"American Goldfinches," 2008. Courtesy of Klompching Gallery, New York
Is there such an animal as a postmodern bird watcher? Paula McCartney demonstrates that even that is possible in her deep, rich and muted color photographs of various and sundry feathered friends taken at a distance at which they merge into the dense woods that encompass them. “Idyllic” is what McCartney calls her images and we are ready to agree until we find out that the assorted avian creatures are kitschy models that she picked up at craft stores and deployed in her scenes. No problem; McCartney can fool even the most discerning fancier of fowl. For those who are hip to the program, her shots will evoke the smile of absurdity. What else is possible when we peer at a sensuous orange thrush nestled on a branch of a denuded tree in autumn, strive mightily and fruitlessly to admire it, and then remember that it is simply a simulation? (Michael Weinstein)
Through September 26 at the Museum of Contemporary Photography, 600 South Michigan.
"Stonehenge (with Two Persons) Blue," 2005, Mixographia print on handmade paper
Equal parts eye candy and brain-teaser, this gem of an exhibition spans roughly forty years of John Baldessari’s printmaking career.
His signature stock photographic images of figures with their faces painted out by round, color-saturated circles are just the tip of the iceberg for this engaging retrospective. Film stills and collage elements are introduced, with framed pieces grouped together in an over-determined salon style aped by generations of subsequent Southern California artists, most notably the New Folk/Beautiful Losers circuit.
These poignant vignettes, sometimes expressed via chock-a-block arrangements, and sometimes contained within a single, large-format work, employ all the magic of successful surrealist art by beguilingly de-familiarizing the familiar. Read the rest of this entry »
Jennifer Cronin’s nude self-portraits are demure, with wet hair or strategically placed limbs covering other unmentionables. She sets herself against a backdrop of oftentimes Caravaggio-esque, dramatically lit domestic interiors. The bathroom, that most intimate and tight quartered room of the house, features prominently. A student of both art and psychology, and a suburbanite born and raised, Cronin appears as equally uncomfortable in the banal spaces she occupies as she is in her own bare skin. That tension manifests itself in figurative amalgamations, varying in form from the goofy glob to the haunting wispy vapour that accompany her as she squats on the toilet, soaks in the tub or scrutinizes her own reflection in a vanity mirror. The shape-shifting apparitions splinter the intimacy of the scenes, adding their own emotionally charged presence to the composition, sometimes with humor, as they ooze between Cronin’s finger tips, and sometimes as an eerily Hitchcockian stalker, when an outstretched paint stroke issuing from the shadows gropes toward her unsuspecting bare shoulder.
Director of the Elephant Room gallery Kimberly Atwood selected the name for the gallery from the idiomatic “elephant in the room,” hoping that the art on display in the spare but well-finished room would serve as that enormous non-sequitur in need of contemplation and confrontation—and in this suite of paintings, it does. (Thea Nichols)
Through June 12 at Elephant Room Art Gallery, 704 S. Wabash
British photographer Sarah Pickering has devoted herself to documenting in color and black-and-white the sites where first responders train for disasters and civil disorders in environments constructed for the purpose of simulating the dangers that they might have to confront in the real world. Pickering has a special taste for shooting modest rooms that have been set on fire for her and controlled explosions and gas clouds in the fields, but her premier endeavor is her series on Denton, England, a stage-set microcosm of a mid-size city existing only to be the scene of riot training for SWAT teams. When Pickering is around, Denton is depopulated, but signs remain of what the police are meant to control; a barricade of shopping carts, tires and construction boards blocks off an alley framed by dismal working-class flats that are simply facades. Although she has a socially critical intent, Pickering’s images turn out to be politically neutral; those who support the state will be happy that the security forces are sharpening their skills, and opponents of the ruling order will detect the mechanisms of malign power. (Michael Weinstein)
Through May 23 at the Museum of Contemporary Photography, 600 S. Michigan.
Václav Chochola, "Lamp," 1947
From 1967 through 2002, Chicago’s Baruch Gallery played a unique role as the only space outside Czechoslovakia that specialized in showcasing that country’s rich photographic tradition. In putting images from the Baruch collection’s deep reserves on public display at the Museum of Contemporary Photography, curator Karen Irvine has performed a service by exposing the Czech modernist tradition’s variety, ranging from the grandmaster Jan Sudek’s emotive studies of cityscapes and intimate landscapes, through Jaroslav Rossler’s cubist abstractions, to Jan Saudek’s kinky and decadent surrealistic scenarios shot in his basement studio during the Communist era. Spanning the period between the first world war and the early post-Communist years, the images here by nine of the most important Czech photographers will convince the viewer of the pertinence of the widespread critical judgment that mid-twentieth century photography was dominated by France, Germany, the United States and Czechoslovakia. Look at Sudek’s deep and clouded study of a strand of trees in the mist and you will know why Anne Baruch embraced and loved the Czech tradition for its “poetic modernism.” (Michael Weinstein)
Through March 28 at the Museum of Contemporary Photography, 600 S. Michigan.
Štepán Grygar, Street (Prague), 2002.
Tenaciously resistant to postmodern cultural play, the six contemporary Prague-based Czech photographers who have been brought together here by curators Karel Cisar and Karen Irvine continue their country’s poetic modernist tradition with evocative black-and-white and color images of ordinary objects, moody spaces and mild constructivist angle shots that exude worn, tired and poignant emotions that are mirrored in their subjects. Although the curators advise that the show “represents a small, very specific slice of photography in the Czech Republic today,” it remains that such works are rarely being made elsewhere at the present time and are a throwback to the golden age of Czech photography between the two world wars. The restrained mundane sensibility, in which decay is never so rife as to resemble ruins, is most perfectly captured in Marketa Othova’s study of a shiny tiled floor littered with a few dispersed scraps of foam board that appear to have fallen from the ceiling, signaling disrepair that has not come anywhere near the brink of destruction. While the world outside Western Europe forges ahead with bold experiments, these artists look backwards and are frozen into pillars of the past. (Michael Weinstein)
Through March 28 at the Museum of Contemporary Photography, 600 S. Michigan.
The catalog essay that accompanies the exhibition “The Object of Nostalgia” opens with a lengthy Oscar Wilde quote, who insists that we must pay for our emotions, and despite post-modernism’s refutation of the sentimental, it is challenging at best to believe that we are personally paying for anything more than the technologies we hold in our hands to distract us from everything outside the purview of a screen.
Which is why this show caught my attention. Perhaps you, too, will disappear from the catastrophe of human existence and return to the bliss of a time when everyone you knew didn’t tweet their minutiae into space. You can remember how it felt to first understand that you had the ability to make a mark; that your hand could control this marvel, this tool called the “pencil.” You can recall the round-edged family photos which always appeared to be drowning in browns, yellows, drab greens and blues, and frequented by hairstyles you hoped would never resurface. Or maybe it’s just me, and because I’ve reflected—maybe longingly at times—on my own youth, I’ve been able to better gauge my adulthood. You can nearly smell the mothballs of your grandmother’s antique hope chest filled with blankets hand-knitted by relatives from the old country. You can experience how moments of perceptual history float up behind your eyes, a virtual “best” and “worst” greatest-hits of your life. Read the rest of this entry »
Consider for a moment the holiday sweater, that painfully trite accent of the lowbrow winter wardrobe. If it wasn’t an obvious faux-pas to begin with, it has now become a striking cliché, developing its own cult of ironic re-appropriation and parody among the fashionable and the aloof. Rather than relish in this idle mockery, Tyson Reeder, an artist with a penchant for unusual creative situations, has decided to use the holiday-sweater phenomenon as the basis for a collaborative work of art.
Though the holidays have drawn to a close, for the next month Reeder will be offering willing participants the chance to gradually contribute to the relatively amorphous design of an imaginary sweater taking shape, in paint, on a single canvas. Beginning last week, Reeder converted SubCity Projects—an artist-run, micro-exhibition-space—into a participatory public painting studio. He began the basic under-painting of the sweater-in-question himself, but anyone interested in making a subsequent contribution can stop by SubCity Projects—which is normally locked, though the makeshift studio, and painting in progress, remains visible—to schedule a thirty-minute painting session. It is unclear, as of yet, whether plans have been made to exhibit the finished product, but it already seems that it is not necessarily the most important part of the endeavor, which is sure to result in a sweater—albeit imaginary and only existing in representation—more elaborate than anything you will find at a thrift-store or shopping mall. (Nate Lee)
Through January 30 at SubCity Projects, in the Fine Arts Building, 410 S. Michigan, Room 1036.
Infiltrating Chicago gallery spaces with their full-fledged, cutting-edge work that constitutes a genuine avant-garde and blows away domestic products, Chinese photographers now bid fair to take over the city in this show in which a battalion of shooters presents the manifold perspectives that mix and match in the metropolis of Shanghai. Grappling with the destruction of old Shanghai and the disappearance of traditional lifestyles, and the eruption of a postmodern cityscape and its accompanying consumer culture, the contributors are uniformly visual social critics, probing into the glitzy decadence of middle-class high-rise existence, commenting mordantly on the lives of those still trying to cling to the past, and spoofing real estate ads, among any number of other skeptical moves. These artists are not political activists, and one suspects that their cultural approach is deeply rooted in their psyches rather than being a result of a dictatorial regime’s censorship. The banner image in the show is Yong Fudong’s large-format staged color portrait of the “First Intellectual,” a man with wildly tousled hair who stands in the middle of a wide avenue dressed in a business suit and holding a briefcase in one hand and a large brick in other; blood drips from his face and his eyes and lips are agape with bewildered astonishment, indeed panic. A consummate conceptual artist, Fudong explains the image best—the First Intellectual has been wounded, but he cannot decide whether to throw his brick at society or smash it in his own face. Would that the West were so deep and sophisticated, but perhaps senility has set in and ambivalence has taken flight. (Michael Weinstein)
Through December 23 at the Museum of Contemporary Photography, 600 S. Michigan.
When we speak about “the death of print,” what we’re really talking about is the decline of certain assumptions about print media and its claims on authority. “Pearl of the Snowlands: Buddhist Printing at the Derge Parkhang” provides fascinating insight into a culture for whom print remains vital to the transmission of meaning.
The Derge Parkhang is more than a printing house. Established in 1729, it is also a religious temple, a library, a museum and, for hardcore devotees of traditional Tibetan Buddhism, a pilgrimage site and tourist destination, all housed within a single institution—the only one of its kind that has survived in Tibet. (In recent decades the Chinese government has softened its hostile stance towards religion, enabling the Derge Parkhang to thrive).
The exhibition sheds light on the Temple’s inner workings via color photographs taken by Clifton Meador, Director of Columbia College’s MFA program in Interdisciplinary Book and Paper Arts, digital slideshows and a video projection, all of which provide step-by-step documentation of the papermaking and woodblock printing process. The exhibition’s many striking examples of sacred texts (most significantly, the sutra, or
holy scriptures) and thangka (meditational images) printed at the Derge Parkhang show the range of imagery and overall precision of the woodblock printing process. Traditional Tibetan Buddhists confer value and authority to the Derge Parkhang’s copies in part because each is made by human hands. Like the Temple, the woodblocks themselves are considered sacred. Even the water used to wash ink from the printing blocks is given holy status and collected for ritual cleansing and consumption. A bottle of this water sits on
display towards the front of the exhibition, the surprising clarity of its contents a reflection of the Temple’s own supremely focused activities. (Claudine Isé)
Through December 5 at the Center for Book & Paper Arts, 1104 S. Wabash Ave., 2nd floor.