Rodrigo Lara Zendejas. “Installation components / componentes de la instalación,” 2015. Ceramic, 24 x12 x12 inches each, photo: Michael Tropea.
This modest exhibition of new, site-specific work by Mexican artist Rodrigo Lara Zendejas brings to light a shameful and little known piece of United States history. From 1929 to 1939, the federal government authorized the repatriation of nearly one million people of Mexican descent because these so-called freeloading, disease-ridden, illiterate people were taking away “American jobs for real Americans,” as President Hoover’s campaign slogan stated. Mexicans, who comprised the largest immigrant population at the time, were understood to be a particularly potent threat during the inordinate economic hardship of the Great Depression. Zendejas’ counter-memorials evoke this time. His sculpted traces of human likeness on thumb-shaped objects and a sculptural interpretation of an identification card help us face this dark past and understand its legacy in the present.
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Statue of Wei Tuo/The Field Museum
Museums such as the Field face significant challenges in their efforts to liven up old collections while accounting for significant developments in historical and anthropological scholarship. The 9,000 square feet of exhibition space in the newly opened Cyrus Tang Hall of China is entertaining enough to captivate visitors of all ages, but it can only provide a cursory introduction to 5,000 years of Chinese civilization, though a much more serious and informative story about earth and its creatures might be told online, where there is infinite space for interactive audios, visuals and texts. Read the rest of this entry »
Julie Green. “The Last Supper,” 2000-ongoing. Installation view of 357 plates in the 2009 exhibition “Counter Intelligence,” California State University, Los Angeles.
From a Missouri grand jury’s decision not to indict officer Darren Wilson in the fatal shooting of an unarmed Michael Brown in Ferguson, to the sentencing of Boston Bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to death, our flawed criminal justice system is ever present in our lives. Julie Green’s set of 600 plates illustrating the final meals of U.S. death row inmates helps us remember the human lives behind the news. Read the rest of this entry »
Alison Ruttan in her installation “A Line in the Sand,” at the Chicago Cultural Center
“My husband says the FBI knows what I’m doing because I have a heat signature constantly going,” chuckles artist Alison Ruttan as she leads me into the basement of her cozy Oak Park home. We pass from her living room lined with artworks by Ruttan’s husband Scott Stack and neighbor Sabina Ott into a series of chamber-like rooms with low ceilings and cement floors, all brimming with remnants of unused pieces from “if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail,” which occupies the Cultural Center’s three Michigan Avenue galleries. Read the rest of this entry »
Leslie Baum + Allison Wade. Drunken Geometry, installation view, February 2015.
“Drunken Geometry,” the new collaborative exhibition by Leslie Baum and Allison Wade, is a risky proposition. By tackling the classic conventions and traditions associated with the still life, these two Chicago-based artists seek to extend our preexisting notions of the genre by, in effect, taking them apart. The approach is as pregnant with possibility as it is fraught with travails.
Sculptural formulations are particularly susceptible to problems inherent to deconstruction since a table displayed without substantive transformation remains merely a table, an artifact of our mundane world rather than an active agent in the world of art. Though reasonable people can (and should) disagree, objects placed within the environs of gallery are not art by default. The wall-mounted “Many Things Conspired #1” as well as the floor-bound “New Things (the persistence of ordered objects) #1,” which both seem a little too self-satisfied as minimally altered objects, are the most problematic in this regard. Read the rest of this entry »
Nate Young. Installation view of “Untitled (Pulpit No. 1),” 2014, and “Untitled (Altar No. 1),” 2015
By Matt Morris
Is art that appears to be “about art” ever only limited to that scope of investigation? I’d say it’s doubtful, mostly because mechanisms of power reproduce themselves throughout social institutions, so to reflect upon the constitutive components of an artistic medium (as well as its historical and contemporary contexts) possesses at least the potential of a transferrable method by which one might fashion new freedoms—not through a rebellion from upheld traditional forms but through critical relationships to them. The monochrome continues to do this. Distilled to an uninterrupted plane, color, texture, scale and the tools for applying material (all usually in some way present in most artworks) are amplified, inviting investigation into the parts that comprise the art. In the best of cases, consideration of the conditions of display is inspired as well. The monochrome as a form also holds up under projections: historically used for such diverse conceptual conceits as Suprematism, color field painting, the “radical painting group,” and most recently one of several working modes bizarrely attributed by Ken Johnson to “soccer mom” aesthetics. A century after Kazimir Malevich painted his canvas “Black Square” in 1915, artists continue figuring out how to take apart the language of art-making so that the parsed vocabulary can speak to the power of the entire system. Read the rest of this entry »
Alex Bradley Cohen and Marissa Neuman. “Living to Work Together,” installation view at Roman Susan
“Please take off your shoes” welcomes viewers as they enter Roman Susan to seek refuge from the barren cold. Playfully enhanced with black painted bubble letters and animated stick-like legs, the five words sprawl across the front wall of the gallery. Their placement is not only a polite request for compliance, but also an invitation to actively participate. Take off your shoes, as to not ruin the floor. Take off your shoes, so your feet may stand where ours have.
In Alex Bradley Cohen and Marissa Neurman’s collaborative room-sized installation piece, “Living to Work Together,” a mixture of primary colors and bold shapes have been stitched, painted, stapled and strung across all facades of the space, beginning with the floor. The carpeting has been transformed into a type of jigsaw puzzle composed of large triangular pieces of felt that have been first fitted and then visibly sewn together. The sharp shapes further reinforce the abnormal, angular floor plan of the gallery, as do a series of patterned ceramic pieces that politely form a line on a shelf that stretches diagonally in front of the gallery’s storefront window. In the window hang three large-scale felt tapestries that lack the calculated, flat appearance of the floor; instead their odd shapes and snippets of varying colors layer atop each other like unmixed paint on a canvas. Read the rest of this entry »
Shio Kusaka. Installation of ceramic pots currently on view at Shane Campbell Gallery.
Japanese-born, American-trained ceramicist Shio Kusaka appears to be standing in both worlds. Formally, she’s one-hundred percent Japanese, making the cups and bowls of conventional Japanese pottery with a simple, gentle, flowing, balanced, slightly off-kilter, understated sense of design and craftsmanship. Every detail is rewarding—from the firm footing, through the delicate thin walls, up to the inviting, sharply drawn orifice. But conceptually, she’s a contemporary American artist, hunting for that mysterious, ever-alluring boundary between tiresome banality and unique revelation. Read the rest of this entry »
Josef Strau. “Raft,” 2014
The application referenced in the title of Josef Strau’s first museum exhibition in the United States, “The New World Application for Turtle Island,” is a fantastical art-and-text alternative to the formal procedures for a green card, and Turtle Island is a name given to the North American continent by its indigenous peoples. The Renaissance Society is filled with the Austrian-born nomad’s sensitively indulgent bricolage of Americana used to deconstruct histories of European invasion and colonization alongside his more personal accounts of exploring the United States and Mexico. Strau poses uneasy questions about the ethics and aesthetics that accompany cultural trade, not least of all his globetrotting presence as an after-effect of prior violent usurpations of place. His knowingly disjointed installation grapples with the conditions of being an outsider—and perhaps more confounding, an insider—in these places he holds dear. Read the rest of this entry »
Eliza Myrie. “diamond, diamond, graphite,” graphite and paper, dimensions variable
In “go/figure,” Eliza Myrie and Daniel Giles converse over problems with abstraction, distortion and obfuscation of black bodies’ representations. Their respective historical research and process-based practices make manifest obscured features in histories of African mining and the craft objects of black slaves in the American South. Read the rest of this entry »