Reflections of an EAM Intern

For the past three months I have been the curatorial intern here at the Elmhurst Art Museum, working under curator Staci Boris. On the day of my interview, Staci took me back into the McCormick House. We talked about the upcoming exhibitions that would take place in that space, Room by Room and Playboy Architecture, 1953-1979, as well as the annual benefit auction, Soiree, all on which I would work if I got the position. By the end of our interview it was clear that if I wanted to be a part of the EAM team I needed to be know at least one thing very well: Mies van der Rohe and his role in the making of modern architecture.

A recent shot of the exterior of the McCormick House

A recent shot of the exterior of the McCormick House

Of course I’ve learned much more than that in my time here. From the history of the McCormick House and its occupants, to how to research, write about, and put together over 50 works of art for an auction, to the specific values of vintage Playboy issues, I’ve gained a lot of knowledge over my short time here. On the level of functionality in a small museum, the first essential lesson is to learn how be juggler of many tasks, a wearer of many hats. In a single day I had researched the woman who first lived in the McCormick House, an important yet under-recognized poet and Poetry Magazine editor by the name of Isabella Gardner, meticulously applied vinyl letters to a very resistant wall, and surfed the Internet for the terms and conditions of art auctions. Never having claimed to be tech-savvy in any sense of the term (I’m a failure to my title of Millennial), I’ve spent hours configuring three Sonos speakers to play jazz music throughout the McCormick House for the Playboy exhibit, testing projectors, and reading tech forums for the best way to play gifs on tablets. (I never knew a device had to be “rooted” for certain apps to function before last week.)

A view of EAM's 2016 Playboy Architecture exhibit in the McCormick House, featuring vintage editions of the magazine

A view of EAM's 2016 Playboy Architecture exhibit in the McCormick House, featuring vintage editions of the magazine

Museums can be viewed as many things: pleasurable, sacred, elite, educational, mausoleums, etc. Traditionally, there is the museum template of white walls, clear labels, a suggested path to follow from gallery to gallery. It is ritual; it is routine. What I loved about being here at the Elmhurst Art Museum is the chaos, the collaboration, the will of every individual working behind the scenes that makes that calm, cohesive exhibit possible. The success of our work (from my view) is in the details of reception: the exhilaration of the guests entering David Wallace Haskins’ Void Room, the look of comprehension on people’s faces when they realize that it does make sense to have an exhibit on Playboy design in an art museum, the excitement of a community at Soiree raising thousands and thousands of dollars for the museum after months of work by us all.

A lively shot captured during the auction at EAM's 2016 Soiree

A lively shot captured during the auction at EAM's 2016 Soiree

The possibility of all these moments relies on the invisibility of our labor, the erasure of any struggles or large effort. And many times those physically involved in hanging the works or building and painting walls or platforms are not cited for their work. But this effort comes not from a desire of recognition but from the desire to have other people benefit from the work (either in those pleasurable, educational, and other forms). There is a pleasure taken in seeing the success of chaos in an institution, a success in somehow always pulling it off. The thrill is enough to continue to seek out spots in museums, galleries, or just in the arts period.

Erin Clancy


About a year ago we began this blog. It served a few different purposes; to spotlight artists and supplementary programs, to expand conversations about our exhibitions beyond our gallery walls, and to give a new intern something to do. That intern was me, a fresh SAIC graduate coming off the high of non-stop academic writing and eager to gain experience in museums.

EAM, which was recommended to me by my thesis advisor and would-be EAM Biennial participant Rhoda Rosen, was about to amp up its digital presence and was looking for someone dedicated to launch the  blog. I eagerly accepted the opportunity, and for three months (the regular interval for an internship) I wrote weekly posts on varying topics. The most interesting for me were the interviews with artists in last year’s exhibition New American Paintings: Midwest Edition. Each of the four interviews I conducted were unique and insightful, and I really got a sense that the interviewees were both surprised and challenged by the questions asked of them, and happy to oblige my curiosity about their respective work and practices.

Despite going to art school, these interviews felt as if I was having my first real connection with artists. They fed the urge to continue asking questions and discovering the intricate networks that comprise contemporary art practices. Fortunately, I was asked to stay on at EAM to assist with rotating exhibitions, and was able to continue expanding my knowledge of contemporary art, artists and discourse.

Little did I know when conducting interviews with NAP artists that I would be offered the opportunity to be the curatorial assistant working on 2016’s iteration of the exhibition. I was put in charge of handling logistics for the 41 published artists from all over eight states in the Midwest six months ago.

Over endless emails, conversations and changes in schedule, space and responsibility, I took charge of some important curatorial decisions, resulting in my touch being left on the exhibition’s layout and concept. I also authored the essay for the gallery brochure. Thanks to my boss and EAM chief curator Staci’s patience and guidance, 2016’s New American Paintings: Midwest Edition has come to fruition. It came together as a complete group effort, and through all the work of the participating 39 artists and the EAM staff, the exhibition can be viewed through the summer until August 28. It features work that is intriguing, challenging, thoughtful and beautiful, and I am more than honored to have taken part in its organization.

The opening of NAP concludes my fulfilling run at EAM. While I’m sad to leave, I am overjoyed that I have had the complex experience of working at a small art institution and the relationships that it fostered. From starting this blog to organizing a large exhibition, I'll slip into the next thing coming.

Peter Guardalabene

Surprise, Delight and Curiosity at EAM’s Opening Reception for "David Wallace Haskins: Presence"

Waiting to enter the void

Waiting to enter the void

On Friday March 4th, Elmhurst Art Museum celebrated the opening of Elmhurst-based artist David Wallace Haskins’ first solo museum exhibition, Presence, which is on view until May 8th. Through the incredible efforts of the museum preparators, David’s team of experts and friends and museum staff, the elaborate and provocative show came together right on time for the six o’clock reception. David’s new interactive sculptures and installations allow visitors to experience their own physical presence differently, to perceive space and light in a new way. Rather than cause a sense of discomfort, Haskins’ work instead triggers laughter and childlike play and exploration.

A guest manipulating the Light Seeing Light sculpture at the Presence opening

A guest manipulating the Light Seeing Light sculpture at the Presence opening

Guests of all ages, from eight year-olds to their grandparents, enjoyed the fun sensory intrigue of the exhibition. In Light Seeing Light, the artist’s “Interactive Light Sculpture,” people shaped the light with their limbs, heads and other random objects, each creating a unique kaleidoscopic effect on the suspended screen. In Soundcube, guests entered a structure in which they could feel sound bounce around the room. The sound waves reverberated around the small space. It gave some occupants a pleasurable tingling sensation, similar to ASMR, an experience of tickling euphoria in the body caused by specific audio or visual stimuli. In Void Room, brave visitors walked through what seemed to be a painted black rectangle on the wall into a space of total darkness. Shrieks of laughter emanated from the room as guests encountered one another and the surprising physical manifestation of the void.

Attempts to figure out how the Soundcube works

Attempts to figure out how the Soundcube works

In the final gallery, visitors used various mirrors to alter how they perceive themselves. Whether they had their faces merged with a friend’s, saw themselves from a third person perspective or lost sight of their face in the Void Mirror in a Magritte-like experience, guests reacted with shock, delight and curiosity to the new views of themselves. Children, twenty-somethings and adults jumped around, ducked, danced and kissed in front of Time Mirror, which delays the image of their actions in order to let them see how their movements are viewed outside of themselves.

Friends look into the Mirror Monolith and see their faces on each other's bodies.

Friends look into the Mirror Monolith and see their faces on each other's bodies.

By the end of the night, there was an electricity in the air; a new inspired energy bounced around the galleries. Haskins’ show provides visitors with insight into how their physicality interacts with space and allows them to encounter light and space as physical presences themselves--experiences that result in a new level of self-awareness and excitement about the basic elements around us.

--Erin Clancy

Photos by Michael Will Productions,

Q & A with EAM Chief Curator Staci Boris about the new exhibition "David Wallace Haskins: Presence"

Find out more about David Wallace Haskins' first solo show below!

What was the impetus for the new exhibition?

I met David Haskins last March (2015), not even a year ago, when he first introduced me to his work. This led to David’s remarkable Skycube sculpture debuting at the Museum last summer. Through our myriad conversations and the exhibition process, it became clear that producing one work, even one as monumental as the Skycube, wouldn’t be enough. David’s vision for future projects was so compelling that we offered him the opportunity to realize these installations with a solo exhibition at Elmhurst Art Museum.  David’s work with light, space, time and sound is accessible, fun, challenging and profound all at the same time, and it is a pleasure to work with such a hard-working, generous and innovative artist who happens to live and work right here in Elmhurst.  

What does David mean when he talks about the process of reorientation by way of disorientation?

David’s goal is to provide encounters that lead to new ways of seeing.  “Defamiliarizing the familiar” or “reorientation by way of disorientation” is the strategy he uses to slow us down and to provide a place where we can shed our preconceived notions of the world, and in doing so, have a pure and profound experience that alters our perception, one that in his words, allows us to “enter into a kind of beholding that transcends language and thought.”   That is a fancy way of saying that our language, our prejudices, our history gets in the way of seeing what’s right in front of us, the here and now.  David’s sculptures and installations invite people to move outside of the typical way they make sense of the world into a sort of gentle vertigo or uncertainty that he hopes will ultimately help them effectively navigate their interior and exterior worlds. David has likened it to the experience of tripping or falling. Once you experience this kind of disorientation,  you become much more aware of your body and environment. That disorientation then leads to mindfulness of the  present moment.

Does the process intend to “untrain” the viewer in some way so as to offer new insight?

Yes. All of David’s works are time-based. They reward visitors who slow down and spend time experiencing the journey of each work.  What you see at first often changes and becomes something else. These installations work against our automatic, overlearned and trained responses to things.  Perhaps moving through this process will provide insight as to how one can move through life in a more fluid and open manner.

How is this process played out in the Soundcube installation?

Soundcube provides visitors with the opportunity to experience the physicality or presence of sound as they would any other object in space.  Typically we associate sound with a particular object--sound is produced by something or someone we see or know of.  In an empty white room with a single bench and a single light, participants will experience sound like they never have before. Surrounded by an invisible matrix of 32 discrete channels, each programmed with unique sounds, visitors will experience the presence of sound moving around, above, beneath or between them.  Multiple types of compositions will be experienced in the Soundcube, including atmospheric, architectural and musical. David calls this work “a sculpture of pure sound.”

What are the new site-specific installations guests will experience in Presence?

Well, I don’t want to give them all away.  Other than Soundcube and Skycube, there will be Light Seeing Light, an interactive light sculpture where visitors can manipulate light as a physical object in mid-air, which is made without the aid of computers or animation. There is the large-scale Void Room that invites viewers into the unknown--a darkened room that offers a phenomenological experience of space and matter. Here David plays with volume and void, interiority and exteriority, light and dark.  He is interested in juxtaposing contrasting phenomena to again lead viewers into that state of disorientation.

How will the Museum’s space and the exhibition’s layout facilitate the disorientation that Haskins hopes to achieve with this new show?

Each of the three main galleries will have separate entrances as most of the works require their own room or discrete space. There is a definite progression of ideas and spatial experiences in the sequencing and layout of the exhibition, and the gallery space will be modified accordingly.  Visitors will experience a sort of journey from physical presence to infinite space and from interior to exterior perception, with Skycube as the culmination.

Biennial Programming: Red Line Service

Now that our inaugural Biennial exhibition is up and rolling, and causing a stir in the press and local community, we’re amping up the conversation with weekly public programs. For the duration of the show (through February 21) we will host a variety of artist-led programs every Saturday at 2pm. In addition to facilitating a deeper understanding of the artwork on display, these talks are intended to expand public knowledge of the longstanding, politically and socially motivated art practices so prevalent in Chicago that serve as the core concept of our Biennial.

Last week marked the first program of 2016 with a talk by Biennial artist Billy McGuinness and his artistic collaborator Rhoda Rosen about their socially-engaged project Red Line Service. They were joined by Jamie and Cassie – two women associated with the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless – who generously shared their difficult, personal stories of experiencing homelessness. Both of these young women are incredibly resilient and inspiring. Billy spoke about his artistic practice and how he and Rhoda came to found Red Line Service, a series of social interventions into the issue of homelessness. Currently Red Line Service is providing cultural and intellectual programming for those experiencing homelessness as well as the general public within art spaces, such as David Weinberg Photography. At EAM and other venues, their public talks and programs work to make visible the profound problem of homelessness in Chicago and spark conversation with fruitful engagement within the art and homeless communities. Blurring lines is one of their good intentions, and talking with community members about the form and actions of their project is a definitive part of their social practice.

Red Line Service defies definition in many terms – artistic, theoretical, political and practical. Billy and Rhoda spent two months during Winter, 2014 going to both end stations of the CTA’s Red Line on Saturday nights from midnight to four in the morning. Bringing hot beverages and homemade food, they set up a table and chairs and invited people on the platforms, many of whom were homeless, to dine with them. Providing this “service” is, the collaborators admit, a bit “icky,” in that there is an inherent, albeit explicit, act of power in the exchange of the collaborators’ white, food-filled hands to the usually black, empty hands of late night Red Line riders. Its social complexity is one of the many reasons Red Line Service is an intriguing, challenging project – something that several of the community-engaged practices represented in our Biennial must face.

You can read more about Red Line Service and see their schedule of programs on their website and Facebook page, and to get more facts about homelessness in Chicago you can visit Chicago Coalition for the Homeless here.

This Saturday at 2pm, we will be hosting a talk by Biennial artist Jesse Howard, whose bold drawings speak about the conflicting natures of expectation and representation of black male experience.


Sustainability Tour

In conjunction with our current exhibition, Lessons From Modernism: Environmental Design Strategies in Architecture, 1925-1970, we are offering programs, tours and lectures that expand the conversation of sustainable design beyond the walls of the museum. Last week, the conversation took place just across Wilder Park on the campus of Elmhurst College, where Bruce Mather gave a tour of the college's Gold-Level LEED certified West Hall residence. Mr. Mather is Elmhurst College's executive director of facilities management and oversaw the design and construction of West Hall, completed in 2008. His hour-long tour gave us insight into each element of construction that makes this building "green."

An interesting concept Mr. Mather brought to our attention was the “green” process of constructing a “green” building. He said that most material used to build West Hall came from local sources in an attempt to reduce emissions from transporting building materials like wood and bricks. In fact, the structure itself does not necessarily resemble the typical,more contemporary design of LEED certified buildings that may first come to mind. Its brick façade with visible wood structural planks make it look like many of the other buildings on Elmhurst College's campus, however its green-ness lies in the details, like its parking lot, which is actually an enormous water retainer. The lot slopes away from the campus to the west, and its brick pavement has gaps that allow excess rainwater to be absorbed into the porous foundation, serving the dual purpose of a lab for chemistry students. Additionally, native plant species with deep roots, like purple prairie coneflower and prairie dock not only beautify the landscape, but absorb and process excess water, as well as maintain the integrity of the foundational soil.

Inside, every fixture is in accordance with the rules of LEED certification, from the low-voltage fluorescent lighting, heat absorbing windows, even sustainably produced fabric for the carpets and furniture. The element that gave West Hall a Gold LEED certificate exists not on the walls, but inside them. The residence utilizes an intricate solar-powered water system that heats water for bathroom and kitchen fixtures. Mr. Mather took us to the building's roof to see the panels and water system on the top floor, and as genius as it is, it has its limitations. Solar panels create the most energy in the summer, when the sun is high in the sky and solar incidence is at its peak. It is also the time when West Hall has its lowest occupancy due to summer break. So while the system does provide hundreds of gallons of hot water for student residents, it will provide less in the winter, when end-of-the-semester stress requires decompression in a long, hot shower. Nonetheless, it is a step toward an alternative system that does not rely solely on gas to heat residential water and truly sets West Hall apart from the other buildings on campus, not to mention in Elmhurst.

Between our ongoing programs, collections management, outside events like EXPO Chicago and the Chicago Architecture Biennial (of which we are an associate partner), and preparation for upcoming exhibitions, it's been an incredibly productive September here at EAM. Looking forward to watching the leaves change in the beautiful Wilder Park, attending a whole host of exciting architecture-related public programs at the Museum during the rest of autumn and already anticipating the upcoming inaugural Elmhurst Art Museum Biennial: Chicago Statements, which opens December 12!  We welcome you to come and enjoy all we have to offer.


Entire Museum Open!

Three weeks of installation and preparation for our latest architecture exhibitions have been worth the wait. Lessons From ModernismLessons From the Fick Home in the galleries and No Place Like House in the McCormick House are now open to the public, with several tours and events happening over the next few months to further engage the diverse ideas currently presented in our institution. In the meantime, you can enjoy views of the exhibitions in the photos below, or, better yet, you can come experience them in person here!

The dark walls and emphatic lighting surrounding each model and its accompanying wall graphic have completely transformed our main galleries. Lessons From Modernism: Design Strategies in Architecture, 1925-1970 is up, and looking good. The exhibition's original curators Steven Hillyer and Kevin Bone came from Cooper Union in New York to give tours and educate EAM members and staff.

Come take a view of the landscape outside the original location of the McCormick House and fictional family photos in the sitting room of Lessons From the Fick Home. It's satisfying to see this SAIC graduate student exhibition come fully to fruition since visiting their studio early in the summer. They and Santa Lucia worked very hard in uniquely creating everything, from drawing theories and mythologies to objects and mathematic specifications.

Santa Lucia's intervention between Miesian modernism and postmodern sensibilities in No Place Like House is not to be missed. The palette, construction and concept are bold, yet strangely and simultaneously contemplative and nuanced. Similar to Lessons From Modernism, the intervention creates a space to dwell on elements of our collective pasts that inform our present, and the future. As more exhibitions open across Chicago in anticipation of the Chicago Architecture Biennial, join us in expanding the conversation surrounding architecture in theory, in society, and in our personal lives.

Spaces in Transition

One of the beauties of Elmhurst Art Museum is that when we rotate exhibitions, we really mean change. After New American Paintings closed last weekend, we quickly transformed the gallery spaces in preparation for our upcoming architectural exhibitions. Below you can view some behind-the-scenes images of our metamorphosis as it is occurring.

The main galleries have been painted hues of grey specific to Lessons From Modernism: Design Strategies in Architecture, 1925 - 1970. Gorgeous models of each of the 25 architectural examples will fill the ground space, with texts and graphic images on the walls.

As visitors exit Lessons From Modernism, they will enter Lessons From the Fick Home, one of two projects that Andrew Santa Lucia and his collaborators will be exhibiting at the museum. This exhibition critically analyzes the McCormick house both as an object and subject, and moves between its mythical historiography and lesser-known livability. 

Moving into the McCormick House, Santa Lucia's intervention No Place Like House is underway, with walls in the process of being built on-site to create spaces for reflection on Mies and modernism. As a shrine to Miesian design, it's interesting to see the development of specific structural elements, like I-beams and cross pillars, incorporated into the overall scheme's skeleton.

The galleries will reopen in September, but in the meantime we're making a smooth transition into the next exhibitions. We're looking forward to the final results, and hope to see you architecture aficionados and art appreciators at the opening celebrations!

Interview With Artist Curtis Goldstein

With New American Paintings coming to a close on August 23, artist Curtis Goldstein - whose work Hurricane is featured in the exhibition - agreed to satisfy my curiosities in an interview. His work is timely in a way that goes beyond typical conversations around environmental change and consumerism in media and government. It probes personal use of material that informs a larger, global conversation that is nuanced in its universal application and relatability. At a time in the museum when we will be focused on similar issues for the coming months, I am pleased to share this enlightening interview with Goldstein.

Hurricane, 2014, collage of post-consumer material.

Peter Guardalabene: As New American Paintings is a publication and exhibition specified by a medium, Hurricane stands out. Definitions are elastic in this exhibition, which makes it so interesting, and I would say the same goes for your work. Looking at your body of work, you seem to have shifted away from the use of traditional painting materials toward an innovative use of refuse and collage. I, and I’m sure others who have visited the exhibition, am curious to know whether you consider Hurricane a painting and, looking at your trajectory, if you identify as a painter?

Curtis Goldstein: After years of painting with oil, acrylic, shellac, and my own paint concoctions, as well as making public murals I am a painter, in the usual sense. Now, I mostly work with other materials, especially paper and refuse, and make what could be called collages. Yet, I do think that all those years of interpreting the world through the plastic medium of paint has led me to seeing things as big shapes of color, and quickly recognizing 2 dimensional compositional possibilities, which I apply to my working with other materials. Furthermore, I believe that the impulses in art to imitate experiences, to “make this look like that” and to “Make this feel like that” goes all the way back to the beginning of art, but that the creation of flat images of things with shapes is by definition being painterly, whether pursued through the medium of paint or other materials. It stops feeling like painting when I allow materials to break free from pictorial space and assert themselves as real objects. Then, it’s more like curating. But when you do that with paint, that is, let it break free and be itself, then you are being another kind of painterly. Paint’s defining characteristics can be as interesting as its imitative ones, and with great depth I have explored both qualities, and now do so with other materials.

PG: How did you come to using refuse in your work? I think trash is one of the best materials an artist can use to make work; it is something exciting to find in a gallery, yet abject in almost every other context.

CG: I personally don’t find junk mail, magazines, and discarded packaging to be abject, because it’s everywhere, and while one can feel disgusted by the global waste one imagines from my work, I don’t necessarily make work that looks disgusting. I think a Dieter Roth or a Thomas Hirschhorn deal with the abject more directly than me. In my work, repulsion only becomes part of the experience after some amount of reflection. I came to post-consumer materials because of its sculptural, associative and symbolic possibilities, and also because of its real-world aesthetic. I connect everyday consumer material to issues faced by humanity, like over-consumption or pollution through waste (e.g., plastic bags swimming and disintegrating in the ocean), showing that they are ultimately connected, and encouraging viewers to feel connected and responsible.

PG: Materiality is important, not just in Hurricane, but many of the works in New American Paintings. In this piece, the associations that derive from material are seemingly boundless. The abject quality I found when looking closely, suddenly realizing the physical qualities and smells of material that was once invisibly littered across a landscape now made concrete, highly visible, and beautiful. Was this transformation from the repulsion or anonymity of trash into attraction and visibility a quality intended to evoke in viewers?

CG: Mostly yes. I believe that the invisible or rather, overlooked world—stimulus that gets tuned out, or doesn’t make it through our filters (culture, language, values, beliefs, attitudes, expectations, and intentions), is actually the material with which we create our realities. It is not liminal, but in fact the very fabric of our everyday-ness. Trash is not something burning underground in a dump 20 miles south of the city. It sits rotting in a container in the kitchen. It’s not always strewn across the landscape. It is delivered every day to your mailbox. We bring it home by the bagful. The things that make up our everyday world are becoming trash, sometimes gradually, sometimes unexpectedly and instantly. I don’t make it any more beautiful than it actually is, only visible and recontextualized in such a way that people can see it differently. What remains invisible to us is nonetheless buried in our thoughts — part of us and part of our everyday experiences. Even as we sit in traffic in our air conditioned cars a little fragment of a memory enters into our stream of consciousness of a news clip of a villager somewhere in Africa walking twenty-two miles each way each day for a bucket of water. Without actually experiencing it we are capable of knowing what alienation, hunger, and pain is, and a certain measure of how it feels. Artists can, and in my opinion should, invigorate perception and enlighten society by messing with the filters that limit our experiences, and hence our sense of responsibility towards the environment and society.

Fire At Sea (After Turner), 2014, collage of magazines and packaging.

PG: Despite the absence of human figures in Hurricane, humanity, or the impact of humans, abounds in the landscape it depicts. It works on a couple of levels for me: the constant presence of humans in material and in an urban scene, even where there are none depicted; and the struggle between humanity and nature in that both cause environmental destruction and create natural and artificial beauty. This tension occurs daily as we discover more about Anthropocene phenomena and environmental impact caused by humankind, and is perhaps what I find most timely and compelling about Hurricane.

CG: People want comfort, freedom from suffering, and longevity, even immortality, through what they create (and that includes, of course and perhaps even especially artists!). We are endlessly inventive, and often ruthless, when it comes to achieving these goals. As sentient beings, we cope by filtering and reconfiguring reality. We pretend to be supernatural, which was perhaps initially as a means to survival.

People often see things as they want them to be, because they feel they can take no more added responsibility and guilty feelings, or because a different interpretation threatens their ambitions. So, while we will regard nature as sacred, parent, or muse, we will also proclaim it profane, or even demonic (Hurricane!), or a mere instrument, to control and abuse at will.

The Grand Tetons, 2014, collage, photographs, frames, glass, cardboard. Similar to his painting Envision Cincinnati, the scene here depicts the most photographed view of the Grand Tetons mountain range in Wyoming.

PG: Moving forward both globally and in our own galleries at Elmhurst Art Museum, with our upcoming exhibition Lessons From Modernism: Environmental Design Strategies in Modern Architecture, 1925 - 1970, sustainability is the word of the day. The term has almost become trite in daily usage, but it is nonetheless an important reality. Is environmentalism a message we as viewers are to take from Hurricane, or is it a zeitgeisty effect?

CG: We need to be considerate as thinking individuals, and I believe artists might be most susceptible, not to dismiss important realities as trite. This would be counter-productive. When we allow trends in language or art criticism to filter out important subjects from the conversation, we are no more than obedient consumers of a limited and controlling market of ideas. A “Zeitgeist” is a way of holding the world—it is a filter. Yes, environmentalism, which is currently en vogue, is one important message from my work, but the questions why environmentalism, and how people treat and perceive the world, including themselves, in short, the origins of our current epoch—this is the deeper subject of my work.

Skycube Celebration

Thursday night we held the opening reception for artist David Wallace Haskins’ Skycube. The 8’x8’ sculpture, three tons of steel and glass, drew a sizeable crowd to experience the monumental sculpture, enjoy live music; and mainly to talk to the artist, who lives in Elmhurst, about his work, which, despite the long hours spent in preparation, he was still eager and excited to do.

David has been working tirelessly on Skycube, and I don’t mean that hyperbolically. Between finding the ideal site for the sculpture, going back and forth with his many partners in fabrication and logistics – and resolving some kinks along the way – he has fulfilled his longtime goals of producing the large-scale, freestanding Skycube and exhibiting his work at the Elmhurst Art Museum. And he has been duly received. David has been the subject of recent  interviews leading up to his opening at EAM; and will be holding talks at EAM in the coming months (Tuesday, September 15, 1:00 pm; Saturday, October 17, 2:00 pm; Friday, November 13, 6:00 pm) that delve deeper into the inspiration and concepts informing Skycube.

Skycube will be on view until Spring of next year, so if you missed the opening don’t worry. It can still be found on the patio outside of the McCormick House. In Spring 2016, we will be hosting David’s first solo exhibition of new, immersive installations of light and sound. Until then, you can revel in the phenomena that gracefully bring the sky down to earth.

El King in the Library

Today two entities gained something: I learned a lesson in art preparation; and the walls of the Elmhurst Public Library received an almost literal splash of color. Staci and I accompanied our preparator Rob to hand deliver and hang Crashing Waves, a 1972 triptych by Eleanor King Hookham. More than an act of filling void wall space, the hanging of this painting represents the strong bonds that exist between the EPL and EAM as a result of a community dedicated to promoting local culture and education.

Installation shot of Eleanor King Hookham's Crashing Waves, 1972, oil on Masonite.

The artist Eleanor King Hookham, also known as El King (and the pseudonym I prefer), was a community builder and is known for fostering a love of art in Elmhurst, her involvement in the founding of EAM as well as her status as an internationally exhibiting artist. Despite acclaim in lofty cities as New York and Paris, with two very different, but perhaps equally rapid (rabid?) art markets, she sold work with the intentions of continuing her own practice and supporting that of the other artists whom she taught, patronized and befriended. And for this her local legacy remains undeniably evident in the history, culture and amenities of Elmhurst.

The triptych itself forms a unity that, until it was assembled in its specified order, I did not at first see. Other than the obvious formalities such as similarity in palette and texture, the three Masonite panels seemed simply abstract paintings: beautiful but simple. As Rob put them in order and configured the distance between them, it became clear that the piece as a whole is in fact representational, or rather suggestive, of a rolling, crashing wave (as its title may suggest - let it be known that I did not know its name prior to hanging). I saw the trees for the forest, whose elements are lovely to look at on their own, but as a whole create a fluid movement of textured color, impossibly suspending the constant energy of a wave.

Eleanor King Hookham embodied the spirit of community, local, creative or otherwise, and her work to create a space for artists and the local community in Elmhurst is cause for celebration. There is more at work than the simple filling of voids on walls in public libraries in the suburbs of Chicago. This is history manifest, and the result of an established creative foundation. So, if you find yourself on the second floor of the Elmhurst Public Library near the fireplace and catch a glimpse of Crashing Waves, remember to appreciate its late creator for her involvement in the community, in addition to the delicious visuals now adorning a once empty wall.


Interview With Artist Dyani White Hawk

Last week I interviewed Minnesota-based artist Dyani White Hawk about her background, her practice and her enigmatic painting Dream (2012), which is hanging in our New American Paintings: Midwest Edition exhibition.

Dyani White Hawk, Dream, 2012, acrylic and oil on canvas, 30"x25.5" (Installation shot)

Peter Guardalabene: Dream seems to get stranger the longer I look into it; like a dream, it makes perfect sense while it’s happening, but recounting the sequence is much more difficult. Once I think I have a grasp on the imagery, it eludes me or morphs into something else. Would you say Dream is representational, or abstract, or maybe a little bit of both?

Dyani White Hawk: It is definitely a little of both and intentionally so.  The shape of the moccasin top or “vamp” is abstracted, taken out of context and used as a kind of stand in figure.  It becomes the main character, possessing agency and character.  At the same time, it can also operate as a point of entrance becoming almost structural.  The patterning on the moccasin top is painted in a representational manner.  It references both Lakota beadwork and porcupine quillwork, influenced by traditional designs and motifs.  My works are very much meant to live in the realm of abstraction, intentionally leaving room for personal interpretations, relationships with, and conceptual entry points into the work.  At the same time I often use representational means of rendering to create shallow layers so that the viewer can “enter” the painting allowing the eyes to move through the different layers and planes.  I am rarely looking to represent infinite space, but allowing just enough plane differentiation to move around inside the painting.

PG: The toe of the moccasin, or what I believe to be the toe of a moccasin, is a recurring motif in many of your paintings. Like the tension between representation and abstraction, it seems both culturally significant and deeply subjective. The pattern says culture and tradition, as does the moccasin, but the toe separated from the rest of the shoe is all we see, and all you have decided to show. Clearly I’m a little obsessed with the representation of this small, often overlooked section of foot that’s having attention called to it by its pattern. Why just the toe?

DWH: The use of this form came about during graduate school.  Much of my time during these years was devoted to finding ways to negotiate and inclusively depict the variety of my academic and personal influences upon my personal aesthetic.

As a woman of both Lakota (Rosebud Sioux) and European descent, my upbringing has been a strong mixture of mainstream urban American and Native American cultural life experiences.  My undergraduate years were spent at tribal colleges focused on teaching and learning from an indigenous perspective, my primary education and graduate school years were in mainstream public schools.  What this has meant to my personal life and thus naturally extends into my artwork essentially boils down to a lifelong pursuit of seeking balance and ways to fully embrace all aspects of my being and life experiences.

During my undergraduate years my paintings were very busy, heavily populated with symbolism and referential information as I was attempting to tell this extremely complex personal and national story in each work. During grad school I began seeking ways to continue similar conversations within the work, but really striving to find grace and poignancy within my compositions.

The moccasin top became one of these solutions.  I was looking for ways to speak to multiple audiences.  To those not familiar with the moccasin reference, this form can operate as simply an abstract shape and they can enter the painting through the history of modern abstraction, finding referential lineage to western art history.  To those familiar with the shape, and depending on the specificity or lack of specificity used in design references, it can allude to a larger body of Native peoples or very specifically reference a particular tribe or region.

In either scenario, the shape becomes a stand-in figure.  The figure has agency, personality, can carry emotion or feeling yet is without age, gender or specific human character unless I choose to allude to these things through the designs chosen and the cultural references these designs carry.  I really enjoy the flexibility the shape provides, the ability to be general or particular, to allude to human qualities without the body, to be both related to the history of modern abstract painting and traditional and contemporary Native arts while carrying cultural knowledge and world views in the form of modern abstract painting.

PG: Intersectionality between and among many facets seem to be important to your work, including those crossing identities, representations, traditions, histories. You said in your statement for New American Paintings that you’re interested in cross-cultural intersections, and I’m interested in what way. Is it mainly in connection between cultures, which I associate with the history and conditions of American colonialism, or maybe more tied to symbolism and style of respective-yet-intertwined cultures as subjectively interpreted?

DWH: Yes, all of those things.  I work from center out.  Meaning, I utilize my personal life experiences to explore the larger story.  By starting from center I am able to utilize my history to spiral outwards exploring the ways in which my life experiences, knowledge base, and education is reflective of US history, tribal history, Federal/Tribal relations and how these intersections have historically and continually play out in our artistic production.  My works often depict my efforts to reconcile and balance often-conflicting value systems between mainstream American and Native world-views and experiences.  They are meant to invoke dialogue that provides opportunity to discuss the history and conditions of American colonialism and the general lack of knowledge of Native history and contemporary Native communities. This extends into the ways these intersections have played out in the trajectory of our Nation’s art and how this story has been told (or not told) and is represented (or not) in mainstream academia and art institutions today.

PG: Lakota culture, history and imagery is very important to you in the realization of your work. In the merge between Lakota symbolism and mediums and modern Western styles and ideology, I’m curious where, or whether lines delineating either can be drawn. The only modern Western, and very Chicago artist I thought of in relation to your work was Roger Brown, mostly for formal stylization of the background and tonal gradients. I guess I’m asking how the viewer should locate the Lakota and the Modern in your work and the significance of the blending?

DWH: I am a fan of Roger Brown and the Imagists, so I appreciate the reference and agree with the similarity in execution.  I have also referenced the lineage of stripe and color field painters such as Mark Rothko and Sean Scully specifically because of strong influence in the work drawn from Native arts, and recognition of the connection between spirituality and art, respectively.  I have drawn a great deal of influence from modern abstract painters who drew a great deal of influence from Native artists such as Marsden Hartley and Adolph Gottlieb. The use of the moccasin top also can be partly attributed to Philip Guston’s hooded figures and the ways in which he used a singular form to depict an array of characters, emotions and abstracted political story lines.  Artists such as Agnes Martin for composition and emotive qualities, and Peter Saul for storytelling and calling out national absurdities and atrocities have also had strong influence on my work.

In regards to Lakota influences it comes from many places.  I have done a great deal of research in historic collections of Lakota beadwork, quillwork and other tribal art forms including Navajo weaving.  Because of the nature of our national history, the views of what is art and what is ethnographic material, what is art or craft, and historic perceptions of the value of an individual and/or culture, many of these artists or makers are not documented. But much of the symbolism remains utilized in tribal art forms today.  Within these symbols and even the reference to particular artistic mediums and natural materials Lakota world-views, knowledge and teachings are embedded.  These concepts are important in my work.  I have also drawn a great deal of influence from contemporary Native artists, both of traditional art forms and modern.  Painters such as Fritz Scholder and T.C. Cannon both have had tremendous impact on my work.  The abstraction of George Morrison and Helen Hardin both example ways Native artists have found a voice within the art world that speaks both to their connection with modern painting and their tribal identities and experiences.

The significance of the blending is in an effort to create works that are as honest and inclusive as possible.  I am not either or.  I am Lakota, German and Welsh.  I grew up in the city, predominantly among urban Native communities. I attended tribal and mainstream schools. I grew up snowboarding, skateboarding and listening to hip hop, techno, Nirvana, Jimmi Hendrix, Led Zepplin…  Yet, I also grew up learning the importance of my culture and have been raised with a Lakota value system and teachings, attending ceremony and pow wows, listening to drum groups and singers like Smoky Town, Eyabay, Northern Cree and Ulali…  I cannot make paintings that are seen as solely “Indian” artwork. I also cannot abandon all references to my identity and lived experiences as a Lakota woman.  If I were to attempt to do so, neither would not be entirely true.

In regards to drawing a line…I hope it is not entirely possible.  The idea is that these histories, our lives today and therefore our arts are completely intertwined.  Neither American art nor Native arts would look the way they do today without the influence of one another in means of aesthetics, materials and relationships with one another (the good and the bad) and our relationships with a shared land base.

Resilient Beauty, 2014, oil on canvas, 48" x 48"

PG: The 113th edition of New American Paintings being geographically tied to the Midwest seems to have significance only in that its artists live in the middle of the United States. I’ve been interested in some kind of local determinism or communal zeitgeist that may uniquely inform Midwestern artists, but stylization and conceptualization seem pervasively to be individually informed. Yours is one of the few works that derives its foundational concepts from identity, one of which is specific to a place. Do you think there are or could be geographically linked genre, or is a “Midwestern painter” indicative only of an address?

DWH: Yes I think its possible, but it depends entirely on the artist, and of course as you have seen is not possible as a sweeping generalization.  I think it can happen a number of ways.  For myself, and all self-identifying indigenous artists, our identity is place specific.  I am a member of the Rosebud Sioux tribe, which is in South Dakota.  Our people originate from the Black Hills so my relationship with the Midwest is very specific and significant.  I currently live in Minnesota and grew up in Wisconsin.  Our tribe also has historic ties to Minnesota and my father’s family (German and Welsh) settled in Wisconsin.  All of this is related to Midwest and US history.  Because of my relationship with this knowledge, it is reflected in my work.

Because of the nature of how our country was established and the early efforts to create an American identity, not everyone has a relationship with the knowledge of their family heritage and culture.  But, we do all have relationships with the place that we were raised and/or currently live.  There are many artists that respond to these things in their work.  Some are landscape painters responding to the land base.  Some speak to current issues that impact their immediate communities.  Even through making work about the people from a particular area, you are documenting the historic lineage and current environment of a particular geographic region.   So, I do believe you can pull out artists that would readily depict a “Midwest painter”, but it is complex.  Moreover, we have become so globally connected and intertwined that it is difficult to separate national regions and at times even nation from world and overarching human experiences.

Studio Visit With Faheem Majeed

This past Tuesday, the EAM’s chief curator Staci Boris and I took a drive to the South Shore neighborhood of Chicago to meet with local artist Faheem Majeed in his studio. The studio itself is housed across the street from the beautiful and historic St. Philip Neri Roman Catholic Church, in a space which used to serve as a dormitory for the church’s nuns. Upon entering the studio, my eyes immediately darted about the room, from newly incised particle boards which lay propped against the wall, to a ream of black-and-white wallpaper featuring a repeated depiction of Black Venus, to the countless slabs of wooden materials which lined the space. Majeed was warm and welcoming from the moment of our arrival, both eager to hear about our mission and plans for the upcoming EAM Biennial and to share his background, art and experiences working on the South Side and throughout Chicago.

Faheem Majeed in his studio.

Majeed describes himself as a builder, and that title fits him exceptionally well. Beginning his artistic career in metalworking and moving toward the largely installation and woodworking-based practice he has today, Majeed is, in a very literal sense, a builder. On another level, Majeed is a societal builder, evidenced in part by his serving as Executive Director and Curator of the seminal South Side Community Art Center from 2005 to 2011. However, his position at SSCAC is but one of countless examples of Majeed’s tireless efforts to engage the people of Chicago as an arts administrator and a visual artist.

In our discussion, I was struck by the palpable passion Majeed has for fostering and participating in difficult (but necessary) dialogues with compassion. Much of his work deals with issues of identity, race, community, the occupation of space and the negotiation of history and present reality. Exploring these topics in his professional career has of course garnered the artist some criticism from numerous sources -- colleagues, neighbors, and institutions alike. But his is not a fragile artistic ego; Majeed routinely internalizes and utilizes such friction towards the end of creation.

A piece of his currently on display at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago’s Chicago Works exhibition poignantly illustrates this point. Carved into particle board (one of Majeed’s preferred materials which is conventionally used for boarding up buildings) is the phrase “FUCK YO SHACK.” Majeed explained that this references an experience he had working on a neighborhood installation called “Shacks & Shanties,” erected in the area around his home in 2013. For this project, Majeed built shack-like structures for the collaborative use of local, civically-minded artists. While in the building process, he had neighbors approach him with dismay and anger – why are you building this shack, why in our neighborhood, would you do this in a wealthy, predominantly white area? To this Majeed responded that this is his art, this is who he is, and yes, he would put a shack in the Loop or on the Gold Coast in a heartbeat. While these interactions had the potential to be negative or destructive, Majeed refused to let them consume him and instead used them as materials with which to build.

Another instance of Majeed’s focus on building and more specifically rebuilding can be seen in his recycling of a specific group of wood over the course of a number of projects. The wood is meant to mimic the appearance of the walls of the SSCAC, which is itself a well-worn knotty pine. The SSCAC is the anti-“white cube”; it cannot be simply painted over at the end of each exhibition, but rather bears witness to all that came before it in the many nail holes and marks it wears. Similarly, Majeed builds with a set of wood pieces, creating new structures each time that carry the marks of his previous creations. Part of this wood is currently serving as a meeting house installation (also in the MCA’s Chicago Works space) and part of it is living in the former dormitory of a Catholic nun, amongst many of Majeed’s other works in progress. He refers to this project as a “perennial garden,” a telling turn of phrase which could be applied to much of the artist’s core philosophies. The cyclical nature of death begetting life, of new coming from old, of permanence and flux – all of these ideas pervade Majeed’s practices in art and beyond.

As Staci and I were leaving Majeed’s studio, I felt our discussion could have continued on for hours more. Majeed assured us that he would be visiting Elmhurst soon to explore the museum and speak further about his contribution to the Biennial. Until then, I will continue to treasure the insight and inspiration I gained from spending a morning with this radical and innovative creator.

Claire Fey

Interview With Artist Josh Dihle

I interviewed Josh Dihle, one of the artists in our current exhibition New American Paintings: Midwest Edition, about his practice and specifically his painting Say No More (Flowers for Vardaman),2015. I recommend seeing it in person in our gallery, as it is full of unexpected elements, layers and substance that can’t be fully appreciated with the mediation of screens. Dihle lives and works in Chicago, currently teaches at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and exhibits his work frequently. His recent solo show at Valerie Carberry Gallery included several recent paintings that speak not only to his skill as a painter, but also to his varied imagery and his unique treatment of each canvas’ surface.

Say No More (Flowers for Vardaman) (2015), oil on linen, 60"x48"

Peter Guardalabene: The more I look into Say No More (Flowers for Vardaman) the more complex the imagery and technique appear. It is incredibly nuanced, with slight shifts in hue and tone that, seemingly effortlessly, allow the viewer’s eye to move freely to explore the depths of the canvas (if that isn’t too much of an oxymoron). Also the painting looks like it took some time to create, which makes me think that painting is a cathartic or meditative practice and process for you. Can you tell me more about your approach to painting, specifically this work in New American Paintings?

Josh Dihle: When I’m painting, I try to break from normal day-to-day consciousness and also I sometimes try to control my breathing. These are meditative behaviors. But most of the time I am agonizing like a schmuck, editing and painting things out.  Each painting is maybe five paintings stacked in different ways on top of each other.  Say No More (Flowers for Vardaman) started as a clearly stated rendering of a big bouquet of flowers.  For a couple of months I added and subtracted faces, limbs, bones and layers of color.  I was watching for a situation to emerge that would move the painting forward while preserving its uncertainty.

Detail of Say No More (Flowers for Vardaman)

PG: The title itself evokes death, or a feeling of loss or mourning. Looking at Say No More, I get a strong feel for ephemerality, particularly in the fluid imagery of animal skulls and embryos, especially in the scratched-out images of hanging figures. However, an immanent physicality or materiality is present. Those black impasto “holes” ground my vision from too deep a reading of signs. And yet they in themselves can be seen as signs (as in black holes and nothingness, or possibly everything-ness). You say that the “holes” allude to the actions of Vardaman in Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, but is there a visual function beyond allusion? Breaking illusion in relation to the imagery?

JD: These spots bring a hard little nut of logic to the image. They form a grid that sits on top of the diagonal bars, but it’s a crappy grid. The spots list to one side and they’re kind of fecal.  But they’re also thick moles on the skin of the painting.  They are part of the spatial-symbolic oscillation that I hope to generate in my paintings. I prize this uncertainty between substance, signifier, and form because it cuts against the meaning-making thoughts for which we’re wired. It’s the kind of mental shift that makes my walk home from the studio a lot more interesting.

Fun Mom (2014), oil on panel, 20"x16"

PG: Two artists who first came to my mind, in fact the first notes in my notebook are Chris Ofili and Georgia O’Keeffe, mainly due to the visual language. You cite Albrecht Dürer and Paul Klee as influences, and I can certainly see Dürer’s stacked landscapes and Klee’s mythology, and both of their mysticism in this and other works of yours. How far does art history inform your practice, when clearly you have a style much of your own? And are there other influences outside of art history that influence your practice?

JD: I took a jaunt to New York in February because I knew I would hate myself for missing the Ofili show at the New Museum.  He’s an important painter and his very ambivalent love for certain slices of twentieth century painting is fascinating.  I relate to that damp version of hindsight that he employs when using the shapes and palette of Toulouse-Lautrec or Gauguin to tell his own stories.  It’s not the even-handed appropriation of, say, David Salle.  This newer approach came out of a postmodernist mindset but it is something else entirely; it’s choosier and less panoptic. I teach painting and drawing at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and I’m in the museum a lot, both with my students and on my own, because I am in love with a number of artworks in there, including, sure, a couple of O’Keeffe’s.  I love them but I do not revere them.  My work is rooted in first-hand experience, not art history. I came to this understanding back when I was fresh out of undergrad, living in New York and working long days at Sotheby’s.  My personal life was in shambles and I painted in my studio apartment at night.  That period squeezed the false motives out of my work.  I tried to get painting to lubricate the contact points between real life circumstance, interiority, and physical activity.

Yes Machine (2015), oil on linen, 21"x17"

PG: I do not necessarily see your work as formalistic, though form and material are important considerations in Say No More. The works in the gallery in which your piece is placed speak to a kind of new formalism in terms of reading techniques and conceptualization of the artist. Rather than form, I see your piece as functioning on symbolism. What really connects neighboring pieces, in my eyes, is the attention to precision of process, whether it is the calligraphic lines of Mark Pease’s Untitled paintings on the wall opposite Say No More, or on the other end of the spectrum Santiago Cucullu’s specifically-splattered Green Hell. Do you think formalism is making a comeback, or is it specific to an artist or a time or a place?

JD: It depends on what you mean by “comeback.” The crowd that goes for the avalanche of vacuous painting being made now obviously thinks so. But look slowly and you can tell when nobody is home in a painting. It’s easy. The work can be full of symbol or devoid of it, but if it relies on an inert program of gestures, forms, and signs, it’s empty. I think nerves and sweat are making a comeback. Artists who air their dirty laundry, who immolate, who change, who care embarrassingly – they’re always making a comeback.

Weak Sun (2015), oil on linen on panel, 48"x36"

PG: It is impossible to narrativize New American Paintings as a publication or an exhibition. Groupings in each gallery aid in readability and relatability amongst works, but that is about the extent to which these paintings can be defined, except that they are all based in the Midwest. One recurring thread I noticed across several works in the selection, yours included, are ghosts. Do you see any connecting threads, and can they be related through the geographical lens of the Midwest?

JD: Ghosts! Good point! A ghost is useful because it’s a transitional form. It moves readily between spaces and meanings. It is both body and not-body. I think a lot of people are looking for ways to circumscribe the blurry footprint of their daily activity. Case in point: the other night, I dreamt I was in conversation with Kanye, when I woke up, I reread the tragicomic ghost story “Civilwarland in Bad Decline” by George Saunders, and then watched the track and field national championships on pirated internet TV… I saw nothing but disembodied bodies all day.

Anyway, regarding regional differentiation, I’ve been wondering if the lack of a robust art market in Chicago means that artists who work here don’t have the pressure of certain types of judgment placed on them.  Maybe they veer to the academic at the expense of messy thinking because of the limited types of rewards available here. I see a lot of brittle conceptual work because it checks the right boxes for curators and administrators. Also, there’s a lot of easy funny work that looks great in someone’s living room art gallery.  I don’t think that’s an observable trend in New American Paintings because there’s not a strong enough division to be drawn across geographic boundaries. The dialogues that spur connections among artists are usually about topics that don’t tether neatly to place. I would love to see a New York Times info-graphic on painting production in the United States.  Maybe we would get some clarity on everyone’s motives… but I doubt it.

Summer Solstice

It’s officially summer here in the northern hemisphere. That means street festivals and backyard barbeques, but more importantly warmer, longer days. Well, relatively longer, for now. In addition to Father’s Day, last Sunday, June 21 was Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year. Days will become incrementally shorter by seconds and minutes as the sun slowly falls lower in the sky, until it reaches its lowest point at Winter Solstice on December 21. But let’s not think of that dreary time. Instead, let’s think about what Summer Solstice means beyond its festive significance.

Generally speaking, solstices are the two instances each year where each of the earth’s axes are tilted at their peak distance toward or away from the sun. In the northern hemisphere, these occur on June 21 and December 21, the Summer and Winter Solstices, respectively the longest and shortest days of the year. The axis of the earth is tilted at a constant 23.5 degrees, and depending on the point at which the earth is found on its revolution around the sun, this tilt determines the seasons. For example, summer is characterized by more perpendicular rays of solar energy that hit the surface of the earth, and the Summer Solstice is the time of year where solar rays are at their most direct angle. These angles are called solar incidence, and they determine the amount of solar energy a place will receive. In contrast, the northern hemisphere receives more acute angles of solar incidence in the winter, hence the sun’s lower position in the sky and shorter days.

While the sun is positioned higher in the sky and we receive more direct solar energy down here on earth, how does this affect our daily habits? More than the outdoor activities and short-sleeved shirts, the acuity of solar rays and received solar energy is evident in our living spaces. My apartment in Chicago lacks central air-conditioning and is at the top of a six flat building. It can get unbearably hot and muggy inside if it weren’t for my building’s location off of Lake Michigan, where the usual cool breezes coming off the water keep the apartment’s interior temperature mostly livable. However, the structure’s design is made not for the permeability of interior temperature; rather it was made to keep the heat in, with a brick exterior and solarium in the central stairwell. This typical residential architecture in Chicago pervades the city and many of the residential structures in the suburbs. Our reliance on heating and cooling devices, which themselves rely on unsustainable energy sources, is climatologically and ecologically insufficient. That is to say, for the lack of an HVAC system and the sun’s most direct rays of the year, it was quite warm in my apartment this past Sunday.

Complaints aside, there are architectural solutions that can replace those with which my 100 year old building was designed. Elements that take into consideration the solstices, Spring and Fall Equinoxes, climate zone and topology of the landscape in which structures are to be erected can affect the interior functionality and livability of a building. Twenty-five such designs will be offered in our upcoming Fall exhibition Lessons From Modernism: Environmental Design Strategies in Architecture, 1925-1970. Several modern architects, from Le Corbusier to Marcel Breuer, designed ecologically and climatologically sustainable structures planned for various locations throughout the globe that seriously considered topographical characteristics and, perhaps most importantly, solar incidence. So, while the sun is still high in the sky, take a minute to think about the functionality and habitability of the structures you frequent or live in, then mark your calendar for Lessons From Modernism this coming September to see how sustainable design can effectively create more comfortable living and working spaces.


The Karuizawa Summer House, designed by Antonin Raymond, is one example of the 25 projects studied in Lessons From Modernism: Environmental Design Strategies in Architecture, 1925-1970. Raymond was one of the many modern architects who deliberately considered the site at which the building would be built, including the topology of the landscape, airflow, and solar incidence. In its aerial and cross-section views, this chart exemplifies the angles of solar incidence: overall in the larger graphic on the left, Summer Solstice in the top right, Spring and Fall Equinoxes in the middle, and Winter Solstice in the bottom right.

Planning "Lessons From the Fick Home"

Last week, Staci and I made plans to visit Andrew Santa Lucia and his graduate students in their course "No Place Like House" in the Architecture/Interior Architecture/Designed Objects department at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Little did we know that in the space of that time the Chicago Blackhawks would win the Stanley Cup and parade it around the Loop the morning of the date we scheduled. Suffice it to say that we were late due to street closures, barricades and walls of avid hockey fans.

Staci sent me this image with the text "I'm stuck outside." SAIC was just in sight, but it took an hour and a half just to cross the street at Monroe and Wabash. Go Hawks!

The trials of simply getting across the street were worth it. Santa Lucia and his class have been hard at work preparing their exhibition Lessons from the Fick Home: Mies's Social, Cultural and Environmental Sustainability, which will open September 12, along with their McCormick House Intervention No Place Like House. Both will accompany the sustainable architecture exhibition, traveling here from Cooper Union, Lessons From Modernism: Environmental Design Strategies in Architecture, 1925-1970, creating a triumvirate of intriguing and different ways of thinking about and interacting with modern architecture.

Still in its production process, Lessons From the Fick Home will highlight the subjectivity and humanity of Mies's arguably objective design. It will be loosely divided into two sections. The first will feature a long illustration of the traveling myth of Mies's iconic design as well as climatological renderings showing the house's environmental sustainability. The second portion will highlight the humanity of the home itself, with a model, recorded interviews with the Fick family, and hypothetical "family" photographs on shelves next to an illustrated view from a window of the mature home at its original site.

We are getting excited for our Fall exhibitions and want to share a few hints of what's to come. Some content in Lessons From the Fick Home is bound to be changed, as it goes with planning an exhibition. Santa Lucia and the class at SAIC are working hard to get all their images, audio and objects together, and based on what they have already, it's going to be a good one.


Interview With Artist Santiago Cucullu

To gain deeper insight into the work included in the current exhibition New American Paintings: Midwest Edition, I interviewed participating artist Santiago Cucullu about his practice and the site-specific work Green Hell. The piece immediately speaks to its calculated contradictions as, at first glance, chaotic, almost violent spattering of green paint reveals rational, concentric rectangles of blank wall space. Dichotomies seem important to the Cucullu. As a process-based, nearly performative piece, Green Hell is a painting made in the gallery, as opposed to the artist’s studio. As a painting, it is painted directly on the wall, not on a traditional canvas. Even the title gives way to poles on a spectrum. “Green Hell” is the name of both a kitschy 1940s American horror movie as well as a song by the Misfits (though anarchistically punk, its kitschiness or campiness is arguably equal). Cucullu sees how the piece can speak to kitsch. It was made for the enjoyment not only of its beholders, but also for those who collaborated in its production. (Our staff had a lot of fun, as can be seen in the photos below – who wouldn’t have a good time throwing paint at their workspace?) It was a pleasure to speak to Mr. Cucullu on this specific work and his practice.

Santiago Cucullu, Green Hell, 2015. This is the second iteration of the piece, the first created via instructions at Labor Gallery in Mexico D.F, 2009.

Peter Guardalabene: There is a lot to talk about with this piece (Green Hell) alone, but I will try to keep it simple. My first notion was a kind of queer formalism; that the work is based on art historical and formalistic guidelines, but messy, maybe anachronistic or anarchistic. (The action of Jackson Pollock or Shozo Shimamoto blurred with the minimal rationality of Frank Stella.) These art historical figures can be recognized in Green Hell, which extends pure aestheticism into history as well as process. Do you see these elements as fitting, or is it more about communication of a “specific aesthetic notion” as you said in your notes on the piece?

Santiago Cucullu: Absolutely. This work is very dependent on the historical antecedents you site. I think something to point out is that the process involves a kind of excavation for the image to exist, in my view the elements of how the painting is then made place it both within a historical context that brings to mind associations outside of art. In particular that the work is existing in a particular place and time that is also occupied by the viewer.

Cucullu in action, casting the initial "paint bombs" onto the wall.

PG: On a non-art historical approach, or maybe in alternative art historical terms, the 1940 movie Green Hell and the Misfits song of the same name seem to be significant. However, the splatter of green paint and messiness of the process contrast with the rationality of concentric rectangles. I can see more of the punk/anarchy aesthetic in your Green Hell, but are punk and/or kitsch relevant here?

SC: I think there is an association with humor definitely, also to try and bring forward the place between control and natural forces. The process belies a balance that is then visible. My intention is to celebrate both the physical and esoteric properties of life. I think the Dionysian qualities found in punk are important in this case, as it uses a specific form as a strategy to push against an overlying layer of societal control.

Education and Outreach Director Faith Humphrey-Hill contributing to Green Hell.

PG: Green Hell does not conform to a traditional picture plane (unless the borders of the wall mark its territory); it spreads over the wall, beyond the seeming frames of rectangles. Previous work of yours like Fence By the Ladies Jail (2011) spread into more wall space, breaking the traditional rules of a picture in its place on the white walls of a gallery. Going off of Misfits and punk, I get a sense that these works speak more of a political language than an aesthetic one. Are pieces like Green Hell intended to be politically radical, or political at all? You have also said that, despite their adherence to the wall, you consider pieces like these to be permanent even after they have been painted over. Does this fit into each work’s politics? (SC note: In terms of chronology Green Hell predates Fence By the Ladies Jail.)

SC: The way both works are made speak to a political language. This is to underline the act of making art as being at it's core a political act. Traditionally paint bombs tend to be used in a reactive way. I wanted to see if I could use the same device but to try and use it as an element of affirmation. I think it's striking is that the political associations of vandalism and political action are tied to the form.

Chief Curator Staci Boris throwing a "paint bomb."

PG: Green Hell has much art and cultural history in it, but your portfolio is filled with references to personal and world histories as well. (I’m thinking specifically of Barricades from all D&D, Haiti, Prague that Fall, Fermin Salvochea (2003) at the 2004 Whitney Biennial.) How do you connect these different histories in your work?

SC: I think that the paint bomb works offer this connection. After I made Barricades from all D&D, Haiti, Prague that Fall, Fermin Salvochea for the Whitney Biennial, I started to realize that I was illustrating from events where my personal connection was mediated by someone else’s observations. I wanted to pull my own personal experience and the world that I immediately relate to into play. After this point any direct political and historical references are pushed through the scrim of something that I feel I have a direct relation to. An example is Fence By the Ladies Jail, the reference is to the prison system in the US, but my own experience of this is very limited, very much about the surface of the issue. Prisons and prisoner's rights in this country are exploited by the need for both private and public concerns of prison management to remain out of sight to function on the pervasive level that they do. However my own interaction is very cursory, I pass by this jail I allude to on the way to the studio, and the affordability of my studio is in part due to the proximity of the jail and the neighborhood it's in, Harambee, which is marginal but at the same time very dynamic.

The process is involved and ephemeral, but in the result is a permanent memory of collaborating and creating.

PG: The New American Paintings publication and exhibition has a specific set of criteria for included artists. As one of the included 40 artists, whose media varies, do you identify as a painter, or is that too specific a label? Also, the 113th edition focuses on artists based in the Midwest; do you think there is a “Midwest style?” And can the geography where an artist lives inform his/her/z’s work as much, or more, than multiple histories and identities?

SC: I definitely identify as a painter. In terms of a “Midwest style” it's hard to say. I think here in Milwaukee there is a tendency to be ironic or slightly goofy. This tends to bother me and makes me bristle, but at the same time, I can see these same qualities in some of my own work. I moved to the Midwest from the East Coast but some artists that I deeply admire, Roger Brown, Peter Barrickman, David Robbins, Peter Saul, Amanda Ross-Ho are amazing at exploiting elements of humor that are on one level slightly ironic, but overall are tempered with a deep sense of pathos while aligning themselves to direct personal experience.

New American Paintings: An Overview

There are a lot of “firsts” happening at Elmhurst Art Museum. This is the initial post for EAM’s new blog, of which there will be several to come on a range of topics. It gives a firsthand account of the next “first,” the 113th edition of the New American Paintings publication, of which EAM is the first institution to host an exhibition of paintings included in the juried selection. Our chief curator Staci Boris selected the forty artists included in the publication’s 2014 Midwestern iteration and curated individual works into thematic groupings for the New American Paintings exhibition. Not only is it inspiring to see artists awarded for their dedication to a particular, and very traditional, medium, but viewing the works in person and in relation to one another offers a revitalized reading of contemporary painting in the Midwest.

Installation shot: Santiago Cucullu, Green Hell, 2015 (Center), Rachel Hellman, A Window to Lean On; Down the Edge, Mirrors on the Wall, 2014 (Right), Diane Christiansen, Untitled Painting (Product of stop-action animation), 2015 (Behind)

Some concepts that arise from seeing the paintings together in an exhibition translate differently from its book form alone. At its core, New American Paintings is a regional collection of contemporary American painters. Therefore, regionalism, or local determinisms, is a lens through which one might view these works. The geographical location in which an artist lives and works influences his/her/z’s practice, and though it is arguable whether or not location is a driving concept that informs these artists’ production, there does seem to be a particular tie to form and media throughout these selected artists’ works. Of course, there are a multiplicity of styles that is unique to each artist's approach to painting, but the attention paid to form and medium is constant. Paint, or responses to the medium and act of painting, is the ultimate ground from which viewers can read works both individually and collectively.

Boris’ curatorial decisions make each gallery readable in terms of the individual style of each artist as they relate and respond to one another in a group setting. Entering the exhibition viewers will find an explosion of color and form evocative of contemporary formalism. Santiago Cucullu’s site-specific Green Hell (2009/2015) initiates an explosive, postmodern perspective on minimalist painting, specifically in response to the geometric stylings of Frank Stella’s Black Series. Geometry vibrates off of Mark Pease’s canvases, whose calligraphic paintings Untitled (Orange 26) and Untitled (Purple 25) illusionistically resonate on the viewer’s retina. Form and process translate into shifts in color and form in the paintings of Cheonae Kim, whose tetris-like shapes build an appreciation for the blank linen left visible in between.

Works in the next gallery respond to landscape and nature, but hardly naturalism. These paintings play with organic abstraction, even denaturalization. Terrence Campagna’s Sundial for Shukke (2014) creates a nice transition into the gallery with its geometry, but its painted wood slats and raw bark detail introduce elements of nature into the space. Molly Briggs’ Humboldt Park: Wet Prairie (2012) continues the natural/surreal dichotomy with her forested landscape painted in unnatural, radioactive pink flashe and sparkly grey tempera. Diane Christiansen’s process-based work on paper Untitled Painting (Product of stop-action animation) (2015) carries Briggs’ uncanniness into an abstract etching of layered and scratched away paint to reveal both its materiality and ephemerality.

Uncanniness, ghosts perhaps, threads its way into the abstractions found in the next gallery. Eddie Villanueva’s monumental I don’t want to be a lawn cutter no more (2015) combines fragmented panels with blown-up photograph of found graffiti, mirrors and other found objects to create a spectacle of rock ‘n’ roll, materiality and masculinity. Elijah Burgher’s hanging, pigment saturated Year of Swords, Conclude! (Neither peaceful nor monumental version) and A White Rainbow (2013) arouse the mysticism in their cryptic symbolism. Linda King Ferguson’s and Dyani White Hawk’s paintings respond to space both physical and historical, with comments on personal and art histories reminiscent of Chicago Imagist painters Christina Ramberg and Roger Brown, respectively. Allison Reimus’ small but dynamic group of canvases compel the viewer to inspect their curious material, shape and imagery.

Kevin Goodrich, Homage to Mary, 2013 (Left), Ben Murray,  Reception, 2015 (Center), Russel Shoemaker, Ruby Beach, 2014 (Right)

Liminal spaces in the next space continue to distort viewers’ perspectives on familiar sights. Unexpected jabs of paint on John A. Sargent III’s The Reign is Over (2012) break the illusion of a calm sunset, while the illusionistic seams and use of inkjet in Kevin Goodrich’s Homage to Mary (2013) recall Jasper Johns’ Corpse and Mirror II (1974/75) or Christopher Wool’s silkscreens. Ben Murray’s large, abstract canvas Reception (2015) invites back ghosts of the previous galleries into an uncanny, abstract but familiar space that could either be alien or domestic.

The exhibition ends on a realist note, with figurative and socially conscious works. In Heidi Draley McFall’s highly naturalistic Karem, Kristy and Isabel Practicing Sign Language (2014), monotone pastel renderings of the titular young women evoke a nostalgia similar to Gerhard Richter’s blurred memories. Photorealism again in David J. Eichenberg’s Aimee in Hoodie III (2015) reminds of Thomas Ruff’s stark photographic portraiture of everyday subjects. Curtis Goldstein’s Hurricane (2014) questions the definition of painting by collaging refuse into the form of a landscape that has suffered disaster, which could either have been the product of a natural disaster or destructive human pollution. Conversely, but perhaps similarly, David Holmes’ photorealistic Under the L (2013) portrays everyday urban living, reminding viewers of the spaces they inhabit and places in which they create and live.