I wasn’t prepared to be impressed by Western Exhibitions’ iteration of Mark Wagner’s ongoing project with the dollar bill and the occasional higher denomination. For several years, Wagner has produced highly literate, intricate US currency collages that use its intrinsic patterning and often minute shapes to recreate familiar images, such as Leonardo’s Vitruvian Man (now, Vitruvian Ben), in a ubiquitous, symbolic material. Examples of this meticulous, almost obsessive construction are on view at Western Exhibitions, and so is his process. I wasn’t sure what to expect from an artist with such a limited (though well-received) focus, and I’ve seen few exhibitions about process more Duchampian—a strategic game of revealing everything while explaining nothing—but the inclusion of Wagner’s studio objects and notes so enliven the room that it’s impossible not to enjoy the poetic and comical visual and linguistic collisions brought about by these moments of hasard. The objects are arranged in sculptural compositions that resemble the found-object groupings of Surrealism or Dada. The first of these demonstrates the kind of resonance that Wagner has successfully located between his sketches, notes (to call mom, to remember to spell certain words correctly, to make art) and the varied objects that occupy his studio. Pinned to the wall are six studio notes, including a white page embossed (in white) with “Chapter 42: The Whiteness of the Whale.” Below it, on a pedestal, a dowel and an Exacto knife form a makeshift harpoon complimented by a block of wood with the inscription: “Whosoever raises me that white whale.” This kind of repetition and visual symmetry is obvious in his collages, but it is refined by the interplay between them and the emptiness of “Pregnant Pause,” “Invisible Ink” and “Carte Blanche.” (Rachel Furnari)
Through May 10 Western Exhibitions, 1821 West Hubbard, (312)307-4685.