Patience and skill are evident. With every fading or aberrant line, the artist has carefully suggested an overall composition without crossing the threshold that might deliver aesthetic rapture (and yes, her depiction of an architectural threshold to suggest a conceptual one is indeed intentional). There are thousands if not millions of such lines in every piece in this show—which includes paintings and drawings—it’s quite an achievement. As the work appears more cerebral than emotional, viewers are invited to recognize their own intelligence, education and status without really needing to exercise it. Cogitation trumps feeling, and the suggestion of thought trumps the need to think very hard. This is work that exemplifies the term “nuance,” and no quality stands any higher in the academic vocabulary of art appreciation.The paintings also exemplify life within an oppressive grid of responsibilities, limitations and expectations. The daily grind. There’s not much hope or joy here, just perseverance and resignation. Even if this is reality as many people know it, they still are choosing not to move beyond it. We are not compelled to live within the banality of uninspired surroundings. We can remodel or move elsewhere. Or we can ignore it altogether, as I would prefer to ignore most of these paintings.
A few pieces do feel powerful and haunting, especially “Threshold southwest – One [spectrum – red].” As the first part of the title might indicate, this exercise is based on a pattern seen beneath a doorway on the southwest side of her apartment. As the second part suggests, the hue has been reddened, just as one might adjust a color balance in Photoshop. It has a somber, architectural feel about it, suitable for the garment of an impoverished aristocrat. It also seems to vibrate, like a wall of tight, resonating strings, suitable for a performance of ambient music. Its shape resembles an ancient cloak that has been stretched flat for display. It might well have been worn by an actor who played the vengeful Clytemnestra in the Oresteia. Red was likely the murderous queen’s favorite color.
James Rondeau, former curator of Contemporary Art and current director of the Art Institute of Chicago, once told Crain’s Chicago Business: “We [Chicago] have some of the greatest artists in the nation if not the world.” Julia Fish was at the very top of his short list. (On which, by the way, not a single Imagist appeared.) The art world is hardly monolithic, but that preference probably indicates that her kind of minimalism especially appeals to our cultural elite, the people who build, stock and run our top art museums. It offers a sedate, apparently erudite alternative to the madcap, prolific consumerism of popular culture. But not much else. (Chris Miller)
“Julia Fish: Bound By Spectrum,” at DePaul Art Museum, 935 West Fullerton, through February 23, 2020.