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.
It’s hard to imagine a subject more pertinent to the world’s population than women’s reproductive health; hard, too, to think of one as misunderstood, politicized and maligned. This hard-hitting eight-artist show at the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago includes perspectives on the situation ranging from the historical and racialized to the personal, legal and aesthetic. In a series that includes a full-size brown silicone American flag looking as if it were stitched together from the skin of African Americans, Doreen Garner considers the sadistic history of J. Marion Sims, who developed methods of modern gynecology through experimental surgeries on non-anesthetized, enslaved Black women. Original collages from Joanne Leonard’s 1973 “Journal of a Miscarriage” marshal all sorts of imagery—vegetal, prosthetic, witty, heartbreaking—in the service of dealing with that most common and unspoken of pregnancy events. Laia Abril’s expansive documentary on the lack of access to abortion in countries around the world incorporates images of historical medical devices and concoctions; portraits of women and practitioners who’ve faced jail time for terminating pregnancies; video clips of politicians railing against abortion rights. The exhibition, on view in person and online, ought to be required viewing for all.
—2021-02-26 1:38 PM
Plenty of artists take the environment as their subject, but few can claim it as a collaborator. During the pandemic, Judith Roston Freilich became one by deciding to leave her drawing paper outdoors. After allowing the sheets to weather for a month, Roston Freilich brought them back into the studio and got to work, finding and enhancing resemblances to natural occurrences like fungi, mold, acidic springs, even viruses. In “Storm, May 24, 2020,” certain patches sprout finely inked speckles, like spores; others glow rosy like the tender inside of a flower; elsewhere crumbles the dark remains of a burn. It can be hard to tell what has been added by the artist and what by nature, a symbiosis that feels meaningful. Likewise the confusion between representations of the human and the environmental: is that bruised skin or a moody sky, muscle tendons or bleached coral in “Hidden in Storms II”? The more we recognize the relationship between these categories, the better. (Featured in “Flux: Vita Mutata” and in “Studio Stories 2020.”)
—2021-03-01 2:16 PM
Sweets have their place in contemporary art, highest of all in the irresistibly sincere and orderly cake paintings of Wayne Thiebaud. Those who prefer irony can turn instead to the up-close food photographs of Martin Parr. It’s hard to know just where Patrick Tayler stands, with his small-to-midsize oils full of pastries and packaged candies. It helps to consider the garishly colored pictures as installed at Ari Kupsus Gallery in Budapest, where in December a selection was exhibited (though mostly viewable only online) in the suggestively titled “It’s a Matter of Taste.” The curlicued decorativeness of the gallery’s antique furnishings and objects went match for match with the layers of sugary icing and shiny wrapping depicted in the paintings. Whether gilded scrollwork or Haribo gummies are more to your liking is indeed just a matter of taste, in both cases for something that promises immediate satisfaction, palatable flavors and, if you’re not careful, lots of cavities.
—2021-03-02 3:57 PM
In this two-person show at boundary, a garage gallery on the outskirts of Chicago, Zach Cahill and Scott Wolniak exhibit what artists of all eras and inclinations must at some point produce: pictures of flowers. Their perennial subject (actually, a few look to be annuals) overseeds the tidy space, with Cahill suspending large, squarish, brilliantly colored brushy closeups from the rafters and Wolniak sowing row upon row of loosely drawn, densely colored, chunkily pulped small plants up and down the walls. If Cahill’s “Yellow Flower,” in shades of butter and sunshine, mostly resembles a voluminous backside or squash, and some of Wolniak’s foliage sport smiling faces, all the better. Neither artist is pretending to be a botanical illustrator. Indeed, both veracity (forget about it) and quality (inspiringly erratic) seem somewhat beside the point. In the natural world, flora evolved as much to be attractive as to repel, and for plenty more inscrutable purposes. A diverse and capacious garden, such as Cahill and Wolniak have cultivated here, will always be the best kind.
—Lori Waxman 2021-03-03 10:21 AM