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Strong Exhibitions Opening

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There are not many openings this weekend but the shows that have receptions are remarkably strong - and 3 of them are courtesy of the Department of Cultural Affairs - remember a previous ArtLetter surveyed our readers and they graded the Cultural Center the highest. These shows will help you understand why.

One of the most impressive exhibitions I've seen in a long time - the kind of substantive, meaty, thoughtful presentation I've been yearning for is titled Collaborative Vision: The Poetic Dialogue Project. (Thanks Fletcher for the reminder.) Curated by Chicago artist Beth Shadur, the exhibit pairs a poet and a visual artist. Obviously both have their artistic inclinations, but here there's mutual respect and the challenge of responding to and incorporating the vision of the other.

This is the slowest exhibit I can remember; slow in the sense that here you want to spend a lot of time with each piece, to experience the different affinities of each contributor. Sometimes the most obvious collaborative act of putting words on art was what was done, but even so, reading the wall text, reveals the many different ways a consensus was arrived at. Other times words and images meld, like the time the text is laid on the painting in wax - and then melted. Or submerged under a reticular plastic so that alternatively you see text or an image. I found the show to be intensely rich, filled with thoroughly competent artists I was unfamiliar with and populated by a vast preponderance of female artists who did not succumb to gender art that I revealed my difficulty with in the last ArtLetter. Well done, everyone.

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Also on the 4th floor is an unfortunately overcrowded exhibition titled William Conger: Paintings 1958 - 2008, which is accompanied by a beautiful catalog. In fact, looking through the catalog gives a better sense of the range of work and Conger's ability because we are not bombarded by too much information. Conger's 50 year body of work is a meditative exercise of slowly and conscientiously morphing art. Most paintings, if considered and deciphered slowly, reveal a beauty, appreciation and understanding of Chicago that cannot be garnered quickly or when interrupted by visual 'noise.' As good as the art is, the show would be much better if there were one-third the number of paintings.

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Across the street, but also under the auspices of the DCA is the fun, creative Exquisite City: City in Cardboard. 70 artists each created a city block out of cardboard. Cheap materials, but what a fabulous range of visions. Much of the work is for sale, by Chicago artists, some known, most not, at really cheap prices, but then again you'd need some space to accommodate these pieces. This is the kind of show that inspires the kid in me.

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Okay, over to the commercial sector. There is adventurous presentation at Walsh Gallery by one of the hardest working artists in Chicago; Von Kommanivanh. Willing to use just about any material he can find, I particular like Kommanivanh's sculptural objects that balance somewhere between not quite believable and absurd. He sees possibilities where the rest of us see garbage, and he transforms those possibilities into fanciful airships that look like they flew right out of Thunderdome. The paintings are equally whimsical and more comic in their genesis than his earlier work that looked inspired by Basquiat.

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Four exhibits of unusually strong art have openings. They are free, fun, thoughtful and stimulating. I know where I'm going to be.

Hope to see you.

Thank you,

Paul Klein