Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Interview with Herb Nolan

Herb Nolan is a photographer residing and working in Chicago. For five decades he has photographed a wide range of subject matter in Chicago and internationally. Most known for his photographs of jazz and blues musicians, his work has been published in the Chicago Tribune, The Chicago Daily News, and Downbeat Magazine. For the last eight months, I have been archiving his collection of 1,600 photographs and countless negatives. In a recent interview we discussed some of his protest photography from the 1960’s.
Tom Waits
Tom Waits at the Victoria Restaurant,  silver gelatin print by Herb Nolan, 1976

Sandy Guttman:
Tell me a little about yourself.

Herb Nolan: I was born in Evanston, IL, My family lived in Winnetka and Riverside. I went to high school in Riverside, and I studied at Bradley University where I graduated in… a long time ago (chuckles). While at school I studied journalism; there were 16 people in our little graduating class. I worked for a bunch of newspapers and magazines and now I work in a hardware store.

SG: Which magazines and newspapers did you work for?

HN: I started out at a little newspaper called the Wheaton Daily Journal. Those were 60-hour weeks, at $85 a week. I also worked as a copyboy at the Peoria Journal Star. Then I was drafted and went to Vietnam.

SG: When were you drafted?

HN: 1965.

SG: And how long were you there for?

HN: 1966 through 1967.

SG: What was that experience like for you?

HN: Guilt.

SG: Just guilt?

HN: Guilt, but interesting research on what war looks like.

SG: Did you have your camera with you when you were in Vietnam?

HN: Yes, everybody took pictures. I have a lot of color slides from then. We’re not going to archive those.

SG: When you got back from Vietnam what did you do next?

HN: I wandered around the neighborhood (chuckles), and I cleared my head. But then I went back to working as a newspaper reporter.

SG: What were you reporting on?

HN: Everything. Police, city council, school boards, boards of trustees - in the suburbs through this whole chain of community newspapers.

SG: And you took photographs when you were reporting?

HN: Yeah, often with small newspapers you took your own pictures, back then it was all film.

The Biograph Theater, Herb Nolan
SG: When did you start taking photographs?

HN: When I was in college there was a woman that was doing black and white photography as part of her art. I saw what she was doing and said, “Shit, I like that.” So I bought a cheap camera and started doing it. It clicked. Photography was part of the journalism thing. And the Tribune used to hire me to go along as a photographer with their freelance writers. I also used to write features for the Tribune.

SG: Did you have formal training in photography?

HN: I’m self-taught. There was a class in the journalism curriculum, and those days we used 4 by 5 speed graphic cameras.

SG: What were some of your favorite things to photograph?

HN: Things you would see, people, city stuff, it depends where I was. Just images I saw and wanted to capture. Not landscapes, I’m not Ansel Adams. And here’s the philosophy, you and I could be looking out of the same window or looking at the same thing on the street, and it’s boring to you, you don’t see anything. I do.

SG: After looking at your whole collection, the photographs of the 1960’s Daley Plaza protests stuck with me. How did you end up taking those photographs? I’d read that some of those protests turned violent; did you experience any of that?

HN: No, I never got beaten up. But when I came back from Vietnam, I was extremely opposed to the war. Before I was drafted, nobody else was paying attention. I wasn’t in that group of people who was going to run off to Canada or burn their draft card because in those days nobody was doing that. The war was fought by draftees. I ended up in Vietnam, which in a way was kind of interesting. I was well schooled in the history of Vietnam. And friends of mine who had said that the war was a good thing, by the time I came back, were in all of these antiwar movements and were saying they were wrong. I went to the demonstrations. And this was after the ’68 Convention, where there was a lot of violence. I was extremely angry, because the city lied, the newspapers lied.

Photo collage of protest photograph from 1968-1969, Herb Nolan
SG: Were you at the protests to report or because you were protesting?

HN: Both.

SG: How active were you?

HN: We went to a few, the big ones. There was one in Daley Plaza where I left just before the police came in and beat everybody up. That was probably late ’68 or ’69. And then there was a big march down State Street. Did you ever see the movie Battle for Algiers?

SG: Yeah.

HN: Well you know where they’d all whistle? Demonstrators in Chicago picked up on that whole thing. And then there was a gathering, when the Chicago Seven were being transferred to Cook County Jail. Phil Ochs and all the big time players were there. The march went from Daley Plaza, where the demonstration was, down to Cook County Jail to demonstrate down there.

SG: That’s kind of a far march!

HN: Well you took the train (chuckles).

SG: Oh, it’s not a literal march!

HN: No, no. But people were angry. Not everybody felt the way I did, I saw so much abuse of information and power – we still see that today. It’s all the same thing. I almost threw up when Bush decided to invade Iraq, because I knew exactly. Just channel Vietnam, my friends. Utilizing information that turned out not to be correct. I mean Vietnam and Gulf of Tonkin, you know that fake thing.

SG: If you look at what’s happening right now with police brutality in the United States, I didn’t live through your era, but it was pretty terrible.

HN: Well, it was. You know in the ‘60s you had the Freedom Riders risking their lives in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Georgia. Studs Terkel had this great quote, where he said that in those days that’s when kids had issues other than themselves. But I don’t know how it is now. There were those sit-ins for Wall Street, and people were doing that in Berkeley and got doused with pepper spray. Police in the ‘60s clubbed people, threw them in jail. It was a little more violent. Fortunately I didn’t get caught up. I left before that happened. I was just capturing the images from that. How do I capture this, so when I’m gone, it won’t be gone?

SG: Which is powerful.

HN: Certainly a lot of people took those pictures in ’68.

Mid-cataloguing Herb Nolan's photography collection. His work is organized into three categories: Music, Travel, and Chicago/Family & Friends.
SG: We’ve spoken at length about your photographs of musicians, how you have photographed intimate moments with Muddy Waters, Tom Waits, and Elvin Jones. And then you stopped for a period of time. HN: Yeah I quit taking pictures of musicians, because it becomes the same thing. It’s like writing about music. I figured, what kind of a career is that? And there are so few jobs. You do an intense period writing about this stuff, you really work at it. Chasing musicians around, and I’d get on the bus with them, like Almost Famous – I did that. But, in the end, the adventure is kind of over. Taking photographs is an adventure, I’m pretty shy about it, so sometimes I didn’t take pictures and I wish I had. I think about some of those images.

SG: What’s something you wish you’d photographed?

HN: I was in New York. Columbia Records had put me up in the Plaza Hotel, those were the days, man. I had a limousine at my disposal, it was picking me up to take me back to LaGuardia. And I looked out – there was Keith Jarrett, the great jazz pianist sitting on a bunch of luggage all by himself. He’s a private person, I didn’t want to disturb him, so I said I’m not going to take his picture. But then I kept thinking, why not? And as a freelancer, I’d photograph parties. One party was with Martin Scorsese and Liza Minnelli – the paparazzi crashed through. And one event was the topping off of the Apparel Center with the Kennedys and the Daleys. I got this shot of them all in a big line marching through the building. So that was an adventure.

SG: What was it like being at events like that?

HN: You claw your way through the crowd to get the picture, you want to figure out what the picture’s going to be, and not get the same thing everyone else is getting.

SG: How were you able to get the photo?

HN: I don’t know…

SG: Is that the magic of it?

HN: It’s just what I see.
Frank Zappa
Frank Zappa backstage in Milwaukee, WI,  Herb Nolan

Friday, October 24, 2014

Roger Brown Study Collection

In truth, I'd never heard of the Roger Brown Study Collection until I started the museum studies program. I'd walked by the nondescript building before, even stopping to pose outside of it this summer not knowing that an eclectic collection of art, tchotchkes, and familial memorabilia were hidden within the brick structure.

Oh you know, just hanging out next to a secret museum
Having visited the museum on Tuesday, my mind keeps wandering back to the collection as well as the intention of the space itself. Roger Brown collected and displayed objects, ones that carried an aura that surpassed the convention of the hierarchical nature of the art world. Handmade Girl Scout projects are displayed on an equal plane next to Ray Yoshida, Richard Hull, and family keepsakes. Lumpy ceramic pots by sculptural novices are given the same spotlight as handcrafted Alabama baskets and a large collection of arts & crafts architectural models of churches.

Erasing the hierarchy of the art museum, the aura of the objects carry the weight of importance.
Like any museum, there were rules. Don't sit on the furniture and don't touch the objects. But if you wanted to take a peek inside of his medicine cabinet or a closer look at his genealogy case, just ask a glove-wearing museum worker and they'd be happy to open things up for you. Walk out to the garage, and take a seat in his Mustang, they don't mind. Because the house museum is still a home. It breathes and creaks as any other home does, despite that fact that it's not inhabited in the typical way a house is lived in.

Nothing is off limits. And for good reason! Notice the little illustration on the second shelf next to the magnifying glass?
While it might strike a museumgoer as being a bit odd, this different approach to museum practice is at the core of Roger Brown's intention for the space. Inspired by the Artist's Museum he'd seen on a road trip in South Dakota in 1972, Brown wanted to create a space for his collection  grounding the Chicago Artist's Museum in his home and studio at 1926 N. Halsted. He curated the space creating unexpected dialogues between objects. Moments in his home/museum are evocative of the work he created, prone to whimsy, color, pattern, and a mish mosh of inspiration. 


In addition to the Roger Brown Study Collection being the site of an eclectic gatherings of objects, it's also a space for artistic practice and educational inquiry. Having donated the home to the School of the Art Institute in the late 1990's, the school has utilized the space in a variety of ways. Staging performance art inspired by the home, doing architectural historic preservation on various aspects of the building's structure, and recontextualizing pieces of the collection into meaningful ongoing exhibition practices are just a fraction of the ways the space continues to inspire engaging work across media and explorative practices.

Though Roger Brown passed away in 1997, his artful spirit and prolific mind continue to live on, through the life brought into the house on visits and in the artistic practices he continues to inspire and engage.


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Mickalene Thomas: I was born to do great things

Mickalene Thomas’ I was born to do great things is an unconventional portrait of Sandra Bush, the artist’s late mother and muse. The presentation at Kavi Gupta is split into two spaces. A traditional, white cube gallery containing vitrines and art-adorned walls is contrasted with a gallery space evocative of a 1970’s living room, with mismatched furniture, wood paneling, and linoleum tile. The show’s title is a quote from Thomas’ mother-muse. “I was born to do great things” speaks to Bush’s views of herself and brings to the forefront identity, a major theme of the exhibition. Though the sculptures and paintings are a visual reminder of her mother, a short documentary in the den gallery delves into Bush’s melancholic feelings of regret for not succeeding at a career in modeling, which is countered with pride in acting as her daughter’s muse.

Image c/o Kavi Gupta Gallery
In the main gallery, Thomas intersperses her mother’s artifacts – a tube of lipstick, Chinese dolls, jewelry – with works made by the artist that were inspired by her mother’s larger-than-life personality. These artifacts were collected from her mother’s home following her death in 2012, and act as a proxy for her maternal presence. Having been used by Bush to shape her identity, they come to exemplify her exquisite style and grace.
Image c/o Kavi Gupta Gallery
The most provocative works in the show were sculptures cast in bronze: a jacket, loose hanging sweater, a pair of jeans, a bra, and Crocs. In removing these items from her mother’s home and transforming them into bronze sculptures, Thomas is memorializing her mother in a format reserved for historical greats – a fitting tribute to a woman who continues to inspire an entire artistic practice.
Image c/o Kavi Gupta Gallery

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Universal Declaration of Infantile Anxiety Situations Reflected in the Creative Impulse: My Barbarian at Gallery 400

Motherhood and the anxieties associated with it are the core themes of Universal Declaration of Infantile Anxiety Situations Reflected in the Creative Impulse at Gallery 400. The exhibition highlights the work of My Barbarian, a collective comprised of Malik Gaines, Jade Gordon, and Alex Segade. The works in the show were accompanied by two live performances of an adaptation of Bertolt Brecht’s 1932 play, The Mother, in which a radicalized depiction of motherhood is explored.


From the moment I entered the industrial space of Gallery 400, I was confronted by the sharp triangular stage – a wooden construction jutting a sharp pointed angle directly at the entrance. This introduction to the show is arresting, the downward pointing triangular shape of the stage recalling the symbol of femininity and womanhood. This object is central to a show intent on understanding motherhood and redefining gender roles in the modern era.

Though the exhibition doesn’t have many works in it, it feels complete. Flanking the stage are works that directly relate to the performance. On the left are drawings made of oil stick on brown paper crudely depicting masks, set designs, and violent statements like “YOUR SON HAS BEEN SHOT.” Each drawing is clearly handmade. There is nothing mechanical about the art, though some of the drawings depict factories and laborers – giving humanity to the labor movement, a theme that is later called out in the performance of The Mother.


The opposing wall holds thirteen papier mâché masks used in My Barbarian’s performances. The masks are sculptural, evoking classical Greek theatre, each depicting a character performed by members of My Barbarian. Upon closer viewing, the papers used to plaster the masks are reproductions of 1930’s Russian newspapers, a reference to the era in which Brecht composed The Mother, a play framed by the Bolshevik Revolution.


In two smaller galleries are video installations, one of which plays My Barbarian’s performance of The Mother in a continuous loop. This video acts as a proxy for the actors throughout the show’s run, although two performances occurred mid-September. The performances rounded out the exhibition in its ability to activate the objects in the space and personified the themes of motherhood, revolution, labor, and artistic practice that each iteration of My Barbarian’s work explores.

The Mother takes place in 1917 Russia, and portrays a mother, Mrs. Vlassova, in relationship to her rebel son Pavel. The action of the play occurs on the triangular stage and the masks become physical aids in storytelling. Gaines, Gordon, and Segado wear neutral off-white work clothes including coveralls, caps, and work boots. Though they appear to match, each of their costumes is distinct - their individuality is highlighted. The story takes place in a series of locations including the kitchen of Mrs. Vlassova, the factory where Pavel works, a prison, a teacher’s home, and sites of protest outside of the factory. The drawings are activated during the performance, projected onto the wall behind the stage to set the scene for each location.


The performance was punctuated by songs from the original play set to musical arrangements by Gaines. Employing theatrical tactics, My Barbarian exploits musical styles, dance, and inflections in the actors’ voices and bodies to tell the story of Mrs. Vlassova’s place in the revolution. Tied solely to the domestic space of her home, she is introduced to the revolution through her son Pavel who works in a factory. Pavel’s desire to fight for better wages involves his mother giving both her emotional and physical support. She aids the revolution through her words and her actions, eventually leaving her home to complete covert operations for the revolutionary effort, visit her son in prison, and even join in the violent protest marches.

The success of the performance lies in the liberties My Barbarian took with their interpretation of the original. The performers play multiple characters in the story. Each takes a turn at playing the mother. Even the audience has a chance to perform the mother through call and response at the end of the performance. In this way My Barbarian suggests that all people have a “maternal instinct” and the place a mother may have in stirring revolution. Revolutions don’t emerge from thin air – they are birthed, weaned, and grown. Through neutralizing costumes, the use of masks, and simplistic use of set design, My Barbarian is able to tell the story of revolution while simultaneously remarking upon the importance of the mother in nurturing social justice.

Monday, September 29, 2014

A Room With a View: Peering Into the Universe of Henry Darger

Taking a note of inspiration from Orhan Pamuk's Museum of Innocence and subsequent written work The Small Museum published in the New York Times magazine earlier this year, I visited the Henry Darger Room Collection at Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art in Chicago. Below is the piece that I composed in response to the experience.

The red brick exterior of Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art is unassuming – but contained within its walls is a peek into the universe of the artist Henry Darger. Stepping into the front of the museum is like stepping into someone’s home, there were no ticket-taking kiosks or guards. This welcome is a fitting introduction for a museum that holds the only evocation of Darger’s home, a one-room apartment of creative intrigue.

As I made my way to The Henry Darger Room Collection, I acclimated myself to the style and aesthetic of outsider art. On view were naïve paintings of celebrities like Elvis, Steve Buschemi, and James Van Der Beek – which showed how spectacular the art of an untrained hand could be. Subject matter and artistic materials varied, but it was clear that the work in this museum celebrates the creative potential all people possess. Toward the back corner of the rear gallery laid Darger’s Room. Entering the room is an experiential feast for the eyes. Though the space was cluttered, it felt sacred – a sanctuary tucked away from the hustle of the city streets.
There were piles of National Geographic magazines and stacks of mismatched boxes each hand labeled to reveal the contents within. To my right was a tattered wicker laundry basket full to the brim with rolled balls of twine. Magazine cutouts, religious ephemera, images of little girls, and photographs of plumes of smoke were framed and hung in a rhythmic pattern on the chocolate brown walls. I felt inspired while immersed in this space, the walls a collage of imagery and a large assortment of art supplies well within my grasp.

The ground that wasn’t covered in art supplies revealed hardwood floors. There was a wrought iron fireplace and oak mantel peppered with religious figurines and flanked by framed drawings of the Vivian Girls – images Darger used as source material throughout his sixty-year career. To my left was a table covered in coloring books, crayons, tubes of acrylic paint, and neat piles of magazines and newspaper tied with twine.

But what grabbed me was the desk where he worked. Beneath a dimly lit chandelier sat a circular wooden table. It was covered with faded magazines, repurposed cigar boxes filled with crayons, acrylics, and watercolors, and a single cartoon of a little girl. Above the table hung an array of framed images, my favorite written in Darger’s familiar scrawl NO SMOKING UNDER NO CONDITIONS??! – a humorous message made for and seen only by Darger. It was at this desk that he put pen to paper, painstakingly transferring images of little girls and men on horseback into his fanciful landscapes of a fantasy world that made sense to him alone. The chair mirrored the desk in its clutter, there was nowhere to sit, there was nowhere to rest.

It wasn’t until I read the single didactic panel that it hit me – there wasn’t a bed in the room. Darger’s work, a combination of drawings and writings some of which were twelve feet in length, were so large he couldn’t fully open them in his one room apartment. So devoted to his work, he ultimately chose to store his art supplies on his bed sleeping at the table and chair in which he worked, hence the omission of a bed in this display.

The limited didactic material in the room led me to examine in detail the desk, the framed images, and the various containers. I mentally reached out to open the boxes and thumbed through stacks of magazines. I imagined what it would be like to live in solitude existing in a creative fortress carefully built for one. For what was left untold by the curators was also left untold by Darger himself. What little is known of him has left space for questions and mystery. By experiencing Darger through his collection, we can only begin to form a picture of him using one of his greatest tools: the imagination.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Rapid Response Collecting: A Practice in Wall Texts for Contemporary Collecting

Rapid Response Collecting in an exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum that is pioneering a critique of contemporary culture through the act of carefully collected and curated objects. In examining objects that have been selected to represent contemporary culture, the curators of the V&A are turning the focus from objects of the past (typically associated with museum display practice), in favor of turning an eye toward objects of the present. In singling out a contemporary artifact for the permanent collection, the curators are keeping objects that may potentially capture this moment in time for future generations to observe and form an understanding of what will become the impending past.

Some of the objects currently on display at the V&A include:
  • A 3D Printed Handgun
  • A pair of Primark cargo trousers, made in Bangladesh
  • A set of Katy Perry false eyelashes
  • Christian Louboutin shoes in five shades of "nude"

In response to Rapid Response Collecting, my Writing for Exhibitions course had each of us select three objects that represent the here and now of contemporary culture. Accompanying the pieces of our selection are succinctly written wall texts to aid in framing the objects on display.

9/11 Memorial Museum Commemorative Cheese Platter

This controversial cheese platter in the shape of the United States marks the three locations where the 9/11 terrorist attacks occurred. When the 9/11 Memorial Museum opened its doors on May 21, 2014, the tray wasn’t part of an exhibit—it was sold through the gift shop. There was an immediate public outcry over the object’s questionable taste, and the platter was quickly removed from the shelves. The 9/11 platter raises questions about the types of retail items museum stores choose to sell: is there a line between commemorative object and kitschy souvenir?

Stock photo from the launching of HealthCare.gov

On October 1, 2013 the Affordable Care Act launched the HealthCare.gov website. The problem was the website didn’t work. Users were greeted by the smile of a mysterious woman—a stock photo image that soon became an icon of the website’s unsuccessful launch. In the days that followed HealthCare.gov’s debut, millions of people tried and failed to purchase healthcare. The anonymous woman’s smiling face served as an ironic counterpart to the public’s frustration with a broken, ineffectual website. At the same time, this now-iconic image also symbolizes the start of health insurance reform in this country.

Unworn Hazmat Suit (2014 Ebola Outbreak)

“The personal protective equipment we wore in the Ebola Treatment Unit becomes excruciatingly hot, with temperatures inside the suit reaching up to 115 degrees. It cannot be worn for more than an hour and a half.” – Dr. Kent Brantly

While working in West Africa Dr. Kent Brantly treated patients with the Ebola virus and, after contracting the disease, became a patient himself. After testing positive for Ebola Brantly returned to the US for treatment. His treatment led to  worldwide media coverage of the virus, a response to him being white and American with a disease afflicting predominantly West Africans.

As of September 2014, an estimated 2,630 people have died from what is now known to be the worst Ebola virus breakout in history. Doctors are fighting tirelessly to contain the disease, but it shows no signs of slowing.

To see the rest of the entries written by members of the Museum and Exhibitions Studies Program at UIC, please check out our Tumblr

Thursday, September 18, 2014

This Weekend: Art Events, Exhibitions, Openings in Chicago

This weekend is the premiere art-going gallery-hopping weekend in Chicago. Between tonight and Sunday evening, I'm hoping to visit the Art Institute of Chicago, Kavi Gupta, the Sullivan Galleries, Antena, EXPO Chicago, Gallery 400, and the Museum of Contemporary Art. Take a deep breath with me, there doesn't that feel better?

Here's a rundown of what I will be doing, seeing, snapping photos of, oggling at, and potentially reviewing:

Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926-1938 
The Art Institute of Chicago // June 24 - Oct. 16, 2014

Clairvoyance (La Clairvoyance), (1936) via Art History News Report
The final days of the major Magritte retrospective are upon us, and with that I am visiting the Art Institute for one final viewing of his work. Surrealism has a tendency to be off-putting, with the jarring imagery that seems to stand outside of time or place. Using the techniques laid out by Renaissance artists like trompe l'oeil, Magritte employs his talent for painting "the real" and turning it on its head. As a viewer, standing before his work is arresting. It's difficult to comprehend, breathtaking, satisfying and unsatisfying all at once. I'm looking forward to immersing myself in his paintings, sculptures, and works on paper one final time.

Kavi Gupta Gallery // Sept. 19 - Nov. 15, 2014 

Image via Kavi Gupta Gallery
"I was born to do great things are the quoted words of Sandra Bush, Mickalene Thomas's late mother, a statement that speaks for both the dynamic life that she lived as well as her influence and inspiration on Thomas's artistic practice as her longtime muse. Bush has been prominent as a subject in Thomas's works over the past 14 years, inspiring her examinations of identity and style through her magnetic personality and undeniable presence. This presentation of new work explores the personal story of the woman behind the inspiration. This is a story in celebration of womanhood, motherhood, and the power of art as a totem for personal memory, a story in celebration of Sandra." - Kavi Gupta Gallery

Earlier this year, Mickalene Thomas released a documentary about her mother as her artistic muse. It looks incredibly moving, with heartfelt conversations relating Thomas' work to her close relationship with her mother, Sandra.

A Proximity of Social Consciousness: Art and Social Action
SAIC Sullivan Galleries // Sept. 20 - Dec. 20, 2014

Morgan Shoal: Lake Bottom Land Use by Dan Peterman image
via A Lived Practice
"At the core of Chicago’s intellectual and creative life stand these influential artists for whom this city itself was a springboard for a new way of thinking about art at the intersection of society. Their work has influenced generations, having made social practice a worldwide phenomenon. Now this exhibition brings their ideas alive through 10 newly commissioned projects. Exhibiting artists: Jim Duignan, Pablo Helguera (BFA 1993), Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle (MFA 1985), Dan Peterman, Pocket Guide to Hell, J. Morgan Puett (BFA 1981), Michael Rakowitz, Tamms Year Ten, Temporary Services, and Rirkrit Tiravanija (MFA 1986)."
 - The Sullivan Galleries

A Home coming: videos by Cara Megan Lewis and Alejandro Figueredo Diaz-Perera
Antena // Sept. 19 - Oct. 11, 2014

Photographic still from Antena

"The comfort of “home” is exploited in the three video works featured in the exhibition A Home coming. Each video is situated in a liminal, transitory space that complicates otherwise familiar places and implicates the role of the voyeur, blurring the distinction between reality and fiction. The exhibition will feature a collaborative artwork, and one individual work by each of the artists. 

For their individual works, both Cara and Alejandro appropriated existing “home videos.” For Cara’s video installation Let’s Do It, edited footage from a 1990 home music video - originally made in collaboration with her father - raises questions of early sexual awareness and depicts the fine line between confidence and self consciousness. Alejandro’s video on the other hand abstracts an overtly sexual video clip from a homemade porn he found online, offering a humorous perspective on that which is usually confined to the private realm. 

The setting of their collaborative video installation Cul-de-Sac is a subdivision of more than 100 houses all in the same state of construction. The timeless music box melody accompaniment implies a history and offers a counterpoint to the otherwise cultural void depicted in the footage of the construction site. The hypnotic video exposes the skeleton of a yet-to-be populated, already-scripted homogenous society that prizes superficial appearance over true quality." 
- Antena

EXPO Chicago
Navy Pier // Sept. 19 - Sept. 21, 2014

View of EXPO Chicago, 2012 via Navy Pier
If you can't make it to every single gallery, but want a slice (albeit, massive) of what is happing in the art world right now, buy a ticket to EXPO and run wild. 140 galleries representing 17 countries in 43 cities will be showing hundreds of works of art. It's a feast for the eyes as well as the senses, a massive space to immerse yourself in the art world.

My Barbarian Collective Performs "The Mother"
Gallery 400 // Sept. 19 (7 pm) and Sept 20. (3 pm)

A moment from "The Mother" via The Visualist
"My Barbarian performs a live staging of their adaptation of Bertolt Brecht’s 1932 play, "The Mother." Telling the story of a working-class mother who becomes increasingly radicalized on the eve of the Bolshevik Revolution, the play centers on the power of the affective maternal relationship to foster social change. My Barbarian is a collective consisting of artists Malik Gaines, Jade Gordon, and Alexandro Segade. Founded in Los Angeles in 2000, My Barbarian combines elements of theater and visual art to create interdisciplinary works in video, music, performance, drawing, and sculpture."
- Gallery 400

MCA Talk: Curating Bowie
The Museum of Contemporary Art // Sept. 21, 2014 (1-2 pm)

Photograph via The MCA
"David Bowie Is* curators Victoria Broackes and Geoffrey Marsh, from the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, present an overview of the exhibition and discuss Bowie’s life and work" 
- The MCA

Thursday, August 21, 2014

UIC Free Art School with Kevin Coval

As some of you may recall from a previous post, the school where I will be attending my grad program received a modest grant from the National Endowments for the Arts, and what they chose to do with the money amazed me. The grant afforded a unique experiment, the UIC Free Art School. The school was  free and open to the public on a first-come-first-served basis, and covered a wide range of sessions that included performance art, sculpture, painting, drawing, graffiti, and art history taught by leaders in the Chicago art world.  While most of the courses filled up in the blink of an eye, I managed to snag a spot on the Kevin Coval hosted Graffiti Walking Tour, and I will forever be grateful for the experience.


We met in a UIC parking lot, made our introductions and hellos, then hopped into a 16 person van and set off on a bumpy funny ride to the Crawford Steel Company in Brighton Park. The street facing walls contain sanctioned murals, masterpieces done by working graffiti artists from the Chicagoland area. The walls have been given by Crawford Steel to the artists, and the walls are worked and reworked on an ongoing basis. Around the corner, we encountered the Crawford Mural house rules, which deal with respect, boundaries, and a hope that this space better fosters the graffiti community.


Behind the factory and under a set of working train tracks are what Coval referred to as practice walls. While these aren't technically the same caliber as masterpieces behind them, they serve to act as a space for artists to work over ideas, images, colors, styles, words, and tags they are playing with. The evolution of these spaces is absolutely breathtaking, and it's merely by happenstance.

The ground was a mix of persistent foliage and remnants of art supplies
We spent a few minutes quietly pondering the sanctity of the space, and it had never occurred to me that for something as ubiquitous as graffiti, that the community remains completely underground because the art they create is illegal. Issues of space, the definition of art and beauty, neighborhood politics, and anonymity came to the forefront of our discussion, as we trekked along the train tracks to a hidden spot where some of the real magic took place.

Kevin Coval, our on-site lecturer and van driver for the day

Behind the steel factory is this amazing hidden spot. Coval told us that this is a practice space, as well as a space where graffiti artists BBQ, hang out, and enjoy one anothers company. I pretty much swooned as soon as we walked out of the dense foliage on the right. Besides the occasional mosquito, this hidden site is perfect, breathtaking, and full of color.

A character commonly found in the work of the artist Shel
As we walked along the side of the building, Coval pointed out names, shapes, and characters, sharing with us some of the stories behind the imagery. The artist Shel happened upon some books detailing the visual history of Aztec and Mayan cultures, and the influence he found in those studies began to enter his work on the street. This is one of the characters he developed, which bears a resemblance to the tribal masks and relief sculptures of the Mesoamerican cultures.


Following our visit to Crawford Steel we made a quick trip to a space along the side of the expressway, which had a completely different vibe. This didn't feel so much like a community, many of the tags were rushed, some less-developed than what we viewed at the first site. This space contained gang graffiti as well, something we saw very little of over at Crawford Steel. The site itself was interesting though, I've driven by this September 11th Memorial countless times and had no idea that there was an entire wall of graffiti beneath it.

Upon reflection, this walking/driving tour of some of Chicago's graffiti hangouts was incredibly eye opening. I learned a bit about why artists write the way they do, learned a thing or two about anonymity and breaking the law, as well as the basic but monumental difference between gang graffiti and art. I think creating sanctioned spaces for artists to work like the Crawford Steel site shows a change in the mentality surrounding graffiti, and slowly over time graffiti might finally earn its spot in the hallowed halls of the art and museum world. Banksy and Shepard Fairey are just the beginning, but after what I saw and how I felt looking at these works has me thinking graffiti is just as relevant and talentful as much of what's happening in the contemporary art world.