In this exhibition of three-dimensional art, the most exciting pieces are John Seubert’s “Crash Tables,” which serve as pedestals for work done by others. Seubert seems to be primarily concerned with creating visual excitement. He collects the arms and legs of broken wood furniture and reassembles them into vibrant conglomerations that twist off the floor into all kinds of elegant craziness while still arriving at a perfectly horizontal surface at the top. Their intensity recalls the garrulous root-wood furniture used by the Qianlong Emperor in the Forbidden City. By comparison, everything else in this show feels lifeless and static, however well-made, clever, or humorous.
Most static of all is the heavy metal furniture fabricated by Jim Rose, but that quality plays well against its quilt-like strips of painted and weathered steel. It’s an odd combination of post-industrial fatigue with decorative whimsy that seems all about Chicago.
The most ambitious work in the show, of standing figures, comes from the two sculptors, Dean Kugler and Jésus Curiá Perez. The postures and anatomy of Kugler’s figures express a distinctly American brand of heroism: natural, individualistic and self-involved. And yet they are most remarkable for their surfaces. His faux rusted-steel-patina over cast resin is convincing, and he uses crushed glass to fill figures hollow-cast in clear resin. These are interesting effects though they seem to suggest nothing more than his ability to do them. The standing figures by Spanish sculptor Jésus Curiá Perez deliver the more European ideals of collective action and responsibility. Their faces are as inexpressive as the masked performers of the Blue Man Group. And once again, it is the decorative surfaces of bronze and wood that draw the most attention. Formal and spatial energies are apparently not a big issue for either of these sculptors, so their human figures retreat from the surrounding space and the pieces feel like decorative accents rather than demanding statements.
The four other figurative sculptors aim for humorous, cute or folksy effects. Most playful among them are Sandy Kaplan’s ceramics. They transform the paintings of Frida Kahlo and Réne Magritte into cheerful ceramic sculptures that can join you in the living space of your apartment. The ambiance of the original images is lost in translation, but all that surreal weirdness is best kept safely within the frame of a painting anyway.
Overall, most of the pieces in this show succeed by being quirky. The two non-figurative sculptors, Jerilyn Virden and Chris Hill, however, appear to be practicing conventional twentieth-century abstract Modern art. Their work is well made, but it does bring to mind other work that is similar but more exciting. That’s a risk taken by those who align themselves with a tradition, but it’s still a risk worth taking. (Chris Miller)
“3-D” shows through December 22 at Gallery Victor Armendariz, 300 West Superior (312)722.6447, galleryvictor.com