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Review: Criteria/A+D Gallery

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“This exhibition is about sustainability,” a wall text declares at the beginning of “Criteria.” What the show is not about, curators Jimena Acosta and Emiliano Godoy stress, is “green design, ecology, environmentalism” and other hot-button issues. The effort to distinguish their goals from those other movements’ lies partly in the organizers’ overtly fatalistic outlook. None of that ‘we can do it if we try (and buy green)’ brand of consumer-oriented optimism; this show wants to drill us out of complacency by confronting the miserable human costs of unsustainable growth.

At this, it largely succeeds. “Criteria” is beautifully installed, providing an aesthetically compelling framework for its grim subject matter. The coupling of artists and up-and-coming designers heightens the sense that this is a laboratory for ideas. Most of the design is more conceptual than practical in nature. For example, a network of stoneware piggy banks with curlicue incandescent bulbs doubling as tails, and a wax pendent lamp that melts when illuminated question wasteful patterns of energy consumption without being useful themselves.

The show’s large-scale color photographs tend towards the “vast gorgeous wasteland” variety that’s become a photographic cliché, but at least in this context they retain their essential bleakness. As is common in thematic shows, the curators have selected works that further their own agenda but threaten to slide into “message art” territory. Good art is polysemic; good design, concise. The show’s most memorable projects fall into the latter category, but so provocative are its underlying principles that everyone’s work is shown to its best advantage. (Claudine Isé)

Through February 28 at A+D Gallery, 619 S. Wabash.

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