Signs of the Times

Now that the season of giving is coming to an end and the holiday food drives and volunteering at local pantries and soup kitchens is slowing and the holiday bell ringing has faded away.  The cold Chicago winter begins to come at us full force.  Attention may not be on those in need, but they are out there and their stories, hand-scrawled on pieces of worn cardboard for any passerby to read.

Graphic Designer Christopher Devine has noticed these signs walking around the loop and believes most will just walk by without reading the signs, too uncomfortable to stare. He and the panhandlers around the Loop are banking that these new signs will help bring attention to the needs of those living on the streets.


They are written in that familiar font you see on the buildings of Michigan Avenue and State Street.  But now, along side American Apparel, Create&Barrel, The North Face, Sears and Staples you have men and women holding up white laminated placards with the simple message of “Homeless” or “Please Help”.  Devine and a couple friends have gone around the city and offered up these signs to those hoping for a little generosity while passing them by.  It’s too early to tell if the project has helped the panhandlers make more money.

The signs are quickly being seen all over downtown, making me more aware of the prevalence of this issue. Using the same font to deliver the message of Homelessness and The Gap is ironic and hopefully those in need will benefit as the brands have over the years.

Overtime, we shall see where this project will lead.  Devine is hoping to take the signs to other cities, but mostly as a grass roots campaign.  The recent success of the signs is great, but eventually those signs will be as ubiquitous as the stores filling the buildings they lean against and eventually leading to the power in the simple message.

Devine says some who initially accepted have returned to their bent up cardboard notes because they didn’t see dramatic changes, but others want a wider variety of sign.  For now he is planning on one addition, “Veteran”.  And that is surely a sign of the times.

You can contact Christopher Devine about his project directly at


Henry Taylor

A View from the Union Rescue Mission

In the fall of 2008, I spent the night on the roof of the Union Rescue Mission. From this unique perch, I saw the wall of parking garages which acted like a barrier from the up and coming downtown artist galleries and loft s

LAMP Gallery

paces from the long suffering area known as Skid Row.  I didn’t understand why 24 hours in Los Angeles’ skid row neighborhood was a part of an arts journalism class, but I went along.

Our group toured various organizations throughout the beleaguered neighborhood, meeting with community members and organizers.  The walls of the offices were decorated with political art and posters accusing those in power of wanting to take this community away from those who have lived in it, to make way for the more desirable residents.  Others, like the LAMP Community used the power of art to communicate the struggles with addiction and psychosis of residents.  That experience gave me an understanding of a neighborhood struggling with addiction, crime, mental illness and in the name of the Safer Cities Initiative.

Henry Taylor is an artist that has been a member of the community long before the most recent influx of hipster artists.  He has witnessed Mayor Villaragosa’s efforts first hand and paints about it in his solo exhibition at Blum & Poe in Culver City.

As you walk into the exhibition, an installation filled with discarded objects greets you.  Broken beer bottles, plastic jugs and other trinkets of urban debris share the space with images of icons in black male culture. Tupac Shakur stares through the detritus from the top of a Makaveli Shoebox, an image of Kayne West torn from a magazine and a generic male in profile on the packaging for a “cool mesh” WavEnforcer Do-Rag.  Taylor is showing the many facets of male identity.

The text ‘Warning Shots Not Required‘ boldly covers a painting that takes up an entire wall of the exhibition.  A man in a white t-shirt and picked fro in the foreground stares you down.  We are forced to judge if he is someone to needs to be cleaned off those streets are protected by the controversial initiative.

That same text appears in a less bold script out side the window of a couple on their couch living their part of the American dream.  Children are in the distance playing.  The dream or lack there of, is definitely a part of this show.

Taylor’s paintings are strong, clear in their ideas. A male figure created of a painted outline stands with the star of the Sheriff’s Department looming over his shoulder, a not so subtle statement of how a man on the streets of skid row is viewed by those passing by.   Another set of paintings has two faceless men in suits and fedoras with battered chair backs above the canvases address the past with fondness and respect.

The women in Taylor’s paintings are strong, if a little simplistic.  An athletic woman wearing a Tuskegee track uniform leaps over a hurtle, another wearing a white one-piece swimsuit and heels stands tall on a beach.

The children in his paintings are innocent, full of all the hopes life has to offer without the social challenges of growing up in a neighborhood where perceptions seem to have a powerful effect on their future.

Henry Taylor’s solo exhibition is on view at the Blume & Poe Gallery (2727 S La Cienega Blvd, Los Angeles, CA) through May 7, 2011.

******Bonus*****-  When you are there, walk across the hall and peer into the locked gallery where a Takashi Murakami commands the room.

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When Bad Art is Good – The Museum of Bad Art

I didn’t like discussing bad art before I went to a museum in it’s honor on a recently visit to Boston.  Openly talking negatively about poor execution of an artist’s attempt at expressing a personal point of view.  I’d rather save my passion for the praising of beautiful, thought provoking exhibitions over criticizing of a failed effort.  

I bought my movie ticket, I believe it was for Rango, walked down the stairs and took a left at the bathrooms. In the basement of the Somerville Theatre, near Tufts University, a small portion of the nearly 600 works in the Museum of Bad Art collection are on display.

Oddly formed figures, twisted and contorted, seem to reinforce why some artists rise to the top, able to grace the white walled halls of established institutions.  But that isn’t the purpose of the museum.  When I walked in, my discomfort did not immediately subside; I was afraid that these examples were to be just laughable jokes and the expense of some unknown artist.  Slowly my understanding of the concept of bad art began evolving; that despite so many factors stacked up against the work, it has some quality that the viewer finds appealing.

AnonymousThe portrait is common here.  Two paintings of Elvis, one on a velvet backdrop greet you as you enter the space.  There are no mass-produced images here; someone took the time to paint their own homage of the reproduced artistic icon.  One with a tear trailing down his cheek.


Self-Portraiture is an early form of expression for budding artists.  It is also displayed outwardly with the Eyeball.  Eyes seem to be a way artists remind themselves to look inward and the museum has several on display the day I visit.

As you make your way from one work to the next, the surroundings allow the visitor to look closely at something that they may have dismissed without a second glance just outside.  But this is art is in the purest form, truly created for the sake of creation.  Fantastical places, works that draw obvious inspiration from artwork or images difficult to interpret, all make unintentional artistic statements about self, fantasy and what is of value in our culture.

 Most of these artists featured are anonymous because the art is found in alleys and curbside leaning against trashcans, or picked up at garage sales or thrift stores for the frame, then finding their way to the museum collection.  I believe destined for their true calling on the museum’s oddly curved walls.
With tongue in cheek, the curatorial staff selects and expounds on technical abilities, execution and intent of the works.  Whether a lack of technique or extraordinarily bold color choice, the art somehow results in something compelling. Which I believe is sincerely respected.

The museum acts as a contemporary piece of art, than a museum hosing it.  Making us examine what we hold dear about our understanding of art.  Making the subjectivity of art the point of the revolving exhibition.  Since 1994 the museum has been featuring Art created for art’s sake.  And no matter how hideous the work, that is a good thing.

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Sunday Best

[Vimeo 10680426]

Yesterday as I was walking in my north side Chicago neighborhood, where families were getting together for Easter celebrations.  The Mexican girls across the street, dressed in pastel gowns, were out in the front yard searching for hidden eggs while the boys of the Nigerian Minister next door were well groomed in suit and tie headed off to a day of church, all were in their Sunday Best to celebrate this important day in the Christian religion.

From the series "Sunday Best" by Andreas Fischer

This glimpse into their lives reminds me of an exhibition currently at the Hyde Park Art Center.  Artist Andreas Fischer, inspired by a collection of photographs from the Montana Historical Society of men and women from generations past, dressed up in their best for these portraits, tries to create context.  Not knowing anything other than what is captured in the image gave Fischer the license to come up with modern interpretations of the traditional portrait.  You know instantly upon viewing that these are from a photograph.  You also know from the color used and the image created that he made his own story.

The faces are warped, some say Zombie-like.  Fischer says this is intentional, wanting to exaggerate for the contemporary viewer that history and artifacts are left up to the interpretation of the viewer.  That most of the images captured now, seen through the eyes of a future observer will have their context.  Dear future viewer, treat us kindly.

The exhibition ‘Sunday Best’ is on display on the first floor of the Hyde Park Art Center (5020 S. Cornell Ave) through April 18, 2010.

Playing with Pictures: The Art of Victorian Photocollage Moves to The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Long before Photoshop and Scrap-booking; long before Dadaists and Surrealists incorporated collage into their art, the women on England’s upper class created ornate works, mixing the new medium of photography with painting and drawing.

In the exhibition “Playing with Pictures: The Art of Victorian Photocollage”, currently on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Elizabeth Siegel curates an exploration into a time and the inner circle of this privileged class.   These albums the aristocrats were creating tell fantastical stories, taking us into their world of literature or society.

“Butterfly” by Marie-Blanche-Hennelle Fournier

The technology of photography had been around for 20 years by the time these women began to create the works, but the advent of the “carte de visite” allowing for numerous images on one negative, increasing the amount of images available and they began to share the images with others.  The artists began to place those photographs in playful settings surrounded by hand painted worlds.

Lacking the heft of the surrealists’ messages, the works are a mixture of Terry Gilliams’ animation for Monty Python and the scrapbooking craze.   Heads on playing cards, as bubbles floating in the air and on the bodies of ducks, the images show a whimsy not often equated with Victorian Society.

The exhibition, “Playing with Pictures: The Art of Victorian Photocollage” continues through May 9th at the  Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Life Exposed

Karen Savage’s photograms appear as x-rays capturing the experience of her Catholic upbringing.  Baby Dresses, Wedding Dresses, Penance Scarves are exposed for their delicate place in our history.  Each of these pieces tell a story, creating a collection of stories of women we can all identify with, Savage explains to me as we sit in her Oak Park home.

And the City Gallery at the History Water Tower (806 N. Michigan Ave) in Chicago is an appropriate setting for these works to be on display.  Photograms are created by laying something sheer, like an article of clothing on top of photo-sensitive paper then exposing it to light.  What comes out of this process is a ghostly white image floating on a black backdrop.  There is no lens to manipulate, just the remains of a handkerchief, a lace collar or a tablecloth to tell the tale.

The subject matter in Savage’s pieces adds weight to the medium.  The pieces she selects to examine are of the past; items now discarded for her to find in flea markets and thrift shops, like dress gloves and delicate collars and lace table clothes. Full size dresses show the delicacy of the material.  The embroidery of a tablecloth creates an ornately beautiful pattern.

The black and white works are haunting, but it is the lace gloves stopped me in my tracks.  These gloves are an object from the past, captured on a color photo paper; a process no longer available. The red, yellow, purple are made even bolder next to the black and whites.  This series appears to look like each set were just tossed on to a side table or dressing table and making me wonder who worn them and for what occasion.

Savages images tell a story of the past and of the present; a world of celebration and penance – a delicate world unobstructed by any lens.

(This work can be seen at the City Gallery at the Historic Water Tower through May 10, 2010)

Modernist Meditations

When you walk into the photo exhibition at the Chicago Cultural Center, you are quickly drawing by the lushness of the images.  The vibrant colors and depth of focus gives an illusion of being in the space.  This is due to photographer John Allan Faier compiling several photographs into one image, giving you a richness of perspective.   But the true joy comes from the actual design of the spaces themselves.

John Allan Faier

In the 1960s, the Archdiocese of Chicago built several mausoleums in a modernist style. The mausoleums are meant to be a place for family to come and commune with the dearly departed.  But with today’s sensibilities, they seem radical; harkening back to the more liberal time when the doctrine of Vatican II was embraced.

The vibrant colors of the carpet and vibrant patterns on the furniture make the rooms look like a hip hotel lounge rather than a cold crypt.  The images have no figures other than lone statues standing strong as if to provide support for mourners to lean on in their time of need.

The exhibition Queen of Heaven, named after one of the cemeteries he visited, allows to even the most atheistic among us to find beauty in religious settings; and a sense of peace in these simultaneously quiet and loud images.

(The exhibition can be seen on the first floor of the Chicago Cultural Center through March 28, 2010)