How many of you are pinning your hopes on a return to normalcy? A restoration of social stability buttressed by the end of the pandemic and a newly anointed, moderate political consensus?
I sure as fuck am.
But what if that never happens?
What if our civilization incrementally, almost imperceptibly, just gets worse? Will we continue to defer our ambitions because hope has given way to despair? Or will we dive right in? As British political philosopher John Gray is fond of suggesting, there is nothing about today that should indicate tomorrow will be any better.
That’s why “The Sexy Brutale” at Eric Ruschman’s self-named new Irving Park gallery feels less like an aesthetic manifesto than an unabashed experiment in optimism. Featuring colorful works by artists Chris Bogia and Anna Kunz, graphite drawings by Alex Paik, and choice, reductive paintings by Belgian Léon Wuidar, the exhibition is joyful and inviting, utterly at odds with the hushed gray tones of depressing autumn days.
Ruschman, who spent several years as director of Shane Campbell gallery, has been presenting artists via fairs and pop-ups since early 2019 and felt the time was right for a physical space.
“The goal has always been a gallery of my own,” he says, running his hands through a crisp pageboy haircut. “But I needed to be in a position where I could make this happen for at least six months, even without sales. A lot of things came together, and I thought: I could wait till the situation gets better, but what if it doesn’t?”
Among the many acts of good fortune, both small and large, that have given rise to Ruschman’s sleek new space, is the opening of the Color Club. A joint project of artist Josh Dihle and his partner Abby Monroe, the sprawling Elston Avenue building was once the home of the Chicago Latvian Association. Lovingly restored, it now houses studios, live-work spaces, a ballroom and Ruschman’s gallery.
“Everything here is so thoughtfully done, basically, all I had to do was hang the work, and flip the lights on,” Ruschman says. The lights, a work in progress, Ruschman insists, illuminate pieces that foreground process, repetition and incremental change.
Anna Kunz’s solitary contribution, “Fog” (she’s just wrapped up an exquisite solo show at McCormick Gallery), is a richly layered blue-violet and sunny yellow abstraction. Her mastery of color, gesture and improvisation is on full display, as is Ruschman’s careful curation. These very same colors, colors that flicker like candlelight in Kunz’s work, are reprised in a stately, controlled manner in Léon Wuidar’s hard-edged “Avril 02, 2002,” hung on the far wall.
The flatly brushed hues and crisp geometric contours that characterize Wuidar’s easel-sized works are a consequence of the octogenarian’s association with European brutalist architecture. But the ostensibly cool compositions are belied by subtle revisions and “straight” lines that evince the artist’s hand. His paintings are also the interstitial glue binding “The Sexy Brutale” into a coherent whole.
The slashing, oblique angle that energizes the white and navy-blue “16 mars 11, 2011” is echoed in the candy-pink pitched panels of Chris Bogia’s tactile feast “Sun Standers.” Paik’s schematic drawings assume the qualities of a draftsman’s blueprints in the company of Bogia’s playful structure. All are effortlessly harmonized by the senior Belgian painter’s work.
The dispersed nature of Chicago’s gallery scene has always been its Achilles heel. Have car will travel. Take the El, and maybe you’ll see a few exhibitions a month, and that’s before spaces became appointment-only. You can’t see every show, so make the shows you see count. Put “The Sexy Brutale” on your list. Doors open, 2020 be damned. (Alan Pocaro)
“The Sexy Brutale,” through November 30 at Ruschman, 4148 North Elston