As a part of the continuing survey of fresh-faced Chicago art at the MCA, called “12×12,” the curators present another take on abstract painting, this time by Paula Henderson. Henderson’s socially, historically and racially aware paintings contain a range of discernable references. Forming the main structure of the similarly sized and regularly spaced paintings is the aerial outline of a basketball court. The out-of-bounds lines are repeated in different sizes and colors across the canvas. The multiplied court’s geometric grid forms the basis for painterly allusions to early modernists such as Mondrian and Paul Klee. Several other canvases build the courts into patterns calling to mind African textiles. Titles such as “Royal Schemata” and “Border Patrol” hint to a power struggle within the paintings. All of this adds up to an attempt to forge a continuing and effective commentary on the dynamics of social power in contemporary life by modifying a pivotal moment in painting historically decided by white men. The success of this approach depends on the empathy that the paintings themselves can garner. When the paintings fail it is because of inattentive painting in comparison to the high standards of her predecessors. But for the most part, Paula Henderson’s works deliver. (Dan Gunn)
Through January 27 at Museum of Contemporary Art, 220 East Chicago.