Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Marion Kryczka at the Chicago Cultural Center

Marion Kryczka: Recent Paintings – Chicago Cultural Center, through July 3

(text in color was edited out of Newcity version)

Marion Kryczka’s well made, highly ordered, masculine vision of reality may fit the blue collar streets of Chicago, but he’s been peripheral to the contemporary artworld, unrepresented by galleries and remaining an adjunct associate professor at the School of the Art Institute for 30 years. Kryczka’s work also 1acks either the photo finish and sentimentality, or the anger and ugly distortions that other corners of the artworld might appreciate, and he’s not even goofy, damaged, or unsophisticated enough to qualify as an outsider.

As critic, G. Jurek Polanski, wrote about the 1999 exhibit in the Fine Arts Building, “The variety of pieces tell a story, one in which each work, while complete in itself, is placed to build a context with its companions and comprehensively reveal the artist's personality.” And the same is true today, although the story is changing, as the artist mellows into his sixties. The still-lifes include the same dead fish, sharp knives, and bottles of alcohol on low-rent kitchen counters that he’s been painting for decades. But the light feels less harsh, the whiskey has been replaced by wine, and fish seem almost happy to be offering their tender, pink, slaughtered flesh. The vanitas theme is still explored with various kinds of skull, but now the shelves are cluttered with more of the stuff that he’s been accumulating in his life.

There are also some genres that weren’t there 12 years ago. Two magnificent winter cityscapes of his north side neighborhood tout Chicago as an energetic, seasoned, comfortable metropolis. Most remarkable are three views of the Donald Judd sculpture park in rural Texas. Judd’s minimalist stainless steel cubes are the cold, hard face of the industrial world. But set into a bright, sunlit gallery, Kryczka has co-opted the reflective surfaces of sculpture to meditate on beautiful impermanence, just as Monet did with Rouen Cathedral.. As with every painting in this exhibit, every brush stroke and patch of color not only defines a recognizable piece of reality, it also participates in the dynamics of a very tight design. And there are no people. It’s just the man behind the paintbrush and the quiet world in which he lives.

Art theory has not respected regionalism for more than 60 years. But if our local encyclopedic museum ever devotes a gallery to Chicago, it’s my guess that Marion Krycyza’s work will be there. Not because it reflects the trends of Chicago art (it doesn’t), but because it reflects so many lives that have been built here..

East-West at Murphy-Hill

Yan Shi Zhong

East Meets West, Murphy Hill Gallery, through May 20

(text in color was edited out of the Newcity version)

In 1955, the Soviet Union sent Konstantin Maksimov (1913-1993) to Beijing to train a select group of Chinese students how to make social-realist art.

Konstantin Maksimov

And thus began another east-west cultural exchange, one that is still practiced by Chinese artists around the world. Like their commercial counterparts in capitalist countries, their message was restricted to what they were selling. But with Maksimov, as well as many others, the work often seems to have been made to impress other artists, not just the unwashed masses, and at its best can be enjoyed as subtle, expressive, post-Impressionist painting just as much as works by Cezanne or Van Gogh. And so, over 50 years later, we now have the 15 members of the “Oil Painting Society of Chinese American”, most of them art professors in Midwestern universities, and now free to express whatever they wish. All but one were sent to peasant villages during the Cultural revolution, triumphed against the odds to win the post-Mao national competition to get into college, studied art with the generation trained by the Russians, learned English, and finally realized the dream of coming to America.

Victor Wang

Zhi Wei Tu

Each one of them would be a success story even if they never lifted a brush again, but indeed these 15 are still painting, some of them quite well, and a few of them, like Zhi Wei Tu and Victor Wang gaining national reputations despite an art education that was incompatible with either the minimalism or conceptualism of contemporary art. They have much more in common with what is here disparaged as middle-brow, even if American portraits, landscapes, and still-lifes done in traditional European styles continue to have many talented practitioners. Several of these American born artists have also been included in this exhibit.,
David Leffel

including David Leffel, who channels Rembrandt,

Clayton Beck III

Clayton Beck III who reincarnates Nicolai Fechin,

Matthew Almy

and Matthew and Magdalena Almy whose Ravenswood Academy, here in Chicago, harkens back to the ateliers of Bouguereau and Gerome. Notable about the pieces chosen, is that so many of them are still-lifes of Asian sculpture or ceramics, reminding us that cultural exchange continues to go in both directions. Joining these two groups, is a selection of more traditional water media painters from the Chinese Artists’ Association of North America, founded by a legend of Chicago’s Chinatown, Andy Chan.

Andy Chan

Their techniques, materials, and subject matter may be ancient, but the brash effect of their work is as modern as an interstate billboard.
All of this, plus more, takes place in 40,000 square feet on the third floor of the old Sears Roebuck corporate headquarters near Homan and the Eisenhower, in the last show this space will have before it is converted into commercial development. Special credit goes to Chinese born artist Mary Qian who dreamed up this enormous display as a kind of homage to the generations of Chinese artists who came to America before her,

Mary Qian

and to African-American Ralph Murphy, the entrepreneur who always finds a way to make interesting things happen.

Li Hu

Sherrie Mcgraw

Ruby Wang

Richard Lee

Li Lin Lee

Feng Xie