Marion Kryczka’s well-made, highly ordered, masculine vision of reality may fit the blue-collar streets of Chicago, but he’s been peripheral to the contemporary art world. Kryczka’s work also lacks either the photo finish and sentimentality, or the anger and ugly distortions that other corners of the art world might appreciate, and he’s not even goofy, damaged or unsophisticated enough to qualify as an outsider.
As critic G. Jurek Polanski wrote about Kryczka’s 1999 exhibit in the Fine Arts Building, “The variety of pieces tell a story, one in which each work, while complete in itself, is placed to build a context with its companions and comprehensively reveal the artist’s personality.” And the same is true today, although the story is changing, as the artist mellows into his sixties. The still-lifes include the same dead fish, sharp knives and bottles of alcohol on low-rent kitchen counters that he’s been painting for decades. But the light feels less harsh, the whiskey has been replaced by wine, and fish seem almost happy to be offering their tender, pink, slaughtered flesh.
There are also some genres that weren’t there twelve years ago. Two magnificent winter cityscapes of his North Side neighborhood tout Chicago as an energetic, seasoned, comfortable metropolis. Most remarkable are three views of the Donald Judd sculpture park in rural Texas. Judd’s minimalist stainless-steel cubes are the cold, hard face of the industrial world. But set into a bright, sunlit gallery, Kryczka has co-opted the reflective surfaces of sculpture to meditate on beautiful impermanence, just as Monet did with Rouen Cathedral. As with every painting in this exhibition, each brushstroke and patch of color not only defines a recognizable piece of reality, it also participates in the dynamics of a very tight design. And there are no people. It’s just the man behind the paintbrush and the quiet world in which he lives. If there will ever be a local museum devoted to Chicago art, it’s my guess that Marion Kryczka’s work will be there. Not because it reflects the trends of Chicago art (it doesn’t), but because it reflects so many lives that have been built here. (Chris Miller)
Through July 3 at the Chicago Cultural Center, 78 East Washington.