Michelle Grabner

  • Joseph Yoakum

    The fabulist and inveterate drifter Joseph Yoakum was known to claim that he had traveled the world as a circus man, a soldier, and a train porter during the first six or so decades of his life. In 1962, at the age of seventy-one, he took up drawing and began working out of a storefront gallery on Chicago’s South Side, quickly becoming the self-taught paragon of the city’s art community. Yoakum’s visionary landscapes had an especially profound impact on the developing visual styles of the Chicago Imagists, who were rising to international prominence in the late ’60s (and who made him an honorary

  • Erika Rothenberg

    Since 1991, Erika Rothenberg has employed the form and generic sentimentality of the greeting card as a means of examining a vast range of social ills and political injustices. Rothenberg’s cards, executed simply in gouache and watercolor, evidence the artist’s active imagination and keen facility for satire, tackling themes (per the plaques that served to organize this exhibition) of “religion,” “crime,” “arts and culture,” “sexual abuse,” “abortion,” “civil rights,” “health,” and “education”—in sharp contrast to the congratulations and well wishes one might expect. The resulting compositions

  • Michael Kaysen

    The exuberant pre-crash 2007 exhibition “Makers and Modelers: Works in Ceramics,” in which sixty-four ceramic objects by thirty-one artists crowded Chelsea’s Gladstone Gallery, was a watershed moment for the medium. Today, it’s difficult to remember a time when ceramics was largely relegated to the world of craft, where its forms were attentively cultivated, assessed, and distributed. Or an art world without Sterling Ruby’s basins or Jessica Jackson Hutchins’s slovenly ceramic and furniture sculptures. Michael Kaysen’s exhibition of twenty-one vessels, each titled Bottle and collectively dating

  • “Arlene Shechet: All at Once”

    For more than twenty years, Arlene Shechet has rigorously worked at the material limits of plaster, paper pulp, and glass. In the past ten, she has also—and with increasing concentration—explored the possibilities of clay. Her experimental work in ceramics demonstrates a fierce aptitude for uninhibited, even overelaborate, sculptural form. Artists such as Jessica Jackson Hutchins and William O’Brien are indebted to Shechet’s ongoing interrogations of brash color, texture, and mischievous display tactics, including mash-ups of functional objects with idiosyncratic

  • Walter Robinson

    As Walter Robinson’s paintings have evolved, they’ve come to serve as an uncannily accurate gauge for the American art world’s analogously shifting, and increasingly nuanced, attitudes toward consumerism and mass culture. The artist’s early-1980s works—straightforward depictions of drugstore purchases, Budweiser beer cans, a plastic My Little Pony figurine, and Robinson’s personal friends, the artists Martin Wong and Mike Bidlo and critic Carlo McCormick—feature banal subjects facilely scumbled in acrylic paint and initially registered as an ironic wink to the viewer. The portraits

  • picks February 12, 2015

    “Implicated and Immune”

    In 1981, the New York Times ran a story with the headline “Rare Cancer Seen in 41 Homosexuals.” Over ten years later—the year that drug-therapy “cocktails” became an effective treatment in slowing down the disease—the first exhibition to respond to the epidemic in Auckland, “Implicated and Immune: Artists’ Responses to AIDS,” opened in 1992 at the Fisher Gallery. That milestone featured work from artists including Jack Body, Fiona Clark, L. Budd, and Fiona Pardington. Carrying forward the discourses that have shaped the social and cultural impact of HIV/AIDS in New Zealand, this reprise of that

  • Lucie Stahl

    Lucie Stahl’s exhibition at the venerated apartment gallery Queer Thoughts in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood was a fitting last project before the gallery relocates to downtown Manhattan. Known for featuring work that embraces the shape-shifting properties associated with the concept of “postidentity,” Queer Thoughts reaffirmed its agenda with a corporeally charged installation punctuated by several cast-polyurethane molds of hands and faces and three of Stahl’s characteristic polymer-coated ink-jet prints of body parts submerged in gel. Stahl ferreted into the private domain of the third-floor

  • Mickalene Thomas

    On the heels of Mickalene Thomas’s widely screened HBO documentary Happy Birthday to a Beautiful Woman (2012) comes “I was born to do great things,” yet another heartfelt exhibition dedicated to Sandra Bush, Thomas’s late mother and longtime muse. In a departure from her 2012–13 show at Lehmann Maupin in New York, for which the artist projected the film in a side gallery removed from the “room within a gallery” installation that has become a recurring feature of her practice, here Thomas embeds the (now looped) film within a similarly immersive 1970s-era domestic simulacrum. In the present

  • Maddie Reyna

    Maddie Reyna is emerging as a dutiful acolyte of the British Conceptual artist Stephen Willats. “Jamaica Sweethearts,” Reyna’s recent pop-up installation at Julius Caesar, a prominent Chicago artist-run project space, examined art’s social agency in an apparent endeavor to demonstrate Willats’s cool polemics. Indeed, the show could have been pulled from the pages of Artwork as Social Model, Willats’s 2012 manual for artists “looking to find a meaningful relationship with contemporary society, and intervening to transform norms and conventions, to provide a new vision of a possible future.” Reyna

  • “Fiber: Sculpture 1960–Present”

    In 1986, Mildred Constantine, Neda Al-Hilali, and Mary Jane Jacob organized an exhaustive traveling exhibition titled “Fiber R/Evolution.” It included such luminaries in the field of fibers as Sheila Hicks, Anne Wilson, and Claire Zeisler, and it unapologetically reinforced craft’s relationship to gender and women’s work. Nearly thirty years later, “Fiber”features many of the artists represented in the breakout ’86 show (including Hicks, Wilson, and Zeisler) but expands its purview to include a broad range of generations, nationalities, and conceptual approaches, as

  • picks August 19, 2014

    Anne Collier

    Woman with a Camera (Diptych), 2008, is one of the works you first encounter as you enter Anne Collier’s first major museum exhibition, which encompasses ten years of powerful didactic photography. The illustrious diptych succinctly embodies Collier’s enthusiasm for iconic image-making and conveys her photographic authority and commanding appropriation. Lifted from Irvin Kershner’s film Eyes of Laura Mars (1978), the work’s black-and-white print on the left depicts a 35-mm camera pressed against film star Faye Dunaway’s eye. The work’s second image, on the right, is printed in color and pictures

  • William J. O’Brien

    William J. O’Brien’s feverish material explorations regularly succumb to restrained, taxonomical displays when entering the public arena. At Chicago’s Renaissance Society in 2011, O’Brien installed a tiered arrangement of modestly scaled ceramic objects. Last winter, he hung grids of felt compositions and framed oil pastel and inkwash works on paper at Marianne Boesky Gallery in New York. For this survey exhibition at the MCA, to be complemented by the first major catalogue devoted to the artist’s work, roughly one hundred of O’Brien’s abundant artifacts will be “organized

  • John Opera

    Whether as an architectural blueprint or a photogram, the cyanotype is infinitely alluring. Articulated by or within a field of deep Persian blue, images produced by this rudimentary two-chemical photographic process can be more graphically beguiling than even the most richly toned silver gelatin print. John Opera knows this. “People, Places, and Things,” his exhibition of eleven modestly sized works (all 2012), dispassionately indexed six seemingly unremarkable image types—bottles, ropes, chains, hands, fossils, and the portrait of a young woman. Yet the blue splendor saturating the

  • Jerome Acks

    The aesthetics of record collecting are a lingua franca for many contemporary young male artists exploring their social and creative identity. The adolescent vinyl fiend, it would seem, remains, however anachronistically, a fixture of the art world. So I couldn’t help but let out an exhausted sigh as I walked into 65Grand’s storefront gallery this summer and saw Jerome Acks’s installation of seventy-three altered album covers and a display of related plaster casts. Immediately, the work of New York artist Ted Riederer came to mind; schooled in the DC punk scene, Riederer has been uniting art

  • “In the Spirit of Walser: Rosemarie Trockel”

    At the time of his death this past April, the UK-born dealer and influential Chicago gallerist Donald Young left us with perhaps the most inspired and absorbing exhibition of his roughly fifty years working in the arts: a string of six projects—by Peter Fischli and David Weiss (who died shortly after this review was first written), Moyra Davey, Thomas Schütte, Rosemarie Trockel, Tacita Dean and Mark Wallinger, and Rodney Graham and Josiah McElheny—created in response to the oeuvre and character of the enigmatic Swiss writer Robert Walser (1878–1956). For each mini show, seven framed

  • Taryn Simon

    Taryn Simon’s exhibition at the architecturally distinguished Milwaukee Art Museum offered up a generous and inquisitive photographic archive that spanned ten years and three distinct projects: “The Innocents,” 2002, portraits of people wrongfully convicted of violent crimes; “An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar,” 2007, images of sites and holdings generally inaccessible to the public; and “Contraband,” 2010, a series that documents, with clinical precision, items seized over a given week from airline passengers entering the United States. Depending on her subject matter, Simon employs

  • Anne-Mie Van Kerckhoven

    “Electric Ladyland,” the title of curator Hamza Walker’s essay for Anne-Mie Van Kerckhoven’s recent exhibition at the Renaissance Society, is a spot-on nickname for “In a Saturnian World,” the Belgian artist’s latest and nearly unnavigable gaping opus. “Electric Ladyland” also befits Van Kerckhoven’s background as a trained graphic artist who since 1981 has been both an active member of Antwerp’s experimental-music scene and someone who has long embraced an array of visual languages in the studio to explore various polemical, philosophical positions. The characterization of “electric” also

  • Gregg Bordowitz

    When art and text conspire, compelling incursions into the politics of meaning may result. Take, for example, Joseph Kosuth’s contribution to Documenta 9 in 1992, for which he shrouded wall-mounted artworks with black cloth bearing screenprinted quotations by such thinkers such as Wittgenstein: “OBJECTS I CAN ONLY NAME. SIGNS REPRESENT THEM. I CAN ONLY SPEAK OF THEM.” The installation was titled Passagen-Werk (Documenta Flanerie), 1992, and delivered theoretical sound bites in place of identifiable objects as a means to frame art as a system of critical language signs. Gregg Bordowitz’s work

  • Sheila Hicks

    Vanishing Yellow (1964/2004) is very small, at least in comparison to the many works Sheila Hicks has made whose scale verges on the architectural. Yet, at barely 9 x 8 inches, this simple cotton-thread composition exemplifies the genius of the seventy-seven-year-old fiber artist, whose first major career retrospective opened at the ICA Philadelphia this past spring. Employing a basic slit-weave construction, Hicks has anointed the lower-left quadrant of this coarse-threaded off-white woven “painting” with yellow horizontal bands. The resultant object is as intimate as a manuscript illumination

  • Josh Kolbo

    “Pictures have a knack for supplanting the concrete, sliding as though self-lubricating around the globe, like poltergeists, they haunt the world they represent like vague recollections, inhabiting concrete forms briefly until slipping off to another host, a billboard here, a magazine page there, creating momentary associations, and chance resonances,” artist Walead Beshty recently wrote. Frustrated by this tendency in photography, Beshty turned to Adorno to explore the ways in which images might be able to “reclaim moments of heaviness,” challenging photographers to engage the concrete. This