Five Shows to See: Chicago

Newsletter: February 3, 2017

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“Aletheia: Kosmik Kathedral​,” 2016, Dan Ramirez, oil/acrylic on shaped aluminum, 78″ x 58″

Dan Ramirez, “Aletheia”
at Zolla/Lieberman Gallery
Through February 4, 2017
“There was a time in the 1980s when if you asked anyone who was the most important painter in Chicago, they would say: Dan Ramirez,” artist and critic Buzz Spector mentioned at the recent exhibition opening. Ramirez has maintained a career-long dedication to geometric, formalist painting, and the new works in “Aletheia” are proof that this modernist method can indeed remain fresh—especially in the hands of Ramirez. With perfectly uniform gradations of spheres, curves and edges, his technique is impeccable. In works like Aletheia: Kosmik Kathedra (2016), a shaped aluminum support working in tandem with his compositions creates a bewildering illusionistic effect, like a portal into some incomprehensible space—eschewing the flatness of abstraction for something in between reality and imagination.

 

“On Ripeness and Rot #17 (Squirrel and Lemon),” 2013, Kimberly Witham

Kimberly Witham, “REAP,”
at Filter Space
Through February 17, 2017
As is typical of the photographers shown at Filter Space, New Jersey-based artist Kimberly Witham pushes the conventions of her medium. Witham’s still-lifes in “REAP” hinge as much upon nature, objects, and the traditions of Golden Age painting as they do the camera. In her “On Ripeness and Rot” series, taxidermied creatures (sourced by the artist as roadkill) and lush flora are combined—a standard, art historical composition, though Witham exploits the jarring nature of those juxtapositions. In one particularly resonate image, a fresh lemon wedge with a single drop of red liquid lies on a doily below a squirrel, stiff and coiled atop a decorative dish. Here, Witham’s content of mortality is more than just image and metaphor—it’s visceral.

 

“All The Bombs Have Been Thrown,” 2016, Eric Stefanski, oil, silicone, acrylic and charcoal on cloth, 90″ x 70″

Eric Stefanski, “Try Harder”
at State Street Gallery, Robert Morris University
Through February 23, 2017
A year’s worth of brand new work by Chicago-based artist Eric Stefanski is heaped into his solo exhibition, “Try Harder.” The artist’s aggressive, gestural handiwork is the predominant feature of these works, though that intensity is tempered by the wit and lightness of his subject matter: emoji. Stefanski’s over a dozen large-scale paintings are filled with images of heart-eyed smiley faces, and thumbs-up and thumbs-down, while in the sculptures on the floor, yellow traffic cones are split and peeled like bananas. On our mobile phones, a singular emoji stands in place of a wealth of meaning; in Stefanski’s works, he injects these simple forms with the messy drama of the contexts in which they’re so often used.

 

“Expanding the Universe,” 2008, Basim Magdy, Acrylic, spray paint, and gouache on paper; 15″ x 20″
Photo: courtesy of hunt kastner, Prague

Basim Magdy, “The Stars were Aligned for a Century of New Beginnings,”
at MCA Chicago
Through March 19, 2017
Egyptian artist Basim Magdy’s jewel-toned exhibition recalls a retro-futurist aesthetic, like a midcentury vision of what today didn’t become. Magdy’s technique of exposing slides to household substances like soda or vinegar creates the otherworldly hues throughout his many photographs, the scenes compounded with narratives of war, wonder, love and fear. If the static works in this exhibition are illustrative, Magdy’s films truly draw us in. In 13 Essential Rules for Understanding the World, over the whirring of a film projector an impassive male voice dictates the text overlying images of tulips with drawn-on faces. With rules like “Never claim to like nature or defend the environment / You’re an alien on this planet,” it’s hard to tell whether this tongue-in-cheek film is commenting on this alternate world or our own.

 

“GIGANTIC ROVERINE WITH YOUNG ALL POISONOUS ALL ISLANDS OF UNIVERSAN SEAS AND OCEANS. ALSO IN CALVERINA ANGELINIA AND ABBIEANNIA,” mid-20th century, Henry Darger (American, 1892-1973), Watercolor, pencil, and carbon tracing on pierced paper, 14″ x 33 ¾”
Collection American Folk Art Museum, New York, anonymous gift, 2001.16.4. © Artists Rights Society ( ARS), NY, Photo credit: James Prinz, ©American Folk Art Museum / Art Resource, NY

“Unreal Realms”
at Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art
Through March 26, 2017
“Unreal Realms” is a showcase of one of the most fascinating aspects that characterizes outsider art: the visionary. And here, the imagined worlds of the artists run the gamut, with Ken Grimes’ graphic and text-based conspiracy theories, the densely patterned and musically inclined drawings of Adolf Wölfli, the pre-aviation era flying machines of Charles A. A. Dellschau, and the masterfully rendered, imagined architecture of A. G. Rizzoli, whose technical facility makes him an outlier of the genre. These four artists are assembled within the context of storied Chicago artist, Henry Darger’s work and his lesser-known epic novel. In an adjacent exhibition, portions of Darger’s 15,000-word book are recreated and explicated, giving viewers an unprecedented window into a making process we may never completely understand.