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“Difficult Pleasures: The Art Of Karen Lebergott”

Karen Lebergott’s art takes on difficulty as a theme: conditions that defy easy resolution, that demand we accept their complexity, their intractability, and the limitations on our capacities to understand or affect them.

She is drawn also to difficult subjects.

For an artist attuned to difficulty, finding Berlin was a kind of spiritual homecoming. In 2003, Lebergott spent four months as Artist in Residence at the Karl Hofer Gesellschaft, living and working in a former industrial sector of East Berlin. Since then she has returned to Berlin many times. Lebergott’s first paintings from Berlin worry over the patterns created by the built environment, layer superimposed upon layer, juxtaposing past and present. The massive programs of replanning and rebuilding that are a constant part of the experience of Berlin in the early twenty-first century recall earlier spates of building, both actual and fantasized. Projects for large-scale urban renewal become ghostly shapes that emerge through Lebergott’s painterly techniques of scraping, layering, and seeping.

In this famously gray city, however, Lebergott’s paintings burst into color – not, to be sure, either quickly or easily.  But the paintings that resulted from later  trips to Berlin pulse with uneasy combinations of institutional greens and yellows that suggest the tired walls of bureaucratic offices where pointless, even sinister, maps may or may not continue to carry any significant meaning for the present day. Paintings based on the map of Berlin’s subway system combine a spidery grace with the references to the city’s natural site amid the rivulets and islands where the Havel and Spree rivers converge.

Others of Lebergott’s recent paintings return to archeology, tracing the outlines of vanished structures, both in Berlin and Pompeii, where she traveled from Germany. The outlines of ancient foundations straggle across these paintings like the discarded cut-outs left from some inscrutable model-building project. As a record of coherent human activity, they are too difficult to piece together. In the paintings of 2005 on this theme the shapes cohere more obviously into architectural plans, although the purposes of these vanished neighborhoods and structures remains mysterious.

Suggestions of Berlin’s difficult history are sustained in recent works that integrate strips of stenciled pattern taken from the wallpaper of an abandoned basement dwelling Lebergott discovered near her studio. Fading in and out against colored backgrounds through which other systems of visual information seem to be seeping, these profoundly unheimlich (“un-homey,” but also Freud’s term translated as “uncanny” in English) domestic elements recall strings of obsolete language. “If these walls could talk…” becomes a cliché when visitors confront the history of death and displacement enacted in twentieth-century Berlin. The unanswerability of such questions, perhaps the incommensurability of any sign system with the desire for communication on that level, co-exists in these paintings with the placid decorative banality of the motifs, the stubborn optimism implied by the act of wall-papering and stenciling a dark basement apartment, the daily routines of housekeeping now rendered futile by the march of time. These are difficult subjects, but there is a rich balance here of the human and the inhuman, the daily and timeless.

Gradually, Lebergott’s paintings came to reflect the characteristics of contemporary Berlin.. It is a city full of difficulties – confronting both its past and the difficulties of global competition in the present and future. But this confrontation with difficulty has given Berlin the most significant recent works of public art of this century and made the city, arguably, the world’s capital for innovative new art. Lebergott’s work is very much engaged in the challenges and pleasures of its context.

Lebergott’s recent multimedia work delves into the material history of Berlin. One series focuses on a diary she found in a Berlin flea market. Written in 1932 by a mother to her newborn son, the diary is striking for us now for the complete absence of reference to the war. Instead the author, inspired by a trip to the Dolomites during her pregnancy, records her aspirations for – and to – her son as he grows to be a man. Lebergott responded to this artifact with a complex installation that juxtaposes a series of forty drawings of the Dolomites executed in gouache on the kind of carbon paper – now obsolete – that  once enabled typists to produce multiple copies. The delicacy of the drawings and their fluttering movement on the wall evokes the shifting qualities of memory in contrast to the idea of the enduring mountains. A second component of this piece juxtaposes two DVDs: in one an older woman, seated before a ticking grandfather clock reads part of the diary in German; in the second a boy sits before the same clock reading a translation of part of the diary into English. Again contrast and ambiguity are the themes. Is the reading boy the grandson of the reading woman? Would the writing mother see this bilingual modern German youth as becoming the kind of “fine man” she envisioned?

Lebergott’s recent paintings and drawings explore ideas of maps that record the layout of the land and the variety of human interventions that have marked and scored it. Her works layer form and color as a record of painterly and aesthetic decision making that correlate with the building and rebuilding of cites such as Berlin. Painterly processes act like history and politics, accenting, obscuring and reinventing the past and present. For Lebergott, the production of a painting and its resultant surface effect address complex intellectual issues, evoking investigations into urban space, memory, myth and time.

The situations Lebergott composes on her canvases involve the viewer in a difficult struggle for meaning — which is also rather beautiful.

-Christopher Reed

EXHIBITIONS

2016

“Karen Lebergott” – University Club, Chicago, IL. Curated by Literature and Arts committee, Lisa Wainwright Chair

2015

“Around the State” Evanston Art Center, Evanston, Il

“Japan-US Art Exchange – Works on Paper 2015”, Yuwaku Sousaku no Mori Center, Kanazawa, Japan

2014

“Follies” Zadar, Croatia – curated by Katarzyna Kosmala , University of West of Scotland, School of Media, Culture and Society

2013

Karen Lebergott – Photographs” in conjunction with the symposium “Back to Heritage” (University of Zadar) St Donats Church, Zadar, Croatia

“One Sided Story – Wasser Schopfen, Zagrabiti” Zagreb, Croatia

2012 

Identity Crisis” Gallery 55, Leipzig, Germany

“Ozmosis”, OSS, the Spinneri, Leipzig, Germany

2011

“Absolute Location”, ­Solo Exhibition Gallerie Lichtpunkt, Munich, Germany

 “Ten Year Survey”, Solo Exhibition travelled to Earlham College, Richmond, Indiana

2010 

“The Last Ten Years”, Solo Exhibition  – paintings and works on paper, Lawrence University, Appleton, Wi., travelled to the Sonnenschein Gallery, Lake Forest, IL. (2011 – Earlham College- “Ten Year Survey”)

 “Cities in Flux”, whiteconcepts, Berlin, Germany

 “Cartes du Paysages”, Journal – Universite de Paris, Paris, France.

2008

“In-Visible Cities”, Solo Exhibition painting and works on paper, Rowland Contemporary, Chicago, IL.

“Group V and guests”, Kunstsalon, Berlin, Germany

“re-Construction of Time”, paintings, drawings and video installation -Karen Lebergott J. Seinfled, V. Witte -Art Mbassy Galerie, Berlin, Germany

 “Magic Mountain” Solo Exhibition, drawing/video installation Audible Gallery, Experimental Sound Studio, Chicago, IL.

“Here, There and Everywhere” Cultural Center, Chicago, IL.

2006

“Location Uncertain – Berlin/Chicago” NIU Museum, DeKalb, IL

“Travel Documents,” A+D Gallery, Columbia College, Chicago, IL

 “Refugien”, Kulturamt, Berlin, Germany

Group exhibition Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Berlin, Germany

2005

“Chicago/Berlin Exchange,” Galerie Art Mbassy, Berlin, Germany

 “Correlations,” Kunstverein Ingan, Berlin, Germany

Group exhibtion – German Embassy, Rome, Italy

Recent drawings, two-person exhibit, Gallery Stella A, Berlin, Germany

2004

 “Recent Work From Berlin”Solo Exhibition Sonnenschein Gallery Lake Forest IL

2003

“The Temporaries,” two-person exhibit, Galerie der Karl Hofer Gesellschaft, Berlin, Germany

2001

“Property 1990-2001,” eleven year survey, Solo Exhibition, Eleventh Street Gallery, Columbia College, Chicago, IL

Solo Exhibition, St. James Cavalier Art Centre, Valletta, Malta

“CAA Gallery Artists,” Jan Cicero Gallery, Chicago, IL

2000

Solo Exhibition, New York Law School Gallery, New York, NY

“Estramadura”, Solo Exhibition, The Chicago Cultural Center, Chicago, IL

 “Blink,” Northern Illinois University Gallery, Chicago, IL

 “Out of Line,” The Chicago Cultural Center, Chicago, IL

“New Work by Gallery Artists,” Jan Cicero Gallery, Chicago, IL

1999

“Sixth Annual Bookmarks Exhibition for Whitewalls,” Northern Illinois University Art Gallery, Chicago, IL

“Suite,” Inn of Chicago, Chicago, IL

“Faculty Exhibition,” Lake Forest College, Lake Forest, IL

Summer Exhibition, Jan Cicero Gallery, Chicago, IL

 “Just Good Art,” Hyde Park Art Center, Chicago, IL

Fall Group Exhibition, Jan Cicero Gallery, Chicago, IL

1998

“Maps Plans Names,” Solo Exhibition, Reicher Gallery, Barat College, Lake Forest, IL

 “Painting in Chicago Now,” Eleventh St. Gallery, Columbia College, Chicago, IL

“Just Good Art,” Hyde Park Art Center, Chicago, IL

“Fifth Annual Bookmarks Exhibition and Auction” for Whitewalls, Northern Illinois University Art Gallery, Chicago, IL

“Link,” Jan Cicero Gallery, Chicago, IL

1997 

Solo Exhibition, Jan Cicero Gallery, Chicago, IL

Winter Exhibition, Jan Cicero Gallery, Chicago, IL

“Addendum,” Northern Illinois University, Chicago, IL

“Fourth Annual Bookmarks Exhibition and Auction” for Whitewalls, Northern  Illinois University Art Gallery, Chicago, IL

“Fifteenth Annual Exhibition and Auction,” N.A.M.E. Gallery, Chicago, IL

Summer Exhibition, Jan Cicero Gallery, Chicago, IL

“Just Good Art,” Hyde Park Art Center, Chicago, IL

1996

“Chicago School 1945-1996,” Jan Cicero Gallery, Chicago, IL

 “Drawing In Chicago Now,” Eleventh St. Gallery, Columbia College, Chicago, IL, traveling to Oakton College and Carleton College

“Gestural Abstraction,” Hyde Park Art Center, Chicago, IL

“Just Good Art,” Hyde Park Art Center, Chicago, IL

 “Evanston Art Center Exhibition and Auction,” Evanston Art Center, Evanston, IL

“Small Works,” Faculty Exhibition, Columbia College, Chicago, IL

 “Group Exhibition,” Knox College Gallery, Knox College, Galesburg, IL

1995

“Chicago Abstract Painters,” Evanston Art Center, Evanston, IL

“Four Painters,” Jan Cicero Gallery, Chicago, IL

“Artists Choose Artists,” Hyde Park Art Center, Chicago, IL

 “Works on Paper,” Jan Cicero Gallery, Chicago, IL

 “Evanston Art Center Exhibition and Auction,” Evanston Art Center, Evanston, IL

“Gallery Artists,” Jan Cicero Gallery, Chicago, IL

“Fourth Annual Bookmarks Exhibition and Auction” for Whitewalls, Northern Illinois University Art Gallery, Chicago, IL

“Fourteenth Annual Exhibition and Auction,” N.A.M.E. Gallery, Chicago, IL

 “Just Good Art,” Hyde Park Art Center, Chicago, IL

“Faculty Exhibition,” Columbia College, Chicago, IL

1994

“Artists Choose Artists,” Hyde Park Art Center, Chicago, IL

“Camera Obscura/Obscura Camera,” Betty Rymer Gallery, Chicago, IL

 “Third Annual Bookmarks Exhibition and Auction” for Whitewalls, Northern Illinois University Art Gallery, Chicago, IL

 “Thirteenth Annual Exhibition and Auction,” N.A.M.E. Gallery, Chicago, IL

1993

“The Categories of Robert Smithson,” N.A.M.E. Gallery, Chicago, IL

 “Deluge,” Invitational Exhibition, Lyons Wier Gallery, Chicago, IL

“Faculty Self-Portraits,” Columbia College, Chicago, IL

“Second Annual Bookmarks Exhibition and Auction” for Whitewalls, Northern Illinois University Art Gallery, Chicago, IL

“plastertapeduststudpaintneedlesglassbrickcork,” N.A.M.E. Gallery, Chicago, IL

 “Gallery Artists,” Lannon-Cole Gallery, Chicago, IL

1992

“Three Painters,” Lannon-Cole Gallery, Chicago, IL

“Ars Nova Judges Exhibition,” Northern Illinois University Art Museum,  DeKalb, IL

 “Guess Who?  Artists Confront Their Sources,” Lannon-Cole Gallery, Chicago, IL

1989

 “Rockford Invitational,” Rockford College, Rockford, IL, Catalogue

“Faculty Exhibition,” Columbia College, North Pier Terminal, Chicago, IL

1988

Solo Exhibition, The Spertus Museum, Chicago, IL. Catalogue.

“Endangered Species,” Klein Gallery, Chicago, IL

1987

“Masks,” Klein Gallery, Chicago, IL

1986

“Three Painters,” Robbin Lockett Gallery, Chicago, IL

1985

“The Shadow,” N.A.M.E. Gallery, Chicago, IL

“1840,” 1840 W. Hubbard St., Chicago, IL

“Jewish Women in The Arts,” Paper Press Gallery, Chicago, IL, First Prize

1984

“Six on Six,” N.A.M.E. Gallery, Chicago, IL

“The Head Show,” Randolph St. Gallery, Chicago, IL

 “1840,” 1840 W. Hubbard, Chicago, IL

1983

 “213,” 213 Morgan St., Chicago, IL

1982

 “Art For Young Collectors,” The Renaissance Society, Chicago, IL

1981 

“The Loop Show,” Randolph St. Gallery, Chicago, IL

1980

 “Around Here,” Randolph St. Gallery, Chicago, IL

STAGE SETS

1991

 “The Black Paintings” (Lighting & Set), a work for the stage by Stephen Lapthisophon.

1983

“The Sound of Music/The Theory of Praxis,” a work for the stage by Stephen Lapthisophon.

GRANTS/COMMISSIONS/AWARDS

2012

Illinois Arts Council Project Grant

2011

Illinois Arts Council, Individual Artist’s Grant

2009 

Artist in Residence Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Paris Artist in Residence, Cite des Arts, Paris,

 Illinois Arts Council Special Assistance Grant

2008

 Illinois Arts Council, Governor International Arts Exchange Grant

2007

Illinois Arts Council, Projects Grant

2006 

Chicago Council on Fine Arts, CAAP Grant

2005

Mellon Grant awarded through the Global Partners/ACM

2003

Karl Hofer Gesellschaft, Berlin, Artist-In-Residence

2003

Illinois Arts Council, Governor International Arts Exchange Grant

2001

St. James Cavalier, Malta, Fellowship

2000

Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Fellowship

2000

Illinois Arts Council, Project Grant

1993

Illinois Arts Council, Projects Grant

1991

Chicago Council on Fine Arts, CAAP Grant

1990

Painting Commission, Wesleyan University, Middletown, CT

1989

 Chicago Council on Fine Arts, CAAP Grant

1985

First Prize, “Jewish Women in The Arts Paper Press Gallery, Chicago, IL

REVIEWS

2008

Matthias Reichelt, Zitty “Uber den Augenblick hinaus” Ap/May ‘08

Alan Artner, The Chicago Tribune “Older Ways of Painting get their Due” November 14,’08

2005

Victory Cassidy, Art in America, “Karen Lebergott,” March ‘05

2001

Matthew Girson, New Art Examiner, “Karen Lebergott,” March/April ‘01

2000

Catalogue Estremadura, essay by Franz Schulze, Jan ‘00

Corey Postiglione, Dialogue, “Karen Lebergott,” Dec/Jan ‘00

Joell Baxter, New Art Examiner, “Blink, Interventions in the Salon,” April ‘00

Jill E. Hughes, Dialogue, “Blink, Interventions in the Salon,” March/April ‘00

1997

Jim Yood, C International, “Karen Lebergott,” Sept-Nov ‘97

Fred Camper, The Chicago Reader, “Embracing Doubt,” June 27, ‘97

1996

Corey Postiglione, Dialogue, “Gestural Abstraction,” Nov ‘96

1993

David McCracken, The Chicago Tribune, “Alternative Spaces Look Back and Sally Forth,” Sept ‘93

1989

Catalogue Rockford College, Rockford, IL

1988

Catalogue “Ann C. Field Gallery Portfolio,” The Spertus Museum, Chicago, IL

McCracken, The Chicago Tribune, “Endangered Show Has Animal Magnetism,”

Alan Artner, The Chicago Tribune, “Lebergott’s Paintings,” July ‘88

Lillian Fishbein, The Sentinel, “A Jewish Painter,” June ‘88

1984

Mark Michael Leonhart, The New Art Examiner, “1840,” Nov ‘84

 

PROFESSIONAL AFFILIATION

1995

Editorial Committee, Whitewall Journal of Language and Art

1995

Member, College Art Association

JUROR/VISITING ARTIST/CURATOR/LECTURER

2015

Curated – “Mixed Media” Sonnenschein Gallery, Lake Forest, IL

2012

Curated “In Dialogue with Thomas Nozkowski”

2007

Curated, “Clarence Morgan” paintings, Sonnenschein Gallery, Lake Forest,IL.

2006 

Curated,Matthew Girson” paintings, Sonnenschein Gallery, Lake Forest, IL.

2006

Visting artist NIU University, DeKalb, IL.

2003

Curated “Industrial,” Sonnenschein Gallery, Lake Forest, IL

Curated “Video I Like,” Sonnenschein Gallery, Lake Forest, IL

2001

Lecturer, “The Limites of Abstraction,” College Art Association annual conference, Chicago, IL

2000

Participant in panel discussion of installation exhibition “Blink,” Northern Illinois University Art Gallery, Chicago, IL

Curated “Citizenship Imagined” in conjunction with philosophy symposium “The Possibilities of Citizenship,” Sonnenschein Gallery, Lake Forest, IL

1999

Curated “Synthesis – Collage and Mixed Media,” Sonnenschein Gallery, Lake Forest, IL

1998

Visiting Artist/Visiting Critic, Graduate Dept., Department of Art Theory and Practice, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL

Lecturer on my work, Reicher Gallery, Barat College, Lake Forest, IL

Curated “Abstract Variations,” Sonnenschein Gallery, Lake Forest, IL

1997

Curated “Not Renoir,” Sonnenschein Gallery, Lake Forest, IL

Participant in panel discussion on “The Current State of the Arts in Chicago,” Northern Illinois University Art Gallery, Chicago, IL

1994

Garret Gallery, 10th Annual Juried Fine Arts Competition, St. Louis, MO, Juror

1993

Chicago Salon Group, Chicago, IL, Visiting Artist, slide lecture

1992

Visiting Artist/Juror, Northern Illinois University, Ars Nova student competition, DeKalb, IL

TEACHING EXPERIENCE

1996 – Present

Current Chair (2009) and Associate Professor of Art, Lake Forest College, Lake Forest, IL

Courses:  Multi-level Painting, Multi-level Drawing, 2 and 3 Dimensional Design, Studio Arts Senior Seminar and student advising

1988-1996

Instructor, Columbia College, Chicago, IL

Courses:  Painting, Drawing, 2D Design, Figure Drawing, Advanced Painting

1989-1996

Instructor, School of the Art Institute, Early College Program, Chicago, IL

Courses:  Mixed Media, Painting, Figure Drawing, Developing Ideas, Portfolio review

EDUCATION

MFA painting and sculpture, School of the Art Institute, Chicago, IL

BS in Art, University of Wisconsin-Madison

French  language and literature. University of Aix-Marseilles, France

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