Author: Susan J. Musich

7. Chris Bradley, installation view of Usual Objects. From left to right: Attic, 2021. Wood, stainless steel, steel, aluminum tube, 3D printed PLA, black cord, LED, acetate, paint, 15 x 14.5 x 14 inches. Cellar, 2021. Wood, steel, 3D printed PLA, epoxy putty, paint, LED, modeling turf, twine, 12 x 15 x 10 inches. Breeze, 2021. Wood, steel, stainless steel, 3D printed PLA, PET plastic, LEDs, muffin fans, fabric, 19 x 19 x 19 inches.

Usual Objects in Unusual Times

“All of our worlds shrunk down to our homes and our thoughts,” writes artist Madeleine Leplae about this past year, during which she began to appreciate time spent outdoors and decided to paint trees, albeit ones with unreal proportions and vibrant backgrounds. Her painting Sappy Tree, 2020, with its unusually long trunk and button-like appendages, appears almost human. The piece is currently on view as part of the group show Usual Objects at Carrie Secrist Gallery, now housed in the residences at 900 West (Washington). Featuring the work of Chris Bradley, Nicole Dyer, Brendan Getz, Madeleine Leplae, Matt Lipps, Liliana Porter, and Amanda Ross-Ho, the exhibition focuses on the still life genre, which might seem quaint (outdated?) in these socially and politically charged times, but is in fact apropos to our current moment. Many of the works were created in the past year, when all of us, artists included, spent much time at home, among our possessions. The first three artists in the show present objects that are dramatically smaller than life size. This can …

Elinor Carucci, Red #3, 2015

Reproductive Agency—The Political Made Visual

January 22nd marked the 48th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision, but the debate around reproductive rights didn’t end there. Denying Title X family planning dollars to providers like Planned Parenthood and concerns over Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s appointment to the Supreme Court are just a few examples of how the fight continues. Engaging with and broadening the discussion of how fertility is politicized, Reproductive: Health, Fertility, Agency at the Museum of Contemporary Photography (MoCP) provides a comprehensive look at reproductive issues through art. Kudos to MoCP for tackling the issue broadly, focusing on the spectrum of experiences, not just birth control and abortion. The exhibition includes artworks addressing desire and sexuality, the heteronormative childbirth industry, and menopause. That said, the curatorial narrative is strongest in articulating the ways in which patriarchal systems affect reproductive freedoms. The largest gallery space is devoted to Laia Abril’s project On Abortion: And the Repercussions of Lack of Access, 2016. Her archive of images and text is based on years of research about the consequences of restricting access …

Bisa Butler’s Portraits: Representation in and for 2020

Each December, the New York Times (and likely other media outlets) publish “The Year in Pictures.” For reasons both good and bad, images of Black Americans should predominate in 2020. Some pictures will be tragic, like images of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Jacob Blake, while others will be proud, showing Black Lives Matter protests, Kamala Harris, and Stacey Abrams’ Get Out the Vote efforts. Representations of Black people also predominate at the Art Institute of Chicago in the exhibition Bisa Butler: Portraits. Especially timely today, Butler exclusively presents the Black figure, using personal and historic images as the basis for her portrait quilts.     About her focus on Black people and their narratives, she says: “I never want my artwork to show my people in a bad light. We are people who’ve come a long way. We do struggle still. There’s still a lot of social ills that are affecting my people, so I want to address that, but I also don’t want this paternalistic view, like ‘oh poor them.’ I’m not interested in that. …

The Museum of Contemporary Photography Ponders “What Does Democracy Look Like?”

The question has been answered in many different ways this year. Protests against police violence, presidential debates, controversies over vote by mail.  Democracy means many things and takes on an equal number of guises. In this election year, the Museum of Contemporary Photography (MoCP) asked seven Columbia College Chicago faculty members to use works from the collection to visually and conceptually answer this question. The guest curators represent a variety of disciplines—not just art history—and exemplify the current museum trend of including diverse voices in exhibition design. While there are essentially seven exhibitions, each with a unique curatorial premise and position, some commonalities exist. Works are primarily hung salon-style, so viewers can see hundreds of photographs in a single visit. Portraits predominate, which makes sense given the organizing framework. Black and white and color photographs both have strong representation, connoting a sense of the historic, as well as the contemporary. The exhibition opens with E Pluribus Unum, marking the 150th anniversary of the Fifteenth Amendment and the 100th anniversary of the Nineteenth, which gave African …

Too Many to Name? – Kathryn Andrews at DePaul Art Museum

Walking east from the Fullerton CTA station on a dreary, damp morning, I only had to take a few steps to reach the DePaul Art Museum and Los Angeles-based, Kathryn Andrews’s, site-specific work. Displayed on the front window are pictures of past Presidents, their faces covered with text. That morning, their visages seemed as grey as the weather. After the past few months, do we need to see more pictures of Presidents? After all, aside from the pandemic, no issue or event has dominated the news, and our lives, like the 2020 elections.  Among this cycle’s notable statistics is the fact that more women sought the nomination for President of the United States than ever before. Yet despite this surge in interest, men still occupy the top position of both major party’s ticket. Coincidentally, 2020 is also the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th amendment, granting women the right to vote. Both these occurrences are the inspiration for Andrews’ installation which “acknowledges the history of women in Presidential elections.”   The work lists the …

Review: Windows to Our World

Walking up residential Kenmore Avenue, you might do a double-take when you pass 6018North and notice that the fence, yard, porch, and windows are adorned with banners, sculptures, and other objects. While the décor may seem unusual for a dilapidated mansion, it is on par for the artist-centered organization named after its address. Under normal circumstances, the house’s interior would be filled with art, but the stay-at-home order and city-wide protests prompted 6018North to create Windows to the World, an outdoor exhibition that promotes the organization’s social justice mission. Considering our current crises and noting that “the pandemic of America is racism,” the team of ALAANA (African, Latinx, Arab, Asian, Native-American) curators asked artists to consider:  How do we want to see the world when we get out? Who do we want to be individually and collectively? The works they selected address COVID-19, systemic injustice—or both—and raise questions with complex answers.     Artworks in the exhibition are made from everyday materials and often adopt commercial formats, such as neon signage and banners. Efrat Hakimi’s Time, depicting …