CHICAGO HAS LOADS of galleries, and museums (see listings in Section 2), and fall is a great time to explore them because of all the openings.
The current hub of the gallery scene is the West Loop; ground zero is 119 N. Peoria. On the second floor, the work at Britton Bertran’s recently relocated Gallery 40000 (312-738-0179) is what I call “rainbow” art, spawned by punk-identified collectives specializing in noise music, zines, trippy mandalas, and references to elves, yetis, Sasquatch, crystals, orgies, beards, and anything with antlers. The current exhibit is by Josh Mannis, best known for jam-packed manipulated photos and psychedelic videos. Also on the second floor is the nonprofit ThreeWalls (312-432-3972), which gives artists residencies of six to eight weeks to create installations in its petite white cube. Sometimes the art is “mod,” by which I mean austere, formal, monochromatic photo-based work and mechanically fabricated sculpture. Or it might be at the opposite end of the spectrum— sumptuous, ornate arrangements of skulls, mirrors, grids, precise wallpaper abstractions. Local podcast critics and upcoming ThreeWalls residents Bad at Sports described Stephanie Dotson’s recent baroque installation as something like an immersive Macy’s window. This month’s show features Juan Perdiguero’s spare, elegant images of dogs.
Other places on the second floor include Bodybuilder & Sportsman (312-492-7261), Chicago’s blue-chip independent space. Started by Tony Wight nearly a decade ago, Bodybuilder showcases what I call Chicago’s “carny” style—art that’s often scuffed, gloopy, and crowded with detail. It may evoke old-timey design, commercial illustration, outsider art, puppets, or circuses. It’s big on figure and landscape painting and on obsessive wood or cardboard models, and the work often combines painstaking technique with slapdash bravura. If it’s truly Chicago, it includes Old Style cans. Bodybuilder is showing Scott Fife’s carefully crafted cardboard celebrity busts. Also on this floor, Wendy Cooper (312-455-1195) has a great paganoid show in the rainbow vein: gothic modernist wall art and videos by Belgian artists Aline Bouvy and John Gillis. On the third floor Bucket Rider (312-421-6993) shows bright, snazzy stuff in the flat, flashy west-coast “lowrider” style. This art might be drawings or paintings accompanied by texts on plywood or found objects, or it might be inflated Day-Glo sculptures inspired by cartoons, graffiti, or skater graphics. (Entrepreneurial lowrider artists create customized consumer items: T-shirts, skateboards, sneakers, etc.) The current exhibits are more rainbow, however, featuring primitivist fauve-ish paintings by Andrew Guenther and a group show that includes work by Plastic Crimewave, who heads local noise act Plastic Crimewave Sound, and a collaboration between Matteah Baim and flamboyant freak-folk icon Devendra Banhart.
Across the street is 118 N. Peoria, home of Monique Meloche (312-455-0299), currently exhibiting flat, delicate figurative work by Laura Mosquera. Rhona Hoffman (312-455-1990) shows some big names, including renowned hip-hop portraitist Kehinde Wiley this month. At Gescheidle (312-226-3500), which is upstairs, you can see Diane Christiansen’s cartoony paintings and an “exposé” of owner Susan Gescheidle by London-based curatorial collective Centre of Attention. Less than a block away, at 835 W. Washington, is Carrie Secrist (312-491-0917), which specializes in polished carny formalism. At the same address, Kavi Gupta (312-432-0708) pays its respects to lowrider and rainbow art in painterly exhibits. In September it’s showing vivid work by superstar San Francisco painter Chris Johanson and attractive, gentle pencil drawings by Christopher Garrett.
Moving west you’ll find the independent spaces that make up the West Town Gallery Network. It holds a gallery hop Saturday, September 23, from noon to 6 PM featuring a couple of outdoor performances: Jeanne Dunning’s “tomato fight” at 2 PM at Gallery 400 (400 S. Peoria) and Stan Shellabarger’s autumn equinox walking exercise in the northwest corner of Humboldt Park. At Duchess, 1043 W. Grand (312-933-5317), technology/fashion artist Huong Ngo is showing interactive costumes, backdrops, and props. Lisa Boyle (now at 1821 W. Hubbard, 773-655-5457) had a great carny exhibit this summer of hard-edged paintings and virtuoso constructions, best of which was Brian Getnick’s ingenious electrified cardboard- and-wood Hog Head Theater. The current exhibit features Andrea Myers and Jeffrey Beebe. Conceptualist powerhouse John Neff is at Western Exhibitions (also 1821 W. Hubbard, 312-307-4685), showing his plans for an invention “that enables users to replicate and rephotograph poses observed in gay male pornographic digital images using live models.” Corbett vs. Dempsey (1120 N. Ashland, 773-278-1664) has an intriguing selection of midcentury Chicago art.
Tracey Rose's The Prelude: Garden Path at Polvo
Nearby, at 1319 W. Lake, is the hybrid formed by two local fixtures, Butcher Shop/Dogmatic (312-375-7757). “The Longest Piss,” its show this month, features lowrider paintings by EC Brown and Renee Gory in yet another cross-institutional exchange: they’re associated with the lofty California Occidental Museum of Art (COMA), an apartment space at 1626 N. California that regularly hosts scrappy one-night group shows.
More isolated spots include Contemporary Art Workshop (542 W. Grant Pl., 773-472-4004), where you can often see good work by current students and recent grads. Beginning on September 29, School of the Art Institute MFA grads David Moreira and Matthew Stolle will be showing abstract work. And you can usually catch a good silk-screen poster show and some music at the multiuse South Union Arts building (1352 S. Union, 312-850-1049).
The new-wave conceptualist genre “agitpop”—which generally includes elliptical political art, maps, documented performances, and activist interventions—gets shown at some far-flung spots. In Pilsen it’s the fabulous Polvo (1458 W. 18th, 773-344-1940), which hosts adventurous group shows and creative projects in all media, with a focus on Latino work. Current exhibits include one by Tracey Rose about Christopher Columbus, a print show of South African artists, and a DVD by Sonia Baez-Hernandez documenting her body’s transformations as a result of cancer. The agitpop space closest to my heart, though, is Mess Hall in Rogers Park (6932 N. Glenwood, 773-465-4033). Its latest show is by Rum46, a Danish artistcurator collective. It’s worth checking Mess Hall’s calendar regularly (messhall.org) for all its great DIY workshops, performances, film screenings, and panel discussions. The longer you’re in Chicago, the more galleries you see go under or leave town. Help from philanthropists, collectors, and the government is scarce, so most small places are kept alive through sweat and persistence. When you visit a gallery you like, think about donating time or money, buying some art, or telling rich family members about it.