Brimming with absurdist, counterfactual history, caustic sarcasm and meticulously assembled collage, Chicago artist Deb Sokolow’s new show(s) “Profiles in Leadership// Drawings without words” is more of the same—and that’s not a bad thing. Three years after her most recent show at Western Exhibitions, we again find the artist casting a satirical net on the idiosyncrasies of powerful men, using historical events as vehicles to level contemporary criticisms about truth, authority, corruptibility and eccentricity.
Superficially, Sokolow’s carefully measured and flatly hued images are architectural interiors. But they owe as much to early twentieth-century modernism as they do to post-minimal conceptualism. The pieces in ““Profiles in Leadership,” are annotated in her characteristic faux-blueprint style; the geometric contours of works such as “Mr. Ronald Reagan’s Post-Presidential Plans for a Career in Stand-up Comedy” connect obliquely to their written content. At times the assemblages feel more like a text delivery system than a fundamental aspect of the story.
In the companion show, “Drawings without words,” the artist drops the incisive wit of her narratives and we experience a “clean” version of her works on paper. Curiously billed as Sokolow’s “first ever foray into abstraction,” the pieces are virtually indistinguishable from the others in the space. Works such as “Shifts in the Walls at Night” register more strongly as elevations of a fictional space, but do not feel fundamentally different from their captioned siblings. If anything, they seem unfinished by comparison.
Although beautifully crafted and undeniably funny, the disgusting truth of Trumpism ultimately renders some of Sokolow’s tongue-in-cheek critiques of power and stupidity a little quaint. Semi-fictional tales about Jimmy Carter’s UFO sighting or noting Reagan’s reliance on astrologers still work to deflate the grandeur associated with the men who become president, but they don’t have the acerbic bite that they would have had in more innocent times. More of the same still works, but one wonders for how much longer. (Alan Pocaro)
Deb Sokolow: Profiles in Leadership// Drawings without words is on view through December 21 at Western Exhibitions, 1709 West Chicago, Suite 2C.