Critics’ Picks

  • Krista Franklin, “...to take root among the stars,” 2018, mixed media, dimensions variable. Installation view.

    Krista Franklin

    Poetry Foundation
    61 W Superior St
    September 27 - December 21

    Krista Franklin’s modular wall mural “…to take root among the stars”, 2016–, functions like the naming of constellations. It takes the potential for making meaning from the celestial realm and applies it to the uneven strata of cultural history, which she represents with archival materials, handmade papers, passages of quoted texts, and found objects. Cursive writing runs across this appropriated ephemera and onto the expanse of white wall.

    Downy black feathers burst from a sheet of paper as delicate as tissue; black faces cut out from magazines and product packaging peer through ripped pages. References to spells, the occult, superstition, voodoo, and telepathy abound, and across one of the heavier, rigid pieces of paper are lyrics from the band the Internet: “I know what you want / I can read your mind even from behind.” Franklin uses pulpy paper as a matrix upon which to sample, embed, and commemorate the recuperation of black experiences that have been constrained within the framework of white supremacist history. At the opening, writer Aricka Foreman read from her poem “we live best/ in the spaces between two loves”: “Ears pressed between veils, straining to hold some silver ephemera not mine to keep.” This is the space shared by Franklin’s installation. Celebrating the possibilities for extrasensory powers to resist oppressive narratives and change the minds of a society, Franklin reorders ritual and constructs fantasies.

  • Carolyn Lawrence, Uphold Your Men, 1971, Screenprint on wove paper, 30 x 24”.

    “The Time Is Now! Art Worlds of Chicago’s South Side, 1960–1980”

    Smart Museum of Art, University of Chicago
    5550 South Greenwood Avenue
    September 13 - December 30

    In 1974, Detroit avant-jazz linchpin Phil Ranelin released the record The Time Is Now!. Appearing at the tail end of an age of urgency, Ranelin’s title echoed a string of 1960s and early 1970s albums including We Insist! Max Roach’s Freedom Now Suite (1960), Sonny Rollins’s Now’s the Time (1964), and, most famously perhaps, Joe McPhee’s scorching Nation Time (1971), named after Amiri Baraka’s corybantic spoken-word poem from 1970. “Nowness” was clearly in the air back then, and it is telling that an exhibition like this one—whose title references a 1966 photograph by Darryl Cowherd rather than Ranelin’s album—should seek to regain something of that urgency in our own fractious moment. It is that time again.

    Featured here are artists, collectives, and institutions frequently overlooked by traditional art histories. The show focuses predominantly on work produced by African American artists living in Chicago’s historically Black South Side, whose most visible artists were perhaps the AfriCOBRA collective of Jeff Donaldson, Jae and Wadsworth Jarrell, Barbara Jones-Hogu, and Gerald Williams, among others. In its combination of abstraction and figuration, Carolyn Lawrence’s kaleidoscopic screen print Uphold Your Men, 1971, epitomizes the way AfriCOBRA’s artists fused psychedelic style with substantive social critique. Ironically, and inevitably, the best known of the sundry groups included in the exhibition—this milieu clearly privileged the common and communal over the individual—are the Chicago Imagists, a loose grouping of mostly white North Siders who showed their work at the Hyde Park Art Center. Their figurative, Surreal-ish sensibility frequently veered toward the carnivalesque. This exhibition rightly argues that this visual eccentricity was not solely the province of the Imagists but rather a vibe that exceeded the city’s racial barriers. What emerges is a fuller picture of a brash, vibrant, politically engaged, and woefully overlooked moment in postwar American art history.