Archive for the ‘Art – Exhibitions’ Category

PostHeaderIcon Robert Frank’s Photo Revolution

Robert Frank in 1958

Robert Frank in 1958

Renowned photographer, Robert Frank, and his photo revolution is now sixty years old. When he set out from New York City on a 2,000-mile cross-country trip in 1955, his aim was to capture on film nothing less than American society at the height of the Cold War. The result was “The Americans”, his troubling portrait of a country that he saw as segregated, anxious, isolated and lonely.

Aided by famed photographer, Walker Evans, he was able to obtain a Guggenheim fellowship. He set out in 1955 and visited cities in the East, South, West and Midwest, including Detroit and Chicago. He shot roughly 28,000 photos documenting all strata of society from which he chose 83 images (a ratio of 1:350+ snaps) to print for the book which appeared in 1958.

"Charleston, South Carolina" (1955)

“Charleston, South Carolina” (1955)

The book did not sell well initially but the introduction by writer and fan, Jack Kerouac, kept it in print. Frank’s dark artistic vision was partly the result of being an outsider (born in Switzerland) who rebelled against America’s happy-go-lucky demeanor and its love affair with consumer capitalism. It was the heyday of Madison Avenue and television sitcoms like “Ozzie and Harriet” and “Leave it to Beaver.”

Initial reaction to the book was harshly critical. Popular Photography dismissed his “warped images of hate” as well as his blurred images, muddy exposures and “general sloppiness,” all cardinal taboos of that time. However, within a decade, his work gained approval and the book became a classic. It was also panned by The New York Times.

Movie Premier Hollywood (1955)

Movie Premiere, Hollywood, 1955-56.

Frank is considered the inventor of street photography. His images broke with that period’s rules: he shot from a moving car, sitting in a bar, hiding out of sight as well as on the fly. “The Americans” has since traveled the world to great acclaim but it was Hugh Edwards, curator of photography at the Art Institute of Chicago, who gave Frank his first museum show in 1961 (a year before the Museum of Modern Art did) and bought 30 photos from the series for its permanent collection.

It seems fitting that the museum’s current exhibition of Frank’s classic and more recent work should return to its first home more than a half-century later.  Now that his “American” images enjoy iconic status, it is impossible to look at

 Political Rally-Chicago 1956

Political Rally-Chicago (1956)

them fresh or gauge the impact they had when they first appeared. They convey a not too pretty picture of mid-century America that we prefer not confront. The pictures may seem totally in the past but they still have power to startle and the themes they capture are still with us.

Visitors should check out the show’s catalogue which is printed in an old medium: newsprint. Steidl, Frank’s German publisher has produced a newspaper, lavishly illustrated, covering all aspects of Frank’s career–photos, film, books. It is for sale in the museum gift shop for a bargain $5. I hope there are still copies available.

“Robert Frank: Photos” is on view at the Art Institute through August 20. For information about it and other exhibits, go to

PostHeaderIcon Two Photographic Superstars Side by Side in New Exhibit

Editor’s Note: My interview with the director of the Block Museum of Art and the curator of its newest exhibit appeared online in Crain”s Chicago Business on January 15th.

A museum exhibition pairing Edward Steichen and Andy Warhol may seem a puzzling, if not perverse, choice. Both men revolutionized photographic practice. And each was the portrait photographer of their day. Steichen’s photos for Vogue and Vanity Fair at Conde Nast from 1923 to 1937 gave new definition to how glamour and celebrity were portrayed. Warhol resurrected and redefined portraiture with his iconic images of Marilyn Monroe and Jacqueline Kennedy in the early 1960s.

But the similarities end there. While Steichen’s images convey pure elegance, most Warhol images are more banal. Famed photographer Walker Evans claimed that Warhol was a “purveyor of parvenu elegance and slick technique.” There was nothing slick about Steichen.

While they appear to be artists from two different planets, Warhol admired Steichen, collected his work and drew inspiration from him. A new show opening Jan. 18 at the Mary & Leigh Block Museum of Art at Northwestern University in Evanston, “Steichen/Warhol: Picturing Fame,” marks the premiere display of a gift of 49 vintage Steichen prints alongside an earlier donation of 150 Warhol images and five new prints by the Andy Warhol Foundation of the Visual Arts.

Crain’s talked with Block director Lisa Corrin and exhibit curator Elliot Reichert about this exhibit; this is an edited version of that conversation. The exhibit, which represents the first time the two photographers have been shown side by side, runs through April 6.

Why put together Warhol and Steichen?
Ms. Corrin:
I had an instinct about the relationship between these two artists. It was Elliot who discovered that relationship between Steichen’s Garbo photograph and Warhol’s inkblot works on paper, showing tracings of the Steichen photograph. Warhol even owned the cover of the Vogue magazine issue with the photo on the cover. That was the jumping-off point.
Mr. Reichert: Warhol studied the way the master photographer (Steichen) portrayed glamour and celebrity, subjects that unite the work of these important artists.

How did the Steichens come to the Block?
Ms. Corrin:
Northwestern (University’s) president, Morton Schapiro, has for many years been a close friend of Richard and Jackie Hollander. The Hollanders decided it was time to give away some of their extraordinary Steichen holdings to three museums — the Whitney Museum of American Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Block. Our president was extremely proactive in convincing them to make the Block the Midwestern institution for their gift.


 - Actress Clara Bow for Vanity Fair, by Edward Steichen (1928), - Steichen/ Vanity Fair; © Condé Nast

Actress Clara Bow for Vanity Fair, by Edward Steichen (1928),

Steichen/ Vanity Fair; © Condé Nast

What were Steichen and Warhol’s innovations in portraiture?
Mr. Reichert:
Steichen began applying new methods, using the latest artificial lighting new at the time and staged backdrops to bring the figure into bold focus. That was a dramatic departure from what came beforehand. Part of the reason for the death of portraiture before Warhol arrived was the development of the camera. I think Warhol understood this and, through his use of Polaroids, brought portraiture back to the canvas.

Steichen’s life overlapped with Warhol’s. Would Steichen have liked what Warhol was doing?
Ms. Corrin:
I think he would have liked the entrepreneurial spirit. Steichen was a great opportunist. He was a great tuning fork for the changes that were happening in his lifetime and he understood the power of photography and of the mass-produced photographic image. That is what he has in common with Warhol. Warhol also understood the power of taking reproducible images and turning them into art with a capital A. In a way, Warhol made you somebody. He gave people who were nobodies status; he made them important.

What image do each of you like best?
Ms. Corrin:
I’ll pick an image not of a person but an artwork, Brancusi’s “Bird in Space,” one of the most notorious artworks of its time. When Steichen photographs the Brancusi, he photographs it as if it was a movie star. It’s in the spotlight, it’s practically elevated onto an altar. He turns it into something almost religious. And when he photographs Greta Garbo, she becomes more than a woman. Like with the Brancusi, they transcend the life of that thing or that person. That’s the genius of Steichen, how he was able to propel those images into the public imagination

 - Carly Simon, by Andy Warhol, (1980) - © 2013 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Carly Simon, by Andy Warhol, (1980)

© 2013 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Mr. Reichert: The photograph of Clara Bow taken in 1929 by Steichen. You can see he is refining what is coming to be defined as glamour in Hollywood: the direct gaze, the perfectly coiffed hair, lips slightly puckered and rubied, jewelry dangling. She’s compressed close inside the picture. Steichen is really trying to get as much into that photograph of desirous, glamorous beauty.

Then go to Warhol’s Polaroid of pop singer Carly Simon taken in 1980 and you see the same conventions there. Her lipstick is bright red, her hair is coiffed out to fill the frame . . . so all you can see is her face and hair and bare shoulders. It’s a banal portrait but shows how Warhol is looking directly at that glamour tradition that Steichen initiated in the 1930s but also how he subverts it by making it an image he used over and over again — mass-produced, readily available.

What accounts for Warhol’s enduring fame?
Mr. Reichert:
There was a time when Warhol was looked at askance by the art world. Now, nothing sells faster than a Warhol. Several things can explain this. More people today have a sense of post-Modernism — a leveling of all artistic categories with all things having equal importance. Plus, I think his images have defined a new kind of celebrity in their own way. For people of a younger generation, Warhol represents more of what a celebrity icon is than even Edward Steichen.

PostHeaderIcon My One-of-a-Kind Show Guide

In my last post on holiday fairs, I wrote that I usually avoid the One-of-a-Kind Show held each December at the Merchandise Mart. Mixing more than 600 artisans in one space with thousands of weekend holiday shoppers is not my idea of a good time. Plus taking in so many merchants tends to dull one’s taste buds for judging what is truly worthwhile from what is common, if not kitsch. But my experience this year was a welcome change.

I arrived for a media tour of the fair before the crowds arrived Thursday. And I decided on an experiment: Walk through the show for one hour and see which booths caught my eye. The artists I chose had to be showing distinctive wares. Sometimes their display was quite eye-catching as well. I think my modus operandi might be a good way for the ordinary shopper, with limited time and budget, to save their sanity as well.

I emerged at the end of my selective tour with a list of roughly a dozen booths worth visiting. Another time saver: I avoided the Food and Fashion sections entirely and focused solely on artisans. Several clothing artisans I visited were exhibiting outside the Fashion area. So, after the hour,, here are the artists who I think had the most creative displays.

Teepees from Rattlesnake Crossings–Booth 3024–Something completely different and ideal as a special Christmas gift for your young cowboy. Kali Butterfly–Booth 3065–Appealing anodized aluminum jewelry that the artist says will never tarnish. And surprisingly affordable.  I wasn’t looking for clothing artists but Mia Tyson–Booth 4096–caught my eye instantly. Colorful, artistic jackets and vests made of cashmere/merino wool. Kali Basi Design–Booth 4077–Distinctive scarves, shawls, dresses all made of Nuno Felt (Don’t ask me what that is).

Lenae May (3136D) and Nora del Busto (8064)–Both of these exhibitors feature great giant and small Christmas stockings.  Lenae May features more traditional designs while Nora is a clothing designer who fashions her “upscale stockings” from luxurious, left-over fabrics. Next two are special. Paz Sintas–Booth 8055–Stunning jewelry designs completely crafted from textiles that appear solid. Her work is featured in many museum stores, including the Art Institute, Getty, Whitney and Walker Art Museum. Sintas’ work worth a special visit as is the booth of Jeffrey Weiss Designs–Booth 8048–You should see his leather-looking (actually a special microfiber) raincoats. You can be a standout in one of these creations.  To go with those raincoats or a Mia Tyson jacket, visit Sharon De La Cruz–Booth 6088 to sample her long, draped, colored, ethnic-influenced scarves.

The next three artisans showed more whimsical offerings, but ones with lots of panache and affordable prices (from under $25 to 50). Start with Garbella–Booth 8979–You’ll find fun T-shirts, totes and kitchen towels that make great stocking stuffers here.  Another must stop in this vein is the booth of Megan Lee Design–Booth 7078–A designer of artistic T-shirts and tunics. A surprising, more alternative exhibitor likelier to be found at the Renegade Art Fair. Finally, I was stopped short at a booth catering to a passion of mine, artistic boxes. If that also rings your bell, head  to Mirabelle Studio–Booth 7054–Artist Judy Lynn creates beautiful handmade books and boxes that would satisfy the discriminating book lover or writer on your Christmas list. No need to gift another boring book.

As the clock struck eleven, I was stopped in my tracks by the photography of Gregory Turco–Booth 7071 (not sure, check program). His giant photos of record album covers and a bookcase took me back to my youth. However, Turco is a true artist, so step inside his booth and also view his studies of distressed architecture. A fine way to end my tour and possibly your shopping spree as well.  Hope this guide helps!

PostHeaderIcon Shop Art Fairs for Holiday Gifts

It’s so discouraging to see the holiday season starting earlier year after year. It was only Halloween last week and already store windows featured Christmas trees and decorations to put us in the mood to spend early and freely.

I prefer to get the holiday spirit in a more personal way. This year, I intend to make the rounds of several holiday art fairs to find my presents. These smaller events sport a more festive air and nearly always provide better opportunities than department stores to find distinctive, handmade creations.

Sgt. Pepper Flipflops

Sgt. Pepper Flipflops

While nearly all such fairs start the first week of December, I’m going to begin my holiday search early at Artisan Market Streeterville next Saturday, November 9th (It also runs November 10th). It’s held in the atrium at Northwestern’s Lurie Research Center, 303 East Superior. It’s a hidden jewel! This community fair features a select pool of 50 juried artisans offering wares in categories such as clothing, jewelry, ceramics and home decor. Last year, I got a free stylish booklet featuring recipes from select chefs just for showing up and I hear this year that all attendees will receive a free booklet of a dozen specialty drinks from Streeterville mixologists.

Newman Necklace/bracelet

Newman Necklace/bracelet

Many Chicagoans make the One of a Kind Show at the Merchandise Mart their default destination. I went a few years back but have avoided it lately because it has become so big (500 artists) that my head starts spinning with so many choices and I tend to walk out empty-handed. But if you must try it, it will be held Dec. 5-8. I’d suggest going the first two days or else many good items will be gone by the weekend.

You can find me December 7th or 8th at the Renegade Craft Fair Winter Market just because it sounds like fun. More than 150 artists will be on hand with craft  demonstrations and entertainment. It’s at the Pulaski Park Fieldhouse, 1419 West Blackhawk.

Architectural Artifacts at 43 25 North Ravenswood is a massive warehouse featuring fabulous antique and novelty artifacts the rest of the year but on Dec. 9th, 75 artists will be on hand showing their creations. I love the venue and will definitely check it out for the holidays. Their antique wares are fairly pricey but I hope the holiday fair won’t empty my wallet.

Finally, on December 14th and 15th, the 15th annual Bucktown Art Fair gets underway. This seems like a good spot if you are getting near Christmas and still haven’t found that right gift. 100 Exhibitors will be on hand at the Holstein Park Fieldhouse, 2200 North Oakley Avenue.

Of course, countless churches and boutique shops will be hosting their own holiday events. Don’t get frazzled in fighting hurried department store crowds. Keep it simple, stay in the holiday spirit by following the saying, Small is Beautiful!

For more information and hours of operation, check the websites: 
Artisan Market:
One-of-a-Kind Show:
Renegade Craft Fair:

Architectural Artifacts:;
Bucktown Art Fair:

PostHeaderIcon Photography’s 150 Years on View

Bouquet of Flowers by Edward Steichen

"Bouquet of Flowers" by Edward Steichen

A rare synchronicity of scheduling makes it possible for photography fans and collectors to survey 150 years of photography in three current museum exhibitions. The only hitch: you need to travel to Milwaukee, Washington D. C. and New York to do so. You can take in the most expansive show–75 years from 1906 to 1981–at the nearby Milwaukee Art Museum’s “Color Rush: American Color Photography from Stieglitz to Sherman,” a sharp-eyed, captivating survey on view through May 19.

Next, fly to Washington’s National Gallery of Art for “Faking It: Manipulated Photography before Photoshop” that runs through May 5. Then head up to The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York for “Photography and the American Civil War” which is up through September 2.

One theme running through all three shows, overtly stated or not, is the meta question of what is “real.” Such a question would have been inconceivable for Civil War photographers Matthew Brady, Alexander Gardner and Timothy O’Sullivan who captured the fierce reality of battle. The National Gallery show deals with the less-explored issue of photo manipulation before Photoshop came along in 1987.  Milwaukee tackles the struggle color photography endured during the first six decades of the 20th century to be accepted as “real’.

Red Interior

Color Rush - "Red Interior"

“Color Rush” begins in 1907 with the Lumiere brothers, Auguste and Louis, introducing the autochrome, the first widely used color process that didn’t require the manual application of color. Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Steichen learned the process that first year and autochromes debuted in American magazines, such as National Geographic, in the 1910s.

The co-curators, Milwaukee’s Lisa Hostetler and the Art Institute of Chicago’s Katherine Bussard, have fashioned a decade-by-decade, scholarly yet highly accessible tour of color’s life story. The exhibit features leading photographers of each period with the focus on color’s evolution and photographic practice. Bussard spoke of their intentions. “Lisa and I set out to rectify the problematic–if prevailing–notion that color photography prior to the 1970s was either amateur or commercial and only recognized as such. The historical reality was never that simple, never so definitive.”

The show has a bipolar personality. During its youthful years, color film was used primarily by advertisers and commercial printers to lure consumers with eye-catching images before exploding into total saturation with Brownie and Polaroid cameras. By the late ’60s, color film has its artistic breakthrough.

For nearly a century after photography’s origin, black-and-white monochromes were the artistic language of reality. While Kodak introduced 35mm Kodachrome film in 1936, color remained the province of advertising, photo magazines such as LIFE and movie spectaculars. As color technology developed, the issue of realism between black and white and color was joined.

Starting in the 1960s, Americans begin snapping color pics by the millions to capture everyday moments and key life events. Alongside its penetration into popular culture, the exhibit registers color’s move into the art world with “The Conceptual Turn.” Artists such as Bruce Nauman, Ed Ruscha, Joel Meyerowitz and William Eggleston react against conventional notions of art-making and see the artist as a producer of ideas rather than simply objects. Their photos blur the boundary between art and life.

The exhibit ends with images by Cindy Sherman and a provocative video installation by Nan Goldin. I only wish the curators’ critical gaze had encompassed more conceptual and pop culture references from the 1980s. It felt like the exhibition ended too abruptly with Sherman and Goldin. However, I’d highly recommend making this enjoyable show part of a weekend getaway.

Leap into the Void at NGA

"Leap into the Void" at NGA

Starting with the invention of Photoshop, the question of whether a photo presents a true representation of reality or a crafty manipulation is ambiguous and rich with distinctions that would have baffled earlier generations. The National Gallery show demonstrates that altered photos are part of a tradition dating to the origins of photography in the 1840s. Even a photo purist  as Ansel Adams was not above making tonal changes to enhance his iconic images.

The National Gallery’s press release makes a telling point. The exhibit images show “that photography is–always has been–a medium of fabricated truths and artful lies.” Wish I had said that myself. This is a show I’m sorry to miss.

Pennylvania Light Artillery

"Pennylvania Light Artillery"

The Met exhibit features more than 200 rare and poignant photos of the Civil War, the national tragedy in which an incredible 750,000 lives were lost. the curators examine the evolving role of the camera during America’s bloodiest war.

While the works of Brady, Gardner and O’Sullivan are the most iconic images, the conflict engaged the talents of roughly 1,000 photographers, working individually and in teams. It features studio portraits of Union and Confederate soldiers made on thin sheets of copper (daguerreotypes), glass (ambrotypes) or iron (tintypes), gory battlefield views of the dead at Antietam and rare muti-panel panoramas of Gettysburg’s killing fields.

Fly to all three venues online and access information about each exhibit, go to, and

Addendum: I have just returned from a visit to the Art Institute and discovered another photographic exhibit worth your time. It is When Collecting Was New,a display from the Robert A. Taub collection. Taub purchased his first photo at a bookstore in Denver in 1960 and acquired most of the 200 works he donated to the museum during the 1970s and early 1980s.

Galax, Virginia by Lee Friedlander

"Galax, Virginia" by Lee Friedlander

That was a key period in photography’s acceptance as a true art form. The market boom for fine art photographs took off in the 1970s and was led by two pioneering New York dealers, the Witkin and Light Galleries.

Taub played an important role in paving the way for color photography’s acceptance as an undeniable part of art practice. By collecting vernacular and commercial images, such as NASA photographs and images commissioned by his employer, Ford Motor Company, Taub helped change the definition of photographic art.

The Department of Photography will host a free seminar on the show on Friday, April 26th from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. in Fullerton Hall. Registration is not required. It should prove a worthwhile event.