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.
Lately I’ve been staring at the whorls of my old hardwood floors and seeing things. Sometimes this happens with nicks on the walls of my house, too. This is worrisome and likely related to the stress of the pandemic. So there is comfort in looking at the paintings of Jeane Cohen, on display in a solo show at Zolla/Lieberman Gallery. From a distance, Cohen’s large canvases are colorful, chaotic, slightly terrifying abstractions full of blurs, bursts and whirlwinds. Up close they reveal not just virtuoso brushwork but unnoticed figurative elements: creeping rose bushes, a speckled fawn, a mysterious person, owls, a mourning dove, overcome angels. These inhabitants of Cohen’s pictures emerge from their brushy, excessive grounds as quickly as they recede back into them; blink and they’re gone. Has the pandemic brought on this constant threat of dissolution, or has it simply made the impending doom visible?
—Lori Waxman 2021-04-09 8:09 PM
A recent study confirmed that watching internet videos of cute animals can reduce anxiety. Where does that leave painting? If the iridescent, pet-filled canvases of Cindy Bernhard are any indication, the medium holds up just fine. Bernhard makes large, complex oil pictures with the compositional care of a Dutch Renaissance interior scene and the style sense of a millennial crafter. Like in Photoshop or an iPhone screen, everything is super-flat; backgrounds come in shades of airbrushed rainbow gradient; decorative patterns are infinite and overlapping; eighties chic is apparent and unstoppable; aspirational marble table tops make their de rigueur appearance. Living amid these Instagrammable scenes are curious orange tabbies, adorable wrinkly pugs and plenty other breeds of small pet, lounging on special pillows, staring out from framed photos and, in the case of one cat, showing its little pink butthole. Being of Generation X, some of these juxtapositions confuse my native ability to recognize kitsch and deal with it ironically. I realize, however, that this is my problem, and that it is probably getting in the way of some much-needed stress relief.
—Lori Waxman 2021-04-12 1:23 PM
An artist’s day job can deeply inform what they make during studio time. Evidence lies in the creative output of those, famous and otherwise, who paid their rent as accountants, chemists, graphic designers, window dressers, arts administrators and kindergarten teachers. Mary Porterfield is an occupational therapist and talented portraitist, deeply committed to rendering her elderly, infirm subjects with equal parts respect and clarity. Her medium, sepia-toned oils on translucent sheets, allows for blurring, shifting and accumulation, and it seems especially fitting for her most ambitious work yet, a series of life-size, cut-out depictions of her father, who has Parkinsonism, and her mother, who is his sole caretaker, a situation made only harder by the pandemic. On display in Figures/Faces, a group exhibition at the Evanston Art Center, “Pushing Back the Sea” functions like a narrative frieze, tracking the increasing degeneration of Porterfield’s father’s body and the correspondingly heavier load her mother bears. By the end of the cycle, her elegant, strong mother is nearly underwater, a metaphor so apt it figured in a nightmare I had years ago about my own grandmother when she was the caretaker for my grandfather, who had dementia. Nana would have recognized herself and Papa here, in these two figures of Porterfield’s, and she would have felt seen.
—Lori Waxman 2021-04-14 11:11 AM