What first comes to mind when I think of collage? I picture adhesives and ephemera being used in a two-dimensional scale. Unfortunately, I also think about Pinterest and capitalism, and how the general population has hijacked the collage, turning the medium into a selfish “board” of desires. Chicago Urban Art Society’s second installment of the group show “Medley” is a much needed palate cleanse for me. It reminds that collage is much more than nostalgia and ephemera ((I promised (promised!) myself I wouldn’t use the word “ephemera” in this review, and now I’ve already done it twice.)). “Medley” shows that the art form of assemblage is amorphous and untethered. This is the good side of collage.
Here, there are three-dimensional artworks composed of bike reflectors, destroyed iPhones, nuts and bolts, and metal springs. There are unframed collages where cutout photographs of animals project outward like a pop-up book. Some of the artwork has been coated in resin, giving it the sheen of a tabletop in a diner. There are collages that step away from analog techniques, digitally printed pieces that are surreal and meticulously detailed.
But don’t let me dismiss the endeavors of adhesives, clippings and the second dimension, because some of my favorite pieces at the gallery were two-dimensional compositions made from disparate (yet wonderfully harmonious) cutouts. Whenever artists like John Whitlock and Richard Vergez—both are featured at “Medley—can execute shape and texture and color as well as they do, I don’t really care what dimension they choose to work in.
Not only does “Medley” showcase different techniques, but it also gives the viewer a global understanding of the collage, featuring international artists like Caco Neves from Sao Paulo, Brazil and Ashkan Honarvar from Trondheim, Norway, while also representing local Chicago artists like Emily Haasch and Michael Waraksa. The variety of country and culture provides some insight as to how the art is evolving worldwide, and it also creates a diverse panorama of iconography throughout the exhibition.
It was the wide breadth of interpretation that made this show linger in my head. As I left the gallery it began to snow on that April night, but I didn’t care. I didn’t care about the ugly side of collage that mucked up my search engine, either, the wedding boards and baby-shower planning, because all of the images and thoughts in my head were fresh and unexpected. (Todd Renier)
Through May 31 at Chicago Urban Art Society, 600 West Cermak, unit 1B.