Jessica Baran

  • Adrian Aguilera and Betelhem Makonnen, Untitled (a flag for John Lewis or a green screen placeholder for an America that is yet to be), 2020, nylon, 11' 8" × 20'. Installation view. From “From the Limitations of Now.” Photo: Melissa Lukenbaugh.

    “From the Limitations of Now”

    In 1975 novelist Ralph Ellison returned to his home state of Oklahoma, where a library was being named in his honor. “The library is a nexus of dreams,” he said in a speech written for the occasion, “a place where we are able to free ourselves from the limitations of today by becoming acquainted with what went on in the past—and thus project ourselves into the future.” Drawing upon Ellison’s faith in art as a distinct conduit for reflecting on multiple temporalities at once, “From the Limitations of Now” brings together works by more than twenty artists and collectives that conjure lively

  • Suellen Rocca, Night Light, 1968, oil on canvas with fabric frame, 51 x 41".
    picks August 23, 2021

    “Private Eye: The Imagist Impulse in Chicago Art”

    In Roger Brown’s painting Chicago Hit by the Bomb, 1985, three skyscrapers spewing smoke and flames from their torn-open roofs hover above a low row of one-story storefronts; within, silhouetted figures pantomime blandly exasperated gestures. Nothing makes sense, the apocalyptic elements nullified by the overall mundanity of the scene. In Suellen Rocca’s canvas Night Light, 1968, a vignette within a vignette, two puttylike femme forms flank the work’s edges. Inside of them, tiny acts of copulation, ejaculation, and digital stimulation unfold. Above the humanoid shapes, a small curtain parts to

  • Jesse Darling, with Erica Fitzgerald, Elan Schwartz, and Jackie Switzer, A Fine Line (detail), 2018/21, mixed media, dimensions variable.
    picks August 06, 2021

    “Wild Frictions: The Politics & Poetics of Interruption”

    As most of the more than two dozen works included in this thoughtful group show were made before the pandemic—a massive lapse in modern communication producing a shared sense of “before” and “after” between which spanned a paradigm-shifting period of social and political chaos—I found myself simultaneously imagining their meanings pre- and post-plague, an enormously rich exercise in temporal straddling that felt true to the exhibition’s prescient concern with the “politics and poetics of interruption.”

    Scattered throughout the exhibition and displayed on six self-scrolling smartphones anchored

  • Tim Portlock, soaring and idyllic, 2020, archival pigment print, 44 x 58".
    interviews February 12, 2021

    Tim Portlock

    Tim Portlock’s immersive digital cityscapes—rendered using 3-D computer gaming and special effects software—attempt to make real the discrepancy between the ideology of American exceptionalism and our lived experience. Blending traditional aesthetic tropes derived from nineteenth-century landscape painting with PS5 verisimilitude, his uncanny composites of US cities such as Philadelphia, San Bernardino, and St. Louis—where he’s now based—glitch conventional narratives for built environments that have been palpably reshaped by deindustrialization, white flight, and the aftermath of the housing

  • Elias Sime, Tightrope: Noiseless 8, 2019, reclaimed electrical wires and components on panel, 7' 6“ × 10' 8”. From the series “Tightrope,” 2019–20.

    Elias Sime

    After four months of forced isolation, I felt almost ecstatic experiencing Elias Sime’s work in person. The Ethiopian artist’s massive wall-mounted tableaux, a series of assemblages encrusted with elaborately patterned, discarded, and deconstructed consumer electronics, are magnetically immersive—laden with the kind of visual complexity and handwrought tactility that becomes nullified when viewing art on cell phones and computers. The work calls to mind a sprawling vista from an airplane window, an ephemeral perspective that seems all the more precious now, especially since air travel during

  • View of “Duro Olowu: Seeing Chicago,” 2020, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. Photo: Kendall McCaugherty.

    “Duro Olowu: Seeing Chicago”

    This boldly maximalist group exhibition curated by Nigerian-born British fashion designer Duro Olowu was the first show at the museum organized by a noninstitutional curator. It included more than three hundred pieces by more than 250 artists (exceeding the number of works in the 2019 Venice Biennale), borrowed from more than sixty private and institutional Chicago-area collections. Installed salon style and organized into six loosely thematic sections, the show was broadly international in scope, with a focus on postwar and contemporary African and African-diasporic artists, most of them female

  • Mamie Tinkler, Pool, 2020, watercolor and gouache on paper mounted to board, 17 1/2 x 16".
    interviews April 14, 2020

    Mamie Tinkler

    Mamie Tinkler has painted intimately scaled, meticulously observed watercolor still lifes for over fifteen years. The Memphis-born, New York–based artist’s tenaciously analog study of everyday objects—dishware, drapery, decorative keepsakes—evokes a Morandian quest disenthralled from traditionally gendered and abstemious formalist hierarchies. At a juncture that is challenging us to unlearn the desire for the remote and spectacular, Tinkler’s work stretches our capacity for perceiving what’s at hand. Her solo New York debut, at Ulterior Gallery, was shuttered at the outset of COVID-19 stay-at-home

  • Stephanie Syjuco, Cargo Cults: Cover-Up, 2016, ink-jet print, 20 × 16". From the series “Cargo Cults,” 2016.

    OPENINGS: STEPHANIE SYJUCO

    THE 2016 United States presidential election coincided with a surge in threats against vulnerable communities—an FBI report cited a nearly 20 percent increase in hate crimes the following year. The sharpest increases were in incidents related to race, ethnicity, and sexuality. One dominant explanation has narrativized a comfortable, fictional “before” and “after,” a troubling, liberal iteration of “make America great again.” But an alternative analysis is far more convincing: The events of the past few years did not represent a startling shift but rather a doubling down on that Western bedrock:

  • MEET ME IN SAINT LOUIS

    CHEROKEE STREET is a singular commercial thoroughfare in Saint Louis. Surrounded by an ethnically diverse low-income residential area, it’s home to the city’s largest Latinx population as well as its largest black community south of the North Side. After a handful of small, shaggy, and mostly short-lived alternative art spaces moved in roughly eighteen years ago, the area began to earn a reputation as a creative district; I directed one of those spaces for four years and lived on the street for six. The Luminary, a nonprofit run by Brea and James McAnally, was founded at a rental space in a

  • Garry Noland, If your six year old saw something like this, would he know how to phone for help? (detail), 1995–, April 1972 National Geographic magazines, decollage, photomontage, this component 10 x 7 x 1/2".
    picks March 08, 2019

    Garry Noland

    An economy of means and attention to the overlooked have always characterized Garry Noland’s practice, but the message has never felt more urgent than in this show, during this year, and in this country. The works are modest enough: A chunk of blue polystyrene affixed to darkened wood extrudes an arrow-shaped length of rebar in Anchor, 2015. This sculpture points toward a long row of issues of National Geographic from April 1972 hung on the gallery’s west wall. Their iconic covers were repeatedly incised to reveal the same three interior black-and-white images: smokestacks at the top, grazing

  • View of “Iowa Artists 2018: Jen Bervin” 2018–2019.
    picks December 21, 2018

    Jen Bervin

    Jen Bervin once described a friend’s hybrid art practice as “inexplicable work about knowledge,” which also seems to be the most succinct encapsulation of her own summary-defiant output. Moving freely between visual art and poetry, Bervin has produced more than a dozen strenuously researched and highly-regarded projects that include selective appropriations of Shakespeare's sonnets, reproductions of Emily Dickinson’s original fascicles and envelope poems, a palimpsest-like long-form poem written by stitching five thousand yards of blue thread through art historian John C. Van Dyke’s book The

  • View of “Ruth Asawa,” 2018–19. Photo: Alise O’Brien.

    Ruth Asawa

    “Life’s Work” is not merely the first solo museum retrospective devoted to Ruth Asawa (1926–2013) beyond the West Coast; it is also the first after a flurry of “rediscovery” exhibitions that have marked the artist’s transition from the margins to the canon proper. Building upon the foundational career-spanning survey in 2006 at San Francisco’s de Young Museum, subsequent shows up to this point have exhibited Asawa’s work as a corrective gesture, to counter racist and patriarchal art-historical models, while reiterating certain biographical narratives in response to prior dismissals: her childhood