“No Matter Where You Go, There You Are,” oil on panel, 2013
Life is boring. That’s why we need superheroes. They violently and delightfully disembowel the world of complexity and return it to an Edenic garden of unequivocal right and wrong.
The painter Gabriel Mejia’s hero, in his new exhibition “Journey into Whatever” at Bert Green Fine Art, craves this glory but is stunted by necessary, everyday activities. According to his artist statement, Mejia has created a “central deluded misfit who sees himself as masked protagonist whose banal routine mirrors my own.” This masked protagonist rides mass transit, does laundry and lingers in a workplace kitchen.
It’s this tension that hydroplanes across each of Mejia’s paintings and makes them not just humorous, but spot-on modern avatars of impotency. The action of inaction peacocks its way through mundanity sans shame.
Conceptually, Mejia bases his hero on elements derived from an amalgamation of eighty Facebook friends’ profiles who share his name. He is delving into the gap between people’s public and private lives, much in the same way tabloids enjoy breaking and entering into celebrity’s bulletproof facades to ground them in human frailty. Read the rest of this entry »
The exhibition begins outdoors with Sabina Ott’s fountain, a glittery, Styrofoam-encrusted circulating water tank the size of a bathtub, titled “Pleasure for the Poor” (2010). As its title suggests, it would be suitable for the landscape architecture of a place where people must live on impossible dreams. Defying any sense of space, form or proportion, the fountain is as comforting as a giant, melting, multi-flavor ice-cream sundae. That sense of down-scale comfort is projected by the rest of Ott’s pieces in this exhibit—all of them pastel-tinted conglomerations of glass and metal stuck together with sprayed Styrofoam. Absent any visual tension, and with a sweet, then more sweet esthetic, there’s a sense of fun that summons a hilarious party—which is exactly what the artist did, inviting other artist friends and colleagues to participate. Each were asked to contribute something that, like her pieces, is prominently colored white. The variety of responses is fascinating, but mostly they function like the strainer at the bottom of a kitchen sink, catching the random detritus of human experience. Read the rest of this entry »
Tony Tasset, “Robert Smithson (Las Vegas),” 1995
By Jason Foumberg
The exhibition begins on the left, and ends nowhere. The MCA’s expansive new group show, “The Way of the Shovel: Art as Archaeology,” bores wormholes through the Rocky Mountains, to Baghdad and Belarus and over the North Pole, through the psyche and into the past. “The past is a foreign country,” wrote L. P. Hartley, and artists are explorers. This is the guiding theme of curator Dieter Roelstraete’s exhibition, which tasks itself with explaining nothing less than the history of the Western world—and who has access to it. The ambitious exhibition with an international roster of artists is “a philosophical speculation,” explained Roelstraete at the media preview. Roelstraete’s show proposes that artists create art, and make meaning, in a new way. That is, artists dig, uncover, exhume, mine, bring to light (and other “digging” synonyms) issues and characters from the past. What artists find (artifacts, secrets, ghosts) is of equal importance to how they found it (research, inquiries, investigations). There are no accidents in this show, only strategies. Read the rest of this entry »
Robert Guinan, “At the Double Door,” 2008
“To Live by Night” invites comparison between two very different visions of night: the acrylic-on-canvas paintings of Robert Guinan, and the charcoal-on-paper drawings of Mary Livoni.
Guinan is a great action painter—not the action of an arm wielding a brush, but the narrative action of his subjects, depicted with strong, dynamic contour lines. The subject, often a nightclub entertainer or habitué, goes directly onto the canvas, but the thin paint and dusty colors suggest that we’re looking at memories rather than at the actual scene. What’s remarkable is that these memories feel so alive, even though some of them must date back to the artist’s youth. Flashes of bright color bring the feelings into the present, while the grayish backgrounds push them back into the past. Though sketchy, the surrounding pictorial space feels complex and real. The artist, having found some moments in his life to be intriguing, now lives comfortably with his memories of them. Read the rest of this entry »
There’s something rough and persistent about the cityscapes of Errol Jacobson that mirrors his own life in Chicago, and his many careers as pool shark, entrepreneur of women’s shoes and creator of custom welded furniture. Any city street or monument may become the subject of his painting. Some of them are done on-site, but the best ones were made from photos shot through his car’s front window as he drove through the city working his current job as an independent real estate appraiser. Often the shots were taken at night, often it was raining, and usually the car window was dirty—but he manages to pull it all together as he pushes the oil paint into a compelling vision. There’s always a strong sense of where he is going with no particular attention to peripheral details. Read the rest of this entry »
Dread Scott, “Money to Burn,” 2010
The sound of the artist Dread Scott chanting “money to burn—money to burn” in a rhythmic cadence accompanies the visitor for the duration of their visit to the group exhibition “It’s the Political Economy, Stupid.” It is the soundtrack to a recorded performance in which Scott offered passersby on Wall Street the opportunity to actually burn bills, which were affixed to the artist’s body. The curators were wise to carry Scott’s singsong cry through the entire show. It is a vaguely irrational and simultaneously reassuring aural message.
“Money to Burn” is one of more than ten videos in this diverse collection of work interrogating what the organizers of the exhibition, Gregory Sholette and Oliver Ressler, call “our present day circumstances of unrelenting economic crisis, authoritarian drift and rapidly failing states.”
A catalogue of techniques, from talking heads to animation, lures viewers into various understandings of how capital works: why banks and economies collapse, resistance to austerity and a variety of political critiques of what most contributors to the exhibit see as floundering systems. Read the rest of this entry »
“Kingdom of Obviousness”
A dyed-in-the-wool poetic photographer of the northern New England landscape, Ron Cowie shoots muted, middle-distance, black-and-white studies of the seashore (“Oceanhead Meditations” series), and woods and country roads (“Leaving Babylon” series). Enveloping the viewer in a peaceful and vibrant sensibility, Cowie achieves that effect by platinum palladium printing, which widens the tonal range further than the more familiar silver gelatin print, making the sights more subtle and soft without blurring them, as pictorialist photography does in its attempt to imitate impressionist painting. As far from graphic as decidedly straight photography can get, Cowie’s images radiate their sensibility, while keeping the subject separate from the viewer, setting up an intense appreciative experience in which the viewer is drawn into the mood that the photographer projects in order to contemplate rather than participate in the scene. Read the rest of this entry »
Depending on the level of engagement one has with the works of seminal hard rock band Led Zeppelin, they can be everything from electric gospel, brought down from the mountain by the deified manipulators of His six-stringed herald, to self-indulgent cock rock from faux gods whose masturbatory manipulating of phallic implements on a stage brought testifying men and genuflecting women to amass at their feet. The key, of course, is that both definitions are right, in so much as these things can be, depending on the ipseity of the consumer.
Karolina Gnatowski’s exhibition “Lined Pages” is at once fan service, psalm and subversion of the false notion that popularity is anathema to artistry; in using techniques and mediums considered by some textile artists to be outdated or uncool, rendering a figure some consider outdated or uncool (Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page), and making materials and man look decidedly cool again, Gnatowski brings to the forefront our relationship with Jovian cultural influences. Page’s ZoSo logo, a t-shirt trope or banal tattoo, is a captivating nebula of buttons here; Gnatowski’s five Pages can be taken at face value, as whimsical representations of a towering figure sketched out, or can be engaged, parsed and purveyed like one of Zeppelins’ songs, the various findings of meanings uncovered and treasured. Read the rest of this entry »
Newcity is thrilled to acknowledge that contributing writer Pedro Vélez has been selected as a participating artist in the 2014 Whitney Biennial. Vélez has contributed criticism to Newcity’s art section since 2010. He will join sixteen other Chicago-based artists in the forthcoming exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art. You can read a selection of his writing by clicking: here. Congrats Pedro!
“I want things to be a little difficult so you have to confront these images and negotiate your own stakes and the ways you are implicated in them,” explains Lauren Edwards on the eve of her upcoming exhibition “In the Turn.” Edwards, who completed her MFA at UIC earlier this year, uses found images she sources from the Internet and sculptural installations that aim to consider the psychological ways images are apprehended and used to script an understanding of one’s environment. Often employing pictures of nondescript landscapes, Edwards aims to call attention to how viewers create meaning and context for what they encounter. “These things are totally unspecific,” she says. “Using these images of nonspecific places is a way to underscore this liminal threshold space.” Read the rest of this entry »