Archive for the ‘Art – Artists’ Category

PostHeaderIcon A Select Club Within A Club

Union League Club

Union League Club

Last week, I wrote in the Chicago Tribune, Union League’s art collection turns 125,” about the important, but relatively little-known, collection of mostly American Art at Chicago’s Union League Club. The collection, which has nearly 800 works including a priceless Monet painting, was begun in 1886, making this year its 125th anniversary.

Due to a lack of space, I had to shoehorn the history of a relatively recent club honor into two short paragraphs. I’d like, in this post, to make amends and tell the story of the club’s Distinguished Artist Program, an initiative that honors esteemed, contemporary Chicago artists.

In 1992, Phil Wicklander was staying at the Lotos Club on a visit to New York. Wicklander, then a member of the Union League art committee and a collector himself, found a program in his room signed by many noted artists. Next morning, as he ate in the club’s dining room, he marveled at the display of artworks on the club walls by the artists on his room’s program.

He brought the idea back to Chicago, thinking such a program would benefit the club’s collection which was sorely lacking art by contemporary Chicago artists. He spent several years cajoling his more conservative art committee colleagues and, in 1997, the club adopted what has come to be known as the Distinguished Artist Program.

Ed Paschke

Ed Paschke

Wicklander assured the program’s success by choosing noted sculptor Richard Hunt and mixed-media artist, Ed Paschke as the first two artists selected in 1998. The artists receive a free club membership and, in return, each donates one of their works to the collection.

The next election (chosen by current artists plus members of the club’s art committee) named Don Baum, an artist/curator associated with Chicago’s “Hairy Who” movement of the 1960s and painter Vera Klement.   Two new, equally acclaimed, artists are normally selected to join this special club biennially.  Fourteen Chicago artists have been elected since its founding.

Their works are displayed throughout the clubhouse with a concentrated selection in the 5th Floor parlor.  Several of the artists express strong satisfaction being part of an important collection in one of the city’s premier civic institutions.

John David Mooney thinks their inclusion in the club is in line with his own artistic goals. “My goal has been to take art where it’s appreciated—the public places—and not necessarily museums. Painter Vera Klement finds it refreshing to have her work in such a setting. “ What I like is that the members’ response is a direct, unfiltered response. I’ve had very good reactions based on people who are not art specialists who read Artforum or speak of what’s cutting edge.”

William Conger

William Conger

Painter William Conger sees having their work in the collection as “connecting the work of artists with the ambitious work ethic of the members in commercial and industrial enterprise. I admire that ‘let’s get it done’ Chicago attitude.”

Wicklander is proud of how his idea has worked out. What he finds especially gratifying is that, “the Art Institute and MCA may have their (Distinguished Artists) work but where is it but in the basement? The Union League now has more art by these distinguished Chicago artists than any place in the world.”

THE 14

1998—Richard Hunt and Ed Paschke

2001—Don Baum and Vera Klement

2003—Ruth Duckworth and Kerry James Marshall

2004—Michiko Itatani and John David Mooney

2006—Barbara Crane

2008—Robert Lostutter, Inigo Manglano-Ovalle and James Valerio

2010—Dawoud Bey and William Conger

PostHeaderIcon Arts In Bloom For May

Not just flowers but the arts are also in full bloom in May. If you are scouting for something different to do this month besides the old stand-bys (movies, touring museums or club-crawling), here are six events sure to inject some added spark in your social calendar.

Chi Humanities spring1. Spring Humanities Festival —May 3-15Chicagoans flock every Fall to the Chicago Humanities Festival. A lesser-known fact is that the festival has a sister version each Spring. This year’s festival is titled “Stages, Sights and Sounds” and features 40 performances by 4 theater companies from Scotland, Italy, Canada and The Netherlands. The companies will perform at the Museum of Contemporary Art and on Northwestern University’s Evanston campus. For more information on the troupes, dates and tickets, see or phone 312/494-9509.

2. Chicago Opera Theater—MAY 7 & 8When art, like life, hands you a lemon, make lemonade. That’s precisely what Chicago Opera Theater General Manager Brian Dickie did when the previously announced production, Shostokovich’s opera,”Cheryomushki,” was put off to next season. Dickie then had an inspired notion: stage two song cycles about obsessive love and add visual special effects by the Chicago Symphony’s “Beyond the Score” team of Gerard McBurney and animator Hillary Leben. The dream images, Leben says, are “meant to lead the audience through the expressive emotional content of the songs. It’s a chance to experience them on a deeper level.”

COT will present Robert Schumann’s “A Woman’s Love and Life” and Leos Janacek’s “The Diary of One Who Disappeared.” Go to witness the fascinating interplay of images and song. But hurry. There are only two performances at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance. Tickets range from $25-75 with half-price seats for students. For more information, go to

chicago-architecture-foundation-walking-tours3.After Five” Walking ToursAre you new in town or simply want to know the story behind some of Chicago’s most famous structures? The Chicago Architecture Foundation will begin a series of 11 “After Five” walking tours this month through September. Learn more about our city’s heralded architectural heritage after work and be home in time for dinner. Some offerings include “Downtown Deco,” “Modern Skyscrapers,” “Gold Coast: Astor Street.” Tours are led by the foundation’s trained docents and cost a modest $15. For a full list of tours, go to


The Front Page

4. The Front Page—Now Thru July 17At a time when blogging passes for reporting and newspapers are in financial peril, relive what Chicago journalism was like in its 1920s heyday while laughing your head off. “The Front Page”, by Chicago legends, Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, draws on their exploits (more like shenanigans) at City News Bureau in this landmark comedy that exposes the rampant corruption and hi-jinks synonymous with Windy City politics and journalism of that era. The crack TimeLine cast bring the madcap antics of star reporter Hildy Johnson Death Row inmate, Earl Williams and the paper’s tyrannical managing editor, Walter Burns, to life. To book tickets, go to


Bill Cunningham

5. Bill Cunningham New York—Starts May 20Some people read The New York Times for its political coverage, others for its business news or op-ed pundits, but the city’s entire fashion and society world read it for Bill Cunningham’s weekly photo essays. However, everyone will find the documentary, Bill Cunningham New York, enchanting for its portrait of a delightful 82 year-old, humble gentleman who gets around New York by bike and whose singular passion is capturing Manhattan’s street and night life on film. Make this movie a top priority. You will exit the Music Box on a high note. For more details, check out

6. Artspeaks—MAY 16This University of Chicago program, now in its seventh season, gathers renowned artists from various disciplines in conversation for the benefit of the campus and Hyde Park community. But I’m sure they won’t ask for your passport if you venture to Hyde Park from the North Side. Director Peter Sellars, playwright Tony Kushner, choreographer Bill T. Jones and artist Kara Walker have been past participants.

The May program features playwright/producer David Henry Hwang, best known for the play, M.Butterfly and Producer/Artistic Director Oskar Eustis, former head of New York’s Public Theater, who now teaches at New York University. They will discuss their craft and Hwang’s upcoming Goodman production of Chinglish. The duo will appear at International House, starting at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $20 and $5 for students. To order tickets, call 773-702-8068.

PostHeaderIcon 5+ 1 Worthwhile April Events

ChicagoSpringApril’s arrival not only means breaking out of winter’s frosty grip but the approaching end of the 2011-12 cultural season. Yet, rather than winding down, the arts are kicking into high gear. This month and next feature such newsworthy events as Riccardo Muti’s return to the CSO, the Miles Davis Festival at the Auditorium, Steppenwolf’s newest, “Hot L Baltimore”, and that cornucopia of visual art, Artropolis (formerly Art Chicago).  In this post, I search slightly farther afield and preview worthwhile discoveries. Like Spring’s blossoms, Chicago is blooming with arts programs outside the Loop that can prove as, or more, enjoyable than more heavily-promoted, marquee offerings.

After sorting through my pile of invitation and news releases, here are 5 local April events plus 1 attraction worth a special weekend getaway.

1. Chicago Chorale

You need to hurry to catch this superbly-trained 60-member choir perform what many listeners consider one of the supreme achievements of classical music, Bach’s Mass in B-Minor. They perform this Sunday, April 3, at        3 p.m. in the acoustically-rich surroundings of Rockefeller Chapel on the University of Chicago campus. The chorale is celebrating its 10th Anniversary season. If you are a fan of classical music or choral singing, I guarantee you a special treat. For tickets, go to

2. Next Theatre

This Evanston-based theater company, celebrating its 30th anniversary season, is known for staging socially and politically provocative drama. I saw a production of “Killer Joe” there years before Steppenwolf discovered Tracy Letts’ Osage County. On April 8, Next offers the Chicago premiere of “The Metal Children” by Adam Rapp, fresh from a sold-out run on Off-Broadway in New York. The play dramatizes a NY writer’s struggle to keep his young adult novel from being banned by a small-town school board. It parallels Rapp’s own fight with middle-America family values in Muhlenberg, PA over his novel, The Buffalo Tree. For more information and tickets, go to

3. Chicago International Movies & Music Festival (CIMM)

CIMM_LOGO_2011If the last rock feature you saw was the Rolling Stones’ IMAX, “Shine a Light”, Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold” or the classic “The Last Waltz”, you can get your rock, reggae, hip-hop fix from April 14-17 as CIMM presents its 3rd annual festival and screens 70 films from more than 20 countries ranging from features, animation, documentaries, concert films and music videos. The world premiere of Fix: The Ministry Movie about the British band opens the festival on Thursday, April 14 with a guest appearance by Ministry bassist, Paul Barker. One that I plan to see is Sizzle about a businessman with operatic pretensions who hires a professional team of musicians to stage Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte at his private country estate with him as the lead. The festival takes place at various venues around town. For comprehensive film and event listings and to purchase tickets, go to

4. Illuminating The Shadows: Film Criticism in Focus”

Cineastes, Arise! The air will be thick with clashing opinions and dueling thumbs at an ambitious conference probing the state of film criticism to be held from April 21-23 at Northwestern’s Block Museum. The conference  features four panels and four screenings plus appearances by renowned critics from across America like former Reader critics Jonathan Rosenbaum and Dave Kehr (The New York Times), Karina Longworth (LA Weekly), Wesley Morris (Boston Globe) and Scott Foundas (Film Society of Lincoln Center). Chicago is fully represented by Michael Phillips, J.R. Jones, Hank Sartin, Ray Pride, Fred Camper, Bill Stamets and Ignatiy Vishnevetshy to cite just 8. The conference kicks off on Thursday, the 21st, with a screening of noted director, Errol Morris’ 2010 feature, “Tabloid”.  All events are free and open to the public on a first-come basis. For a full schedule and more information, go to

5. Vivian Maier Photographs

Vivian Maier

Vivan Maier Self Portrait

Is there any Chicagoan left who, in the past three months, has not heard the amazing story of this Austrian-born, Chicago photographer who toiled for many years as a nanny to North Shore families? Her recently-closed show at the Chicago Cultural Center was a huge success. Like so many figures throughout art history, Maier received no recognition of her work during her lifetime but is now being hailed as one of the 20th Century’s greatest street photographers. It was only as the result of an estate sale shortly before her death in 2009 that a trove of 100,000 negatives and 3,000 of her prints revealed her secret, second identity.  Art consultant Russell Bowman will mount a new show of her work at his River North gallery, 311 West Superior on April 15th. An opening reception is scheduled from 5:30 to 8 p.m. By all means go and be spellbound by Maier’s astute eye which, like Weegee or Helen Leavitt in New York, captured the life and people on Chicago’s streets of the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s. To see a selection of Vivian Maier’s vintage photos, go to

5+1. Frank Lloyd Wright in Milwaukee

Milwaukee Art Museum

Milwaukee Art Museum

Frank Lloyd Wright was an iconic architect of the 20th Century whose fame endures in such stunning designs as Robie House, Fallingwater, Unity Temple, Johnson Wax HQ, Taliesin and the Guggenheim Museum. Yet the idea that his ideas hold lessons for contemporary times is the premise of a fascinating exhibition at the Milwaukee Art Museum. Six weeks remain to catch “Frank Lloyd Wright: Organic Architecture for the 21st Century” until it ends on May 15th. The show surveys more than 150 works, from scale models, furniture to newly-discovered home movies and 33 never-before-exhibited Wright drawings. You will also see Wright’s plans for Broadacre City, his 1932 futuristic design for a model suburbia, years before the age of the automobile. This year marks the centennial of Taliesin, Wright’s summer home, studio and school in Spring Green, Wisconsin and the 10th Anniversary of the museum’s stunning building designed by Santiago Calatrava.  For more information, go to

Country Clare Inn

Country Clare Inn

While the museum itself is worth the 90-mile trip from Chicago, you should also consider combining the visit with a sleepover. You might try County Clare, an Irish inn and pub that I can recommend based on a stay. Have a fine dinner at the delightfully atmospheric French bistro, Coquette Café, as I have several times. Milwaukee is an overlooked gem and nearly right in Chicago’s backyard. So, instead of heading east to New Buffalo some weekend in April, head north and discover Wisconsin hospitality.

For reservations, go to and

Editor’s Note: Watch for a preview of highlights of events for May.

PostHeaderIcon Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore

FitzpatrickWhether you like artist Tony Fitzpatrick’s play, “This Train”, or not will probably depend on your reaction to the playwright/performer. I must confess that I like this artist/actor/ poet/storyteller and soft-hearted mensch. His burly physique reminds me of the gruff and gritty working-class men I grew up among in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood. His art also strikes a visceral chord in my consciousness.  I’m mesmerized by his colorful collages: artwork overflowing with his personal symbology, poetic musings and memory-evoking old matchbook covers that pull me into a private, rapidly disappearing world.

For the next two weeks, Fitzpatrick has transferred his personal lamentation of a play to Steppenwolf’s Merle Reskin Garage Theatre. Like artist Julian Schnabel and designer Tom Ford who have turned to the medium of film, Fitzpatrick has laid down his pastels and taken up performance art.

While his tales are entertaining and held my interest throughout, their transfer to the stage falls short. The palpable power and coiled energy that I find in his Fitzgerald - traincollages gets diffused in the telling. Life may certainly be messy but true art is not.

While Fitzpatrick is a genuine storyteller who commands the stage, his pastiche of colorful characters and polemical rants is missing a coherent, organizing center.  Instead, Fitzpatrick’s tale meanders about the railroads’ bloody journey westward, the environmental degradation it caused, the genocide it unleashed on Native Americans and the demise of hobos who once rode the rails. His guide to the “hobo alphabet” did provide insight into symbols he employs in his art. You sense that the evening’s main theme may be the tragic loss of America’s once-bright promise.

What works best are the flashes of  nutty humor supplied by his neighbors and sidewalk hustlers as well as the musical interludes by singer/songwriter Kat Eggleston and guitarist John Rice. And Fitzpatrick’s homage to his friend and inspiration, Studs Terkel, is touching.

Fitzgerald - artFitzpatrick’s larger-than-life persona cannot be confined to a still canvas.
However, as with any good art, the material demands more defined shape and a greater edit of the extraneous than the play demonstrated. For now, my favorite Fitzpatrick remains hanging on the walls of major museums like the Art Institute of Chicago and New York’s Museum of Modern Art.

“This Train” is a presentation of Berwyn’s 16th Street Theater and runs through Sunday, August 1st.  The performance was directed by Ann Filmer, artistic director of 16th Street Theater, where it first appeared. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday and Friday evenings, 5 and 8:30 p.m. Saturdays and 7 p.m. on Sundays. Tickets are $22 and can be purchased at or by calling 312/335-1650.

PostHeaderIcon Abstract Art Made Clear

20011211_151953_VARNEDOE .JPGLast month, Mary Ann Miller, Sterling Professor of Art History at Yale, finished delivering the 59th annual Mellon Lectures at the National Gallery of Art (her talks will be available online this Fall). This renowned lecture series invites a noted art scholar to speak on their area of expertise and bears the name of Andrew W. Mellon, the museum’s initial benefactor.

When I lived in Washington some 35 years ago, I remember walking into the National Gallery for the first time and knowing, moments after entering, that I had found a kindred place.  The spacious grand lobby and rotunda gave off a feeling of old-fashioned grandeur mingled with serenity that one rarely finds now in museums.

The West Building is a museum of its time (1941), a place for quiet encounter with and reflection on art.  We owe Mellon our gratitude for his enlightened gift of art and architecture (John Russell Pope designed it) to the nation. Today, we thank him for this annual series of enlightening lectures.

This year’s Mellon talks brought to mind the 52nd Mellon Lectures, given in 2003 by the late Kirk Varnedoe, former chief curator of painting and sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art.  It sent me back to his talks, captured in book form in 2006, titled Pictures of Nothing: Abstract Art After Pollock” (Yale University Press).

Varnedoe was a gifted curator, engaging writer and speaker, a fearless tackler of complex issues of art theory and practice. His provocative and endlessly original insights never fail to convey his appreciation and zest to artistic peers and plain fans like myself. Lane Faison, his mentor at Williams College, once told me that Varnedoe was the best student he had ever taught. His death at an early age robbed us of a great scholar and communicator; perhaps America’s closest counterpart to England’s Sir Kenneth Clark.

Varnedoe worked on the lectures while he was dying. He knew they would be his last testament. Three months after delivering these six talks, he passed away. His aim for the lectures was daunting: to make us see by the sheer power of his words (delivered extemporaneously solely from notes!!) that abstraction or imageless works of art were not about “nothing” but something, even about representation, if only in opposition. He intended to also offer a logic for abstract art of as much “a valid and valuable aspect of liberal society” as the eminent art historian E.H. Gombrich did for representational art’s ideal of “illusionism”. (Delivered as the 1956 Mellon Lectures and published as Art and Illusion”. You need to read the book to see what Varnedoe is talking about.)

My intent, at first, was to summarize his main points, starting with the revolutionary nature of Abstract Expressionism and the outsize influence of Jackson Pollock and action painting. But I soon realized the impossibility of doing justice to such a goal in a blog post. It also would deprive you of meeting this charming tour guide and enjoying the richness of his intellect.

The pleasure of this book is that you will learn a great deal about contemporary art painlessly. Varnedoe’s playful personality is captured on the page. His tone throughout is not stuffy or academic but conversational.

Varnedoe filled these talks with a lifetime’s worth of insights based on intent study of the works. He teases out influences between artists, makes distinctions within movements (particularly with minimalism), adds references to philosophy, literature and art history. He asks probing questions like, “What is abstract art good for?” and offers an observation like, “Abstract art, while seeming insistently to reject and destroy representation, in fact steadily expands its possibilities.”

The book ends with a two-page profession of faith in Art and artists, a testament much like an NPR This I Believe” essay. His words are stirring. “Abstract art is a symbolic game, and it is akin to all human games: you have to get into it, risk and all, and this takes a certain act of faith. But what kind of faith? Not faith in absolutes, not a religious kind of faith. A faith in possibility, a faith not that we will know something finally, but a faith in not knowing, a faith in our ignorance, a faith in our being confounded and dumbfounded, a faith fertile with possible meaning and growth.”