“of or relating to the sky or visible heavens,” Western Exhibitions, Jan. 9-Feb. 14 <3 <3 <3

January 11, 2009
Carrie Gundersdorf

Carrie Gundersdorf

West Loop openings in January are bound to be unpopular. Last night, the weather wasn’t too bad–it was just snowy and the streets were covered with wet slush. Western Exhibitions usually holds two distinct openings, one taking place in the larger room, filled with windows, while the second exhibition space is smaller, about the size of a large closet or a small bedroom. It’s about the size of my own “cozy” bedroom.

The theme of this show is to be taken literally from the exhibition title, that it is about the “sky” and the more poetic version of the same word, “visible heavens.” Unfortunately, those works that depict the blue heavens with just this same literalness were the most banal.  I appreciate a simplicity that resonates with both aesthetics and the everyday, but the metaphoric gestures that artists including Carrie Gundersdorf, Shane Huffman, and Michelle Grabner used make the exhibition’s theme of the sky both an art phenomenon and an everyday spectacle.

Carrie Gundersdorf’s muted neon watercolor and colored pencil designs of the sky in her trio of works including Trails and space – yellow and blue, break down a possible landscape into symbols. Think of Color Field painters like Kenneth Noland, Morris Louis, or Helen Frankenthaler but with hard-edged, neon design.

Shane Huffman’s inkjet print Forevering, 2008, at first looks like an ethereal landscape taken by a NASA satellite. The materials used to construct the scene are anything but celestial, consisting of semen and menstrual blood.

Michelle Grabner’s corner work, Untitled Flock Drawing, 2009, hovers between drawing, painting, and sculpture. Made from rayon flock and spray adhesive, the fluffy white specks coating the corner of the gallery floated, creating a second, textural layer to the gallery walls. Although specks of the material were coming off the wall on the opening night, this work in process still suggested the process of its making (splattering, spraying) while mainting the quality of how it was made, splattered onto the wall.


Blogging is more difficult than it looks

January 11, 2009

If blogging was easier, I would update this blog more frequently. I’ve decided to experiment with format, so over the next few weeks, the style of entries will vary. Let me know which type of entries you find most useful.


Le Chicago Art Blog

Walking Books, Stan Shellabarger. On view at Western Exhibitions through October 15, 2008

September 7, 2008

The problem with repeating yourself is that you end up doing it more than once. Stan Shellabarger’s performance process is inescapably repetitive: he walks over and over a thing until he has left a mark on it, whether from charcoal, sandpaper, or another medium he has attached to his body. This emphasis on personal mark-making recalls 1960s phenomenological explorations from body to video art.

Shellabarger’s current exhibition heralds the relocation of Western Exhibitions in the 119 North Peoria Street building, just down the hall from Three Walls and Tony Wight. (A quick note on the new space: it’s just two rooms, and barely larger than my two-bedroom apartment, but it benefits from the quirky coziness that is the pastel pink information desk.)  The books and other papers document the artist’s obsessive shuffling over surfaces in order to create rubbings. The resulting materials are almost too beautiful, too austerely decorated.

Even though the artist’s process at one level appears to be a phenomenological exploration of how one relates to the outside world through an artistic medium, the result of his performance belies this literal explanation. What these works do is problematize  the reconciliation of the document as a product of Shellabarger’s specific experience with these materials because the document has no mark specific to his presence—the marks could have been made with a graphite pencil in hand, not graphite attached to his shoes.

Catherine Forster: They Call Me Theirs, Hyde Park Art Center, August 3 – October 5, 2008

August 16, 2008

Sometimes it’s hard to believe that anything happens outside of the general vicinity of the Blue Line. I at least want to ride my bicycle somewhere while still being able to get home without wanting to collapse, hunched over on my bed after pedaling too many miles on my rusty old bicycle. I really just need to stop being lazy–or buy a car–because the Hyde Park Art Center has an extensive programming and exhibition selection on view at one time.

One of the solo exhibitions currently on view, They Call Me Theirs, displays Catherine Forster’s multiple media installation. A reverie on the intersections of humanity and nature, the subleties that also make this a carefully crafted formal project reside in its focus on spectatorship. When walking inside Forster’s cabin, the didacticism of the artist’s emphasis on spectatorship becomes all-too-apparent: you must lean over, then peer into a monitor that literally frames nature for you. The motif of intimacy continues onto the walls outside the Black Box Gallery, with prints of what could be either a close-up view of flora and fauna or a neon-tinted AbEx painting.

Obviously, I need to get to Hyde Park more often.

LADYLIKE: A Proper Take on Feminist Art

August 7, 2008

Curated by Joanne Hinkel
Koscielak Gallery
On view through July 30th

How “proper”  for an exhibition to ironically regard itself as a purveyor of manners!  For those disenchanted with Feminism, they express the same disapproval towards manners, embodied in texts by Dear Abby, or even Betty Crocker cookbooks. But this disregard is at the same time an embrace in Hinkel’s well-crafted Ladylike.

Today, no such thing as Feminism exists. Feminism, whatever it may be, did exist at one time, although now it is just one node within a plurality of Feminist-type discourse. The duty of major retrospectives over the past few years, including WACK! and Global Feminisms, has been to dispel with the historicization of a myopic genre and present multiple versions of Feminism that co-exist with one other. But it’s not just about genealogy. Feminist discourse produces a structure that allows for a discussion about systems of difference, and away from the female body. Many of the works in Ladylike lack reference to any essentialized version of Feminism and instead construct systems that explain how their images work.

Paintings by Lorainne Peltz, an artist represented by the Koscielak Gallery and an adjunct professor at SAIC, recall simple doodles scrawled in elementary school notebooks. These images of children’s drawings, such as representations of daisies and speech bubbles, are also a reminder of their own instability and structural variance. For example, the images in Juicy Peaches and Afternoon Delight lack a figure-ground relationship, and as such, they appear volatile as they float, almost about to drift off the canvas.

Sally Ko’s two untitled paintings also share an insistence towards a fragile, yet undidactic organizing structure. The paintings have been described as microsopic slices of organisms at a cellular level, and I concur, but I think that they also recall how anything can be turned into the baroque decoration through repetition. The thick, glossy sheen also provides decoration, yet is a formal recognition of its function as surface to be seen through.

The artwork most closely associated with the exhibition is Jessica Hannah’s performance/installation, Red Phone Showroom No. 6, due to its reproduction in various press and web images for Ladylike. It stands alone in its obstinate stance against the type of Feminism that can be found in the other works. Responding to the exhibition’s motif of Feminism as a site beyond the female body, Showroom No. 6 parodies a 1950s Suburban utopia, filled with American-made cars as long as boats, bobs flipped out at their ends, and rotary telephones.

For this installation, I picked up a phone in front of a mannequin dressed like a Stepford Wife, one of three situated in the gallery as if they were in a window display. I shuffled backwards when I realized that the mannequin was moving. It was a human and she was moving like a robot. The female body as a locus for parody was on display in Showroom No. 6 as a middle-class, suburban woman become commodity, but this time, she throws your stare back at you. Unfortunately, she has nothing to say, but why should she when the installation is already so heavy-handed in its symbolism?

Buffy Summers #2 from Stacia Yeapanis’ ongoing cross-stitch series Everybody Hurts made at least its second appearance on the Chicago gallery circuit, having appeared at Henbane: Dialectics of the Feminine Sublime in April. Without the title, the indexical nature of the knitted image is indeterminate as to whether the female face in intense pain is either Sarah Michelle Gellar or Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or an image that wavers between both. Although the image’s source remains potentially indeterminate, the maudlin text inscribed underneath, “It seems like the birds shouldn’t be singing anymore, but they are,” points toward the image’s deceptive function. The clichéd sound of the text resonates with the image and emphasizes both the image and the text’s unoriginal articulation of emotion. This contradiction of the image as a bearer of transcendent meaning denies it of any expressive power a viewer may choose to invest in it.

A structure, or framework: this is what Feminism looks like in Joanne Hinkel’s curational debut. In the few cases in this exhibition where it refers to the female body and the context surrounding it as its critique, it takes on a dated posture of essentialism. But in general, it’s not necessarily about women or gender—and that’s what makes this exhibition so persuasive and relevant.

Collecting for Chicago: Prints, Drawings, and Patronage at the Art Institute of Chicago, through September 14

July 23, 2008

Don’t worry! You don’t have to lie, so just admit it…You didn’t know anything about the Art Institute’s Prints and Drawings Collection until now. But why would you because until now, with the recent unveiling of a permanent gallery specifically reserved for prints and drawings, the collection has remained a cache, tucked away in flat files and kept out of exhibitions. Although there are many good reasons for the archival nature of this collection, mostly due to the potentially fragile state of these prints and drawings, as well as the sheer number (over 70,000 overall), the scope and quality of these works reflects the multifarious uses of pen and pencil by artists throughout the centuries as a medium deserving of the same attention as any other. This, the first of many more exhibitions to come, showcases dozens of artists’ works grouped only under the headings of which benefactor donated them to the museum’s permanent collection.

Although many of the works barely have anything in common with one another, the collector’s critical eye and sometimes their aesthetic obsession becomes apparent, where each room of the exhibition is devoted to a single collector. In the case of the Press Fund, American pop imagery prevails in the H.C. Westermann and R. Crumb works that satirize and make visible the dark underbelly of American policies towards the rest of the world. Whether it’s the fear of the Other cloaked in bravery in Westermann’s Central America, 1973, as an American shakes in his boots while attempting to conquer the New World, or Crumb’s still relevant end-of-the-world scenario Nukuler Holocaust Kicks, 1978, these particularly Americanized graphic tropes gloss over the gloomy realities of our past and present histories, where the gloss adds a wry emphasis to our country’s misgivings.
The Hartman room appeared devoted almost entirely to Diego Rivera and WPA-inspired works such as Charles Wilbert White’s charcoal drawing of two pensive field-workers, Harvest Talk, 1953, but this consistency was belied by Andy Warhol’s Skull, 1976. Both are drawings, yes, but White’s drawing attempts a certain degree of realism through its hatching technique that imitates shadow and light, while Warhol’s appears to have been made, not by drawing from a real-life subject, but by tracing the outline of an image made on a projection screen and then subjectively adding a decorous shadow.

One achievement made by this exhibition is the emphasis on the wholeness of a print or drawing, as well as the vastly different forms that the drawing or printing process can produce. That is to say, that it stands in contrast to a traditional, Western point of view where drawing is near the bottom of a hierarchy of the arts. This point of view still continues in art programs today where 2-D design classes are seen as introductory or foundational to building skills that will eventually culminate in a high degree of facility with a more complicated piece of equipment than a stick of graphite. Instead of proliferating this bias in the arts, there are very few sketches or models for other projects in this exhibition.

Of the many screen-printed works in the Delaney Fund room, The Graphics of Capitalist Realism portfolio, a gorgeously crafted work made in conjunction with the Capitalist Realists’ first exhibition in 1967, most obviously emphasizes the technical ability directly provided by an artist’s hand as unnecessary if it is only one node embedded in a larger, machinated process? Wolf Vostell’s Starfighter screen-print, with a shower of glitter glued over the spectacular image of serially repeating fighter paradoxic ally celebrates the glamour of war imagery while criticizing it.

As someone interested in post-war art, I was delighted to see many  mid-century works, and hope that this is a sign of the AIC’s commitment to modern and contemporary art, possibly due to the burgeoning anticipation of the Modern Wing in early 2009.

Boys of Summer at Monique Meloche: On View through August 2, 2008

July 20, 2008

Summer shows are hard to come by at galleries; either galleries shut down for most of the week (isn’t that nice!) or the show just a smattering of works that have yet to be sold by the artists they represent. Fortunately, the Monique Meloche Gallery is open on Saturdays during the summer AND a curatorial twist has been put on the ubiquitous survey of every artist represented by the gallery. Boys of Summer concisely navigates issues of identities in contemporary works by male artists. More specific to this exhibition than the issue of identity is the issue of identity in terms of portraiture, a motif espoused by many of the artists, Jesper Just (a personal favorite for his whimsical films), Nick Cave, Zane Lewis, Ebony Patterson, among others.

Co-inciding with the upcoming presidential election is a cut-out of dried red, white, and blue acrylic paint of the presumptive Democratic nominee, (as everyone is calling him, although we all know that he is already the nominee!) Barack Obama. Recalling Jackson Pollock, but more specifically Lynda Benglis, the concept of the mixing of paint is so self-evident, so salient in periodicals’ discussions of the candidate that this work appears as just one form of historical evidence pointing towards the significance of Obama’s candidacy, but the painting is so banal because of it.

Nick Cave and Ebony Patterson’s works are both close-up portraits of “masked” men. Cave’s S & M masks have a thrift-store quirkiness that confuses a reading of the human expression beneath. Patterson’s mixed-media portraits of Jamaican criminals, painted faces surrounded by made of delicately drawn lines and baroque patterns cut into thick paper, belie the usual grittiness associated with public portrayals of these men.

Portraits that hide, portraits that mix, and the difficulty of defining oneself through appearances: Boys of Summer is a coming of age story, or rather, a coming of identity story that could be either male, female, or both.