Hitting up galleries on the "season kick-off" night, September 7, was like going to the Cubs home opener—jam-packed with enthusiastic fans who couldn't wait to get a glimpse of what's in store. Art students showed up in decorative outfits; wealthy collectors breezed through their favorite galleries, looking for their next purchase; and art critics came out to scope out their next story subject. Everyone had their own motives, but they all came to enjoy new art, sip free wine and schmooze with creative folk.
My friends and I decided to by-pass the more-established River North gallery district for the younger West Loop/Fulton Market area, which caters to our penchant for contemporary art. What ensued was a journey that led us to work by up-and-coming artists who discuss contemporary issues, like gender, sexuality, consumer culture, culture clashes, painting for painting's sake, the war and the current global crisis.
Starting out at the crowded 119 North Peoria Street building, we marched up the stairs to ThreeWalls. In artist Cayetano Ferrer's show "Eight Corners," he discovers environments that have been altered by man, including breathtaking images of deserted swimming pools. Meandering down the hall to Three Walls' SOLO space, where resident Canadian artist Chris Millar showed his intricate collages—amalgamations of pop culture, comic book, art world, punk and television, seamlessly layered and melded a top one another—totally blew us away. Endlessly engaging, the work had so many details, we had to use magnifying glasses to see them. A bikini-clad, green-skinned woman, a purple-skinned farm worker, a nerdy girl with black framed glasses, and a gimmicky, yellow "TEAM THREE WALLS" baseball hand were just a few of the items we spotted before hurrying next door to Bodybuilder & Sportsman Gallery. There, we were less impressed with Chris LaBelle's compound photographs—interwoven, distorted images of Koreatown and other neighborhoods—that looked almost like Magic Eye posters.
Next door at Gallery 40000, we stopped and stared at Nathan Redwood's giant ship sculpture. Built entirely out of found objects, it took over the entire space. On the piece, we recognized bits of an orange-and-white-striped caution stand, a hanging stained-glass light, a tiny TV with a looping image of a sunset and strips of old wood. It wasn't easy tearing ourselves away from Redwood's intriguing show, but the walk had to go on.
We had high hopes for "New Paintings by New Painters" at Carrie Secrist Gallery, but instead we found mixed results. The most successful pieces, by NYC-based painter Michael Antkowiak, whose paintings took an entirely new approach to the voyeuristic gaze, translated grainy webcam images of women into paint. With a color scheme of mostly yellows and purples, the pieces had a hazy palette and evoked a sense of naughtiness that we found compelling.
Across the hall at Thomas McCormick Gallery we found a snoozer of a show, full of blown-up images of microscopic bacteria and mysterious sculptures of human forms by Darrin Hallowell. Upstairs at Bucket Rider Gallery, Alexia Stamatiou's work grabbed our attention; blue nude men with little balls resting on their heads stood inside black ovals. Tiny crosses at the top implied that these men rested in graves, with titles like "Winter Expirations" adding to the creepiness factor.
We meandered over to Kavi Gupta Gallery, where we saw pop culture-influenced yellow fiberglass sculptures of various biblical prophets. Annoying and trite, these pieces were neither challenging nor original. Off we went to a new building across the street.
photo: Alicia Eler;
pictured: Marilyn and Peter Frank's "Merely Decorative"
We marched into F2 Lab
's "Nothing Can Be Yours Forever" show. Brian Yates took found antique objects to create sculptural objects that subtly resemble bombs like "Sinker," which combined a concrete block, ratchet, old piano player roll, electrical tape and tubing. At the same show, Marilyn and Peter Frank crafted neon light sculptures of words like "Merely Decorative," playing with the idea that art is just made for decorative purposes.
Before the night ended, we trekked down to NavtaSchulz Gallery and gescheidle gallery's new space. Though I'm not a huge fan of abstract work, I enjoyed Lester Schwartz's showing of works from 1984–1994, which used blue color palettes to evoke site-specific environments of Guatemalan nature in "Sea, Foliage and Shadow, Guatemala, 1980." Upstairs at gescheidle, a group show of work by the gallery's artists included Peregrine Honig's mixed-media drawing of a robin saying "Skinny Bitch!" to a little bluebird nearby. Honig left the piece purposely unfinished and inserted a paint-by-numbers outline of the surrounding flowers and tree branch.
Before we knew it, 9 p.m. rolled around and gallery owners were getting ready to close down. Though we didn't hit as many spots as planned, we saw an eyeful. For those of you who couldn’t brave the opening night madness, most of these shows run through early- or mid-October and can easily be tackled on a calmer Saturday afternoon.