Molly Zuckerman-Hartung’s paintings are baffling. They’re not simply pretty messes, as so many gestural abstract paintings are these days. In some ways they’re like spilt milk or grass stains. They whisper, stretch, slip and stumble. Elegant details such as sewn pleats are obscured by hastily drizzled paint and globs of wax. Delicate patterns are smeared and smudged. Wet paint is smooshed. Nothing is sacred.
“Violet Fogs Azure Snot” is Zuckerman-Hartung’s second solo exhibition at the gallery. Nine new large-scale paintings are on canvas, linen, dropcloth and found fabric—folded, creased, patched and sewn. Creamy raw canvas, muted pink and black color blocking has replaced the neon splatters of former paintings. Her work appears matured, but still experimental. There is more space but plenty of texture. For every bold move there are fifty tiny marks. A stain here, a slice there: a couple paintings feature repetitive notch marks made with bleach and enamel paint. These are constant reminders of the artist’s eccentric, unsteady hand.
Zuckerman-Hartung has received a lot of attention lately. She is, for example, one of seventeen Chicago artists participating in the 2014 Whitney Biennial. Her name inevitably comes up in painter’s circles and shoptalk. Even though there are almost seventy years of tradition behind it, loose, non-representational paintings are now compared to hers at art openings in Chicago. She’s well read and she spews theory like hiccups. Her lectures are packed with information and scatterbrained, so she often pauses, backtracks and skips forward. Her work is successful in that it represents that thought pattern impeccably, and this show in particular feels like one of her reflective pauses.
Aspects of these paintings might make you wonder what she was thinking. Parts seem discordant, overworked, even dragged through the mud. Some might say ugly. But that adds intrigue to the work. Why make an ugly painting? Maybe it’s a reflection of real life with its ugly moments, like stubbed toes and existential dread. You can see both in her paintings, along with a good amount of optimism, to be fair. Simply pretty painting is easy on the eyes, but these paintings aim for the gut. (Kelly Reaves)
Through March 15 at Corbett vs. Dempsey, 1120 North Ashland.