Of the 118 artists participating in the 2014 Whitney Biennial, 17 are from Chicago—an unprecedented number.
It’s a big year for the city at the prestigious exhibition, which celebrates the best new art on the American scene—the event itself is co-curated by the Chicago artist Michelle Grabner.
Here’s a look at the local talent you’ll see beginning March 7 at the Whitney Museum of Art in New York:
The name may sound like a record store or record label, but Academy Records is actually a music-driven art project fronted by Stephen Lacy, whose gallery presentations often include performance, films and zines. Academy Records had a solo exhibition at the MCA Chicago in 2003. Here Lacy pairs with Matt Hanner, an artist who died at age 40 in 2011.
A leading voice of portrait photography, Dawoud Bey got his start as a street photographer in Harlem in the 1970s, then made sensitive, large-scale Polaroids in the nineties, and last year had a retrospective held concurrently at the Art Institute of Chicago and the Renaissance Society. Bey is a mentor to many young photographers at Columbia College.
He creates refined color pencil drawings made from sigils, or sex-magic spells, to comment on gay subculture. Burgher is closely aligned with AA Bronson’s School for Young Shamans, and he has a current exhibition on view at Western Exhibitions in Chicago (through December 7).
Longtime SAIC professor and conceptual painter Gaylen Gerber often works with his signature paint color—gray—to cover the artwork of other, often famous artists, or simply as a backdrop to present their work. He showed at Documenta in 1992, and many Chicago artists claim Gerber as an important influence.
The way humans communicate is insightfully examined by artist Joseph Grigely, who has been deaf since age 10. He has often made artwork from the thousands of notes that people write to him on colored paper during everyday conversation. Grigely had a masterful, large solo show at the MCA Chicago in 2009.
Often considered an honorary member of the seminal 1960s Chicago art group the “Hairy Who,” and former husband of Christina Ramberg, Philip Hanson is a legend in Chicago. The relentless artist incorporates poetry and lyrics into his colorful oil paintings.
The photographer and filmmaker rose to prominence in the 1980s by documenting the gay beach scene on the Belmont Rocks. Doug Ischar teaches at UIC and is a mentor to many young artists today.
One of Chicago’s best under-known artists, Carol Jackson creates sculptures from tooled leather, and gouache drawings with epic poetry that parody popular music. Jackson will have two solo shows in Chicago in 2014, and she has contributed art criticism to Frieze magazine.
The youngest artist in the exhibition, Tony Lewis earned his MFA from SAIC in 2012. The promising painter already has gallery representation in Chicago (at Shane Campbell Gallery), and is soaring to success at international art fairs. Lewis’ monochromatic white paintings often examine the black American experience of race.
Paggett is a dancer and performance artist who currently teaches at Columbia College and has had important residencies at the Hyde Park Art Center in Chicago and the Project Row Houses in Houston.
The brainchild of Marc Fischer (Temporary Services, Mess Hall, Half Letter Press), Public Collectors presents archives as artworks. Public Collectors specializes in collecting, organizing, and archiving printed ephemera from the art and music worlds, including many rare, surprising, and nostalgia-laden items.
Steve Reinke with Jessie Mott:
Video artist and Northwestern University art professor Steve Reinke collaborates with recent Northwestern grad Jessie Mott, who makes mythological animal subjects. Both artists identify as queer, and their artworks often address contemporary queer identity. Chicago included Mott in our March, 2012, article on Picasso’s influence.
University of Chicago filmmaker Catherine Sullivan has exhibited her artwork internationally. Here, she collaborates with former U of C student Valerie Snobeck, who now lives in NYC. Sullivan was featured in the PBS documentary series Art21.
Perhaps Chicago’s answer to Jeff Koons (although Koons did study in Chicago at SAIC), Tony Tasset makes gigantic sculptures recalling roadside Americana, such as his sulking Paul Bunyan at Governor’s State University, or his enormous “Eye” that surveyed State Street in 2010. Tasset’s grotesque homage to Chicago food, “Hot Dog Man,” is on view at the Hyde Park Art Center (through January 12).
He often addresses controversies and inequities in the art world, especially related to underrepresented art from Puerto Rico and the Midwest. Vélez contributed art criticism to FGA (Fucking Good Art) and Artnet for many years (both now defunct), and currently writes about art in Chicago for Newcity.
The abstract painter has injected new life into her medium, often with a rebellious attitude that gets many artists motivated for her cause. (She posted 95 theses about painting in her 2012 MCA Chicago solo show). Molly Zuckerman-Hartung reminds many of a young Michelle Grabner.
The exhibition also includes several artists who spent formative years being schooled in Chicago, but who have since relocated to other cities. Their work maintains a Chicago vibe. They are:
- Alex Jovanovich
- Diego Leclery
- Rebecca Morris
- Sterling Ruby
- Valerie Snobeck, and
- Philip Vanderhyden