Invariably, I prefer to preview at least three openings to write an ArtLetter, but recently there haven't been all that many shows opening that I felt like writing about. So I apologize for the hiatus. I also had surgery and got myself a new hip. So it was good to get out recently and visit exhibits whose openings I'd missed and see shows that are opening tonight.
Let's do these in something resembling chronological order. One of the most memorable and engaging works of art I've seen in some time was at Believe Inn. This roughly 10 x 10 x 10 foot installation was a collaboration of several artists and unfortunately I'm unclear as to who deserves the credit. There are a lot of handmade wood items that compose a cityscape. All these items are props for a video projection that is flawlessly executed. There's not a stray pixel and the seven-minute 'performance' is accompanied by original music. This is just exciting, accessible, different and super fun.
Not far away, Firecat Projects has introduced an accomplished artist who's never exhibited. Mario Desa has thrived as a tattoo artist and is now seguing to fine artist. It's a sweet transition with a lot of beautiful and complex images. The show enables one to consider the foibles, weaknesses, strengths and idiosyncrasies of our goofy artworld and who gets the gold ring and who gets taken for a ride.
Two thoughtful, and unintentionally related exhibits focus on the photographed figure. At the DePaul Museum is a show of portraits by the Malian portrait photographer Malick Sidibé, who also was prone to not considering himself a fine artist. With a sensitive eye to the cultural explosion happening in Mali in the '60s, Sidibé chronicled normal people at an abnormal moment.
The Mickalene Thomas curated show at Rhona Hoffman (tete a tete) expands on intentional and seemingly incidental portraiture as a means of considering several complex relationships; the 'place' of the African-American body in contemporary society and by extension, how people of any given cultural maintain and honor their own culture while integrating and participating in a larger, more prevailing one.
I still have mixed feelings about the pop-up galleries in the Loop, feeling that it uses artists to make downtown have fewer vacant spaces, more lights, warm bodies and parking meter revenue. But periodically a gallery or artists get it right and draw a crowd and engage people they wouldn't see otherwise, making for a win-win scenario. Such is the case with the splendid Oak Park gallery, What It Is and Ex Nihilo, a group show of artists working digitally.
Okay; that's it for shows that have already opened that are definitely worth seeing. And I've been saving the best for last. Elsa Muñoz's enticing, mesmerizing, beautiful paintings at Dubhe Carreño haunt and move us to slow down and perceive the beauty and horrific power of nature and the lofty aspirations of humans.
Before I moved to Chicago 30 years ago I was a print dealer in California. Never in my life have I seen etchings as proficient and technically amazing as those of Catherine Brooks whose show opens tonight at AdventureLand Works on Paper (formerly FR Works on Paper) at 1513 N. Western. The details in her spiritual, delicate prints are astounding. For years she worked for Kathan Brown, at Crown Point Press, one of the finest etching printers in the world and now Brooks has authored a detailed book about etching technique. This artist is a master's master. These prints are inspirational in their agility, a testimonial to the glory of well-made art.
Thanks very much -- let's go see some art!