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Stephen Eichhorn

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Art to See Now

By Thomas Connors, Barri Leiner Grant, Tate Gunnerson, Jaclyn Jermyn & Kyle MacMillan

Stephen Eichhorn, “Orchid Stack VI” (2016, collage on acrylic coated panel), 72 inches by 48 inches 2016

11.30.17

Chicago’s thriving art scene continues to surprise, with artists delving into unexpected mediums, gallerists changing the way collectors buy, and curators and art executives alike bringing new perspectives to the table.

PAPER TRAIL
This collage artist elevates paper to  fine art.

In Stephen Eichhorn’s airy Logan Square studio, you may stumble across vintage Japanese house-plant books or drawers completely full of tiny paper mushroom cutouts—all tools of the trade. After getting his BFA in Sculpture and Drawing from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, he felt himself drawn to collage, finding that it honed some of the same aesthetic skills as drawing. The painstaking cutting work doesn’t get tedious, he says: “It’s meditation.”

Between recent exhibits at the Blackstone Hotel and the James Hotel, an upcoming exhibit at the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel and his debut art book, Cats & Plants ($45, Zioxla), which came out in June, Eichhorn may need a break from flowers. For now, he’s going back to his drawing roots. “I’ll see where that leads,” he says. “I also have to figure out what to do with six years’ worth of mushroom cutouts.” 

Smart Museum of Art

NOT BY THE BOOK
The U of C’s Smart Museum looks beyond the standard curriculum.

The Smart Museum of Art is a component of the University of Chicago, yet this venue is no ivied cloister. Sure, it’s a primary resource for students, but its public exhibitions (pairing Rodin with Bruce Nauman, or exploring contemporary Chinese video) dig deep to generate the kind of dialogue many institutions might shy away from. Keeping the conversation going is Dana Feitler Director Alison Gass, who arrived this spring from the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University. Contemporary art is her bailiwick, but at the Smart—whose holdings include antiquities and 19th century Asian material—she’ll make the kind of curatorial connections and collisions that art-savvy audiences expect.

“Now is a moment for all institutions to look critically at their collecting practices and see if there are areas where a ‘course correction’ of sorts is necessary to make a museum collection more representative of all the artists who have perpetuated progress through the arts,” says Gass—the museum’s projects for 2018 include a major focus on African-American art. “University museums have a unique ability to be experimental. We can bring a broad cross section of voices into the mix.” 5550 S. Greenwood Ave.

ARTISTS' SHOWCASE
An essential Chicago gallery heads west to find a new home.

Scott Speh quickly admits he had little idea what he was doing when he established a gallery in 2002 that he called Western Exhibitions. A printmaker and painter at the time, he decided his energies might be better employed in helping some of his fellow artists who weren’t getting the attention he thought they deserved. “I don’t know that I set out to fill any niche or that I even try to do that now,” Speh says. “I just show work I’m interested in.” He currently represents 19 up-and-coming and established artists, including Elijah Burgher, who was included in the 2014 Whitney Biennial. Nomadic for its first couple of years, the nationally recognized gallery has now been in five different locations, all in areas with vibrant art scenes.

Facing the end of its lease at its previous West Loop location, Western Exhibitions and three neighboring galleries moved in January to a 1923 building on the outskirts of Ukrainian Village. “It’s a weird business,” Speh says. “Running a smallish gallery is hard, especially when you don’t come to it with great reserves of capital. [Even] 15 years in, it’s like every day is a learning experience.” 1709 W. Chicago Ave.

Fidel Rodriguez

GOING UP
Fidel Rodriguez brings contemporary art to a Mag Mile retail bastion.

Operating in a world where commerce and culture converge, gallerists keep one eye on the market and the other on aesthetics. And it takes vision to do the job right. That’s especially true for Fidel Rodriguez, whose Artspace 8 occupies a sizable bit of real estate at 900 N. Michigan Ave. Since opening the 14,000-square-foot gallery in 2015, the Venezuelan-born artist and dealer has succeeded in attracting a varied clientele, from River North habitués to emerging collectors.

“The dynamic, although unorthodox, is one of balance, where the traditional approach meets the new alternative and demystified art field,” says Rodriguez. “We have many visitors who have stopped in just to wander and are now here weekly.” The artists he champions range from Chicago abstractionist Shar Coulson to Lexygius Calip, whose repertoire includes painting, sculpture and photography. An artist himself, Rodriguez aims to bring an unbiased eye to his job. “Judgments are easy if all you do is look at the facade,” muses Rodriguez. “It’s the inner workings and long-lasting relationships with artists that truly express my gallery.”