No matter how much white Valspar goes into turning industrial lofts into blank spaces for high-art contemplation, the red-wine trail and social-calendar truth is that most exhibitions are born first as well-lit parties without music. For Paul Cowan, sculptor-turned-painter with a tactical sense of art humor, this ironic dichotomy was enough to build an exhibition around. In “Breaking the Law,” Cowan’s latest at new West Loop space Alderman Exhibitions, the artist made his fun by embellishing his paintings with colorful helium balloons. These were stuck floating in gangs at the entrance; in the space, their laces tethered around a lump of damp sculptor’s clay; or wedged behind Cowan’s quick-drawn paintings, propping them away from the wall. The paintings themselves looked just along for the ride, each tooting a single note in oil-stick on canvas, silently secondary to the installation as a whole. As expected, the opening’s atmosphere was somewhere between birthday party and contemplative art event, but by the end of the night, the punch lines started rolling as these balloons wandered and sagged like drunken guests, leaking helium, and eventually sank to the floor. As they dropped from behind paintings, the canvases fell to their traditional positions against the wall, setting up the rest of the exhibition’s five-week run with the dull topper, “but seriously, folks…” (Steve Ruiz)
Through May 16 at Alderman Exhibitions, 350 North Ogden, 450E.