The rotunda of the Elks Veterans Memorial may not be the best place to display sculpture. Whatever light filters down from the windows high up in the dome is not enough to bring the forms, colors and textures of sculptural surfaces to life. The only spotlights are those that illuminate the dramatic, though fatigued, figure sculpture of James Earle Fraser (1876-1953) permanently installed in a niche within the surrounding wall. As it echoes the dome above it, the monumental mushroom-shaped, bent-wood construction by Terrence Karpowicz is the only piece in the Chicago Sculpture International 2014 Biennial Exhibition that seems to belong in this dim, enormous space. And as with all the other sculptures in metal, glass or even 3-D printed resin, the artist’s craftsmanship is the first thing that you notice. Craftsmanship, rather than any kind of shared aesthetic or philosophy, seems to be what defines the organization to which these sculptors belong.
The sculptural and pictorial program on the surrounding walls of the Memorial puts this exhibition of contemporary sculpture into an historical context. There isn’t much enthusiasm any more for the generic idealism of themes like “Brotherhood,” “Charity” and “Fidelity,” which in the Memorial feels as shallow as the op-ed section of a daily tabloid. Today, it’s every mind for itself, which isn’t necessarily any better. Most of the CSI sculptures feel cute, clever and well made enough to attract attention to themselves but not to anything greater. They don’t really enhance each other. Ironically, they do succeed at “Invoking the Absence,” the title given by the curator to this exhibition. But if these artworks were better lit—and shown within retrospectives of each individual artist—they might turn out to be far more compelling situated into stories of the creative minds that made them. (Chris Miller)
Through October 26 at the Elks National Veterans Memorial, 2750 North Lakeview.