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Reviews of Photography at the MCA, MoCP

September 2, 2009

This week on ArtSlant: Chicago I write the gallery hop, click here to read them.  As I have mentioned before, most of my writing nowadays gets published on ArtSlant: Chicago, where I am City Editor, so check there each week for a new gallery hop written by myself or one of our talented staff.  This week I review the second exhibition of the Midwest Photographers Project, “MP3 II” at the Museum of Contemporary Photography and “Elements of Photography” at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago.


ArtSlant Interview with Chicago Photographer Jill Frank

August 25, 2009

This week on ArtSlant you can find my Rackroom interview with Chicago photographer and the Museum of Contemporary Art’s 12 x 12 Artist, Jill Frank.

Also if you read this on August 25th, Jill will be conducting an artist talk at the MCA at 6:30, see below for more information.

Jill Frank 12x12 TOC July_09

Brian Ulrich on NPR, Podcast

August 5, 2009

If my interview with Chicago photographer Brian Ulrich sparked your interest to learn more about him and his work, he will be speaking again today, Wednesday, August 5th, with Janet Babin on “The Story” broadcast on NPR. Here in Chicago and Illinois you can tune in at 2:00 pm to channels WBEQ-FM 90.7 and WBEZ-FM 91.5, if you are not in Illinois check your broadcast time by clicking here. Don’t worry if you miss the broadcast or will miss the broadcast! It is currently available via podcast by clicking here, for you to listen to at your leisure.

(Image: Brian Ulrich. Dominicks 1, 2008. 11″ x 14.” Edition of 15. Courtesy of the artist and Rhona Hoffman Gallery)

This Week on ArtSlant: Chicago

August 4, 2009

This week on ArtSlant: Chicago Robyn Roulo visits Corbett vs. Dempsey to see “Big Youth” and writes about some of the standouts there, then heads to the super new ebers|B9 apartment gallery to see more new work there and reflects on the advantages the current apartment gallery movement has. Finally it’s over to the MCA for some free jazz on their terrace on Tuesdays (and free admission to the museum).

Check it out:


June 29, 2009


Jeff Koons (American, b. 1955). Michael Jackson and Bubbles, 1988. Ceramic. 42 x 70 1/2 x 32 1/2 in. (106.7 x 179.1 x 82.5 cm). Photo © Douglas M. Parker Studio, Los Angeles.

The Broad Art Foundation, Santa Monica / © Jeff Koons

Some of Chicago’s Latino Artists

June 18, 2009

The Chicago Art Blog’s friends over at the magazine Café passed along “Redefine, Re-imagine, Recycle” an article by Benjamin Ortiz about three of Chicago’s notable Latino artists.  You can jump to the link by clicking here.  Articles like this are a good resource as artists who are interested in environmental concerns often produce ephemeral art that doesn’t stick around except in descriptions or images (though some images of the art would have been a nice addition to the article).  An interesting read nonetheless and worth checking out.

Fantasies of the East at the Art Institute

June 3, 2009

From Abraham Ritchie, the ArtSlant: Chicago City Editor :

In this week’s Gallery Hop for ArtSlant: Chicago, Robyn Roulo mentions the art history behind Lalla Essaydi’s solo exhibition at Schneider Gallery, “Les Femmes Du Maroc.” Roulo talks about the “centuries of women portrayed . . . from the languid and vulnerable to the sensual and stoic,” and how in Essaydi’s self-empowered work “lost are the slave-like harem scenes of art’s historical past.” So what are these sexist and stereotypical artworks that Essaydi is reacting to? I went to the Art Institute of Chicago to find out.

harem scene

Eugene Fromentin. Women of the Ouled Nayls, 1867. Oil on canvas.

This painting by Eugene Fromentin is on view in Gallery 223. In it, Fromentin paints tensions and stereotypes so palpable I’m not sure I really need to say much about it. The scantily clad white women loll about in the dirty and darkly light alley amidst fully clothed Middle Eastern men making the power dynamic obvious. This is a bit strange since my brief research has indicated that the Ouled Nails (another spelling) is actually a Berber tribe in Algeria whose women traditionally would dance for money building a dowry which would ultimately gain them a husband. They were guided by their mothers, not men. Why then are these white women? I believe that Fromentin conflates European “concern” (and no doubt titillation and attention) about white slavery with an equally titillating exotic flavor, the Ouled Nails women and their dances. It’s important to keep in mind that France had invaded Algeria in 1830 and the public would no doubt assume that this painting was set there (the identification of the tribe firmly sets it in that country) so this image would have served a propaganda purpose also. The result is an image that acts as a justification for France’s colonial occupation of Algeria by playing on racist feelings and stereotypes, yet doesn’t offend Victorian sensibilities because it is ostensibly decrying this made-up situation. Interestingly, according to one website: “In 1893, a man named Sol Bloom brought the first glimpses of belly dance to America by sponsoring various groups from the Middle East and North Africa to perform in the Chicago World’s Fair. The Ouled Nail were among these tribes.” This painting on view at the Art Institute was acquired shortly thereafter in 1894.

Jules Joseph Lefebvre. Odalisque, 1874. Oil on canvas.

This painting is also on view in Gallery 223, look up, it’s hung near the ceiling salon-style (hence the slight glare in the image). The title of the painting leaves no doubt about the subject, an odalisque is a concubine or female slave in a harem. Related to the J.A.D. Ingres portrait (Le Grande Odalisque of 1814) that Essaydi riffs on, Lefebvre also adopts the classical composition of the reclining female nude. We also see the classic signifiers of the “oriental”: incense burners (which Ingres also includes), decorative carpets and rugs, fruit and some pottery. However, whereas in the Ingres image the woman confronts us with her gaze, here Lefebvre averts the subject’s face away from the viewer, objectifying her as all we can see is her body. I would again suggest that the tensions, fascinations and fantasies about white slavery are a major subtext to this image.


Lalla Essaydi. The Grand Odalisque, C-print, edition 3/15, 30 x 40 inches, courtesy of Schneider Gallery.

If we contrast the Lefebvre work to the above by Essaydi, we can see that her simple gestures like depicting her subject with a feeling of self-possession, confronting the viewer’s gaze with her own, being clothed rather than naked (in the Kenneth Clark sense of the word) and even the dirty feet (in contrast to idealized and sterilized woman of Lefebvre) result in a unbalancing of the power dynamic between viewer and subject, diffuse the fetishization of the oriental, and upset the assumption of a male viewer. Essaydi reclaims history and directs our attention to historical inaccuracies and fantasies.

–Abraham Ritchie