Michelle Grabner

  • Lucie Stahl, Shroom Cloud Hands (Purple), 2014, polyurethane, acrylic, 10 1/2 × 6 × 3 1/2".

    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

  • View of “Mickalene Thomas,” 2014–15.

    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, Fantasie, 2014, ink-jet print, 36 × 24".

    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

  • Jean Stamsta, Orange Twist, ca. 1970, wool, synthetic yarn, wood, 43 × 103 × 43". From “Fiber: Sculpture 1960–Present.” © Estate of Jean Stamsta.

    “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

  • View of “Anne Collier,” 2014.
    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, Woman in Window, 2012, cyanotype on stretched linen, 24 x 20".

    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, Album (#1–80), 2012–, found albums, spray enamel. Installation view.

    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

  • Rosemarie Trockel, Study for R. W., 2012, digital print, acrylic, pencil, 28 3/4 x 28".

    “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, Charles Irvin Fain, scene of the crime, the Snake River, Melba, Idaho, served 18 years of a death sentence for murder, rape and kidnapping, 2002, color photograph, 48 x 62". From the series “The Innocents,” 2002.

    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, Ni Totem, ni Tabou, 2011, digital print on PVC, 39 3/8 x 52".

    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 delivering a talk on the opening night of his show “Talk Is the Object” at Iceberg Projects, Chicago, May 21, 2011.

    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