Michelle Grabner

  • Warrington Colescott

    Warrington Colescott is a master caricaturist. Together with that of his brother, Robert (who died last year), Warrington’s daily practice of probing, prodding, and reappropriating culture, history, and politics has produced a nearly boundless trove of comical social critique. Evincing a shared love for barbs and jokes, the work of both artists demonstrates a palpable confidence, a maximizing of the bitingly satiric narration that drives their inventive compositions. But while Robert had a natural facility with paint, employing bold color and erratic brushwork, Warrington found his place in the

  • Tony Tasset

    Contesting the progress-and-mastery saga of twentieth-century modernism, Chicago-based artist Tony Tasset spent much of the 1980s and ’90s meticulously crafting insolent, critical objects, and the nine works represented in this ten-year survey (1986–96) unambiguously assert his past affinity for blunt deconstructionist strategies. During that period, the artist through his ironic use of reductive geometry aimed to subvert the unitary, masculine authority of the then more recently canonized tropes of Minimalism—his objectless pedestals, empty shipping pallets, unmarked surfaces, and vacant vitrines

  • Jennifer Bolande

    Talent, David Robbins’s 1986 photographic work assembling eighteen black-and-white headshots of precocious peers then orbiting the neo-Conceptual East Village gallery Nature Morte and the fledgling Metro Pictures, includes a portrait of artist Jennifer Bolande. Smiling out from a field of now-illustrious figures such as Cindy Sherman, Jenny Holzer, Ashley Bickerton, and Jeff Koons is the young hopeful, finally getting her art-historical due at Milwaukee’s Institute of Visual Arts, with a full-blown survey aptly titled “Landmarks.” Known for simple poetic gestures and innovative photo objects,

  • picks July 21, 2010

    “New Icon”

    As a gratifying collection of new work by a vast range of Chicago-based artists, this exhibition aims to create “a contemporary sense of semiotic flexibility as a whole while allowing for individual experiences,” according to the catalogue essay by curator Britton Bertran, former director of the city’s Gallery 40,000. While he continues to demonstrate that he has a talent for identifying exceptional art, his current show’s tenuous thesis is too vague, although pardonably so. Despite the exhibition’s wobbly thematic—best summarized in Bertran’s essay with the crack, “Show me your icon and I’ll

  • Scott Wolniak

    Setting foot inside the apartment kitchen–cum–art gallery 65GRAND always gives one pause. Yet Scott Wolniak’s recent show, dispersed across the walls among domestic fixtures, felt peculiarly fitting within this unorthodox space (now in its sixth year of operation). His five paintings—all of them battered, modestly sized, and mono- chrome—tug at the ontological condition of the medium, albeit in an ungainly hand. All but one are humorously pierced with found projectiles that conspicuously violate the picture plane. But Wolniak’s conceit is not driven by some profound desire to examine the

  • James Welling

    “I picked up this wonderful word, ‘ventriloquism,’ and when I discovered photography, I realized that it was the perfect ventriloquist’s medium,” James Welling said in a 2003 interview with critic Jan Tumlir. “I could throw my voice into different sorts of pictures: I could speak in many different formal languages.” After thirty years, however, even a practice predicated on difference can yield tautologies. Not so for Welling; he has remained diligently attentive to the structural variations possible within his medium, moving with admirable fluidity from one innovative investigation to the next.

  • picks December 11, 2009

    Andy Warhol

    Sotheby’s November 11 auction saw Andy Warhol’s 1962 work 200 One Dollar Bills fetch $43.7 million, just shy of a quarter million for each dollar-bill image squeegeed onto the canvas. The sale’s outcome may be an affirming nod to the artist’s uncanny celebration of capital even early in his career. However, the colossal works in “The Last Decade” impeccably underscore Warhol’s preoccupation with free enterprise and the business of art right to the very end. Warhol was not only prolific in his last decade, he was shrewd, negotiating abstract imagery, collaboration, and a return to painting by

  • Doug Ischar

    Only the outdated logo on a can of Cherry Coke and a few large boom boxes indicate that Doug Ischar’s photographs date from the mid-1980s. The striped kneesocks, polo shirts, and large aviator sunglasses clothing a dense population of sun-kissed gay males lying on the limestone and concrete blocks lining an urban lake could suggest a contemporary scene. But the photographs—exhibited here for the first time—were taken during the summer of 1985, with a 35-mm camera fitted with a short-range lens. Touching upon the long tradition of documentary photography, they chronicle Chicago’s now-defunct

  • picks September 25, 2009

    Julia Hechtman

    Six photographs that depict peculiar landscapes scrupulously unite Julia Hechtman’s recent conceptual undertakings. As an artist known for her wide-reaching exploration into routine forms of irony, Hechtman has integrated a focused exercise into her new works that elegantly contorts the landscape genre and corrupts its romantic traditions. Her recent residencies in Australia and Iceland provide the rationale for this shift in subject matter. However, the artist’s sagacious mettle, as evinced in previous investigations, undercuts these weird scenic views.

    The horizon line, a basic pictorial feature

  • picks September 16, 2009

    Roman Signer

    A rich trove of twenty-nine films and videos dating from 1975 to the present demonstrates Roman Signer’s talent for constructing ever-curious short works about time and meter. Conceived of as moving images, Signer’s self-described events result from maneuvering materials in specific environments. His films document these temporary sculptures as they undergo transformations. Kayaks, bicycles, and his renowned model helicopters are recurring sculptural elements that regularly endure Signer’s spectacularly humorous routines. Yet a welcome respite is found in Elastic Rope, 1980, which depicts an

  • picks September 07, 2009

    Roy Staab

    The Inova Dragon—July 10, 2009 is the acrobatic centerpiece of Roy Staab’s thirty-year retrospective exhibition—the first survey show for this nearly seventy-year-old artist, who has long been based in Milwaukee. The commissioned work is fashioned from a seventy-foot length of reeds bundled together with jute. This natural cablelike material meanders in great horizontal loops and delineates Inova’s capacious East Gallery. Seen from the street through the gallery’s large front windows, it appears to lasso its viewers within its contours. But once one is inside the gallery, the sculpture reveals

  • Heartland

    Seeking idiosyncratic culture in the American interior, the curators of “Heartland” embarked on a series of road trips that took them down the Mississippi River corridor and around the Great Lakes of the upper Midwest.

    Seeking idiosyncratic culture in the American interior, the curators of “Heartland” embarked on a series of road trips that took them down the Mississippi River corridor and around the Great Lakes of the upper Midwest. Logging thousands of miles and diligently reporting findings on a blog, the team identified thriving local and regional arts infrastructures whose political, economic, and aesthetic anatomies are organized very differently than are those of their counterparts on the coasts. This kaleidoscopic survey—featuring fourteen

  • Mel Bochner

    “Words in art are words. Letters in art are letters. Writing in art is writing.” These sentences by Ad Reinhardt commence his “Art-as-Art Dogma, Part III” (1965) and describe well the mocking fatalism ingrained in Mel Bochner’s Blah paintings, a body of work he has been making since 2000. In the works, all titled Blah, Blah, Blah, the artist selects, significantly, a nonword as his sole figure. Blah is a word that is not interested in words. It is a proxy word more associated with speech. And in the works on display here—all from 2009, and featuring guileless rounded letters rendered with thick

  • picks August 30, 2009

    “MP3, II: Curtis Mann, John Opera, and Stacia Yeapnis”

    Chosen for their innovative handling of photo-based media, Curtis Mann, John Opera, and Stacia Yeapnis—three emerging artists selected for volume 2 of the Midwestern Photographers Publication Project series—are featured in solo shows at the Museum of Contemporary Photography. The “MP3” exhibitions are an extension of the project, which promotes established and emerging artists and aims “to give greater recognition to photographers on the verge of national and international prominence.” Remarkably divergent in their technical and conceptual strategies, the pictures featured here allow the museum

  • picks July 21, 2009

    Dutes Miller

    It is tempting to evoke a parallel between the shameless humor and political outlandishness of Sasha Baron Cohen’s latest film, Brüno, and Dutes Miller’s “The Ecstacyist,” an exhibition comprising an uncountable number of penises and colorful dangling testicles. Yet while Baron Cohen’s Brüno is make-believe, a front for farce, Miller’s immersion in the subjects of male genitalia and gay desire is a genuinely idiosyncratic investigation. The strongest work in the show doesn’t stray far from the pornographic imagery that serves as its source. Displayed in a large grid, “Untitled Collages,” 2009,

  • picks June 08, 2009

    “Our Literal Speed”

    The second manifestation of Our Literal Speed (reprising a 2008 event in Karlsruhe, Germany) comprised a twenty-first century academicized Cabaret Voltaire–style gathering of the South Shore Drill Team, Art & Language, David Joselit, and a host of University of Chicago faculty, among others. The conference included conversations, performances, various displays of academic preening, and examples of hybrid pedagogies, such as a discussion on the topic of dissent with Bill Ayers, Bernardine Dohrn, and several irascible interlocutors planted in the audience.

    An accompanying exhibition, also titled

  • picks May 19, 2009

    Luke Dowd

    Flat, graphic images of high-carat diamonds, negotiated with gestural applications of color and form, constitute Luke Dowd’s shrewd yet beguiling paintings. Arranged in elementary patterns, his faceted geometries depict simple fields of cut gemstones. Five works are hung in a tight rectangle in the gallery’s small back space; one painting is suspended on a freestanding plywood divider that encloses the sanctumlike den of canvases. Notions of value are obviously at the heart of Dowd’s compositions, but the mystique and rarity of his carbon-crystal subject matter is not the target of his critique.

  • picks April 13, 2009

    Dana DeGiulio

    The agile lines that judiciously bend, curl, snake, and meander through Dana DeGiulio’s creamy oil grounds tease the viewer into thinking that her paintings are an elegant breed of gestural abstraction. But get your nose in them and crane your neck to examine the edges of her canvases to observe DeGiulio’s determined messy scuffle with all the conundrums abstraction affords. The elegance of her easeful contours is pugnaciously negotiated with uncomfortable blots of impasto paint and the persistent act of painting out, masking, obscuring, and smothering previous gestures.

    DeGiulio’s struggle to

  • Howard Fonda

    Howard Fonda makes earnest declarations about his medium. In the statement accompanying this show, for example, he writes: “I see painting as a philosophical sanctuary and spiritual outpost”; “Painting is poetic and transcendent”; and “Painting is a vehicle of contradiction adept at conveying the hubris of, and understanding of, existence.” Fonda desperately pines to be a Romantic; his tender portraits of bearded nineteenth-century philosophers and his text-based paintings composed of words like endless, timeless, limitless, and nothingness lay bare his infatuation with mystical truths. Yet zeal