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Jason Lazarus rises to the top of the conceptual art scene

‘Jason Lazarus’

◆ Through June 18

◆ Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago,
220 E. Chicago

◆ Admission, $12

◆ (312) 280-2660;


◆ 6 p.m. Thursday,
1 p.m. Sunday

◆ Gene Siskel Film
Center, 164 N. State

◆ Tickets, $11

◆ (312) 846-2800;

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Updated: April 17, 2013 9:27AM

Jason Lazarus has vision. In spades. ¶ His career has exploded in the 10 years since the Chicago artist earned his master of fine arts degree in photography from Columbia College. His intellectual, eclectic brand of conceptualist art intersects with Lazarus’ other roles as curator, educator and a kind of cultural historian. ¶ His works are featured through June 18 in a solo exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. In addition, “twohundredfiftysixcolors,” a 72-minute animated film Lazarus co-created with Eric Fleischauer, debuts Thursday at the Gene Siskel Film Center. It is crafted from thousands of GIFs, a simple image format often used on the Internet for logos and graphics. Here’s what he has to say about his work:

Why it’s important to push artistic boundaries: “I think in the path from graduating to now, it’s continually releasing reservations about working in related mediums, working in ways that I haven’t before, working on a scale that doesn’t feel comfortable and making myself vulnerable in public. For me, it’s to be fearless conceptually in terms of materials and scale.

“For artists, their work is their most important communique. I think every artist would prefer to work rather than talk about what they have done already.

“In the art world, the language can be really insular and uninviting. People are smart. It’s just that sometimes the language is a sort of barrier that I’m really interested in breaking down.”

Career turning point: “One is the installation [“On the Scene,” 2009] in the Modern Wing of the Art Institute [of Chicago], because that was, first of all, such an esteemed context to be in. In that project, I was not only showing photos that I had collected, not taken, but those photos were all mounted image facing the wall, and that work was about the ritual of writing on the back on the photograph and asking the audience to think of that writing as bearing the responsibility of the image. When you ask it to do that, lots of other imagery comes out without seeing anything. That was a great example of me taking a risk and, then, [curator] Katherine Bussard believing in me. From then on, I felt that this risk-taking had merit and could eclipse work I had done in the past.”

Biggest surprise about moving into the larger art world: “The number of distractions and the number of obstacles that come into play when you’re trying to make work with a sense of scholarship, commitment and risk-taking. You have to decide what is important. As more people come at you with different agendas, you have to really understand what you’re doing.”

What is exciting about today’s art scene? “There is a fluidity and openness to what being an artist is, and that’s really encouraging. The question of who can be an artist is becoming a lot more open, and at the same time, that doesn’t mean that the cultural content that is being produced is watered-down or less effective.”

What is depressing about it? “The role of money and the survivability factor of seeing other colleagues, especially young students who then become young artists, and the odds that work against them when they are really talented.”

Memorable recent artwork: “Tony Tasset’s ‘Hot Dog Man,’ shown in 2011-12 at Kavi Gupta Chicago. That was, for me, a piece that seemed very free, and the sort of art-world-as-reference-point started to drift away completely. ‘Hot Dog Man’ felt so Chicago and so dirty and wonderful all at the same time. It was really a refreshing moment.”

Favorite artwork at the Art Institute of Chicago: “I’m a huge fan of the [Gerhard] Richter room, the way that those paintings working in different methodologies are all talking to each other across the room.

By Kyle Macmillan, a locally based
free-lance writer.

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