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Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom at Court Theatre

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Ma Rainey

(This post was originally published on 10/14/09 on Gapers Block.)

Every good play should have sex, drugs, and timeless moral lessons. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom has all three, plus good jokes and even better music.

August Wilson’s 1984 play, part of his Pittsburgh cycle, describes the plight of the black musician in depression-era Chicago. The story is masterfully directed by Ron OJ Parson and equally well executed by a small team of talented actors. Wilson’s story is a quintessential drama, simultaneously timeless and modern, drawing from traditions of storytelling that go back to biblical times, and building up to an explosive ending. Read the rest of this entry »


Written by Kelly Reaves

October 25, 2009 at 10:49 pm

Robyn O’Neil @ Tony Wight Gallery

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(This was originally published on 10/08/09 on Gapers Block.)

Tony Wight Gallery is very quiet right now, like the stark silence after a tornado passes through, but the scene is much less cluttered.  In the front room, Robyn O’Neil’s giant graphite drawings hang on the walls, floating in clean, white frames, with plenty of breathing room between them. They depict post-apocalyptic scenes, which, without a familiarity with her previous work, might just look like textural investigations of hair and water.  In the back room, her small drawings continue the same style and theme, but more intimately, and an upside-down ship and a cluster of pyramids are added to the mix.

O’Neil’s previous work, part of a saga which was executed over the past eight years, features wintery landscapes and seascapes.  Dramatic and drably unwelcoming, the scenes are usually populated by groups of little men in matching sweatsuits.  In the early work, the men congregate together, enjoying each other’s company over marshmallows, hugs, and calisthenics, oblivious to the storm clouds looming overhead.  In the later work, they struggle to stay alive, hanging from ropes and rafts.  When there aren’t little men, there are usually horses or birds, often dead or dying themselves, but always at least an allusion to a landscape.  The work is reminiscent of Bruegel and Darger, but not as literal as either.  It does not follow a clean narrative.  Instead, it creates a mood. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Kelly Reaves

October 25, 2009 at 10:42 pm

Nauman’s “Clown Torture”

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2620335218_fd00c56e75One of the wonderful things about installations with sound is that they call to you from across the gallery.  They demand your attention.  In the Art Institute’s new modern wing, manic screams from Bruce Nauman’s “Clown Torture” beckon tourists and art students away from whichever minimalist painting they may be contemplating, toward a dark room.  If they are brave enough to enter, they find themselves in the midst of a neurotic carnival of sight and sound.

 Two stacks of monitors sit against the far wall and large projections are on the walls on either side.  One of the monitors is upside-down, another on its side, giving a disorienting, funhouse feeling.  In one, a clown dances around.  In another, which is on a tight loop, he walks into a room, shrieking when a bucket of water is dumped on his head upon opening the door. The other two videos show clowns trying balance objects – goldfish bowls and more buckets of water – with little success.  In the projection on the right, he spouts off an elliptical story, “Pete and Repeat were sitting on a fence.  Pete fell off.  Who was left? Repeat.”  He repeats the story with various moods and facial expressions, as if trying to make the story end by telling it in a different voice.  The projection on the opposite wall voyeuristically and comparatively placidly shows the clown sitting on a toilet, reading a newspaper, as if seen through the lens of a surveillance camera. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Kelly Reaves

October 25, 2009 at 10:36 pm

Vacant Beauty

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standishviagraRobert Standish’s paintings are beautiful.   

They make painters happy, not only because they’re well rendered but also because their commercial success is a sign that painting is not dead.Not even close.

Standish currently has a solo show of his new large-scale photorealistic paintings at Carrie Secrist gallery. Although the subjects vary, an urban theme is pervasive.

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Written by Kelly Reaves

November 15, 2008 at 6:25 am

Cosmic Slop

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White people love Rashid Johnson.

 They love him because he’s a black artist who makes art about identity politics without assuming the role of a victim or pointing fingers. His art also makes white people feel like they understand black people, which delights them, but it is a dubious understanding because his work is intentionally ambiguous. It is anything but didactic, and it is refreshing. And it is refreshing, but not satisfying.

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Written by Kelly Reaves

October 20, 2008 at 6:51 am

Everything is Perfect: Jeff Koons at the MCA

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Jeff Koons is probably Michael Jackson’s favorite artist.

They must have pretty much the same values, not taking into account Jackson’s infamous charges, and they certainly have similar aesthetics. They also both have a penchant for high-budget production.  Michael Jackson’s music videos have always been ridiculously expensive, to this day he holds the record for most expensive music video ever made, and Koons has been neck-and-neck with Damien Hirst for the most expensive living artist award for years.

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Written by Kelly Reaves

October 1, 2008 at 6:45 am

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Marilyn Again

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It’s difficult to evaluate an exhibition of artwork about Marilyn Monroe because I inevitably find myself annoyed by the repetitiveness of seeing her image over and over again. 

To be fair to the curator, though, I must chalk it up to the ubiquitousness of her image in the world and simply focus on the pieces that leave her out of the picture, which I tended to enjoy the most.

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Written by Kelly Reaves

September 15, 2008 at 6:35 am