It’s a seventeen-minute walk from the nearest El stop to Corbett vs. Dempsey’s new loft-like Fulton Street location. Past Goose Island, more breweries, warehouses and ample parking, C vs. D situates their new digs in a big-ol’ post-industrial, stake-your-claim part of town. Once inside, the immediate reception desk and staging area open into the large, high-ceilinged main showroom. This cavernous space, the south gallery, is made slightly warmer by natural raw wood columns and ceiling for a homespun luxe feel, a nod to the intimacy of their former space. But the new flagship sacrifices the old charm at the altar of ambition. C vs. D means business and are cutting the fat. Combining a commitment to painting with this increase in scope enabled their inaugural show of monumental works by Christopher Wool.
For their second painting show in the new space, C vs. D presents Chicago native son, Hairy Who original, stylistic hardliner, figurative contortionist and shining wit Karl Wirsum. Eight modest-sized acrylic paintings on canvas and shaped panels cling to the white walls of the gallery. Their glossy, plasticized surfaces beam light across the room through reflective, high-keyed colors and candy coatings. The shaped panels activate the walls with their twisted and flattened abstracted bodily forms. Hung at varying heights, they work like characters from a decontextualized animation cel. A highlight, the diptych ”Geezer Gazing Geyser,” a symmetrical, fire-engine-red fountain form, and its partner, a figural shape in fluorescing colors, pushes and pulls against the wall-as-background. Across the gallery, hung high overhead like retail or bar signage, ”Armageddon” symmetrically composes four chartreuse crescent moons as portraits in profile on a blue-and-gray field within the panel’s quirky elongated parameters. These works’ physicality is accentuated by an inch of distance between the object and the wall and a barely perceptible reflected light cast from the panel’s back.
Their implied dancing is punctuated by the pared-down rectangular canvases of singular imagistic bodies smacked onto the surfaces of flat color backgrounds. Throughout the canvases, the colors are precise yet strange. Less electric than the shaped panels and more ominous, as in the gray-black-pink-green painting, ”Give a Hand for Applause Claws.” The characters are stripped of any painterly mark through their printed, tight, line and formal quality. This crisp, expressionless hand wavers only once, in the 2014 work ”Sigh Clip Pity Clops” through a shake in a gradient outline between the cycloptic figure and the flat, mustard-yellow proscenium it butts against.
There is a stoic nobility to the show and a striking simplicity to the iconic lone subjects. Between the straitlaced construction, mania of formal, figurative distortions, color and self-deprecating titling, cognitive dissonance occurs. Despite the fastidious attention to craft, the works are admirably vulnerable, with even a whiff of pathos. This solo show represents the octogenarian artist’s first new body of work in six years. Wirsum seems to be as reflective in the work as the surfaces themselves. The bodies constrained and isolated in screen-like glowing paint, bring humanity to the machined touch. In C vs. D’s huge new space these paintings poetically point to the location of the human psyche and aging artist in our rapidly paced culture of expansion in the digital age. (Alex Keller)
Karl Wirsum through June 22 at Corbett vs. Dempsey, 2156 West Fulton.