By Vitoria Faria
“Through drawing I feel closer to the artist… [to] our shared humanity” - Richard Gray (1928-2018).
The ongoing exhibition at the Art Institute, the Pure Drawing Collection, is certainly a must-visit for those who are studying art/art history but also for those who are just curious about the art world. Ranging from the 15th to 21st century of Western art, the collection has a very interesting selection of drawings, guaranteeing that in a 1-hour visit you could have a grasp of relevant works of important artists.
Richard Gray, one of the most important art dealers in America, built his name in art galleries in New York and Chicago and has made important donations to the Art Institute’s department of Prints and Drawings. Besides some of the drawings on display being preparatory studies for famous oil on canvas artworks later produced, Richard Gray noted that “pure drawing” is the shortest way for the viewer to be in contact with the artist’s purpose and thoughts.
Therefore, what I think is unique about this temporary exhibition is that for the visitor who doesn’t have much art-historical knowledge and background, this is an incredible opportunity to be introduced to important artists of Western art in a time frame of 700 years. By seeing original drawings in person, the visitor can perceive the artists’ core. In other words, the ‘skeleton’ of their most celebrated works and then have an idea of what their style is. However, for viewers who are already engaged in art/art-history, while you are there it is cool to try to make connections between what you see in the drawings and artworks that you already know. Moreover, try to ask yourself: what does the drawing has in common with the painting you thought about? Do you think that the drawing has helped the artist to develop his/her idea with the purpose of making the painting more impactful and/or vice versa?
Words & Photos by Zoe Detweiler
On Monday, May 20, Northwestern Art Review opened their second annual Student Art Showcase. The exhibit, curated by senior Ridley Rochell, opened with art from thirteen student artists. The Kresge first floor gallery space was filled with chatter and a DJ set from Karam Hansen, as students looked at their peer-made paintings, prints, drawings, photographs, and one interactive installation.
Holland Blumer ‘20
Elizabeth Cameron ‘19
Ashley Chai ‘19
Andrew Clark ‘21
Merve Erkanli ‘21
Valerie Gruest ‘20
Zoe Juanitas ‘19
Dylan Martin ‘20
Ellery Stritzinger ‘19
Deniz Turkoglu ‘20
Elizabeth Vogt ‘21
Jon Wolf ‘20
Efe Yavuz ‘21
By Amanda Gordon
Those of us born at the tail end of the last millennium like to think of ourselves as part of a so-called “global community.” The glass and aluminum devices in our pockets link us to sprawling, international networks, facilitating a sense of connectedness and endless possibility for innovation. Caravans of Gold, Fragments in Time, the Block Museum of Art’s enlightening new exhibition, challenges this contemporary, digital hubris.
I felt a certain tension, a force pushing back against my own preconceived notions of worldliness and power when I visited the exhibition on January 27. It was opening day, and a mix of students and community members had gathered at the museum overlooking the icy shoreline of Lake Michigan for the occasion. Inside the museum it was noticeably balmy. Perhaps someone in the Block Museum cranked the heat up to combat the frosty vibes outside. In any case, I felt as if I had been transported to the hot hubs of trade in North and West Africa.
Spanning six centuries, the exhibition highlights the colorful crossroads of the trans-Saharan exchange. Most notably, Caravans of Gold, Fragments in Time reexamines the historiography of the medieval period, placing Africa at its center.
Visitors to the exhibition will be welcomed with shiny pieces of salt and gold sitting underneath glass cases, raw fragments which were carried halfway across the world on the backs of camels across thousands of miles of sand. These remarkable routes of commerce converged at the heart of the Malian Empire, ruled by the enormously wealthy sultan Mansa Musa. Under Musa’s rule, the settlements of his West African kingdom would become nodes of intercultural exchange stretching far beyond the continent’s borders. An atlas from the 14th century is mounted on the wall, mapping out a web of the medieval economy. Mansa Musa sits at the bottom of one of the atlas’s eight panels, admiring a piece of gold.
I stood in front of the atlas for a few minutes, trying to take in all of its intricate illustrations, before moving onto the other half of the first room, which is filled with gemlike objects from Europe–a piece of English silk, Milanese illuminated manuscripts, a pocket-sized Portuguese Jewish prayer book–each fashioned with precious extracts of West African gold. My nose brushed the glass display several times as I tried absorb the astonishing detail of each piece.
One of the most striking objects in the first room of the exhibit is Blue Qur'an, a Tunisian manuscript dating to the late 9th or early 10th centuries. The letters of the sacred text are written in Kufic calligraphy, the oldest form of Arabic script. Made with gold leaf, the elegant streaks and curves of the writing seem to glisten off of the deep indigo dye of the page. The indigo and gold were circulated along trans-Saharan trade routes as part of a dynamic manuscript culture shared among Muslims, Christians and Jews across North Africa, the Middle East and Europe.
Objects like the Blue Qur’an speak to this remarkable era of collaboration. Online platforms may enable us to come into contact with new ideas or individuals from all corners of the world, but often the ties we foster with one another over the web are ephemeral. Caravans of Gold is filled with objects, sometimes mere traces of a larger work, which stand as testimony to a time when cultural encounters produced something concrete and beautiful.
The central space of the exhibition is lined with panels labeled “Giving Context to Fragments,” several of which explain the layers of significance relating to the pieces of terracotta, ceramic and porcelain which sit in the center of the room. Video interviews with archaeologists and historians supplementing the panels of text allowed me to understand the importance of these artifacts from a uniquely intimate perspective.
I felt a similar sense of intimacy in learning that several of the exhibition’s pieces are on loan from Northwestern’s Melville J. Herskovits Library of African Studies, home to one of the largest Africana collections in existence. As noted in the Block Museum’s supplementary exhibition materials, Northwestern is home to the first program of African Studies in the country. As a history major at Northwestern, it is interesting to think about the power and responsibility endowed to certain institutions to use the resources in their disposal in order to present new, critical conceptions of the past.
The curatorial approach of Caravans of Gold, Fragments in Time also reflects the comprehensive scope of the displayed pieces themselves. Through close collaboration with cultural institutions in Mali, Morocco and Nigeria, the Block Museum of Art was able to piece together a uniquely compelling snapshot of the post-classical, pre-modern world. Africa, as the exhibition suggests, has long been the nexus of global connection.
Caravans of Gold, Fragments in time will run at the Block Museum through July 21, 2019.
By NAR Editorial Team
I Thought About Posting This will run from February 13th February 17th at Congruent Space, located at 1216 W Grand Ave. Opening reception Friday, February 15th, from 6-10pm (open bar). For more information, follow Josh Aronson on Instagram @jda.usa and Congruent Space @congruentspace.
It’s probably a little tiresome to talk about Andy Warhol right now. As the recent subject of a blockbuster retrospective at the Whitney, a mass-market fashion collaboration staple (hi, Calvin Klein undies) and the newest spokesman for Burger King, Warhol has seemingly never been so ubiquitous in contemporary pop culture.
Many critics have ascribed his recent surge in popularity to the ways in which his work seems to capture the realities of our overloaded media landscape. Andy eagerly blurred the boundaries between pop and personal, fame and infamy, commodity and art (to which his stratospheric auction prices continue to attest). His silkscreen repetitions of popular imagery, ranging from transcendent celebrities like Marilyn Monroe to mundane foodstuffs like Campbell’s Soup, seem to echo today’s content feeds—entities that allow for the mindless consumption of endless image. That many such feeds have been covertly co-opted by major corporations through influencer campaigns and sponsored posts would probably delight Warhol.
Has this Warholian era of photography undermined its value as an artistic medium? Does the blurring of the medium’s commercial and artistic boundaries create a crisis of identity for photography? That is, when everyone has professional-grade cameras in their pockets, how do we define the line between amateur and professional? Or, should we just be happy such distinctions are now arbitrary? Why even go to a photography show at all when you could just look at other people’s Instagram galleries?
Northwestern alumnus Joshua Aronson’s new show I Thought About Posting This raises these questions. His photographs explore the tenuous relationship between photography and its representation of contemporary identity in our image-saturated moment.
Since leaving campus, Aronson has worked with luxury fashion brands like Off-White and SSENSE and publications including the New York Times, Garage Magazine, and Dazed Digital. Now based in Brooklyn, Aronson grew up in Miami, where he got his first professional opportunities taking pictures of his friends, many of them musicians and artists themselves. Ahead of I Thought About Posting This’ opening at the conceptual Chicago gallery and retail platform Congruent Space next week, Northwestern Art Review caught up with Aronson to chat about how he tackled post-grad life, the challenges of capturing intimacy in photography, and his plans for this inaugural United States solo exhibition.
(This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity)
Can you tell us how you got into photography and share any insights for other Northwestern students who are pursuing a career in the arts?
What lead me to photography is filmmaking. Growing up, I never wanted to be a photographer. I always saw myself as a filmmaker. For me, making films was like being in a relationship. You cared for your movies, you worked on them day in and day out. Sometimes you’d spend months and months making a film. Other times, years. Photography, on the other hand, was really more like a one-night stand. It was quick. It felt good, and you could be out by morning. The way I stopped making films and started taking photographs was by looking at the pace of the life I was living, and realizing that where I was at the time was much more suited to the immediacy of a one-night stand than it was to dating. So I started taking more photographs, and thinking about photography in a new way.
For students who are pursuing a career in the arts, my advice is this: spend less time focusing on technique and equipment, and more time focusing on perspective. Who are you, as a filmmaker or photographer or creative person? What perspective are you adding? And what is it you want to say? Once you’ve found your vision, you’ll find it easy to apply that to any medium—photography, film, etc. Use school as a time to find your thing.
What made you want to come back to the Chicago area for a show after previously exhibiting in Russia and in group shows in Miami, London and Los Angeles?
An Instagram DM. I love the idea of doing something because it could only happen right now. Only in 2019 could we put on a show via Instagram DM. That, and this being my first time back in Chicago since graduating, the lead up felt right to me.
Where do you see the role of photography in our current moment? Where is the line between photography as social media content and its role as an artistic medium?
I don’t believe there is a line. I believe there are norms, things historically conditioned to look and feel ‘right’. But it’s important to consider those photographs, and where they’re being displayed, that don’t exactly feel ‘right’. Just because something doesn’t fit into our preconditioned norms doesn’t mean it’s not valid as a photograph, and so on and so on.
Everybody’s worried about how to stop social media from replacing reality. Well, there’s really an easy way: don’t let it. Images are supposed to represent things, document the world and point to ideas. Don’t let images be things, your world and ideas. There’s a radical difference, and with this in mind, we can better understand the role of photography right now.
What should we expect to see at I Thought About Posting This? How’d you end up with that title?
New images. New ideas. New throughlines. I’m interested in this grey area, this in between space where I feel my friends and I are floating about today. We’re neither pink nor blue, not black nor white, or left nor right. We’re somewhere in between. It’s in that twilight zone space where I hope to make pictures, and where the show came to be. I’m finding that reflecting this twilight zone in pictures demands a certain subtlety. Hence, the title—I Thought About Posting This—because some subtleties can only be perceived in real life, beyond the digital screen.
By Mackenzie Gentz
Chicago is famous for its architectural grandeur and its lakeview skyline––for buildings like the Sears Tower and the Marina Towers. But Chicago is a balanced city, and while there are grandiose buildings, there are also rich minimalist sites that contrast the splendor and create moments of calm.
It would be impossible to cover the entire expanse of Chicago's minimalist scene, but here, I hope to skim the surface.
Finished in 2010, Aqua Tower is one of the largest community-oriented minimalist buildings in the world today. Like many minimalist projects, the tower is based on a naturalist design. The company Studio Gang says that the design was “[borrowed] from the characteristics of terrestrial topography” and was thus cultivated with naturalist intentions. More practically, however, Aqua functions simultaneously as an office building, living space, and hotel. Green-wise, it has one of the largest rooftop gardens in Chicago. Materially, the building is made of alternating concrete slabs and glass, with typical reinforcements for added stability. The appearance of texture on the exterior results from varying each floor’s base to include strategically-placed balconies, in part because the designers wanted notable Chicago landmarks to be seen from different vantage points on the building. And, adding to the seamlessness minimalist architecture is known for, the building all but disappears against the sky.
Joe and Rika Mansueto Library
The Joe and Rika Mansueto Library, designed by Helmut Jahn, was finished in 2011. Jahn is a well-known German-American architect famous for incorporating glass, steel, and light in pseudo-minimalistic capacities. The exterior of the library is a glass dome stabilized with steel crisscrossing beams, allowing it to take on a naturalist honeybee facade. In the interior, one of the most eye-catching elements is the building’s use of steel. Here, the same contours as the Ando Gallery are achieved with the use of a square shape outlined with pillars, but instead of excluding light, here they reflect it. Light is aided by the use of light wood throughout the space, allowing for minimal contrast that creates a sense of openness. Further, part of the genius of this space is that the library itself is underground, though it facilitates more daylight than most skyscrapers. The library boasts over 3.5 million volumes, and it uses a completely digitized storage method to organize and retrieve specific articles.
Wrightwood 659 is unlike most exhibition spaces in that the gallery was designed by an architect for other architecture-based exhibitions. This space, too, was designed by Tadao Ando. From the outside, the building looks as it did in the 1920s––all brick and mortar. From the inside, however, the 3-story interior is minimalist paradise. Concrete, glass, and steel interact with the original brick in a way that is quite unexpected given its traditionally industrial connotations. The concrete in particular is broken up equally with steel rivets that allow it to shift and settle over time without cracking; however, the rivets add an air of symmetry that is otherwise lacking from the building’s original elements. Currently, the exhibit in residence is called: “Ando and Le Corbusier: Masters of Architecture,” and the gallery releases free tickets for the public every Monday.
The Lincoln Park Zoo’s Wood Pavilion was designed as a leisure and educational space, and is part of a larger project to reinstate a more natural space in the area as well as to incorporate environmental projects into the framework of the zoo itself. It is made out of milled wood and painted steel, and the parts were pre-made to simply put together on-site. On the top of the structure, there are semi-transparent fiberglass domes made to simultaneously protect from rain and add to the natural daylight that the space implies. While fiberglass is not traditionally used in minimalist architecture, its naturalistic, seamless incorporation actually aids the tenacity of the design. Here, too, is another example of a traditional honeycomb structure commonly found in minimalist architecture, though the design is said to be inspired by the tortoises that walk around the zoo.
The Poetry Foundation
Placed in a quintessential brick-dominated Chicago neighborhood, this building balances the careful line between blending in and standing out. John Ronan, one of the designers of the building, noted on his website that he wanted the building to unfold “like a poem…line by line.” The building introduces another concept familiar to minimalist architecture: seeming simplicity despite inherent complexity. Inside, the building is dominated by the color white. White walls, white floors, white pillars, and white furniture. Such monochromaticity helps reflect the light coming in through the glass-covered center pavilion and also reflect the colors from thousands of volumes of poetry, which line the interior walls like a second skin. The glass also helps to blur the line between indoors and outdoors, naturalizing the space. On first glance the building looks like almost textbook minimalism. Looking further, however, reveals the intricacy of the building itself, with its many nooks and textures hidden in plain sight.
Ando Gallery, Art Institute of Chicago
Serving as one of the most well-placed examples of minimalist architecture, the AIC’s Ando Gallery is like a pearl at the bottom of the sea. Designed by Tadao Ando, an award-winning Chicago architect, the gallery's low lighting and limited use of texture allow it to serve as a palate cleanser in the middle of a busy museum day. Comprised of 16 solid wooden pillars, the gallery was designed to mimic the artist’s familiarity with traditional Japanese architecture. The pillars, floorboards, and walls are made of dark, dense wood, dampening sound and encouraging whispers throughout the gallery. Beyond the pillars on two sides stand ancient pottery, which are backlit with the only light in the space. The glass separating exhibit from viewer is also seemingly invisible, creating a fluidity that is not found elsewhere in the museum.
By Simona Fine
Looking for somewhere in between an Instagrammable pop up shop and a substantive art museum? Then the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum in New York City is exactly the place for you. Over winter break, I visited the museum for a second time with a group of friends and it did not disappoint.
After entering the museum and collecting an interactive pen that allows visitors to save artworks electronically and engage with them again after departing, we entered a small exhibition of three rooms with different table settings. The first housed an ultra modern and utilitarian seating area that reminded me of seating in a school cafeteria, but this time, the furniture was upgraded for a more sustainable and streamlined future. Past this futuristic installation was a gilded surtout de table originally belonging to the stepson of Napoleon Bonaparte. Surrounding the magnificent centerpiece were sketches for designs of equally elaborate table settings of the era. By hanging these intermediate representations alongside this gleaming and resplendent sculptural element, the curators emphasized the beauty of the design process and the work that goes into creating art. In an effort to show a transition between these two extremes, the final room of the exhibit contained various tablecloths and linens of the Great Depression that blended imagery and text to represent different aspects of American history and culture.
Once upstairs, we walked through another exhibition room before stumbling upon the Immersion Room. In this chamber, visitors can project a variety of designs onto the walls, ranging from wall hangings owned by the museum to original drawings done on the spot.
While it can be interesting to look through the preprogrammed patterns and watch those wallpapers come to life, most people choose to doodle their own creations. During this trip to the museum, my friend drew the Surprise Pikachu face and we posed in front of the walls to take photos as other patrons laughed and admired her comical sketch. Although we were only in the Immersion Room for a few minutes, it allowed us to engage with our art and the work of lapsed artists in a unique setting.
My experience at the Cooper Hewitt was immersive, thought provoking, and overall enjoyable. I witnessed feats of design in an interactive and well-presented manner that connected works of the past to those that may revolutionize our future. As an added bonus, I left the museum with some excellent photos!
By James Tsui
Last weekend, my friend and I spent some time exploring the Chicago Art Book fair hosted at the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel. The buzz of the book fair hit us almost as soon as we hopped off the red line at Monroe. The hotel entrance was bustling with spillage from the art fair as well as the hotel’s in-house Shake Shack.
Perhaps busyness is a necessary facet of a fair. As an artist you sometimes hope these art events remain about the art, but they are undeniably also about the consumerist fervor. Filled with a whole forest’s worth of paper, the Art Book fair spanned two floors of the hotel. Wandering through the fair felt like scrolling through Instagram, except I was scanning and flipping while squeezed among people.
In the age of the internet, pretty pictures and words are cheap and pervasive. In the avalanche it can be difficult to appreciate outstanding work or to be surprised.
But I found fresh air in the pop-up books of Libri Finti Clandestini, a Italian collective that makes books from found paper. The work “Ghiggia” told the story of the 1950 World Cup final between Uruguay and Brazil, with whimsical moving figures. By creating multiple layers on a page, the pop-up books centered themselves on the wonder of the reveal. It reminded me of opening presents on Christmas morning.
In the market, however, the biggest vote you cast is not with your voice but with your money. My friend and I each decided to make one purchase, being the fiscally-responsible but art-loving people we are. I bought a book by Danish illustrator Tor Brandt. Aptly titled “Objects for a Better Future,” the risograph-printed work featured homescapes and landscapes in dreamy colors.
As we exited through the hotel lobby, I briefly wondered if I should have spent those dollars on a Shake Shack burger and a malted vanilla shake. Art sometimes fills my soul, but food always fills my stomach.
By Amy Greenberger
The Art, Theory, Practice Show Off featured the work of undergraduate Art, Theory, Practice students at Northwestern. An eclectic group of works from all ATP classes and majors filled the bottom floor of Kresge. Each class anonymously displayed their works.
An outstanding piece stood on its own in a white walled exhibition space open to the main hallway. It consisted of a peach and orange striped lawn chair, suspended from the ceiling, attached to one of those plastic collapsible, rainbow, tunnels you would play with when you were younger. The piece was bright, playful, and really made me wonder what would happen if this artist made an interactive exhibit. The piece was a fun variation from the other works, as instead of creating something from mundane materials, this artist used identifiable objects to make something knew and less definable.
A large human-sized swirl of what appears to be soft-serve caught my eye amongst a crowded wall of bright and colorful paintings. The yellow swirl is placed in front of a yellow backdrop, popping out with the emphasis of a brown border; possibly a chocolate dip? When looking at this painting, I could feel the essence of soft-serve jumping off the canvas. The painting was calm, harmonious, and left me with a feel-good mentality.
For the show, sculpture students created scaffolds for “mundane” objects; one being a (stolen from Cheesie's) ketchup bottle turned rocket ship, drawing on everyone’s nostalgia for late night tater tots and grilled cheese. In addition to the scaffolds, they displayed vessels created for precious objects. The objects shined a light on what is mundane or precious to different people. For the mundane project, one student chose to turn a water bottle into a cobweb of sticks and spiders, while another made an oasis of wood and stones for a “precious” water bottle, representing flowing water and time. This duality calls into question what we commonly refer to as mundane, and the ways an object comes to contain meaning for an individual versus a group or society.
Photography students showcased some classic pensive black and white photography depicting outdoor scenes and both smiling and serious portraits. This nicely contrasted with another photo project where students took photos of life and death: for example, a beautiful body of water appears next to a dirty water fountain, and a package of candy and snacks next to an economics textbook.
No stranger to current events, the ATP department gave a nod to a David Hockney painting that has been in the news this week. Stepping into the painting room, a version of a David Hockney painting, Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) from 1972 caught my eye. On Thursday, the painting sold for 90 million dollars, making Hockney the most expensive artist alive. Hockney’s Portrait of an Artist maintains relevancy as its ambiguous appeal to peoples’ wonders and doubts draws in students and art collectors alike. The painting usually elicits some sense of melancholy in the viewer, as the figure staring towards the pool seems to have a sense of displaced concern or contemplation.
Walking to the end of the brightly lit hall, I passed a yellow wall stamped with hundreds of copies of the word original in bright orange paint. This wall was a perfect way to end the show. A lot of students’ works appear as copies, or near copies, of a famous work. This is not because students are uncreative and cannot think of anything better themselves, but because many students are just beginning artists and copying a master is the best way to learn. The fall Show Off left me feeling excited about Northwestern students’ ideas, confidence, and ambition.
And finally, I must note that in order to make all of this happen, students get to hammer holes into the walls of Kresge—an amazing privilege.