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Jin Ping Mei, 1998
Oil on canvas
© Carlos Dzine Rolon 2000

By Ivy Sundell
(Book Review)

Crow Woods Publishing
P.O.Box 7072
Evanston, Illinois 60204

October 2000
160 pages. With illustrations,
biographies, statements.
ISBN 0-9665871-6-2 (pbk.)
ISBN 0-9665871-7-0 (hc.)
Softbound: $29.95
Hardcover: $42.95

Part I

Art Scene, Chicago 2000 follows The Chicago Art Scene (1998) as the second book devoted to artists from Chicago and Illinois to be issued by Crow Woods Publishing. Both are destined to be an essential reference, and among the most enduring pleasures for those who collect or just love fine art. Both volumes are uniform in size and format, and like the earlier Crow Woods volume, Art Scene, Chicago 2000 offers substance: each artist is represented by three large, full-color reproductions; a substantial artist's statement; and a biographical summary. And again in this new book, a closing directory lists artists' phone and email contacts, and for many, the galleries representing them.

Art Scene, Chicago 2000 profiles 71 artists of the 279 who originally submitted over 1,400 slides. Nine of the artists in this second compilation did appear previously in The Chicago Art Scene, but they are now represented by essentially new directions in their work. A few artists who work in more than one medium have that reflected in their representative illustrations, and this flexibility in choice enhances the content. Grace V. Cole, who is active in the Friends of the Chicago Cultural Center and the Illinois Chapter of the National Museum of Women in the Arts, was one of three jurors for the earlier book, and her own art at last appears in Art Scene, Chicago 2000. It is very good. When a judge submits for judgement, it confirms the integrity of the enterprise. Both books from Crow Woods Publishing garner fine work from Chicago. That has been the overriding criterion.

There were three jurors for Art Scene, Chicago 2000, each with impressive experience and impeccable credentials: Robert G. Donnelley, Jennifer Robertson Norback, and Charles Thurow. The book itself summarizes their backgrounds, and details the jurying process, but it is worth noting the essentials. Robert Donnelley, Director for Intuit: The Center for Outsider and Intuitive Art in Chicago, was Co-director and later Director of the Terra Museum of American Art and a Trustee of the Terra Foundation for the Arts from 1992 to 1994. Prior to that, Donnelley worked with Katherine Kuh to develop and manage First Chicago's art collections. He is currently in the Doctoral Program in Art History at the University of Chicago. Jennifer Robertson Norback's career as Director and Curator extends from Galerie Cornette-Pajaran and Galerie Toft in Paris to Lydon Fine Art and Hart Gallery in Chicago. And Charles Thurow, Director of the Hyde Park Art Center since 1998, has served on the City of Chicago's Public Art Commission, the Department of Planning and Development and has led the Commission on Chicago Landmarks. These jurors come with a wide range of knowledge and experience of, and receptivity to, art.

Salquimal, 1998
Oil on canvas
© Sallie Gilmore Roniss 1998

It is precisely those qualities which make Art Scene, Chicago 2000 an important contribution to art in this city. It stands out, and it stands apart from preconceptions, pigeonholes, affiliations, or vested sympathies beyond the art itself. The year before last, on a panel devoted to 'Outsider Art' and sponsored by Absolute Vision at Intuit gallery, Robert Donnelley noted that while 'Outsider Art' is often taken to mean Neo-Primitif, it equally applies to artists, whether with degrees or not, who create beyond textbook categories, 'between the cracks' of art school specialties or critics' formulations: artists who may not be 'in' at the moment -- the contemporary Blakes, Chagalls, Cezannes, Rouaults, van Goghs, the modern likes of Hieronymous Bosch. Donnelley noted as well that a movie-thriller biography is no credential for quality in art. Art Scene, Chicago 2000 does what a good reviewer should -- it looks at the art; and calls notice to what some believe is worth a look... a close, repeated look.

Jennifer Robertson Norback has both worked with well-established artists and promoted the emerging and the maverick. One recalls her accomplishments among those venues known collectively as the Chicago Southland Arts Incubator, as well as the range of exhibition themes she has initiated. Similarly, Charles Thurow is well-known for sound, objective judgement and an openness: to media, expression, intent; to public and personal creativity.

For those who frequent the museums, the established River North, or the new West Loop Gate gallery districts, Art Scene, Chicago 2000 offers a richer and fuller range of Chicago art. And for the art crowds who circulate primarily in the artist districts and communities, the outlying or smaller spaces -- the art 'incubators,' Art Scene, Chicago 2000, like The Chicago Art Scene earlier, is an excursion into a wider, uncategorical overview -- which is one of the anthology's great strong points.

Juxtaposition, 1995
Acrylic, enamel and silk screen on wood
© Chris Peldo 2000

Art Scene, Chicago 2000 offers welcomed revelations. Personally, I know of at least three Chicago artists who enjoy considerable acclaim in Europe and Japan, but who are minimally shown at home. Careers and aspirations vary, but Crow Woods Publishing has canvassed widely: one finds familiar luminaries, some of the best of the rising, and a few who bypass the expected exhibition circuit and nonetheless enjoy well-earned success. That latter observation underscores that this book objectively evades predispositions or irrelevant affiliations in its selections. At times, and in some ways, there is a gap between practicing artists, galleries, collectors and other buyers of art on one hand; and academics and attendant critics on the other. One is seriously concerned with the making of art; others seem more inclined to roles spun off from the concept, more interested in being theoretician-Artistes. Art Scene, Chicago 2000 focuses on what is visually present.

Among many in Art Scene, Chicago 2000, Carlos Dzine Rolon, or just "Dzine," is a case in point. Dzine experiments in paintings, constructions and mural installations and does indeed exhibit in Chicago. (He is represented by Eastwick Gallery here, and Laurence Taburiaux in Paris.) He has also exhibited in galleries and museums in "Paris, Italy, England, Spain, Portugal, Japan, Canada, New York, Los Angeles...." Another featured artist, Chris Peldo is self-taught; and in 1992, was chosen by Absolut Vodka to represent Illinois in a nationwide art program and ad campaign. This past year, he was commissioned by Walt Disney to create a 5 1/2 foot circle in plexiglass. (He is now represented by David Leonardis Gallery, Chicago.) The art of Art Scene, Chicago 2000 elicits response, often beyond gallery walls and art circles.

Art Scene, Chicago 2000 offers long established and acclaimed artists such as Linda Kramer (who was given a retrospective exhibition at the Hyde Park Art Center in 1999); and Frank Piatek who is widely represented in shows and collections -- from the Art Institute of Chicago all the way to the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City. And there is Marion Kryczka, German-born Polish-American artist, who, since 1981, has been teaching painting and drawing at the Art Institute of Chicago.

Venetian Ball, 1999
Oil on linen
© Andrew Sterrett Conklin

Several of the artists featured started elsewhere and have chosen the Chicago art scene. Gosia Koscielak holds a MFA in Graphics and a MFA in Ceramics, and a Ph.D in Art History from the Academy of Fine Arts, Wroclaw, Poland, as well as a MFA from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She has lectured and exhibited in Poland, Italy, Germany and the U.S., but now lives and works in Chicago. Victoria Yau studied Philosophy at National Taiwan University, Fine Arts at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington, and at the University of California at Los Angeles. She has exhibited in Taiwan, Japan, and throughout the U.S.. Art Scene, Chicago 2000 reflects cosmopolitan crosscurrents in Chicago's cultural life which residents all too often accept with complacency.

Certainly Art Scene, Chicago 2000 presents many artists born and raised in Chicago. And still more who studied here and were formed by the city and its cultural life. What catches attention, although perhaps it needn't, is the technical proficiency and yet distinct individuality each featured artist displays. Throughout a striking array of images -- and the book, as did its predecessor, concentrates on two-dimensional work -- a reader turns from Pop art and the Neo-Primitif, Minimalist, Constructivist, through Magic Realism, Biomorphic and Baroque visual tapestry to figurative Realism, often with unexpected and highly contemporary turns of content. Seventy-one artists... and there were sixty-eight in The Chicago Art Scene (1998).

Chicago's art-going public from time to time does meet with a book or catalogue devoted to a specific theme or aspect, a particular group of artists or an institutional selection. In 1991, University of Illinois Press issued Spirited Visions, a collection of portraits of 43 well-established Chicago artists. Art in Chicago: 1945-1995 (Thames and Hudson/MCA: 1996), while offering an excellent and relatively recent historical perspective, favors much of the official and the well-documented. And one can find monographs on the artists most prominent at any one time. Art Scene, Chicago 2000 surveys accomplished younger artists, artists gaining recognition -- an ongoing status -- as well as the established; it gathers a wide spectrum of quality art from all genres, styles, commitments; it draws no boundaries between the institutional and the 'outsider.' It offers a comprehensive overview of Chicago art today, and indeed has come to play a nurturing role in its growth. And it is an enduring pleasure.

Finis Part I

--G. Jurek Polanski

Jurek Polanski has previously written and art edited for Strong Coffee in Chicago. He's also well known and respected among the Chicago museums and galleries. Jurek is currently a Visual Arts Correspondent for ArtScope.net.

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