The season is barely three weeks old, and the art fairs are already coming on fast. Last week alone featured the bracingly hip Art Berlin Contemporary (one of those fairs that pretends not to be a fair), Cosmoscow (the last real contemporary art fair still standing in Russia), and the fledgling Expo Chicago. We all know that fairs are making a mess of art, pressuring artists to overproduce and generally making their work look terrible, but one upside is that they let us regularly touch down in new cities and see the sights. I was in Chicago last week, and had the chance to see a boatload of art, and a lot of it was very good. Below, a quick survey of the scene.
1. “David Rappeneau: $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$” at Queer Thoughts
The mysterious David Rappenau—all the gallery will reveal is that he is French and an Internet sensation—makes intimate, luscious, and often disturbing drawings of extremely beautiful young people hanging out just as the party is getting off the ground. They’re rolling joints, wolfing down pills, checking their cell phones, taking a piss, or smoking in a pool. Everyone is tall. The men are all chiseled, and the women all have huge breasts and asses, which look even bigger than they probably are because Rappeneau warps the perspective in his drawings so that it seems that we’re looking through a fisheye lens, or maybe down from a K hole. Lovingly rendered, they look less like art than obsessive and very personal fantasies, which makes them especially piquant. This is easily the best thing I saw in Chicago, which makes it sad to report that the show closed on Sunday.
2. “New Image Painting” at Shane Campbell Gallery
Shane Campbell Gallery is looking for a fight! The press release for this extravaganza (which takes its name from the 1978 classic show curated by the late Richard Marshall at the Whitney) declares that “a form of anemic abstract painting has occupied too much space within contemporary art and needs to get out of the way.” Hear, hear. Campbell’s antidote: messy, comic, action-packed figurative paintings, often big ones. There are some serious bangers here: graffito still lifes that Katherine Bernhardt has been cooking up recently (the watermelon-cigarette-basketball number is really nice), sexy, flat little scenes with nude ladies and mannequins from, respectively, Lily Ludlow and Tyson Reeder, a gargantuan Michael Williams gradient with a burning candle, and an electric pink and purple John McAllister vase of flowers. The only problem is that this exuberant tendency is prone to its own formulaic excesses, and looking at unwieldy but lifeless canvases by Nick Schutzenhofer, Mark Grotjahn, and Michael Bauer, I was reminded of Peter Schjeldahl’s old complaint about George Condo: “he may be having more fun with his paintings than I am.” The good far outweighs the bad, though, and Campbell deserves tons of respect for actually staking out and defending a position. Imagine how fun the art world would be if other dealers did the same. (Through October 4)
3. “Glenn Kaino: Leviathan” at Kavi Gupta
Breathtakingly pretentious, Glenn Kaino’s “Leviathan” borrows the name of the Hobbes book and includes portentous works like an 11½-foot stack of bomb-fin cases that resembles a Jenga game (We Have Seen The Enemy and He is Us), a conveyor belt bearing rocks that Kaino picked up at various protests around the world (Tahrir Square, Benghazi, Ferguson, and others), and a number of slickly polished wall-hung steel rectangles that he has elegantly dented by pelting them with such rocks, which seems like an astoundingly trivial response to violent upheaval. This is painfully literal political art—overproduced and under-thought, almost to the point of parody. (Through December 20)
4. “Mickalene Thomas: I was born to do great things” at Kavi Gupta
Thankfully, at Gupta’s other space, Mickalene Thomas is screening her charismatic, moving documentary about her mother in one of her warm living-room installations, complete with some comfy chairs and beautiful photo portraits. New text paintings and sculptures feel like a holding pattern, but that’s fine: Thomas has been operating in the highest echelon for the past few years, and her recent show of abstract portraits at Lehmann Maupin in New York showed she’s comfortably rolling forward elsewhere. (Through November 15)
5. “Ink, Paper, Politics: WPA-Era Printmaking from the Needles Collection” at the DePaul Art Museum
A hidden gem of a show, “Ink, Paper, Politics” overflows with dozens of prints by as many artists from the 1930s and ‘40s, ranging from a trippy, hellish proto-Peter Saul scene—World War II meets Halloween—by Charles Surendorf, to a quiet, peculiar Milton Avery of a woman cutting paper, alone in a room, to a libidinal, gangly abstraction by Alice Trumbull Mason that almost looks like something Elizabeth Murray would have made 30 years later. There’s something for everyone, but the subjects veer toward the heroism of the common man, the horrors of war, and the anguish of the Depression—life affirming stuff, in other words. (Through December 21)
6. Scooter’s Frozen Custard
A local legend. Some of the best custard I’ve ever had—almost as thick as fudge, though not overly sweet, which lets the cream sings—and definitely on par with Shake Shack’s. (Open daily)
7. “David Bowie Is” at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago
You get to wear these elegantly conceived headphones that patch in the audio for whatever video you’re standing close to in this career-spanning multimedia bonanza, which is filled with concert footage, album covers, (generally bad) Bowie original paintings, outfits, and all sorts of ephemera and artifacts. It’s a ball. The museum is going to sell a billion tickets. If you don’t like it, you hate fun. Just wish it were coming to New York. (Through January 4)
8. “Sarah Charlesworth: Stills” at the Art Institute of Chicago
Seen in full for the first time ever, this 14-photo series, from 1980, is a complete and total revelation. The photos are all 78 inches tall, massive enlargements of snaps that Sarah Charlesworth (1947–2013) found of people leaping and falling out of buildings to their deaths. Brutal and unflinching, the set deserves a place in the canon right next to Cindy Sherman’s “Untitled Film Stills” as a definitive masterpiece of late-20th-century art, and is a chilling marker of the shift, then underway, in how artists were using images. (Through January 4)
9. The Modern Wing at the Art Institute of Chicago
This is going to betray my Manhattan provincialism, but the last time I visited Chicago was more than five years ago, before Renzo Piano’s building for the Art Institute’s modern and contemporary collection opened. I finally went, and was completely blown away. It is airy and spacious in there, one well-installed gallery following another. A room of stellar Richters? Yes, please. Another of Kellys? Oh wow, yes. Rock-solid Gustons? Good God! It’s luxurious. MoMA, of course, still has the best collection in the States, but after a trip to the AIC, visits to 53rd Street are now tinged with the sadness of missed opportunities. Meanwhile, New Yorkers looking at Piano’s almost-finished new Whitney building from the High Line should cross their fingers, and perhaps pray. (Open daily)
“Art of the City” is a weekly column by ARTnews co-executive editor Andrew Russeth.