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summer 2002 was supposed to be all about german cool; instead, it was all about being in heat

Works on Paper, Bodybuilder & Sportsman. SAUCY!!! Tactile, smart, and super-sexy, this show of international artists addressed eroticism, sexuality, and sensuality. The project room--featuring Nelson Santos, John Phillips, John Parot, Chris Johanson, Jo Jackson, and Rosemarie Fiore--was the icing on the cake, with images that were as funny as they were hot. Best of all, the grouping of these artists created a fresh conversation between image and media without a heavy-handed or desperate curatorial agenda. Definitely worth a look-see at

Nudes by Penn, The Art Institute of Chicago. Clinique goes the Way of All Flesh. Bringing together shows from the Metropolitan and Whitney museums, this exhibition demonstrated Irving Penn's now-familiar career MO: counterbalance all that cool, faux-perfection of fashion with the messy vibrance of the real. It's refreshing to see Penn lavishing his camera on the natural varieties of the female form. The question is: can we see beauty in these earthly bodies, after this guy has helped sell us the divine fiction for decades?

Hellen van Meene, The Museum of Contemporary Photography at Columbia College. Van Meene photographs teenage girls with a candid yet tender curiosity that allows her subjects to explore the emotional range of their age. Her square-formatted photographs are taken at a medium focal range, a distance that captures the bruises and blemishes of adolescence without smothering or scrutinizing her subjects. These refined, quiet images seemed filled by an expectant air, with such a sensitivity to light, color, and composition that one couldn't help but think of Vermeer.

Anthony Goicolea, The Museum of Contemporary Photography at Columbia College. A twisted and thrilling adventure through a devious world of narcissism, mischief, and sexual experimentation. Looking at Goicolea's work is like watching a darker, even more homoerotic version of Dead Poets Society. Goicolea poses himself as an eerily convincing adolescent and digitally creates epic scenes in which he plays all the parts. His nightmarish yet alluring "army of me" images combine the Machiavellian survivalism of Lord of the Flies with the sexual taboo of a Darger drawing, presenting the world of the pubescent boy as one that is both solipsistic and conflicted.

Galaxia Val del Omar, I Space. Rarely does one have the sense of actually discovering something anymore, but this show, traveling internationally under the auspices of the Instituto Cervantes, offered something extraordinary: namely, a long-overdue first encounter with a Spanish maestro of 20th-century experimental film. Not only was Jose Val del Omar a technical innovator possessed by an obsessive programmatic vision (an oeuvre in itself), but he was also an incredible cinematic surrealist. Galaxia brought to light a restoration of one of his most important works, Elemental Triptych of Spain, in which his patented proto-psychedelic camera techniques interwarp religion, art, poetics, and haunting evocations of Andalusian landscape and culture. Add earth, fire, water--and stir! Much of the rest of his output has been lost, but further recovery attempts are underway. To borrow his customary sign-off, VdO is fascinating, sin fin.

Multiformity, Museum of Contemporary Art. You probably missed this sampling of the MCA's multiples--it was stuck in the small gallery off the stairwell--but this was a tiny, witty gem of a show. It seems that once artists get outside their regular routine and allow themselves to have cheap and dirty fun with objects, they wind up making their most engaging and insightful stuff. It would be nice to see the holdings on regular rotation; it would be nicer still if more local entities took up The Ren's lead and found a way to revive the practice of ongoing commissions. Isn't that what gift shops are for?

Lesley Dill: A Ten Year Survey, Chicago Cultural Center. The Blue Line trip to the Lesley Dill exhibition felt less like the usual ride on the vomit comet and more like a pilgrimage to a holy land. The anticipation of silence and spiritual depth promised by this artist is that strong. Dill uses hair, fabric, paper, tea, and thread to create evocative, visceral images that bridge the distance between sensation and intuition. Hers is an ontological exploration of language and the body that leads one to ask: is this the meaning we ascribe to being, or the meaning being ascribes to us?

Andreas Gursky, Museum of Contemporary Art. In the end, it's all about scale, scale, and scale. There's something Serra-eque about Gursky's manipulation of sheer size that gets you right away. Much has been trumpeted about his quasi-queasy investigations of capitalist mass-consumption, but his latter-day German Romantic landscapes were the real heart-stoppers. It's interesting, too, to unpack his process and realize he's giving us impossible pictures. By the way, we did play "Where's Waldo," and yes, we did see the same people twice.

My Reality, Chicago Cultural Center. Superflat has left the building, so this traveling show was about 18 months past its due date. That said, even this small sampling of anime-influenced art was enough to convince us that the Japanese are having way more fun than we are--and that it's only a matter of time before Mariko Mori gets an urgent e-mail from Bjork.

Gerhard Richter: Forty Years of Painting, The Art Institute of Chicago. Richter's project seems to be nothing less than taking on the entire history of western graphic culture. That's a big job, so it's a good thing he can really paint. From the early black-and-white German popwerks, to his teasing abstractions, to the almost Impressionistic, soft-focus portraits of his latest wife and child (Gerhard, are you misty-eyed?), Richter has apparently never met a picture he didn't want to arm-wrestle. To all our painting professors who told us fan brushes were for losers, we say: HA!

Backyard Variety Show, HotHouse. Doug Grew's monthly (give or take) HotHouse showcase of neo-vaudevillean "talent" is an ongoing love letter to human quirkiness in action. It's amazing the skills people cultivate: July's theme, "Animals: Our Performing Partners," featured a life-size, bagpipe-playing horse puppet; a Maurice Chevalier-styled a capella homage to a pampered lap dog; a flamenco-dancing minotaur; a bestiality pantomime inspired by American Pie; and an oral treatise on feline performance anxiety. Oh yeah: and jugglers, and balancing acts, and sleight-of-hand.... It's a potluck circus, but there's always beer. Save the date and dress accordingly: October 30 is Renaissance night, sure to be a merry mix-up of Shakespeare in Love and MTV's Jackass.

Gravy Train!!!!, Fireside Bowl. A nearly indescribable celebration of fast food and gender chaos. These four performers brought down the house with their raw rap lyrics and intense aerobo-erotic choreography. With songs such as "You Made Me Gay" and lyrics like "with raging thoughts of burger patties, burger fucking leather daddies," think Paul McCarthy's kids put on a talent show in their basement. Read their sworn manifesto at, cyberspace. Forget that tired bestseller list--nothing beats the voyeuristic pleasure of peeking into other people's diaries. Here's your chance to browse through thousands of online journals, detailing an encyclopedic array of idiosyncratic obsessions. Search the site randomly or by interest, but be forewarned: you will get sucked into this sick and fascinating virtual world, and there are not enough 12-step programs in the universe to drag your sorry soul back to reality.

From top: Nelson Santos, Study for "Just Do It!" inkjet and glitter on paper, 8.5x11 in., 2002. Courtesy Bodybuilder & Sportsman, Chicago. Anthony Goicolea, Morning After (detail), chromogenic development print, 40x120 in., 2000. Courtesy Vedanta Gallery, Chicago and Jeff Stevens. Hellen van Meene, Untitled, chromogenic development print, 15-3/8x15-3/8 in., 1999. Courtesy La Salle Bank Photography Collection, Chicago. Jose Val del Omar, San Sebastian from Elemental Triptych of Spain: Fire in Castille, 35mm Tactile Vision film, 1960. Courtesy Gonzalo Saenz de Buruaga, The Jose and Maria Jose Val del Omar Foundation, Madrid. From top: Lesley Dill, A Thought Went Up My Mind Today, ink and thread on black-and-white photograph, 69x40 in., 1996. Courtesy George Adams Gallery, New York. Photo courtesy Chicago Cultural Center. Momoyo Torimitsu, Somehow I Don't Feel Comfortable, rubber inflatable balloons, 16x10 ft., 2000. Courtesy the artist and Galerie Xippas, Paris. Photo courtesy Chicago Cultural Center. Hunx, Chunx, Funx, and Drunx of Gravy Train!!!!. Courtesy Gerhard Richter, Woman Descending the Staircase, oil on canvas, 79x51 in., 1965. Courtesy The Art Institute of Chicago: Roy J. and Frances R. Friedman Endowment; Gift of Lannan Foundation, 1997.176. (c) Gerhard Richter.