By Michael Workman
Fulton Market and Lake Street have undergone such rapid growth in the last year that any discussion about the West Loop as an art destination is incomplete without mentioning them. New galleries seem to have popped up there overnight, though it’s more like a year since such admirable new spaces as rowlandcontemporary (www.rowlandcontemporary.com) and Navta Schulz (www.navtaschulzgallery.com) made the scene. They’re gaining momentum and certainly merit much closer scrutiny as their programs and place in the local scene mature. One of my favorite pieces at Rowland in “Salad Days II,” the second in a two-part show of art by Northwestern University students, is by Stephen Nytkas. He caught my attention a while back with his inverted product bottles, and seems only to get better with each new turn. Recently, he’s started fishing his camera lens into those bottles and tubes to shoot them from within. The results pervert the perceived scale, resulting in a strange transformation of the objects to caverns, landscapes, magical views of hidden worlds. His “Untitled (Interior),” a shot from the inside of a lotion bottle, resembles the view from deep in the bowels of some ice cave or snowy crevasse, with a light blue sky and clouds swirling beyond the distant mouth. It’s a clever elevation of common, everyday objects to the realm of the extraordinary.
I’m also consistently impressed with the strength of the exhibition program at Navta Schulz, which was open for years in Wisconsin before making the leap south to the city. They’ve cultivated an impressive roster of artists and know how to show their work right; the gallery itself, a two-level building with viewing rooms in the back of the second floor, is a well-planned, well-considered exhibition space. Those who haven’t taken the time to pay them a visit are missing something special. “Site Specific,” their last show of the summer, is an experimental, playful, at times serious and often invigorating experience. Conforming work to and often using it to transform a space can easily follow a cookie-cutter formula of installation types ranging from intervention to assimilation, and these pieces range those formulas. David Hendren’s stairwell installation, “Waves and Radiation,” conveys the feel of trudging through the deepest nighttime forest, of having tumbled into a bizarre Surrealist tunnel. Branches sprout haphazardly from the ceilings and walls, completely outfitted with swatches of folded paper and starkly lit with incandescent bulbs. It’s a shrewd use of such a transitory space.
Right inside the front door hangs Artur Silva’s “Europa,” an eye-grabbing piece of video and sculpture, a bicycle outfitted with a DVD player and LCD monitor, on which plays a “video collage.” I got a kick watching the Robosapien dance. Silva takes a page from Jeff Koons’ book, and on the wall behind the bike are mounted two separate sets of three soccer balls in plastic vitrines, each element of the work celebrates and enshrines the itinerant spirit of the modern world.
This past Saturday night saw me dashing into Heaven Gallery while the car was parked illegally to check out “Adventure City,” a celebration of fifteen years of Lumpen magazine. Local artist Sayre Gomez had one of his self-adulating wall paintings up in the front room next to DJs busy keeping the audiophiles happy. Back through the double doors in the rear and out on the roof deck, easily 200 people were mingling in the warmer-than-usual summer heat. Trains roared by on the El tracks as racers mounted on two stationary bicycles fiercely pounded their pedals in a race, their speeds monitored using a computer program hooked up to a video projector. Local street artist Elisa Harkins had one of her lovely wooden Eskimo cutout pieces mounted high on the back wall. I wish I could have stayed longer. Those who want to stay plugged into the sub rosa should check out the organization’s online message board “The Conversation” at www.lumpen.com/conversation/index.php. It’s always interesting and informative, a key platform for fomenting actual dialogue that sees new contributions daily.
I recently answered an invitation from Bob O’Connell to come check out his new space, the Architrouve at 1433 West Chicago Avenue (check out their very informative website at www.thearchitrouve.com). Their inaugural exhibition, “Chicago Representation,” firmly establishes the boundaries of the organizer’s esthetic taste: for instance, art world watchers will recognize the deftly imaginative prints of Tony Fitzpatrick understudy Michael Pajon. There are also wonderful sculptural works by Jason Peot, whose alien structures, rife with plastic tubing, expertly subdivide light and shadow. As an exhibition space it’s a unique undertaking, driven mostly by the artistic passions of O’Connell. Until recently the president of the board of the Chicago Art Project (he has since left due to the travel requirements of his art-insuring business), he purchased the building with a partner and has dedicated the first-level storefront to exhibiting the work of artists he likes (and often collects). Though somewhat close quarters, the space can comfortably accommodate smaller-scale work and carefully weeded thematic shows. If he opts to open the back garden and fabulously furnished upper floors of the building (where he lives with his wife), it can make for a expansive and congenial art-viewing experience. “Chicago Representation,” which comes down soon, will be replaced with a must-see show of heartbreaking photographs of the Katrina damage to New Orleans shot by Joshua Mann Pailet.
“Site Specific” shows at Navta Schulz Gallery, 1039 West Lake Street, (312)421-5506, through August 26. “Salad Days II” shows at rowlandcontemporary, 1118 West Fulton Market, (312)421-6275, through August 19.