“Third Mind,” a mid-career survey of LA-based artist Richard Hawkins’ art work, opened this October at the Art Institute of Chicago, and will travel in early spring to the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles. The exhibition reveals Hawkins’ breadth and variety of media, including drawing, collage, assemblage, inkjet prints and painting. Two abstract paintings, “Pink Feather” and “Bad Medicine,” are collages of used clothes and towels covered in thick swaths of color. Each canvas dawns a feather protruding from their sides reminiscent of Joan Miró’s “Man, Women, and Bull” of 1935 in the Art Institute’s collection.
Hawkins’ works deals insightfully with male queerness by representing its negotiation with a system that encourages both its assimilation and its exploitation in media imagery. Hawkins moves through various cultural examples, from John Wayne Gacy (a painting by the incarcerated killer sent to Hawkins is shown in the museum’s library), to male heavy-metal icons, to native peoples in various states of cultural loss, to the puritanically censored sexuality within classical sculpture. In this task the methods of his collage, bluntly combining handwritten text, abstract mark-making and printed images, serve him well. The slipshod quality of magazine cutouts brazenly paperclipped to their destination affects a directness that reads as the unmitigated activity of an individual, thereby reclaiming the subject matter as the act of an actual human being.
The final room in the exhibition contains Hawkins’ haunted houses, twisted and compiled dollhouse fragments lit eerily from the inside. Compared to the Art Institute’s Thorne Miniature Rooms, the houses seem cartoonish with their rickety floorboards and dilapidated exteriors painted dark grays and purples. The houses look like scale models from a Tim Burton movie, thereby staging a kind of achieved emptiness. But here, too, there is a play between interior and exterior, between authentic and fake. Deep inside one work, “The Last House,” scrawled repeatedly on a wall is a phrase that is only visible through a small circular window. In order to read the wall one must shift back and forth adjusting oneself to the artwork’s address, illustrating how desire can breed even a small act of negotiation. (Dan Gunn)
Through January 16 at the Art Institute of Chicago, 111 South Michigan.