Judith Russi Kirshner

  • Don Baum

    In his historical bestseller Montaillou (1978), Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie uses the term “domus” to mean both family and house and so to describe the basic cell and unifying concept of social and cultural life in a 14th-century French village. After the death of a family head, bits of his fingernails and hair, materials that grow after death, became “bearers of intense vital energy,” and transformed the domus into a receptacle of mystical significance. In 1982, inspired by this book, Don Baum showed a group of tiny houses or huts made up of bits and pieces found along the shores of Lake Superior

  • “The Science Of Fiction/The Fiction Of Science”

    Just how spectacular spectacle can be was demonstrated in two nights of extremely sensitive programming of videotapes and television clips shown to audiences that numbered in the thousands and sat under the stars in the Petrillo Music Shell in Grant Park. Just how ironic this venue was (Grant Park was the site of riots during the 1968 Democratic convention) became abundantly clear when the predominantly youthful crowd booed at political advertisements for Ronald Reagan and cheered for John F. Kennedy: mass media replaces mass protest. The title of the event, “The Science of Fiction/The Fiction

  • Will Northerner

    After a tour of the galleries on New York’s Lower East Side, I returned to Chicago with a new perspective from which to gauge this city’s images and ways of seeing. Just as the Lower East Side has been treated in the press as a self-contained sphere emulating all that is good and bad in the larger art-marketing arena, so Chicago art has been compartmentalized as “regional.” Its separate identity partly reflects differences in style and subject matter from the art of the rest of the country; successive generations of Chicago imagists, who hold the copyright on figurative allegiance, have elegantly

  • Karl Wirsum

    A creation myth explaining the origins of Karl Wirsum might become paradigmatic for the whole Chicago Imagist school. The artist himself has noted that he and Bugs Bunny share the same year of birth (1939), as if that coincidental bit of chronology explains his predilection for cartoon characters in an ever-expanding repertory of bizarre hybrids drawn from popular culture and personal invention. Wirsum’s decision to become an artist was made while he was recovering from a skull fracture; he was five years old. After studying at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago he, along with Jim Nutt,

  • Dieter Roth

    The visual and acoustic spill of this installation was overwhelming, an excessive realization of horror vacui modeled like an illustrated book with many pages (more than 80 drawings, paintings, and prints) and many texts (over 70 books). The influence of Dieter Roth’s background in typography and design and his association with Nouveau Réalisme and Fluxus, references to Duchampian notions of chance and to Kurt Schwitters’ “Merz” collections and Dada manifestations—all these can be read into and filtered out of this work. Yet its historical and stylistic connections, and even the legacy of the

  • Robert Lostutter

    Robert Lostutter’s figurative allegiance, impeccably finished surface, and surreal inflection qualify him as a certified Chicago imagist. But in this exhaustive survey of 224 watercolors his obsessional qualities—control of artifice and single-minded pursuit of subject matter—go beyond the local geographical imperative. Instead we have a realer-than-real depiction of fantastical birdmen, fetishes, and exotic icons drawn from a private dream of tristes tropiques.

    Some of the earliest watercolors are preparatory studies for paintings; others are framed to expose marginal notes and color samples

  • Peter Joseph

    Peter Joseph’s quiet compositions are stubborn, even annoying in their refusal to be situated in current stylistic modes. They are also resistant to reference or association, and to legibility as texts. Mute to the point of being incommunicado, they seem to revel in unstylish Modernist self-referentiality despite their open forms. In this first American exhibition for Joseph, who is an art-world loner in his own country, England, all 13 acrylic paintings, done between 1973 and 1983, share a similar format: a horizontally or vertically placed rectangle of color within a border of a related hue.


    At a moment when every public personality and every inherited ideology is suspect, Tom Otterness has revived the ideological function of architectural friezes and unabashedly appropriated this antique vehicle for his own invented genealogy of royalty and female revolution, battles and triumphs, power struggles and contemporary final judgments. Architectural friezes traditionally commemorate or venerate ritual public occasions, military victories, or national achievements. More generic is the tradition of relief sculpture, an art that survives well on ancient sepulchral monuments and also migrates

  • Kenneth Shorr

    Kenneth Shorr has a strong sense of the artist’s obligation to speak out against oppression, whether it lurks among political dictators or tyrants of medical science, and an even more powerful voice as a playwright, director, and performer. Chief targets of his visual tirades are acknowledged evils like the Bomb and the Holocaust (Schorr takes the latter as his historical model of the paradigmatic atrocity). More demonstrator than diagnostician, Shorr sifts through preexisting photographic material from the ’50s and rifles texts for quotations to provide the legitimization and intellectual

  • Charles Wilson

    Charles Wilson’s dramatic installation of drawings, sculpture, and neon was saturated with the light from brilliant red illuminated inscriptions which were built into his pieces, and which picked out the titles and subjects like names on a movie marquee. The unlikely juxtaposition of cocktail-lounge atmospherics, tropical theatrics, and a World War II bomber was unexpectedly showy given the artist’s previous restrained, conceptually oriented photographic essays and sculpture, but was ultimately resolved, even homogenized, by the bath of warm light.

    This exhibition marked the first stage of a

  • “Compassionate Images”

    The theme of “Compassionate Images” for an exhibition of contemporary figurative painting reveals more about curatorial idealism than about the ideology of that art. What was most striking about this carefully selected and modulated exhibition, curated by Paul Krainak, was how much it looked like a show of portraits of people engulfed by sadness and loneliness. The emotional response one had to the images was not so much compassion as a matching sadness and confusion. The question then became that of who was demonstrating and who receiving the compassion—the artist, the subject, or the viewer?

  • Hollis Sigler

    Hollis Sigler cloaks a woman’s dilemma in the folds of a childlike style. This neo-naive can render distorted perspective exquisitely, can wield hatch strokes to make carpets bristle, walls buckle, and planes slide so that spatial dislocations correspond to psychological uncertainties. Sigler makes very pretty, indeed feminine paintings while retaining a strong emotional charge and maintaining her feminist position in the war between the sexes. The title of the first drawing in this show—I’ve Got This Job Of Being A Woman, 1982—announces her theme, but it is high-key carnival color and illustrative