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A Retelling of Contemporary Art History at The Block Museum

Featured Image: Dawoud Bey, Untitled (Chicago), 1993. Polaroid color prints. Gift of Sari and James A. Klein in honor of Lisa Corrin and Peter Erickson, 2014.4.5a-b. © Dawoud Bey. Two side-by-side photographs of a young man and a young woman show them with subtly different poses and expressions. Image courtesy the artist and Stephen Daiter Gallery, Chicago. I spent more than 20 years of my professional career as a museum educator. My self-proclaimed mission was to help visitors connect with artworks in ways that were meaningful, accessible, and interesting. After seeing Who Says, Who Shows, What Counts: Thinking about History with The Block’s Collection, I came to more fully understand my role in a system that privileges certain voices and viewpoints. While exhibitions are generally created by curatorial teams, it’s people like me who also help create legacy by selecting which artists and artworks to discuss with the public. Although museums and galleries are becoming more inclusive and are offering alternative histories, the standard trajectory of art history is one that has been dominated by …

Jeffrey Michael Austin in their home studio performing A Place You Can Go. They are playing a keyboard and seated in front of three windows which are illuminating the room with natural light. The space around Jeffrey is filled with different types of houseplants.

A Place You Can Go, an at-home performance by Jeffrey Michael Austin

Featured image: Jeffrey Michael Austin in their home studio performing A Place You Can Go. They are playing a keyboard and seated in front of three windows, which are illuminating the room with natural light. The space around Jeffrey is filled with different types of houseplants. Jeffrey Michael Austin is an artist, musician, and maker living in Pilsen, Chicago. As a musician, they compose, perform, and produce for Growing Concerns Poetry Collective (in collaboration with McKenzie Chinn and Mykele Deville), Daisy Days (in collaboration with EJ Hill), and under the solo moniker Young Elder. Their at-home performance, A Place You Can Go, was performed and recorded during the summer of 2021. Alongside this featured performance, we asked Jeffrey a few questions about its creation. Jeffrey Michael AustinCancer Sun / Cancer Moon / Leo AscendantResidence: Pilsen, Chicago Sixty Inches From Center: Is there a story, path, or journey that you were thinking about while creating your at-home performance, A Place You Can Go? Jeffrey Michael Austin: Much of the process of producing this video felt like …

After, Other, and Before: An Interview with Kehayr Brown-Ransaw

Featured Image: Nico Sardina, Here We Are All Up In Arms (Ultimate Henry’s Comfort Zone PT 2), 2021. A pair of documentation photos where the left image shows a sculpture of a house, multi-colored and slightly askew. The house is made out of different fabrics with many patterns and colors. The image at right shows a close up of the back of the house where a soft body-like form occupies a cavity in the house. Photos by Michelle Caron-Pawlowsky. This interview is the first in a series with each of the current fellows at the Emerging Curators Institute (ECI), a Twin Cities-based organization that supports emerging curators through a year-long fellowship program that incorporates mentorship-based learning, professional development, and financial support. ECI is the first organization of its kind in the Twin Cities region and provides curatorial opportunities to Minnesota-based curators that are otherwise hard to come by. ECI supports four curators each year and is currently in its second fellowship cycle. Operating within the Minnesota arts community, ECI connects its fellows with local curators, …

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Saint Vitus Dance: Holy Things Dripping Sweat in Lauren Wy’s AUTODESIRE VOL. 1

Featured Image: Installation shot of AUTODESIRE in Gallery Two of Western Exhibitions. Center image sits a square wooden table and two chairs where visitors can request specific volumes of AUTODESIRE. To the right of the table, volumes of AUTODESIRE are closed and mounted on the gallery wall. Each piece’s wooden spine lists the artist’s last name, volume number, and title where appropriate. To the left of the table, two pieces are exhibited on the gallery wall. A final piece is displayed on the wall directly behind the central viewing table. Photo by James Prinz, courtesy of Western Exhibitions. Alice through the looking glass, St. Teresa’s translucent veined ecstasy, Sylvia’s rhinestone tears trickling to wet the country ground. Fantasy is hard work; tell that to the Sadeian Woman or Louise and her spiders. Our scene opens at the end of the world, it’s a blazing stage. Take the man at his word when he says, “I am become death.” Lights, camera, ACTION! Beneath the desert’s floodlight suns and Planet Hollywood’s unearthly glow, a champagne orgy twitches …

An abstract image made from varying colored tissue papers. Illustration by Ryan Edmund Thiel.

October Art Picks

Featured Image: An abstract image made from varying colored tissue papers. Illustration by Ryan Edmund Thiel. If you’ve followed us for a while, you know that our Art Picks offer a wide scope of events that are relevant to our audiences because we and the artists, cultural workers, curators, spaces, and projects we support live full lives that know no boundaries. We maintain expansive practices and work toward justice for BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, and disability communities in Chicago and the Midwest.   Created in collaboration with The Visualist, Chicago’s leading visual arts calendar. Click here to get our Art Picks and latest articles delivered to your inbox monthly. This is a growing list, so check back often with new additions. This month, the first Chicago Arts Census will be initiated. The Chicago Arts Census is the first comprehensive, cross-discipline data collection effort in the city created by and with the art workers of Chicago. The Census is a collaboration between ACRE and Annas in partnership with Sixty Inches From Center, DataMade, and C.A.M.P. The Census is built to amplify our voices …

Eulogy: Jovan C. Speller at Aspect/Ratio Gallery

Featured image: Jovan C. Speller, “I sat there, Unafraid of the coming night.” Two wooden boards, split in the middle. Across the pair of them is an irregular black blob. On the right hand side, reflective wrinkles of light. In the bottom right hand corner, a seated figure with their back turned to us. Image by Avery Campbell. Courtesy of Aspect/Ratio Gallery. Imagine, you’re newly dead. You (the newly dead) have arrived from the world of the living by way of – you can’t quite recall: you remember a dark cloud branching out from the back of your head and you don’t know if it was spilled from your head or if it was being injected. You think you were seated when it happened, but who’s to say? You, the newly dead, are already beginning to lose conscious memories from your previous life. The experience of this makes you thirsty (or maybe you were just thirsty already, maybe you died from dehydration and your body remembers). In any case, you search for water. The underworld …

Review: Ronald Young’s The Prevalence of Ritual

Featured Image: Foreground (R to L): “Gatekeeper” and “(Wake Up Every Morning)”; Midground: “A House Divided;” Background: Inkjet Print. Courtesy of The Kranzberg Arts Foundation. “The objects of art jabbed the viewer low in the abdomen, squeezed his heart, pricked his mind. It communicated with those blind to its artistic excellence, as well as with those who saw.” Noah Purifoy, Junk Art: 66 Signs of Neon The twenty or so impassioned sculptures in Ronald Young’s solo exhibition The Prevalence of Ritual—on view for the summer season at The Kranzberg Arts Center Gallery in St. Louis, where Young lives and works—crack and heave with the blight of the city that birthed them. Invariably, their intensity is arresting, and mostly it’s to good artistic effect. Six large inkjet prints of gutted brick buildings, which hang along the gallery’s perimeter, provide clear context. In one of these photos, the contour of a halved and roofless structure cuts a seizing figure against the sky’s subtler ground. In another, the grain of an old door marbles nicely behind its firm …

Lion Cages and Lilac Fields: From Chicago Stages to Basements, Art, Work, and Other Pandemic Songs

Featured Image: Jyreika Guest (left) performing in a music video for the livestreamed theater production grelley. Guest stands on a crate and gestures toward the video camera, surrounded by lighting equipment and a basic set design. At right are crew members (L-R) Eon Mora, Kevin Veselka, and Glamhag. In the background another actor checks their outfit in a mirror. Filmed in Chicago, May 2021. Photo by Sarah Elizabeth Larson. This is the first in a series of articles made in collaboration with the Chicago Arts Census to explore the living, labor, and material realities of art workers in the city of Chicago. To learn more about the Census, how to get involved, or how to take the survey, please visit: https://chicagoartscensus.com/ To get to the Internal Call Center you have to enter the museum’s loading dock, head down endless hallways of windowed offices—the home of Curatorial, Education, the Director, the President (a.k.a. the people who neither know nor want to know you exist)—hop down two or three flights of stairs, and weave through the maze …

Image: A view of "Dreamscapes: Imaginings of a Black Pastoral" at Roots and Culture. Photo by Colectivo Multipolar. IG: @colectivomultipolar

The Black Pastoral, a landscape of abundance

Featured image: A view of “Dreamscapes: Imaginings of a Black Pastoral” at Roots and Culture. Two the left is a doorway covered in sheer green fabric that leads into a room with a video piece on display. The right side of the image shows a hallways leading to a larger room with additional artworks. Photo by Colectivo Multipolar. Entering the space of Roots & Culture on the opening night of Dreamscapes: Imaginings of a Black Pastoral, you are transported through a portal into the familiar realm of fellowship. For me, in the fellowship found in the hall of my childhood Baptist church, a gathering space designated for the communal unravel immediately following Sunday morning service, or in the fellowship found in the yearly ritual of my family reunion, a tradition of Black joy where familial cohesiveness can be restored, generational collectivism is centered and celebration is key. Aunties, grandmas, cousins you didn’t know you had, family friends and friends of friends all coalescing for one singular premise: communion. Walking through Dreamscapes: Imaginings of a Black …

Review: Just Above My Wall, (To The Right) at South Side Community Art Center

In the discussions of the art world, it’s often lost on us how deeply personal the act of viewing and acquiring art actually is. We’re dazzled by headlines featuring big names and nearly incomprehensible amounts of money. It obscures the reality that in its purest form, buying art is about beautifying our intimate spaces and private moments.

Snapshot: Sculpture Milwaukee

We hope this exhibition serves as a reminder of the resilience of art in a social context. Over the last year and a half, through the conditions of a global shutdown and time marked by a renewed social justice movement and chapters of political turmoil, sculpture remained in the streets. Public art has the unique pleasure of being available to everyone, all of the time.

Six wooden frames are each filled with pieces of broken clay in different configurations; the voids have equal visual importance and presence. Gunjan Kumar, Broken Whole, 2021. Clay. Photo Credit: Jonathan Castillo, Courtesy of South Asia Institute.

More in Common, a review of The Sindhu Project: Enigma of Roots

Who could have imagined that a casual conversation in Chicago in 2016 between Mahwish Chisty, an American-based artist from Pakistan, and Gunjan Kumar, an American-based artist from India, would result in the compelling exhibition currently on view at South Asia Institute? During their chat, the artists discovered that their family homes were only four hours apart. But, in an interview with the artist Chisty notes, “Due to the tense political relations between India and Pakistan, we could not have met if we lived in our respective countries, even though we share the culture, traditions, and Punjabi language.” Their conversation and the realization that despite the political situation, they had more things in common than divided them became the genesis for The Sindhu Project: Enigma of Roots. The project focuses on the archaeological sites and artifacts in the Sindhu (Indus) watershed, a region stretching across northwest India and much of Pakistan. This underpinning in specific place ties into the processes both artists use—digging, rubbing, engraving—which mimics archeological ones. All the pieces were created specifically for the …

Featured image: “Body” Digital collage, risograph print by Whitney Humphreys. The piece shows an image of a woman with part of her face missing, revealing cyborg-like parts underneath. Underneath are various machine parts. The right side of the piece shows a robot arm and text that reads: "Robot brides that free themselves become a paradox: objects with agency". The piece is mostly pink, green, and tan. Image courtesy of the Internet Archive.

When Archival Bodies Collide: Rupturing Gender Through History

Artists have always relied on the archive and material history in their work, whether it be in the emulation of a specific style, the expression of a historical moment, or in a particular medium such as collage. The practice of exhuming images from archives necessarily carries these histories and styles along with it, no matter what the artist might attempt otherwise. But they can also refigure old art by placing it in conversation or contradiction with the new. Two artists, Whitney Humphreys and Sarah Tyschenko, are performing such insightful and disruptive reconfigurations with images of gendered bodies from the archive. I discovered San Francisco-based artist Whitney Humphreys’ zine series Gendered Machines a couple months ago, after I was browsing the Internet Archive—a free, digital library of websites and digital materials—looking for zines. I came upon her series, a collaboration with the Internet Archive and Tiny Splendor Press, and requested a copy of each zine, not thinking much about it until they arrived a few weeks later in all their risograph beauty. Humphreys told me she …

Tim Klein: Instances That Might Go Unseen

A native of Tacoma, Washington, Tim Klein’s interest in photography began at an early age. He bought his first camera, with money his family provided for meals on the road, in 7th grade while on a trip to Germany with his gymnastics group.  Klein was always creative and found the camera to be the perfect tool for his skillset as an observer. It was a natural fit to document found moments and scenes that are interesting in composition and context. He describes his relationship with photography as letting his instinct drive his creativity. By the time he enrolled at Western Washington University, he had developed his skill set as a photojournalist, working on his high school newspaper and local paper.  While in college Klein freelanced for Reuters and the New York Times. While working for Reuters, he covered a presidential briefing in the White House. Upon graduating, Klein was awarded the Outstanding Graduate Award for Journalism. Real-life relationships and circumstances are depicted as soft, vulnerable, and human, where rituals and shared experiences of mundane life …

Unreasoned Scores 2/6: Ellen Holtzblatt and Salim Moore

The following article is part of Unreasoned Scores, a series of six articles edited by Fabiola Tosi, Juelle Daley, and Stephanie Koch, the 2019-2020 HATCH Curatorial Residents with Chicago Artists Coalition (CAC). When social distancing posed a challenge to building community between the artist residents of the program, Daley, Koch, and Tosi created a structure for artists’ interviews which asked: How can we be isolated together?  Through a series of exercises, curators encouraged artists—paired together based on artistic practice, experience, and personalities—to connect through a series of interviews with one another. The goal was to foster a human-scale connection between artists, beyond the hyper-mediated space of online meetings. With this experimental editorial project, the curators seek to investigate “How does one archive ephemeral works which may not fit the formats of a traditional archival record?” Read Unreasoned Scores 1/6 featuring Katie Chung and José Santiago Pérez. Ellen Holtzblatt and Salim Moore, edited by Fabiola Tosi It is almost certain that each and every one of us during the past year felt a sense of deep isolation and suffered from a …

Unreasoned Scores 1/6: Katie Chung and José Santiago Pérez

The following article is part of Unreasoned Scores, a series of six articles edited by Fabiola Tosi, Juelle Daley, and Stephanie Koch, the 2019-2020 HATCH Curatorial Residents with Chicago Artist’s Coalition (CAC). When social distancing posed a challenge to building community between the artist residents of the program, Daley, Koch, and Tosi created a structure for artists’ interviews which asked: How can we be isolated together?  Through a series of exercises, curators encouraged artists—paired together based on artistic practice, experience, and personalities—to connect through a series of interviews with one another. The goal was to foster a human-scale connection between artists, beyond the hyper-mediated space of online meetings. With this experimental editorial project, the curators seek to investigate “How does one archive ephemeral works which may not fit the formats of a traditional archival record?” Read part 2 of Unreasoned Scores featuring artists Ellen Holtzblatt and Salim Moore. Katie Chung and José Santiago Pérez, edited by Fabiola Tosi When meeting someone for the first time, maybe even after a few conversations, you would get to …

Sweet Bitter Love: Interview with Jeffrey Gibson

Sweet Bitter Love, presenting artist Jeffrey Gibson’s reflections on representations of Indigenous peoples in cultural institutions, is now on display at the Newberry Library through September 18, 2021.  Responding to a series of late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century portraits by Eldridge Ayer Burbank in the Newberry collection, Gibson (a member of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians and of Cherokee descent) refutes the stereotypical imagery that has reinforced pernicious myths about Indigenous people for centuries. As he enters into critical dialogue with the collections of the Newberry and also the Field Museum, Gibson’s works attest to the resilience of Indigenous cultures. The exhibition is part of Toward Common Cause: Art, Social Change, and the MacArthur Fellows Program at 40, which is organized by the Smart Museum of Art in collaboration with exhibition, programmatic, and research partners across Chicago. Analú López (Guachichil/Xi´úi), Ayer Indigenous Studies Librarian at the Newberry, recently spoke with Gibson about his evolution as an artist, the challenges of presenting the complexity of the past through art, and how his work might surface silenced …