what promises to be a compelling collection of political art, taking us from the Mexican student revolt of 1968 all the way up through the Occupy and current antiwar movements. "Solidarity" is the work of Mexico City-based curator Jimena Acosta and offers a broad look at a strain of activism that's found public expression in designs by agitators as far afield as Emory Douglas of the Black Panther Party's ministry of culture; Cuban-American artist Coco Fusco, whose subjects include women, indigenous peoples, immigrants, and war; Forkscrew Graphics, a collective responsible for the "iRaq" series, which reproduces images of soldiers and torture in the style of an Apple ad campaign; and—speaking of presidential politics—Shepard Fairey, creator of the famous Barack Obama "Hope" poster. Sam Worley Opening reception Thu 9/27, 5-8 PM. Through 11/3: Tue-Sat 11 AM-5 PM, Thu 11 AM-8 PM, 619 S. Wabash, 312-369-8687,, free.

Awash in Color

Setting aside the considerable visual appeal of the woodblock prints it denotes, I've always been drawn to the very romantic term ukiyo-e—"pictures of the floating world." In Edo-era Japan, ukiyo-e depicted the newfound pleasures enjoyed by the prosperous urban classes: a night at the theater, a trip to the countryside, the company of a geisha.

The conventional narrative says that when Commodore Matthew Perry opened Japan to trade in the 1850s, ukiyo-e started making its way into Western markets, where it particularly influenced French artists like Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. The curators of "Awash in Color" consider that an oversimplication. They say the familiar tale "emphasizes the impact of one artistic culture upon another, ignoring the fact that both Japan and France had flourishing traditions of color printmaking before the opening of Japan." And so this new show at the Smart Museum of Art duly complicates things by presenting more than 100 pieces, both French and Japanese, that follow the history of printmaking in both countries, from the beginning of the 18th century up through the 20th. It seems the Japanese and the French influenced each other in more free-form—indeed, floating—ways than most of us imagined. Sam Worley 10/4-1/20: Tue-Sun 10 AM-5 PM, Thu 10 AM-8 PM, Smart Museum of Art, 5550 S. Greenwood, 773-702-0200,, free.

Comments (2)

Showing 1-2 of 2

Add a comment

Add a comment