In this weekly column, art critic Lori Waxman adapts her 60wrd/min project to review work by artists whose practice has been affected by the pandemic. Waxman covers shows that have been cancelled, postponed, shuttered, made remote or opened by limited appointment, as well as art made during quarantine. Reviews are written in the order in which requests are received. This iteration of 60wrd/min is a democratic, good-faith effort to document more of the art making that is happening at a time when much of it is relatively unobserved.
Not all memory-laden art exhibitions feel as haunted as Katie Chung and Unyimeabasi Udoh’s two-person show at the Chicago Artists Coalition. Udoh’s works are marked by the careful absence of anything an anthropologist or collector could successfully objectify: a three-by-three-foot square of black sand on the floor of the gallery is only partly contained; a half-dozen landscape photographs with captions suggestive of the artist’s mother’s homeland of Nigeria have had their imagery shiftily obscured; a series of poetic fragments, each beginning with the phrase “portrait of my brother,” refuses to pin him down. Chung uses the materials of the dry-cleaning trade—straight pins, ledger paper, customer tags—to craft tender tributes to the ubiquitous Korean-American businesses, like the one her immigrant mother owned throughout her childhood. Chung’s masterwork, a traditional jeogori garment laboriously quilted from hundreds of dry-cleaning tags, floats above it all, a red, white and blue effigy full of grace, strength and grief, its red threads dangling bloodily.
—2021-01-08 1:08 PM
“Does She or Doesn’t She,” one of the most famous advertising lines of all time, was the brainchild of the brilliant early adwoman Shirley Polykoff. It’s also the title of Melissa Stern’s exhibition at Firecat Projects in Chicago. Polykoff succeeded in selling oodles of Miss Clairol home hair-coloring kits to American women, whereas Stern wishes instead to consider the ramifications of so much attention paid to the dead cells growing out of our heads. The show includes a wall of droll little pencil and watercolor portraits of awkward girls whose beehives make it clear they’re from another time; a couple of larger, angry self-portraits of a kid whose curly hair was nothing like her classmates’ straight locks; and a terrifically sad young Muppet tenderly sculpted from clay and topped with ridiculous pink curlers and a silly green wood nose. You feel for her, for all of them, for all of us, really, and the lengths they’ve gone to, still go to, to present themselves, ourselves, just right.
—2021-01-11 10:52 AM
The twenty-four photographs that Alejandro Loureiro Lorenzo presents in February in “Drift,” a delayed solo show at the Czong Institute for Contemporary Art in Gimpo, South Korea, are maddening. They come in a few clearly discernible categories: tightly cropped pictures of bits of trash in situ; collages of variously configured paint spills, abstract images and tangles of wire; and studies of white-on-white objects. Meticulously composed in shades of white, black and near-counterparts like taupe and slate, the photographs are bewildering enough that it seems likely nothing in them is quite what it appears to be. Are those shards of broken glass perhaps artist fabrications? In what dimension can that spilled paint be found? What even are those white things, and do they actually exist? We like to believe what we see and so the guessing entailed by Lorenzo’s photographs unsettles; that type of questioning, however, is a crucial skillset to develop for contemporary times.
—2021-01-12 2:25 PM
One of the stranger casualties of the coronavirus pandemic has been time. What is day, when is lunch, why is tomorrow without live showtimes, punch clocks and dinner parties? Leviticus Shand muses on what has been (and continues to be) our shared reality in “A Year if a Day,” exhibited at Lillstreet Art Center this past fall. Playing in loops on the sorts of small screen-based devices that have become indispensable are a series of GIFS created during Chicago’s shelter-in-place order. They are essentially the artist’s equivalent of watching the clock tick: Shand tracked the passage of light through venetian blinds, on the leaves of a pothos plant, on his kitchen walls and floor, across a gridded cutting mat. Done with a stop-motion technique that speeds things up considerably, the effect is aesthetically pleasing, of geometrically sharp shadows moving quickly and transformatively over domestic objects. The project itself achieves the old two-birds-with-one-stone ideal: Shand found a way to pass the time while also thoughtfully marking it.
—Lori Waxman 2021-01-13 10:00 AM