Jessica Baran

  • 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

    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

  • “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

  • 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


    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:


    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

  • 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

  • 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

  • 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

  • picks October 23, 2018

    Martha Friedman

    Martha Friedman’s “Castoffs” appears at first to be a vast, sterile grid of white pedestals bearing fragments of archaic figurative sculpture. But descend among them, and one is quickly roused from this initial read. Metal spikes penetrate and dissect anatomical cement casts of arched feet, tensed spines, and clinched shoulders; extremities balance precariously on masses of rubber clotting in viscous chunks; latex tubes in brownish reds and dingy yellows protrude from limbs before looping back like intravenous lines. Intermittently, larger-than-life glass fingers beckon like some perverse siren’s

  • Amy Sherald

    The subjects of Amy Sherald’s meticulous, nearly life-size oil portraits confront the viewer with ambiguous expressions that are neither joyful nor melancholic. Their impassive gazes suggest interiorized contemplation and recognition of being seen. This intimate, seven-piece retrospective of her output from the past three years focused on works depicting one or two subjects standing against a flat monochromatic field, cutting bold totemic silhouettes out of bright voids. The outlier—also one of the more recent pieces, debuting in this show—situates a pair of women holding hands against the low

  • picks July 19, 2013

    Lari Pittman

    Through a mere twenty-four works of immodest scale, curator Kelly Shindler draws a nuanced, retroactive arc connecting Lari Pittman’s recent painterly tendencies to select pieces (dating, at the earliest, to the mid-1980s) that presage his current approach. Taking its title from Pittman’s 1993 painting Untitled #17 (A Decorated Chronology of Insistence and Resignation), this exhibition—the artist’s first museum retrospective in some twenty years—foregrounds Pittman’s use of a marginalized style (decoration) as an analogy for a marginalized identity (queer) and medium (painting in the ’70s).