Michelle Grabner

  • Theaster Gates

    Three neon signs punctuate Theaster Gates’s powerful installation of new paintings and sculptures. Progress Mill, 2018, the only work occupying the spacious entrance gallery, takes the form of a single generic infographic. White and red neon tubes delineate the circular symmetry of a reductive pie chart outlined in black, seemingly bereft of any textual information but in fact adapted from W. E. B. Du Bois’s visualizations of Black demographics in the United States in 1900—specifically Du Bois’s black-and-red line drawing titled “Proportions of Whites and Negroes in the different classes of

  • Nathaniel Robinson

    In “The Sensible Range,” his 2013 exhibition at Chicago’s Devening Projects, Nathaniel Robinson offered up an installation of simplified vernacular sculptures. Last year, in his exhibition at New York’s Magenta Plains, “No One’s Things,” he deployed scale shifts and graphic color to highlight the uncanny in the shapes of disposable cups, a milk jug, and a pup tent. Robinson’s most recent exhibition at Devening Projects was straightforwardly titled “Paintings” and marked a departure from deftly crafted trompe l’oeil objects to representational paintings. Even in this shift, Robinson proved adept

  • Daniel G. Baird

    A long, thin, rectilinear basin traced the perimeter of the gallery at the intersection of the walls and floor in Daniel Baird’s immersive allegorical environment murmur, 2019. Occupying the position normally held by a baseboard radiator, the basin contained a submerged collection of pumps and hoses. Pushed up against the gallery’s outer wall, on the floor, was an absurdly long power strip whose glowing red light confirmed that a live electrical current was running through the attached tangle of black cords, enabling water to travel from a holding tank up to ten spigots, most mounted on the

  • Sara Greenberger Rafferty

    At the entrance to Sara Greenberger Rafferty’s saturated précis on the props of studio photography, two black-framed photographs, each indexing thirty-nine scanned 35-millimeter slide images arranged in a loose grid, hung side by side. The tiny positive images exposed in Slide I and Slide II (University of Michigan Extension) (all works 2018) documented a variety of color-calibration and white-balancing cards, often juxtaposed with a white human hand as a test subject. Evincing Rafferty’s material interest in transparent supports for photographs, these ink-jet prints were transferred onto clear

  • Torkwase Dyson

    Colliding abstract shapes dominate the seven canvases that constituted Torkwase Dyson’s exhibition “James Samuel Madison.” The title of the show gestured toward the symbology of the shapes: Madison is the artist’s maternal grandfather, who migrated from the American South to the North as a child and who personifies, for Dyson, the politics of migration and movement that she formally explores in her paintings. In the gallery’s press release, Dyson explained that “the body unifies, balances, and arranges itself to move through space . . . a skill used in the service of self-emancipation within

  • picks December 11, 2018

    Gaylen Gerber

    If you spend enough time scrutinizing the artifacts gathered in Gaylen Gerber’s survey exhibition, you will discover a moment of leaching, where a sepia stain seeps through from a twentieth-century wooden protective figure, sullying the pristine white layer of paint intended to cover it. In this rare uncontrolled moment of the exhibition, the material world leaks through the confines of a conceptual project that probes the constructs of cultural value, originality, and authorship. Gerber’s sixty works (all titled Support, n.d.) consist of a range of objects (diverse in provenance and purpose)

  • Josh Reames

    In each of the four paintings in Josh Reames’s exhibition “BO-DE-GAS,” uniformly distributed idiomatic images floated graphically on raw canvas surfaces. Punctuating each of the intimate gallery’s four walls, the paintings were supplemented with three black, wall-mounted handrails that sported a selection of attitude-declaring bumper stickers. The works are stylistically indebted to the appropriation work of the 1980s, such as the commodity-driven, logo-festooned work of Ashley Bickerton, Matt Mullican, and Peter Nagy, and to the later work of Laura Owens. Yet Reames’s lexicon of found imagery

  • A. Laurie Palmer

    The Rogers Park community borders Evanston, Illinois, on Chicago’s far north side. In 1992, the collective Haha, comprised of artists A. Laurie Palmer, Wendy Jacob, John Ploof, and Richard House, initiated a project in a Rogers Park storefront that involved growing hydroponic vegetables and herbs for people with HIV. The project was called Flood. In addition to serving as a distribution point for meals and produce, the storefront functioned for three years as a hub for educational activities and alternative therapies. Not far from Flood’s former Greenleaf Street location is the noncommercial

  • passages May 15, 2018

    James Yood (1952–2018)

    IN 1989, the same year I started graduate school at Northwestern University, Jim Yood was hired as the college’s lecturer and assistant chair in the department of art theory and practice. He had stepped in to take the reins from the cantankerous art critic Dennis Adrian, who was proudly dispassionate about anything that diverged from a Chicago Imagist tradition. It was here where my deep and enduring respect for him began.

    For the past twenty-nine years, Jim has never stopped teaching me. He taught me the virtue of the art review. As a spirited advocate for Chicago, he underscored the cultural

  • Beverly Fishman

    “CHEMICAL SUBLIME" opened with a brutally colored, hard-edge abstraction, Untitled (Sleepiness, Antipsychotic, Pain), 2017. The work was one of nine shallow relief paintings on wood that punctuated the walls of the sizable main gallery and a smaller annex space. Extreme and confrontational in their color combinations, the compositions are derived from simple three-dimensional geometric forms, many with rounded edges, which are compressed to depths of two inches. The faces of the paintings are exquisitely constructed from machine-cut raised panels and negative cutaways, their side profiles exposing

  • Nathalie Djurberg and Hans Berg

    This midcareer survey of Berlin-based artists Nathalie Djurberg and Hans Berg, “A Journey Through Mud and Confusion with Small Glimpses of Air,” marks their first comprehensive exhibition at a major museum in their home country of Sweden. Djurberg has been refining her Claymation technique since 2001, folding visceral allegories and painterly tableaux into fantastical tales propelled by the deep biological drives for sex, violence, and power. Berg, her collaborator since 2004, sets these narratives to hypnotic electronic soundtracks that offer profundity to the absurdity

  • John McAllister

    The ten works (all 2017) that constituted John McAllister’s exhibition “botanic haunting soft-static” were systematically built out of visual vocabularies that bridge the pictorial and the decorative, comprising organic contours and geometric patterns, tonal atmospheres and linear perspectives, thick outlines and full-spectrum transitions, distant horizons and shallow window frames. McAllister calls upon still-life and landscape traditions to host these seemingly contrary structural languages. The influence of modernists such as Henri Matisse, Odilon Redon, Édouard Vuillard, and Gustav Klimt

  • Nate Young

    Vestigial representations of the occult were harnessed in “Cleromancy,” Nate Young’s exhibition of six works from the past year that obliquely layered a range of personal and political histories, touching on subjects such as black jockeys, the Great Migration, divining, and family mythology. Densely distributing the works on three walls of the light-filled gallery, Young invoked a symmetrical, chapel-like display punctuated at the end wall with Untitled, a two-part piece. Composed of a single horse bone mounted on a walnut pedestal in front of an illusionistic graphic depiction of a similar

  • Martha Tuttle and Henry Chapman

    Martha Tuttle and Henry Chapman have long shared a poetic appreciation of painting and a fondness for geometric abstraction, in particular that of Agnes Martin’s canvases. The two artists—who were colleagues in graduate school at Yale University and subsequently studio mates in Queens but now live on opposite coasts (Chapman in Berkeley, California, and Tuttle in New York)—were reunited at Rhona Hoffman this past summer. The exhibition showcased their intense personal dialogue by examining a group of 2017 paintings that favor order and the formalist principles of wholes and repetition

  • picks April 10, 2017

    Jessica Halonen

    Jessica Halonen’s exhibition has more than the color blue in common with author Maggie Nelson’s Bluets (2009), which features a prose style that threads together 240 fragments around blue and its many historical associations. Halonen’s elegantly precise exhibition comprising four discrete works advances an appreciation for refined craft, art history, the aesthetic of wonder, and scholarly research into the eighteenth-century discovery of Prussian blue. Similar to the literary snippets of Bluets, each contribution to this show commingles the familiar with the inexplicable, science with enchantment,

  • picks March 16, 2017

    Jeffrey Gibson

    For two days during the winter of 1993, Guillermo Gómez-Peña and Coco Fusco performed as ostensible natives from the mythical island of Guatinaui in the main lobby of Chicago’s Field Museum. In a sturdy cage, the pair of artists enacted supposedly traditional dances, crafted voodoo dolls, watched TV, and paced the interior perimeter of their confine. Fusco wore a grass skirt and face paint, while Gómez-Peña donned a wrestling mask and blue shorts. The performance was an act of absurdist cultural appropriation, which in turn exposed the unethical and routine practices of Western colonization and

  • picks January 31, 2017

    Albert Oehlen

    Since the 1980s, Albert Oehlen has routinely deployed the tree as a programmatic conceit, a rudimentary scheme that has allowed for mischievous invention within the language of painting. As a rhizomatic figure, the tree offers vast and circuitous navigation potential. It possesses a core (trunk), diverging pathways (branches), and an infinite number of regenerating underground conduits (roots), and thus it is an ideal trope for routing and re-routing painting’s histories and influences. It is not surprising that the artist insists on using the anatomy of a plant over purely abstract and inorganic

  • Fred Wilson

    Fred Wilson’s exhibitions “Wildfire Test Pit” and “Black to the Powers of Ten,” which have taken over two galleries of the Allen Memorial Art Museum, a venerated teaching collection at Oberlin College, are sagacious follow-ups to the artist’s recent installation at the Cleveland Museum of Art. In the CMA’s Glass Box Gallery, an architecturally scaled glass vitrine inserted into the museum’s original Beaux Arts edifice, Wilson presented a spare installation of merely four works. Conversely, these exhibitions represent his largest combined project to date: an abundant gathering of the artist’s

  • “Louise Fishman: Paper Louise Tiny Fishman Rock”

    In tandem with an independently organized retrospective at the Neuberger Museum of Art, Purchase College, State University of New York, this hometown survey of Fishman’s fifty-year-long career features the painter’s esteemed large-scale gestural abstractions alongside a selection of intimate studio investigations—an assortment of miniature paintings, sketchbooks, and small sculptures—that share the same physicality and unapologetic emotional punch as her bigger, iconic works. The exhibition’s hinge is Self-Portrait, Fishman’s 1960 self-portrait as a boxer,

  • Paul McCarthy

    White Snow Placemat Drawings, WS, 2013–14, a set of six scallop-edged paper place mats, each depicting an assortment of quickly drawn, naked, dripping, hairy figures engaged in various acts of dominance or submission, set the tone for this simultaneously abject and exuberant show. The coffee and grease stains absorbed into the paper fibers of the place mats evoke bodily fluids discharged by the penciled figures inhabiting the indeterminate pictorial spaces that crowd the savaged found supports. These works were among the fifty-seven included in what was—somewhat unbelievably—Paul