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Martin Puryear, 
Old Mole, 1985, 
red cedar. 

Neil Goodman, 

Diane Simpson, 
Ribbed Kimono, 1980.

Diane Simpson, 
Ribbed Kimono 
(back view).

Steven Heyman, 
Sibilism, 1995. 

Edgar Degas, 
At the Ambassadeurs, 
c. 1880.

Helen Frankenthaler, 
Message from Degas, 
etching, 1972-74.

Jean Auguste 
Dominique Ingres, 
Charles Francois 
Mallet, Civil Engineer.

Eugene Delacroix, 
Mounted Turkish Cavalry 
Officer, c. 1834.

Tom Czarnopys, 
Burning Figure, 1985.

Pala Townsend, 
Immersion, 1996, 
oil on canvas.

Marcos Raya, 
Night Nurse, 

Marcos Raya, 
Danzon, 1995.

chicago report 

by Victor M. Cassidy

"Art in Chicago 1945-1995" runs at the 

Museum of Contemporary Art until Mar. 23, 

1997. Special projects coordinator Lynne 

Warren took five years to assemble this 

first-ever survey of art in Chicago since 

World War II--200-plus works by more than 

150 artists. She has done a thorough, 

conscientious job of it.

"Art in Chicago" combines painting, 

sculpture, printmaking and photography in a 

broad, chronologically arranged presentation 

of everything important that has happened 

here for the past half century--the Bauhaus 

influence immediately after the War; the 

Monster Roster (Leon Golub, Seymour 

Rosofsky, and other painters who used 

distorted imagery); the Imagists; the 

alternative spaces; and today's pluralistic 


Bizarre curatorial decisions and a 

suffocating installation weaken "Art in 

Chicago," however. The show includes a "1968 

Room," an enclosed area with memorabilia of 

the war in Vietnam and protest activities in 

Chicago that are said to have involved 

artists. We get videos of Lyndon Johnson 

making speeches (why? He certainly wasn't an 

artist!) and US soldiers discharging 

automatic rifles (they're not artists 


The "1968 Room" also contains a pointless 

assemblage by Chicago artist Don Baum and a 

limp miscellany of political artworks. Even 

dumber than this is "Black Light-Planet 

Picasso," a recreation of an inconsequential 

one-night black light show held 15 years ago 

in a loft.


"Art in Chicago" is acutely overcrowded, 

particularly in its final two sections. This 

writer counted five floor-mounted sculptures 

in one area. Martin Puryear's Old Mole is 

jammed together with his Greed's Trophy and 

works by other artists. Often it is 

impossible to view a piece without seeing 

others behind it.

On the bright side, it was rewarding to 

revisit the work of three very capable 

Chicago artists. Neil Goodman is a strong, 

serious sculptor whose arrangements-in-space 

of semi-abstract forms (Triptych) suggest a 

Cubist influence. One of the city's most 

gifted sculptors is Diane Simpson. She 

begins with the forms of women's clothing 

(Ribbed Kimono) and makes them into 

fantastic architecture.

Steven Heyman has looked long and carefully 

at the color-field painters. His Siblism 

consists of 18 smallish canvases united by a 

wandering line that glows against a rich 

blue background. The line is actually raw 

canvas which has been repeatedly varnished. 

Heyman calls his imagery a "metaphor for 


"Art in Chicago" summarizes 50 years of art 

making in this city. Was it all worth it? 

YES! Chicago's artists have produced 

wonderful things. There is every good reason 

to celebrate them.

Still, Chicago is no place for artists to 

build a national reputation or make a living 

from their work. They must go to the coasts 

for that. But those who simply want to 

create new work and win the esteem of their 

peers--these are the artist's traditional 

rewards after all--find Chicago a great 

place to be. "Art in Chicago" proves yet 

again that our art is a too much of a well-

kept secret.


"If Degas had died at 50, he would have been 

remembered as an excellent painter, no more; 

it is after his 50th year that his work 

broadened out and that he really becomes 

Degas." This remark, by Auguste Renoir, is 

the premise for "Degas: Beyond 

Impressionism," the first exhibition devoted 

exclusively to the artist's work of the 

1890s and 1900s (Degas died in 1917). The 

show of 90-plus paintings, drawings and 

sculptures just closed at the Art Institute 

of Chicago.

Degas was rich and had no need to sell. 

During the last decades of his life, he 

retired to his studio and drew the same 

images over and over again until he got them 

absolutely right. We see these masterpieces 

and learn how hard this great painter worked 

to make them that way. "Degas: Beyond 

Impressionism" will inspire any artist and 

delight Degas connoisseurs.

Though Degas drew nudes obsessively, he took 

so little interest in his subjects that he 

often traced their outlines from earlier 

works instead of hiring models. His women 

are virtually (sometimes quite literally) 

faceless. Often posed in an awkward way, 

they project no sexuality and never come to 

life as individuals. Degas saw the figure as 

form. The most rewarding room in this 

exhibition presents his figure sculptures 

next to his working drawings.


"The secret of art," Degas observed, "is to 

follow the advice the masters give you in 

their works while doing something different 

from them." He believed that art grows out 

of art and that the artist assumes his place 

within the great tradition of European 

culture by transforming and transmitting 

what he has inherited. This is the idea 

behind "Edgar Degas: Passing on the 

Tradition," a perfectly amazing show 

organized by the Art Institute's department 

of prints and drawings. It runs until Jan. 

26, 1997.

"Passing on the Tradition" includes works on 

paper by Degas' mentors (Ingres, Delacroix), 

contemporaries (Toulouse-Lautrec, Manet, 

Valadon) and some artists he collected 

(Rembrandt). Works by different artists are 

juxtaposed with those of Degas to show how 

the tradition was passed on.

Degas' At the Cafe des Ambassadeurs 

(1879/80), for example, hangs between a 

predecessor work--Daumier's The Usefulness 

of a Family for a Singer (1857)--and one 

that he influenced--Frankenthaler's Message 

from Degas (1972/74). The gallery label 

explains that Daumier's "penetrating vision 

and daring compositions furnished Degas with 

ideas for new ways of exploring the subjects 

of modern life."

Daumier shows the singer's family in a box 

at the theater, noisily cheering her 

performance after one of them has tossed a 

bouquet onto the stage. In Degas' soft 

ground etching and aquatint, a performer 

bows to the audience in a smoky cafe. There 

is only a suggestion of narrative in this 


The Frankenthaler is abstract, though the 

forms recall the geometry of the stage as 

seen from an angle. We learn from the 

gallery label that Degas' "evocative use of 

aquatint" so fascinated Frankenthaler that 

she was "inspired to research old technical 

manuals for the secret of his process." Her 

atmospheric Message from Degas is "the fruit 

of this effort."

There are other, equally illuminating 

juxtapositions here--self-portraits by 

Rembrandt, Degas and Matisse, for example. 

We get a splendid wall of Ingres, much 

gorgeous Delacroix, and many unfamiliar 

Valadons. The show loses its shape as it 

moves to the present, but it is still a 

magnificent holiday feast.


Tom Czarnopys, a sculptor, and Pala 

Townsend, a painter, show at the Illinois 

Art Gallery until Jan. 17, 1997. This 

attractive two-person exhibition is 

especially well curated, installed and lit. 

Czarnopys grew up in a rural area of 

Michigan. As a boy, he went bow hunting in 

the woods, drew animals and learned 

taxidermy. In art school, he struggled to 

make something fresh from this background. 

His first successful works were fiberglass 

casts of his own body covered with tree 

bark. More recently, Czarnopys has shown 

blocks of glycerine with natural materials 

inside and patinated metal plaques imprinted 

with fallen leaf stains from a Michigan 

forest floor. The artist wants to eliminate 

the boundary between himself and nature, he 


Pala Townsend's shimmering large-scale 

abstract paintings present themes she has 

worked with for the past 20 years. Her 

inspiration is an old-growth rain forest in 

Portland, Oregon, where she grew up. 

Townsend's technique of layering passages of 

color in sequence suggests light, water, 

atmosphere, and sometimes the presence of a 

figure. In the paintings shown here, the 

artist has "singled out" these motifs, she 

says, from the "embracing theme of the 

forest." She has found a way to "express 

movement and luminosity simultaneously in 

each single stroke [of the brush]."

On view in a barrio coffee shop in another 

part of the city is an impressive group of 

abstract paintings by Marcos Raya, a 

Mexican-American muralist, installation 

sculptor and painter. Raya's Night Nurse is 

included in "Art in Chicago, 1945-1995." 

This harrowing piece comes from the artist's 

alcoholic years when he lived on the streets 

and landed often in hospital detox wards. 

Raya says he makes his abstract paintings 

from time to time, when he's not busy with 

narrative work. The fresh imagery in these 

paintings is exuberantly Latino.


How does it feel to lose your hair? What 

does it mean to cut your hair? Chicago fiber 

artist Anne Wilson--whose recent work 

incorporates hair--asks these questions as 

part of an Internet research project. 

Responses can include stories, anecdotes, 

personal recollections, dreams, debates or 

commentary, she states. They will be 

credited to a writer/participant or may 

remain anonymous. Wilson may curate 

contributions by other people into this 

ongoing Website and she may compile them 

into an off-line collection. Wilson teaches 

at the School of the Art Institute of 

Chicago, and has shown at the Art Institute, 

the MCA and at major international 

exhibitions in Switzerland and Poland..

VICTOR CASSIDY is an art journalist based 

in Chicago.