Author Archives: jvanha

Beatriz Milhazes Lecture


Visiting Artist Programme
School of the Art Institute of Chicago
December 3, 2013

Expecting a huge turnout, I arrived a little early at the Columbus Auditorium to bag a seat, only to find I was one of the first to arrive. Obviously, SAIC students aren’t as enticed by Beatriz Milhazes work as they are by Andrea Zittel or Janine Antoni who both spoke to full houses. She is probably less known in the US, exhibiting in New York but with projects primarily in Europe and her native Brazil where she still lives and works. 

Andrea Green, Director of the Visiting Artist Programme, made the initial welcome, followed by a croaky biography and introduction by Terry Myers who is Chair of the Painting and Drawing Department. He described Milhazes work as ‘hybrid, in the best possible way’ which was a fitting explanation of her distinctive mash-up of painting and collage.

I was first introduced to Milhazes work by accident in the Spring of 2009; coming across her solo show at the Fondation Cartier contemporary art gallery whilst looking for a patisserie in Montparnasse. The vibrancy of her palette, the surface qualities of her acrylic transfer technique and the intriguing vinyl window installation was compelling and refreshing. I was hoping she would be as captivating and exuberant in person.

Keeping in mind that she is not a native English speaker, Milhazes speech was far from fluid and at times she struggled to find the right words and sentence structures. Initially it felt jarring and hard to follow; but as the talk progressed, I came to enjoy her matter of fact descriptions and unique turn of phrase. Her slides were organized sequentially and all the titles and work descriptions were in Portuguese, with dimensions in centimetres. I felt she could have taken the time to translate this to suit her US audience, especially as this is such a prestigious honour and well-paid gig.

She began by speaking about work from the early 1980’s, and continued through the decades noting shifts of focus in her work, some of which were imperceptible. She concluded with an impressive array of large-scale international site-specific projects as well as a series of silkscreens created in collaboration with Durham Press, set design, some decidedly Jacob Hashimoto-esque mobiles and two artist books.

Generally, Milhazes spoke about the formal qualities in her work, siting herself as a geometric abstract artist who is focused on making order by organizing forms and colour into structures. She sited Surrealism, Op art and Pop art as influences and the Rio Carnival, Brazilian music, plant forms and lace as inspiration. I got the feeling she has been largely self-directed in her practice; she certainly knows where she is headed and must have been a demanding co-collaborator on her silkscreen projects. I appreciated the emphasis she placed on the hand, not getting enticed into the digital world even though her work embodies that aesthetic, and how she prefers to work alone in her studio with studio assistants only assisting with documentation and computer translations for site-specific work.

A couple of comments stood out for me amongst the somewhat chaotic organization of her thoughts. Milhazes advised artists they can have as many sources as they like, but they must forget these interests in the studio in order to actually create a tangible structure. I agree wholeheartedly and have seen proof of this in my time at SAIC where the idea can mask the actual visual output.  She also kept referring to the fact that she doesn’t ever draw, and instead works straight onto the canvas with no preparatory sketches or layouts. As much as I value drawing as a research and planning tool, it makes sense that Milhazes doesn’t – patience and groundwork aren’t high on her list of priorities.

I concluded that Milhazes is indeed like her paintings; vivacious yet set in her ways and full of drive and genuine love for what she does.

Janna van Hasselt

Janine Antoni Lecture


Janine Antoni can certainly pull a crowd – even during SAIC’s critique week, the Columbus Auditorium was filled to capacity with an audience completely entranced by her gentle floating intonation and beautiful slides of her work.

I hadn’t heard of Antoni until this semester during my graduate seminar where she was mentioned in what seemed like every critique. Her work could certainly be relevant to anyone because it’s basically about the processes we go through in life, from separation and connection to sleeping, peeing, bathing and mopping.

She described her work simply and elegantly, with each piece’s story unfolding at a gentle pace with just the right amount of detail, reference and humour.

Ben DeMott Lecture


This was the first faculty search presentation I have attended, and I could feel the anxiety and judgement in the room with so much riding on this lecture. Ben DeMott is one of three candidates for a full-time faculty position in the ceramics department. He outlined his approach to his own art practice as well as numerous artist influences and ways of working. ‘Making as Thinking’ was a central theme, as well as the relationship between ‘Theory and Praxis’.

 Ben’s recent work with extruded porcelain is incredibly intricate and he embraces the delicate material’s fragmentation and tendency to slump and morph in the kiln. I was intrigued by the strong relationship between his drawings and sculptures and how the mixture of marks can cohabitate to create highly complicated systems.

 Let’s hope Ben is the one chosen after a jam-packed day of intense scrutiny – he’d make a valuable addition to the department.

Dianna Frid + Allison Wade: Turn of Phrase


It was quite a trek out to the Riverside Arts Center, but well worth the trip to hear Dianna Frid and Allison Wade talk.  I attended the closing reception which included a relaxed (bordering on intense) conversation between the artists fuelled by questions from the show’s guest curator Julie Rodrigues Widholm from the MCA.

I felt a little overwhelmed by the woman power in the room, with Joan Livingstone, Anne Wilson, Jessica Labatte, Judy Ledgerwood and Karen Reimer in attendance, and wouldn’t have switched seats with the panellists!

The tiny gallery spaces were completely packed so I wasn’t able to view much of the work in up close, but the polish of Allison’s carefully constructed and balanced pieces was refreshing and sat beautifully alongside Dianna’s woven text pieces and intriguing graphite wall installation.

Jose Lerma at the MCA

It was a treat to finally view Jose Lerma’s monumental paper portraits in the flesh after seeing so many reproductions in catalogues. From a distance the busts appear to be made of chunks of plasticine but his use of monochromatic photography backdrop paper as sculpting material is naïve yet incredibly sophisticated.  I wonder what the patrons think of their portraits created in this less-than-flattering light.

This show is in the space sponsored by BMO Harris Bank and Lerma acknowledges this by taking the two founders and first presidents of the bank’s amalgamation as subject matter for his huge carpet portrait (which you can walk on if you are willing to don a pair of classy white ‘over-booties’). This attention to the relationship between patrons, artists and the public is pure genius.

I usually find sound pieces to be fairly obnoxious in public gallery spaces, but the dull tone echoing throughout the space is actually the sound of the physical weight of his huge airbrushed portrait painting sitting on two keyboards. The fact that we can visually trace the source of the sound makes this aspect important, justifiable and just a little bit cheeky.

The 38th Floor

I’ve been up to the signature lounge on the 96th floor of the John Hancock Building numerous times, but never to any of the other floors – so when I saw an opening invite card for Valerie Carberry Gallery, I was excited to have a reason to visit the 38th floor. We stepped into the elevator and tried pressing 38, but to no avail, we needed special permission to enter this prestigious floor! After signing in with security and being swiped in by the guard we were on our way up and up…then strolling past the plastic surgery specialists, a Christies auction office, Richard Grey Gallery who have a selection of Alex Katz paintings on show, and inside the small gallery with the big view.

I was keen to see the group show ‘Under Investigation’ which features Jim Lutes, Laura Letinsky and Julia Fish. This was mainly because I’d heard so much wonderful feedback about Jim Lutes as a teacher and mentor at SAIC and I was fond of Julia Fish’s drawings at the Art Institute last year. However, it was Laura Letinsky’s work which stood out for me – carefully composed photographs appearing like collages of the detritus of meals: clean white tablecloths, watermelon remains, spills, veils of mystery and sterility.

The gallery felt suffocatingly commercial, especially with its high-brow office neighbours. For the first time in my Chicago gallery-visiting experience, it felt wrong to visit the space simply to look and appreciate with absolutely no intention to buy. I can picture the residents of the John Hancock building quite happily taking the elevator up (or more likely down) to the 38th floor and being able to purchase without even needing to put their coat on. I won’t be back anytime soon, although David Hockney is opening at Richard Grey Gallery later this month – might be worth a look?

Jonas Wood at Shane Campbell Gallery


After a long day gallery hopping by bike, it was a pleasure to step inside the serenity of Shane Campbell gallery and find such a treasure trove of paintings. Jonas Wood certainly knows his medium. There’s something so appealing about the simplicity of paint on canvas; of completely flat matt areas behind chunky brushwork with bristle traces undisguised. Lush colours too – vivid and inviting without being day-glo.

The pieces share elements of both Matisse and Rousseau’s style with their focus on bold patterns and jungle-esque pot plants. Wood’s paintings are intimate, exquisite and 100% covetable.



Meow Wolf at Thomas Robertello Gallery


I’m a frequent visitor to Thomas Robertello Gallery, but nothing could have prepared me for Meow Wolf’s all-encompassing multi-media installation which currently engulfs the entire space from the ceiling down.

Meow Wolf are a collective of 18 artists based in Santa Fe who have been collaborating since 2008. Nucleotide is described as an ‘immersive oceanic environment of a personified collective consciousness’ and took three solid weeks to create. Toothpicks, Q-Tips, false nails, mirrors, spray foam, christmas lights and oodles of hand-applied plaster are just some of the plethora of materials used.

It feels like a underwater Christmas grotto and simply has to be experienced first hand – such a breath of fresh air amongst the crisp white west loop galleries.

Nucleotide runs through December 14, 2013.
Thomas Robertello Gallery, 27 N Morgan Street, Chicago 60607


Sarah Urist Green Lecture


I’d never been to an official lecture by a curator, and I wondered if it would follow the same format as an artist talk. Would there be slides?  Would the experience of working with artists be discussed, or purely the curatorial decision-making?

Sarah Urist Green is one of three guest curators chosen for the 2014 SAIC MFA Show at Sullivan Galleries. I have no idea how these curators are selected and I’m still working out exactly what their role will encompass; I’m hoping we will be paired with one of them for studio visits and general advising.

Sarah is the curator of contemporary art at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. She did show slides and began by discussing the big move she had made from NYC, and then touched on the challenges of creating a stimulating and current exhibition schedule that also appeals to the local public. This appears to be an ongoing conflict of interest and I appreciated her placing such high importance on whether visitors had ‘liked’ the shows; I guess this is one big measure of success for a curator.

Sarah discussed a number of varied site-specific pieces she had commissioned from artists for the museum’s central gallery foyer, but I was most taken by her recent curatorial project titled ‘Graphite’. The exhibition celebrated a broad range of uses of the medium, from Carl Andre’s solid graphite chunks, to Judith Braun’s wall pieces. She spoke about how some of the artist’s initial ideas for the show had changed dramatically on final installation and her attitude to this was very understanding and accepting.

Unfortunately, I had to leave before the end, but there was no mention made of The MFA Show and what she hoped to bring to the table. I’d certainly enjoy working with her as I feel she understands the artistic process and is open to artists changing direction and focus as projects develop.


EXPO Chicago Top Five

This year’s EXPO Chicago felt much like the 2012 fair with a similar showing of galleries and the wonderful interior environment designed by Jeanne Gang and Studio Gang Architects again adding elegance to the lounge areas (love those noodle couches!). The only marked difference was the absence of Jessica Stockholder whose work seemed to be present in every other booth last year.

Here’s my top five artist picks amidst the 120 galleries represented:

Judy Pfaff
There was a strange mix of wall relief pieces from 1984 to 2013, but the same wild and unrestrained signature Pfaff style unified the collection presented by Carl Solway Galleries in Cincinnati. I’ve always been a huge fan of her work and the latest pieces utilizing honeycomb cardboard and paper lanterns she found through her travels through China are full of energy and noise.

Betty Woodman
I almost mistook Woodman’s work for a Matisse cut-out (which wouldn’t have seemed out of place next to the booth dedicated to Motherwell’s collages).  Instead of painted paper, she utilizes glazed ceramic slab pieces and pots as collage elements against canvas. The result is far from crafty and it should be noted that Betty Woodman was 82 when she made this piece last year…what an absolute legend!

Greg Bogin
I’m sure I’m not the only one who was intrigued by the odd yet enthralling yellow urethane sculpture on show in Koenig and Clinton’s booth by Greg Bogin. The piece is incredibly seductive and well-lit to show the slight translucency of the material. It left me wanting to see more of Bogin’s work.

Clive Murphy
Who can resist fully inflated BBQ cardboard boxes and FedEx packing? These pieces are playful yet the level of their inflation makes me uneasy; I can almost hear the explosive pop should their pressure be released. On researching more of Murphy’s work, he is certainly not a ‘one-trick-pony’ as I had suspected and definitely one to watch.

Kaari Upson
Upson’s mattress drew me into an otherwise dull gallery booth; its fleshy forms and strange rectangular impression where we would expect a soft head-shaped imprint adds to the unsettling undertone of the piece.  I assume it is made of cast silicone like her other mattress pieces (the scribbled label only listed her name) and this one has an even more disconcerting feeling with its size association to cots and infants.