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Review: Margo Hoff/Corbett vs. Dempsey Gallery

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"Siesta Upstairs," c. 1945, oil on panel

"Siesta Upstairs," c. 1945, oil on panel

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“There is a living, moving geometry in a city, and it tells a human story,” Margo Hoff (1910-2008) explained to an art magazine in 1963, and that’s pretty much the story of her painting, from the thirty years spent in Chicago, to her following five decades in New York.  The current retrospective, at Corbett vs. Dempsey, shows just how much those stories changed after she left Chicago at age fifty. The Windy City was full of mysteries for this Oklahoma girl, and her paintings are small windows into urban life, usually nocturnal. What are those strange neighbors doing tonight, anyway? Moving to New York, she felt more like one of the crowd—a bustling, thrilling, restless crowd, and her paintings began to resemble vibrant, folksy art quilts. Indeed, she had begun cutting painted canvas into pieces and then pasting them all together, with a very precise sense of design, into collage, full of brilliant colors, sharp edges, and rhythmic energy. Was she going to the jazz clubs to hear Monk, Davis and ‘Trane? She went to a lot of places, teaching classes in Uganda, Beirut, and Sao Paolo, as she had at Hull House, and just seemed to have an endless enjoyment and curiosity about the world. “A hospitality of heart,” as one friend put it. More understated, but still quite enjoyable, are a few of the urban geometries of contemporary Chicago painter and post-rock musician, Sam Prekop, which play, like a b-side, in the east wing of the  gallery. Visiting this show will likely be the highlight of any dark, wintry day in Chicago. (Chris Miller)

Through January 16 at Corbett vs. Dempsey, 1120 N. Ashland.

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