The creatures in Ericailcane’s show “Muffins” are rendered in drawing, print media, video and painted mural on the walls of the Italian Cultural Institute’s gallery. The works leave one with a sense of despondent, giggly bewilderment. An elephant in boots and coattails covetously guards a pile of muffins. A toad smokes a cigarette, his toady grimace become a gruff world-weariness. Caught somewhere between human engagement and animal inscrutability, the creatures here are at once inquisitive and indifferent, perturbed and intrigued, cold and affectionate. Strains of allegory and metamorphosis abound: an Arcimboldo-like squidman lurches forward in one work, composed of overlapping mantles and tentacles. In another, a rabbit and a skeleton brandish watches at each other, a sort of strange animal version of Dürer’s memento mori engravings. The Italian artist is well known in Europe for his murals and graffiti, and his work has a political element that doesn’t come across in the current show, his first solo exhibition in the U.S. But it’s still a great introduction for American audiences to the strange humor and particular style that characterize his work. The technique is dead-on (darkly etched bristles of fur contrasting with thin, sure contour lines), as is the emotional pitch: the artist has an eerie knack for finding that in-between space where pity and empathy coexist. You want to laugh at the pathetic things at the same time that you recognize their follies (petulance, clumsiness, loneliness, confusion). The resulting protagonists are disquietingly endearing, a kind of furry metaphor of human isolation and mistrust. (Emily Warner)
Through September 2 at Italian Cultural Institute, 500 N. Michigan Ave, #1450, (312)822-9545.