Our four picks for art exhibits
“News From Nowhere: Chicago Laboratory”
“What is the role of art in society?” is an old question. But “News From Nowhere,” by Korean artists Moon Kyungwon and Jeon Joonho, addresses it from another angle: What will be the role of artists in preparing for the future?
“The problem with thinking about problems,” says Mary Jane Jacob, SAIC’s executive director of exhibits, “is that you end up wringing your hands. It leads to pessimism and hopelessness. What can wake us up? Beauty and imagination and emotion are art things, but they’re also life things.”
Moon and Jeon enlisted a varied group of people to help them think about what’s ahead: architects, fashion designers, engineers, evolutionary biologists, a mime, a monk, and, as the exhibit progresses, SAIC students and faculty. “We think of art as an object,” says Jacob, “but they want to convey that art is also a way of thinking.”
Though there’ll be objects on display too, including films, photographs, architectural plans, and fashion sketches. None offer concrete solutions. But the artists, says Jacob, are hoping for something better: “This beautiful, whacked-out, imaginative presence could plant an idea in someone’s mind or introduce a way of thinking. I hope someone seeing this will be moved by what they saw, not just emotionally or intellectually, but in ways we can act upon.” —Aimee Levitt
Reception Fri 9/20, 6-8 PM. 9/20-12/21, School of the Art Institute Sullivan Galleries, 33 S. State, seventh floor, saic.edu/newsfromnowhere. Free
“Warhol and Marisol”
Fifty years ago, before Andy Warhol was an art star, a Studio 54 fixture, and a pop philosopher, he was just another young striver in New York City, influencing and getting influenced by other young artists. Among them was Marisol Escobar, a Venezuelan sculptor new to New York, by way of Paris, and who was at the time better known than Warhol. “They were friends,” says Lynne Warren, the curator of “Marisol and Warhol,” which juxtaposes the work of the two artists. “They challenged each other. It was an important moment for both of them.”
Both Warhol and Marisol experimented with serial imagery, taking one picture and repeating it with slight variations. (This technique is most evident here with Warhol’s paintings of Jackie Kennedy.) They appeared in each other’s work: Warhol cast Marisol in some of his early films, including 13 Most Beautiful Women; Marisol painted Warhol on blocks of wood (“She transformed him into a chair,” says Warren) and put his actual shoes where the feet would be.
Marisol is still alive and living in Paris. The MCA happens to own a lot of her work because many of its founding collectors were fans. But Warren’s not sure why Marisol never became the juggernaut Warhol did. “If any of us could figure out what goes in and out of fashion,” she says, “we’d have a clue to the universe.” —Aimee Levitt
9/21-6/15, Museum of Contemporary Art, 220 E. Chicago, mcachicago.org, $12, Tuesdays free for Illinois residents.
“A Study in Midwest Appropriation”
“A Study in Midwest Appropriation” is a clunky title for an art show, and the work on display is pretty clunky as well. Christopher Bradley’s Crust Ring is a bunch of pieces of bronze painted to look like pizza crust and arranged in a circle; David Robbins’s Three False Endings is a painting of three cartoonishly deformed stop signs. The pop-art influence is clear, but instead of lifting advertising images, comics, or other New York cultural detritus, these artists are playing with a locationless middle America—road signs that sit on no road, pizzas with no center.
Curator Michelle Grabner wants to highlight the self-deprecating nature of midwestern appropriation art, but it’s interesting to see how that self-deprecation relies on the idea of the midwest not as a place but as a cultural nowhere. The aesthetes on the coast can elevate whatever piece of ephemera they’d like; here in flyover country we lack the leverage to validate. Instead of lifting up, appropriation emphasizes the flat lack of cachet stretching off to the horizon. High art or low, we’re all in the same vast regional middle, shuffling the pizza crusts on the zero-grade blacktop and maybe giggling a bit. Who says midwesterners don’t know how to have fun? —Noah Berlatsky
9/29-1/12, Hyde Park Art Center, 5020 S. Cornell, hydeparkart.org. Free
“State of Mind: New California Art Circa 1970”
In 1969, John Baldessari went out and put the word California on the actual physical ground in California, placing the text in the same position as it appeared on the map. He made each letter out of different material. The final “A” was made from dry color, rocks, and wildflower seeds at Joshua Tree National Park, the first “C” from found logs near Lake Shasta. Then Baldessari took pictures of his handiwork—pictures that you have to search for the letters almost like a gestalt puzzle.
Baldessari’s photos will be part of “State of Mind,” which focuses on 1960s and ’70s California conceptual art. As is often the case with conceptual art, the great part is that you kind of don’t even need to see it to appreciate it. The concept is the point; now that you get the idea, you could just as soon not go. Still, the concept isn’t fully actualized until you see Fred Lonidier’s photographs of sit-in demonstrators being arrested, or a video of Bruce Nauman’s video Walking in an Exaggerated Manner Around the Perimeter of a Square. Art’s a state of mind, but you can’t really be completely unsure which state of mind you’re in until you’re on-site, contemplating evidence of the location where the art isn’t. —Noah Berlatsky
10/3-1/12, Smart Museum of Art, University of Chicago, 5550 S. Greenwood, smartmuseum.uchicago.edu. Free