Archive for the ‘Art – Exhibitions’ Category

PostHeaderIcon FRONT: Cleveland’s Art Spectacle

You have heard of the Whitney Biennial and the Venice Biennale. Well now, make way for the Cleveland Triennial for Contemporary Art, otherwise known as FRONT International. It opens officially today and will run through September 30th.

The organizers say that FRONT will partner with leading cultural and educational sites throughout Cleveland and elsewhere in the state (Akron and Oberlin) “to explore artistic collaborations, intellectual exchanges and curatorial dialogues connecting the city and the Great Lakes region to broader global, political and economic networks.” Quite a mouthful there.

Fred Bidwell

Fred Bidwell

Leading this grand design are Fred Bidwell, FRONT’s executive director, and Michelle Grabner, its artistic director. Bidwell is an entrepreneur, art collector, and philanthropist. Grabner is the chair of the Department of Painting and Drawing at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. The theme of the triennial is “An American City. “We are very much aware of putting the exhibition within the context of a cityscape,” says Bidwell. “It is about using Cleveland as a canvas for the artists in an urban context.”

Grabner has experience curating art biennials elsewhere. She was one of three curators for the Whitney Biennial 2014 in New York and the Portland Biennial in 2016. As of early June, 114 artists were scheduled to participate in 28 venues across the city. More than 45 are American artists while the rest are international. Of this number, at least 11 artists hail from Chicago: Dawoud Bey, Kerry James Marshall, Michael Rakowitz, Jennifer Reeder, Kay Rosen, Rebecca Shore, Diane Simpson, Jessica Stockholder, Tony Tasset, Jim Trainor and Anne Wilson.

Michelle Grabner

Michelle Grabner

Grabner has chosen artists to create 11 “Cultural Exercises” that will be displayed at sites throughout the city such as the Cleveland Museum of Art, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland Clinic, St. John’s Episcopal Church and the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland. One of the most ambitious exercises is Canvas City, a mural program across nine downtown blocks that revives Cleveland’s 1973 City Canvases program and the iconic mural by artist Julian Stanczak.

FRONT itself serves as a “front” for the boon in cultural tourism, which many American cities have found to be a heretofore unlikely economic engine driving urban revitalization but, much more critically, as a means of replacing lost industrial production.

Bidwell says his idea for FRONT took shape over the 2014-15 period. He was inspired by his travels to other major European festivals, including the Venice Biennale, documenta and Monumenta. He is adamant that FRONT is the opposite of the ubiquitous art fair model: “FRONT is linked by a place, a space and stories. What makes us unique is the breadth of collaboration.”

The goal of the Triennial, Bidwell claims, is to give Cleveland “a more complex and nuanced understanding of what the city is all about” as well as to showcase Cleveland as a vibrant Midwestern arts platform between the two coastal art centers. Grabner echoes this sentiment when speaking of what she hopes to achieve: “I want to see what happens when you infuse artists from all over the world onto a Midwestern platform.”

“What art does,” says Bidwell, “is allow you to wrap your head around more complex ideas” such as identity, race and gender. FRONT has great potential as a new arts model that other cities may seek to emulate.

For more information, go to

PostHeaderIcon My Favorite Christmas Music

This year, in countless coffee shops, every McDonald’s and department store, the din of treachly tunes like “All I Want for Christmas is You” and “Santa Baby” serenades us. For me, even such classics as, “Twelve Days of Christmas” and”Little Drummer Boy” lose their appeal by the 20th hearing. Thus, by December 25, this incessant din can easily dampen the joy of the holidays even before they’ve begun.

The music that best conveys the true holiday spirit for me are church hymns like “Hail the Herald Angels Sing”, “O Come, Let Us Adore Him’ and “The Holly and the Ivy”. Handel’s “Messiah”, now a Christmas staple, was actually written for Easter.

My holiday musical treat is Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos (soon to mark the 400th anniversary  of its premiere performance in 1721).  This rich orchestral suite of six concertos is so inventive and uplifting that it never fails to put me in a jolly mood. And it’s about two hours shorter than “Messiah”.

Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.The ensemble that performs this classic work with remarkable virtuosity and elan is the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center  (CMS) who will appear next Wednesday evening, December 20th, at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance. Twenty-one musical artists are scheduled to take part and produce Bach’s buoyant, beautiful melodies. They will only give a single performance. If you have never, or not recently, heard the Brandenburgs, I urge you not to miss it. It’s a Christmas party all by itself.

CMS is one of Lincoln Center’s 11 resident ensembles founded in 1969 when they opened Alice Tully Hall, its resident home in New York.  It began with an elite group of 9 prominent “Artist Members” headed by Charles Wadsworth. Over the subsequent 48 seasons, it has grown to now encompass almost 150 top musicians with a broad mission of public education and musical training for young artists with its CMS Two initiative.

CMS has been headed since 2004 by co-artistic directors, cellist David Finckel and pianist Wu Han who were named to lead the organization in 2004.  The group presents 200 concerts, lectures and master classes each season. In an interview, Finckel revealed that they have 4,000 musical works in their database. CMS made its first appearance at the Harris in 2011-12 when it offered a three program season. Due to great popular acceptance by Chicago audiences, they now offer five appearances each year. They performed their first Brandenburg concert in 2013.

Finckel offers his take on the appeal of the Bach work. “They are probably the most spiritually uplifting secular music. When you hear that music, it just crosses all the lines. Bach wrote them for everybody. And we couldn’t be more delighted.” For a list of the ensemble’s full range of activities and residencies, consult its website at

If you are in need of genuine holiday cheer, schedule a visit to the Harris Theater at or call the box office at 312/334-7777.


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!