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Doug Fogelson’s billboard at 35th and Ashland

Sign Language Three new billboards on the South and West Sides of Chicago wordlessly announce the coming spring. Each billboard frames a shock of fuzzy colors, like Abstract Expressionist paintings in the sky. Artist and art-book publisher Doug Fogelson, who has previously worked on public art commissions, this time wanted to create a direct and immediate public action without the restrictive layers of committees and grants. The billboards went up April 8 and they’ll be viewable for one month. Fogelson sited his abstractions at busy intersections in the Humboldt Park (at Chicago and Spaulding), McKinley Park (at 35th and Ashland) and Washington Park (at 63rd and State) neighborhoods, places he calls “some very rough zones in the city.” The communities living here must too often content with gang violence, drug dealing and a decaying industrial landscape. Will the billboards ameliorate some of these difficulties? “I have seen art and artists positively impact communities both directly and indirectly,” Fogelson says, speaking mostly of his experience with art education in schools. “However, I have no illusions that the effect will be very substantial here.” As public art, the billboards, like graffiti, subvert the expected streetscape. “If this work takes peoples’ minds off the mundane or challenging aspects of life for a moment then it succeeds,” says Fogelson. I asked Fogelson about the imagery that appears on the billboards, which he revealed were the products of multiple exposures of nature scenes. This isn’t crucial information to the successful reception of the billboards, for their contexts—as signposts, in the city—energize the artworks. Fogelson explains, “I tend to see an abundance of preachy, obtuse, or ironic work as billboard art and this only reinforced my desire to use abstraction as counterpoint. Hopefully this is not seen just as a weird gift but more as a signifier of something outside the boundaries of consumer culture.” (Jason Foumberg) !=recommended Selected art listings and reviews appear below. To submit listings e-mail We do not guarantee that all submitted listings will appear in print. For expanded listings, visit NEW AND NOTEWORTHY SHOWS MUSEUMS

HYDE PARK Smart Museum of Art⁄

5550 South Greenwood, (773)702-0200. THE TRAGIC MUSE, painting, prints, sculpture. Something terrible happens in the world every day, so tragedy is the bread and butter of daily journalism, but as the subject of Aristotle’s “Poetics,” the foundational text of European aesthetics, it well deserves the scholarly attention which University of Chicago professors of art history, as well as philosophy, English and classical literature have

given it in this special exhibition at the Smart Museum. Focusing on two centuries of Western European art, “The Tragic Muse: Art and Emotion, 1700-1900” attempts to trace changing attitudes towards what we call tragedy. The highlight is the collection of paintings that relate to Shakespearean theater. There are portrait sketches (1785-90) of the actress Sarah Siddons as Lady Macbeth by George Romney from the Princeton University Art Museum. More impressively, there is the life-sized painting of the tragic actor Philibert Rouvière as Hamlet, from 1865, by Edouard Manet on loan from the National Gallery, and Henry Fuseli’s nearly life-sized depiction of “Macbeth Consulting the Vision of the Armed Head” (1793) from the Folger Shakespeare Library. Does tragedy look different now than it did to viewers from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries? Lacking some kind of comprehensive survey or statistical study, we can only ask how each piece feels to each one of us. The martyrdom depicted by Fontebasso would have been so much more delightful if done by his predecessor, Tiepolo, and Anna Lea Merritt’s portrait of an actress playing Ophelia cries out for the paintings by Millais or Waterhouse. Especially disappointing is the

Alderman Exhibitions⁄

350 North Ogden, 450E. PAUL COWAN, painting. No matter how much white Valspar goes into turning industrial lofts into blank spaces for high-art contemplation, the red-wine trail and social-calendar truth is that most exhibitions are born first as well-lit parties without music. For Paul Cowan, sculptor-turned-painter with a tactical sense of art humor, this ironic dichotomy was enough to build an exhibition around. In “Breaking the Law,” Cowan’s latest at new West Loop space Alderman Exhibitions, the artist made his fun by embellishing his paintings with colorful helium balloons. These were stuck floating in gangs at the entrance; in the space, their laces tethered around a lump of damp sculptor’s clay; or wedged behind Cowan’s quick-drawn paintings, propping them away from the wall. The paintings themselves looked just along for the ride, each tooting a single note in oil-stick on canvas, silently secondary to the installation as a whole. As expected, the opening’s atmosphere was somewhere between birthday party and contemplative

art event, but by the end of the night, the punch lines started rolling as these balloons wandered and sagged like drunken guests, leaking helium, and eventually sank to the floor. As they dropped from behind paintings, the canvases fell to their traditional positions against the wall, setting up the rest of the exhibition’s five-week run with the dull topper, “but seriously, folks…” (Steve Ruiz) Through May 16.

Ebersmoore Gallery⁄ 213 North Morgan, #3C. !HEIDI NORTON, multimedia,

photography. Heidi Norton is the consummate packer, joining experiment with process, conceptual message, reference to art history, and meta-photography, just for starters, in her enigmatic works, which employ multiple forms (photography, painting and, most recently, sculpture and found objects), sometimes separately and sometimes in a mix. No doubt all of this variety is brought together by the motif in which it is packaged— plants and shrubs. Yet they appear in many guises, evoking disparate moods. As a result, none of the works in the show is representative of the whole or epitomizes it; each conveys its own meanings. “Dead Palm Burnt by the Sun” is a still-life photograph of a row of objects, including the wildly forlorn desiccated palm, on tabletop backed by a white sheet that has been put over the window behind it. The objects are attenuated in rough, even dynamic, elegance; a muted range of purple and plum constitutes the palette. It looks like a painting, not a photograph trying to simulate one. However one interprets it, “Dead Palm” makes decay enticingly vital. At Norton’s soft core we find art for art-play’s sake. (Michael Weinstein) Through May 14.

Rhona Hoffman Gallery⁄

118 North Peoria. !HUMA BHABHA, drawings, sculpture. Huma Bhabha’s sculptures and collages at Rhona Hoffman Gallery seem like untimely ruins of contemporary culture. Although best known for her sculptures, it


sculpture, not because the pieces by Rodin or Minne are weak, but because the lighting fails to make the surface come alive with the forms underneath. Those interested in nineteenth-century tragic sculpture might do better to walk a mile south and visit Oak Woods Cemetery, or better yet, Graceland or Bohemian National Cemeteries on the north side of town. All thirty-six paintings, prints and sculptures may be representing something tragic, but as the philosopher of mimesis once wrote in his “Poetics”: “Not to know that a hind has no horns is a less serious matter than to paint it inartistically.” (Chris Miller) Through June 5.

9 4.14.11 newcity


Newcity Art 04.14.11  

Doug Fogelson’s billboard at 35th and Ashland ART BREAK =recommended art 4.14.11 MUSEUMS NEW AND NOTEWORTHY SHOWS GALLERIES Selected art li...

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