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Fest Times: Art Chicago's best bets 

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One of the best things about Art Chicago is the chance to see work by internationally renowned artists otherwise rarely shown in Chicago. Here are a few suggestions:

David Wojnarowicz, who died of AIDS in 1992, was known for his part in the "Culture Wars" of the early 90s. A Christian group, the American Family Association, protested funding for the National Endowment for the Arts by excerpting sexual images from some of his works; Wojnarowicz sued the group and won. His difficult early life figured heavily in his art: abused by his father as a child, he fled to New York in his early teens, where he survived as a street hustler and used drugs for a time. He worked in many media, and his best pieces have the raw power and incisive directness suggested by the title of one of his books, Memories That Smell Like Gasoline. In one image from his "Rimbaud Series" photographs, two of which can be seen at P.P.O.W. Gallery (booth C208), he wears a handmade mask of the poet--with a needle stuck in his arm.

Erika Rothenberg, who did her undergraduate work at the University of Chicago in the late 60s and currently lives in Los Angeles, has become one of the art world's finest satirists; though even her nastiest works are gentler than Wojnarowicz's, they still have a real bite. She had a few shows at Zolla/Lieberman some years ago, and they will display one piece (C118), but I.C. Editions (E102) will have Greetings, a boxed set of five "all-occasion" greeting cards--the only cards that Rothenberg's made available as prints. One reads on the outside, "Sorry my country bombed your country...," and when you open it, "I want you to know that I was against it."

Mark Newport also attended school here, at the School of the Art Institute; he now lives in Washington State. In recent years he has been sewing on comic book covers and adding beads to football cards. The effect is to partly "feminize"--or at least gender-bend--these macho icons. Seattle's Greg Kucera Gallery (D246) will be showing four embroidered superhero comic book covers and a bedspread made of comics.

The extraordinary paintings of the Danish artist Per Kirkeby have not, as far as I know, been shown here at all in recent years; his European reputation has apparently not traveled west of New York. His layered abstractions create collisions between mysterious forms; his early training as a geologist accounts for their complex stratifications. A painting titled Guldalder II will be at Copenhagen's Galleri Faurschou (A224).

In her frequent use of nature for inspiration, the Latvian-born American Vija Celmins has a kinship with Kirkeby, but if his paintings sometimes suggest loud collisions, Celmins's surfaces have a gentle quietude. Her prints, seldom seen in Chicago, are extraordinary, often filled with textured surfaces, such as that of the ocean, which seem to delicately vibrate in depth. Diane Villani Editions (E204) will have a rare suite of four early lithographs from 1975, showing ocean and desert and sky and galaxies.

Alfred Jensen died in 1981, and as far as I can determine, his work has been seen here only twice in 13 years. Trained by Hans Hofmann and friends with other abstract expressionists, he abandoned their gestural style in the 50s for complex checkerboard diagrams that are informed by his wide-ranging explorations of everything from Mayan calendars to pyramid architecture to the inscriptions on ancient Chinese bones. A world traveler, his paintings, drawings, and prints are a truly original blend of science and the occult, combining brightly colored grids with numbers, words, and symbols that are indecipherable to the nonspecialist. The three gouaches that will be on view at Karen McCready (E208), studies for a 1965 print portfolio titled The Pythagorean Notebook, include checkerboards with mathematical formulas written alongside them. Called by one critic "one of the first conceptual artists," Jensen created work that has a spooky power even if you can't unravel its meanings.

There's a lot more to see, but note that sometimes buyers remove work immediately. Art Chicago 2000 runs Friday through Monday, noon to 8 PM (except for a 6 PM closing on Monday) at Navy Pier's Festival Hall, 600 E. Grand. Admission is $10, $7 for students and seniors. Multiday discount passes are also available. Call 312-587-3300 or visit www.artchicago.com for more information.

-- Fred Camper

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