February 9th - February 19th: By Appointment Only.
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Exhibition through March 9th, 2019: Join Rare Nest as we explore the urban visions of two great Chicago artists, complemented by lectures, discussion and receptions with scholars and civic leaders.
Jay Boersma, 1947, Blue Island, IL.
An artist and teacher, Boersma’s work is in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago and the Museum of Contemporary Photography. Boersma earned an MFA in Photography from the Rhode Island School of Design, where he studied with Harry Callahan, Lisette Model, and Aaron Siskind, and a BA in Photography/Art from Columbia College Chicago. For 20 years, he was a tenured professor, teaching courses in photography, art, and design. This was followed by fifteen years as Senior Creative Director for Playboy.com
Dmitry Samarov, 1970, Moscow USSR.
Dmitry Samarov immigrated to the US with his family in 1978. An artist and painter he trained at the Parsons School of Design in New York, and graduated with a BFA in painting and printmaking from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1993. He is the author of two books; Hack: Stories from a Chicago Cab (2011, U of C Press) and Where To: A Hack Memoir (2014, Curbside Splendor). Samarov is a frequent contributor to the Chicago Reader.
View a slide show of Urban Studies Exhibition Views Below
URBAN STUDIES: ESSAYS
SAMAROV ON CITIES / SOKOL ON BOERSMA
SAMAROV: ARTIST’S STATEMENT
I’ve lived in cities most of my life. Moscow my first seven years, then, an adjacent suburb to Boston for twelve, New York for six unhappy months, then Chicago for three, back to Boston for three, and finally Chicago again for keeps.
Growing up, my folks were always trying to drag me out to nature. Forests, beaches, and such were usually their destination when they had time off work. But I always wanted to be places with sidewalks, restaurants, public transport, and electric lights. It wasn’t that I had anything against nature per se, but that I had no particular love or connection to it. What are you gonna say about a tree or a mountain? They’re just there. They don’t need us and would probably be better off without us. Whereas a city street or a view out an apartment window is full of all we’ve made to make life livable.
City life has always been the subject of my painting and writing. Whether documenting my life as a cabdriver, drawing on subways and trains, painting in bars or just what I see out my bedroom window, what always gets me is the tension between the built environment and the light, air, and ground of the natural world.
The paintings and drawings in this show were mostly made in and around my third-floor apartment on a street called Lituanica in the Bridgeport neighborhood of Chicago over the past four years. The views depicted will be familiar to anyone who’s lived in a city, and in Chicago in particular. My familiarity with the place allows an endless variation on motifs and themes which have been occupying painters since we lived in caves—a desire to depict one’s immediate environment.
I’ve never started a painting with any statable idea or aim. I don’t paint to solve a problem or advance a thought. But that’s not at all to say that my pictures are just formalist exercises. Quite the opposite. I’m always trying to say something, just not in words. Art is always a kind of communication. In my case, it’s something about what it’s like to live among all the structures we’ve erected as protection or barrier from the natural world.
I have no crystal ball, but if my paintings survive a few decades into the future, my bet would be that they’ll be seen as documenting the end of this era of human existence. We’re rapidly approaching a reckoning, but all I know to do is to paint what I see out the window. And yet, if I have any critical distance while looking at my own work (and an artist’s words about what they do should always be taken with a heaping helping of salt), these pictures don’t look hopeless to me. There’s sunshine, clouds, even the occasional tree wedged in between buildings. It catches a bit of how we live. At least for the moment.
SOKOL ON BOERSMA
Regardless of the medium in which he or she works, every trained artist is concerned with the issues of composition, structure, light, and subject matter. What differs from one to another is the artist’s intent and the potential of the medium to effectively convey that intent. For Jay Boersma, the medium has always been photography and, as the work in this exhibit amply shows, his intent has been to unflinchingly and directly portray the world he has suggested as his subject matter.
As a student of both Aaron Siskind and Harry Callahan, at RISD, Boersma had both the framework and the location at hand to start photographing the spaces that have been a major portion of his life’s work. He has noted that a combination of Sunday Blue Laws and no overnight parking gave him the setting and time for photographing urban spaces without the distraction of people. The mixture of historic and newer buildings, like those of the one of the more modern and classical building, or the image of the Chinese restaurant on the same block as the Neo-classical bank, made the cityscape more interesting to the artist as well. Those photographs are neither directly influenced by the work of earlier Precisionist artists nor share the moodiness of Edward Hopper’s paintings of urban spaces, but they are “kindred spirits” in making us see the spaces and buildings for what they are.
Back in Chicago and building a career in both his work and teaching, Boersma was tapped to be one of the thirty-three photographers to chronicle life in and around the city and the suburbs, for the “Changing Chicago” project, starting in 1987. At home in the South suburbs of Chicago, an area usually overlooked in favor of the very affluent northern or growing western suburbs, and recognizing how many of the abandoned or underutilized buildings were a part of the changing American pattern of development, he noted the combination of often marginal or underutilized buildings, created for a more middling clientele than major urban or totally rustic users. The artist refers to these places as “in-between” spaces. Whether abandoned like the Nortown Movie Theater and the empty shopping center with its blank sign, or unabashedly commercial, as the low rise automotive row at Harding Street, Boersma shoots these streets and buildings with the same directness and attention to composition as he did his urban buildings in Providence.
A third group of photographs, and probably both the most poignant for their depiction of a once proud pioneering skyscraper and National landmark, and an object lesson in never giving up hope by its subsequent rehabilitation, and remake into an impressive hotel a century after it was constructed is the group of photographs of the Reliance Building, taken in 1994. By then an acknowledged landmark, the building was none-the-less all but completely abandoned, bastardized on the lower floors, and in partial ruin due to leaks and other effects of neglect.
Boersma was fascinated by the combination of still eerie grander and the mute testimony to neglect that the building presented, and look one of his most powerful set of photos. His signature combination of capturing the direct simplicity of straight lines and spaces are augmented by a stronger commitment to utilizing light as a compositional element, than in most of his earlier work. Though some of the street scenes in Providence were early examples of his interest in the compositional potential of areas of light and dark, Boersma takes that dimension of his photos to a new and impressive level in the images of the hallways and the windows in the upper floors of the building. Many of the images show the impact of changes in use of the building over the years, but it is the straight on shots of the office spaces and hallways that this writer best summarizes the artist’s vision.
Though the fourth and final group of photographs in this exhibition is merely a sample of the images of places and spaces Boersma has visiting and photographed over the past few decades, the selection gives the viewer a chance to see how he has applied the early lessons and intuitions he had about the built environment to these other settings. Whether in the Mediterranean, Cuba [as seen in several of these images], or the Aegean, though people occasionally appear in the work, they are incidental to the artist’s concern, even preoccupation, with the places built for the use of those people.
Boersma work has evolved over a long career, he has changed from black and white to color photography, from one format to another, and from film to digital, but his eye and concern for composition and his interest in depicting the world remain constant. He says: “I remain fascinated by the built world and its endless variety of human-made structures, environments, and details and the unique ways in which these are transformed by age, use, and – in particular – the act of photographing them.”
- Dr. David M. Sokol, Distinguished Professor Emeritus, Art History, University of Illinois at Chicago
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