Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Cindy Loehr "Bluebird Burden" @ Monique Meloche

Cindy Loehr "Bluebird Burden" | Monique Meloche
Originally Posted on Panel-House: March 2004

Cindy Loehr’s new installation at Monique Meloche gallery is as complex as it is spiritual. A white curtain, which spans the vast height of the gallery, blocks the view of the installation upon entry into the space. As one descends the stairs a certain sense of curiosity envelops the visitor and there, behind the pristine wall of white are three enormous bluebirds made from chicken wire and garland, each resting on pedestals that tower over the viewer. Lit from below, the birds’ heads are raised, evoking an eerie yet fascinating presence; they almost deified.

Upon approaching the pillars music begins, sung by Carlos Lama with whom Loehr collaborated on the lyrics. The singing of the bluebird is replaced by verses which speak of one’s constant search for love and perfection which brings only sorrow and pain. Only loss comes from this quest and love is equated with loneliness, happiness with pain. However, Loehr does not abandon hope since the last line of the song states: “we will not forsake you.” The question of why Loehr chose a bluebird is confounding. Countless songs have been written about bluebirds, from campfire sing-a-longs to one by former Beatle Paul McCartney, yet the bluebird demands a closer interpretation. In folklore, the bluebird is symbol of love and hope. The idea of a bird evokes thoughts of the ability to fly, and therefore freedom from earthly bounds; however, the color blue is often used to describe feelings of sadness and melancholy. Therefore, the decision to use bluebirds refers to the situation most people find themselves, somewhere between elation and sorrow, usually one more than the other and occasionally feeling both all at once. Loehr doesn’t attempt to manipulate the viewer’s feelings to move in one direction or another, but simply to remind him or her of his own existential nature.

In other works, such as Waiting Room/Session Room and Snowman Stories, both 2002, Loehr explores common motifs (naps and snowmen) that evoke a sense of comfort yet still reveal feelings of loss and sorrow. However unlike postmodern works Loehr’s installations do not exhibit a sense of irony. Whereas Jeff Koons for example attempted to turn porcelain bunnies and puppies into cynical and mocking symbols of society, Loehr depicts banal motifs with cheap materials but doesn’t cheapen the emotions she explores. Instead, she proves that emotions are universal and therefore valid. By pairing sentiment with ordinary themes, such as bluebirds and snowmen, the weight and meaning of feelings become significant. Loehr is returning to the idea that there is truth in art and she challenges postmodern ideas without forsaking installation art or resorting to traditional media.

Written by Mary Gustaitis-Beyer

Art Fair 2004: ArtChicago, ArtBoat, and the Stray Show

Originally Posted on Panel-House: May 2004

May 7-10 2004 was when Chicago became the location for many different art venues and numerous spots for drinking and commiserating. I have asked many different writers who contribute to the site to reflect on the blur of that weekend to come to maybe analyze what happened if anything at all. I am not entirely sure as to why this is important but I think the responses show what kind of result the fair had on a decent cross section of people.

-Terence J. Hannum, director and mediocre editor of Panel-House

“Art Chicago 2004: Vernissage”

Score! Tickets were free, not because I was a vendor and not because I snuck in like a number of other people I saw, but because a good friend shared my passion for free booze everywhere, black-frame glasses and botox watching. We were also ready to look at some art. No high expectations going in and inevitably a lot of disappointment walking out. I will not be attending this event again.

Ester Partegas provided the most immediate metaphorical opportunity for Vernissage when she, or her representation Foxy Production, installed a giant garbage bag in one of the project spaces. (Yet another garbage bag as art – there seems to be a fascinatingly rich tradition of this object as muse.) Regardless of what you might have heard, I saw a lot of art consuming during the MCA’s drool contest. People were buying. But what they were buying was overwhelmingly predictable and stale. Perhaps Partegas should have handed out replicas at the entrance.

Highlights: the cheery girls from Mouth to Mouth, 1R’s braggadocio, and Mixture Contemporary Art.

Lowlights: Daniel Reich Gallery, Jack Hanley Gallery, and the missing Finesilver Gallery.

(Britton Bertran is a writer on art and curator in Chicago.)


Amidst a great deal of speculation about the possibility of this being its last year, Art Chicago opened as usual with the MCA’s Vernissage celebration but closed on an anti-climactic and uneasy note.

While most expected a fair with diminished exhibitors, attendance and even fanfare, as the weekend progressed many at the fair agreed something was needed to reawaken this unenthusiastic happening.

But why has this event become so bleak? Yes it has become predictable but what seems to have happened is that the organizers, exhibitors, press and even visitors have come to take this fair for granted. Several flaws exist and do need to be addressed (such as why some galleries are repeatedly shut out, I’m thinking Aldo Castillo) but for the most part the fair serves one major function: to reawaken and reconnect the art community after a long and arduous Chicago winter.

While cleaning out Klein Art Works Paul came across a video from 1989 containing news coverage of the devastating fire that tore through a River North warehouse which housed numerous galleries and studios. Galleries such as Klein, Zolla/Lieberman and Peter Miller which were considered the epicenter for artistic activity lost millions in inventory. This happened about a month before Art Chicago yet despite losing almost everything most of the galleries still exhibited in the fair. There was this need, this recognition of the fair’s importance in the community that seems to have been lost and if this connection resurfaces maybe the energy will return.

(Mary Gustaitis Beyer is currently pursing her masters degree in art history at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She works as the gallery assistant at Klein Art Works. She grew up in Brooklyn, New York.)

“Nothing Shocking”

I have two main observations about this year’s Stray Show. One, drawing was everywhere. Painting a distant second. Video and installation scarce but present. Photography lumped between video and installation, and sculpture (whatever that means these days) fits, well, somewhere. There was so much drawing, so many push pins, a lot of tape, some large-scale (but mostly small), and for a large part good. I’m sure part of the reason is the portability of drawing for galleries traveling from far away, but I think a larger part is artists spurning the “preciousness” of paint and returning to the immediacy of drawing. Drawing is no longer relegated to a medium for studies and sketches. It’s an important part of contemporary art production and is finally getting the attention it deserves.

So drawing is the first thing I noticed. Sex is the second. Adolescent investigations into sex, perversion, porn, and orifices are on the minds of artists everywhere and on the walls of Stray Show participants. I really don’t know what it is about work about sex (or that is porn). What is the appeal? Apparently it still gets a reaction from someone, and I guess it’s getting one from me right now. But my reaction is that it’s just plain boring, trite, and tired. Even if there was good work that dealt with these issues, there was so much of it that I didn’t care to spend the time trying to figure out what was good and what wasn’t. The shock is gone, the edginess is, well, what edge? It’s not enough anymore (was it ever?) to just draw, paint, or videotape sex. Something else has to be done with it to make it compelling work.

I’ll admit this was my first Stray experience and I was quite impressed by what I saw. I was impressed by the amount of galleries from outside of Chicago that came to our fair city. Maybe my observations are par for the course, but I was hoping that the so-called “edgy” art fair would have been a little more dynamic and less same-y.

(Todd Chilton is an artist and MFA student at SAIC.)


The speed of art varies from a crank-started jalopy puttering on about Art’s cultural worthiness and the many-pistoned commerce of a racing car that crosses the finish line at art’s monetary value. Art Fairs, unmitigated fiscal free-for-alls displaying artworks in unflatteringly close quarters, are engineered to be the Autobahn of the art world. They also remind me that I, at me speediest, am a Sunday driver.

The best experience I had viewing art during the weekend of Art Chicago 2004, therefore, was aboard the languid early-afternoon voyage of this year’s “Artboat“. The gimmick of a day cruise, when compared to the bedlam underway inside Navy Pier, was a surprisingly effective space for viewership. The gentle lull of the boat allowed me to be genuinely charmed by the whimsy of Bill Smith’s kinetic sculpture when its nostalgic, found-object qualities would have surely relegated it to the passé, Modern half of Exhibition Hall. When compared to the cacophony of the art fair, the cozy first deck provided a palatial space to watch a suite of video works from Canada. Michael X. Ryan’s maps of his daily travels also benefited from the captive expanse of time with which to investigate his detailed recordkeeping. Per usual, Ryan’s calligraphic flourishes continue to elevate his schematic drawings into something more than rote conceptual project. Most enjoyably, selection committee members Heather Mekkelson and David Roman gave polite and informative entrée to the work for the attentive audience aboard.

In general, I am not one to laud what basically equated to a nice day at a museum, but during a full-throttled weekend, a pleasant viewing experience is downright iconoclastic. Had I been on the boat that took off several hours after my cruise returned, I may have experienced something more than affable in Matt Irie and Dominick Talvacchio’s latest in a body of always-engaging covert performances, wherein scripted events take place unannounced in a public setting. Then again, that second cruise, frighteningly dubbed “The Booze Cruise” by some of its attendees, featured an open bar and three times the ticket holders. I imagine that voyage was, by its inebriated end, barely distinguishable from the artless din of parties that buffer the fair and it’s errant cousin the Stray Show. The art was probably lost in a speedboat chase that bounced along Lake Michigan’s wave crests, and I would have wanted to be on “terra firma” peddling my bicycle.

(Jeff M. Ward is a member of the curatorial collective The Pond, which until April 2004 maintained an exhibition space in Chicago, Illinois.)

“ArtChicago 2004”

A few days after I went Art Chicago 2004 I was at work and during a lull looked through my boss' copy of the fair's catalog. I had a pretty good time doing that. It was fun to look at one piece at a time. I saw pieces I'd missed and work I'd seen but not registered in person. Flipping through the catalog was kind of like reminiscing, not in the way you look at your vacation photos but in the way you look at an Artforum twice and like some of the stuff in there better the second time through because it's familiar. It was kind of like I'd never been to the fair at all but just read about it. I'm so used to reading about things. I have a subscription to Artforum. I try not to read it twice, but ever since my subscriptions to Vogue and Blender ran out, I sometimes overdo it with what's on hand. Browsing the familiar is a full-time job. Now that my skills are honed I find myself doing it without even thinking.

(Anna Mayer is an artist living in Chicago. She is primarily inspired by the radio-that-looks-like-a-Coke-bottle she won in a raffle when she was nine.)

Friday, August 25, 2006

Pelican Reviews

Pelican - AustralasiaCD
Originally Posted on Panel-House: November 2003

With, “Australasia”, the Chicagoan instrumental quartet known as Pelican build upon the monolithic sound of their untitled debut. "Nightendday" opens the disc with an anthemic wall of low-tuned guitar chords and pounding percussion; a sound that evokes the image of some unnamed lethargic beast crossing a primitive landscape in the twilight of its genesis. This is quite a feat for a band that has chosen a stripped down arrangement of two guitars, a bass and a drum kit rather than taking part in the orchestral indulgences that have become a trademark of the cinematic/sound-scape rock clique. Whereas many of these problematically dubbed “post-rock” bands play at being the soundtrack to a civilization in decline, Pelican’s mixture of huge guitars, powerful rhythms, and subtle shifts in time and melody is both triumphant and mysterious; the theme for landmasses in development.

“Drought” begins with a low rumble of arcane feedback that is quickly flattened by the hypnotic weight of Pelican’s deliberate gait. The power is in the slow precise pacing, reminiscent of the song “Mammoth” from their debut cd (See review: "Pelican - Untitled CD EP" 4/29/03). However, “Drought” makes a deeper exploration of the sonic terrain moving between quicker rolling, metallic passages and slower double-bass driven breakdowns.

The vague doom of “Drought” then subsides for the hopeful and yearning tone of “Angel Tears”. This piece is melodic with a tinge of the melancholic but the delivery is marked with the same power and precision of the previous tracks. At 10:59 this is one of the longer pieces on the disc and through a manipulation of nuance that mimics the shifting of tectonic plates, Pelican slowly leads us back to darker waters.

The greatest surprise on the album is the the untitled fifth track. Layers of acoustic guitars plaintively pluck a progression that is somehow eery yet inviting. What sounds like a theremin laces a spacey melody over the top and an arrangement of chordal baritone brass (most likely trombones and tubas) is introduced, filling the lower registers with a dreamy warmth.

As a unified work this cd is a triumph and the logical progression from their debut. They explore some new ground while staying true to the blueprint of cinematic heaviness that fostered Pelican’s inception.

Pelican - Untitled CD EP
Originally Posted on Panel-House: April 2003

Recently signed to Hydrahead Industries, Chicago’s instrumental doomcore quartet, Pelican, are quickly gaining some well deserved attention. This four song demo cd has just been re-released on Hydrahead without any alterations. They weren’t necessary; a testament to the poise and proficiency with which Pelican executed the composing and performing of these four songs. Pelican’s sound is big, rich and lush. The guitars (tuned down to B) are thick and heavy but not wanting in clarity. The 5 string bass work is tasteful, tight, and never tries to assert itself over the vision of the music as a whole. The drumming is equally tight and as anyone who has seen Pelican live will tell you, is played on an enormous kit with two bass drums and a healthy array of cymbals. The double bass never gets out of hand and is used as an intensity heightening effect rather than a tool for gratuitous bombardment.
"Pulse", the opening track, invites the listener in with a triumphant cadence that gradually builds as the ornamental cymbal crashes build into a slow, deliberate, driving rhythm. The subtle dynamics and fanfare-like melody bring to mind Godspeed You Black Emperor!’s, "The Gathering Storm", but Pelican gets to the point much quicker. As soon as "Pulse" has lured the listener in, "Mammoth" encases them in a low-tuned avalanche of thunderous behemoth footsteps. They stick with a formula similar to the opening piece, manipulating the nuances of one or two repetitious themes, but this time with much more abrasion and lead thick palm muting from the two guitarists. Delayed harmonics from Trevor de Brauw add a touch of the ethereal but never too much, saving the piece from becoming spacey or adding too much air to Pelican’s intentionally dense sound.

We are then introduced with a short burst of sonorous feedback to "Forecast For Today", which continues much in the same vein of the drudging, "Mammoth", but with a slight increase in meter and dynamic intensity. The bass and drums guide the group through the song’s changes with metronome efficiency. After four and a half minutes of building, varying, and augmenting three distinct themes, the beat drops out and the guitarists introduce a more open and haunting melody. The drums and bass steadily build their way back in as the guitar parts continue searching for new levels of intensity. Pelican never let their crescendos get too manic and this one soon reaches its climax as the rhythm breaks down into a hard, crashing, moderate tempo.

The disc closes with the nearly thirteen minute long epic, "The Woods". The piece opens with some lighter and creepier guitar interplay. Slight variations in kick drum placement enhance the rhythmically shifting guitars to create a disturbing setting. It doesn’t take long for crashing percussion and heavy guitars to take over and begin flirting with refinement and madness as stirring melodies and dramatic dynamics take turns intriguing the listener. After a series of rising and falling action, a final haunting theme is introduced. The beat stomps along in Pelican’s usual pounding yet paced manner, as a tasteful and melodically chilling guitar solo creeps in, takes over, and then disappears into the burgeoning net of distortion and noise. The guitar melodies are overcome by feedback and begin to drop out leaving the bass and drums to finish and fade. During the past few months Pelican have been closing most of their shows with "The Woods", which as hard as it may be to believe for those who have only heard the recording, is even more intense live.

Written by Jonathan Glover
NOTE: Found more music materials, Jonathan Glover was my roommate in 2003 and is now finishing his Masters at UCF Orlando. Jon is also the main musician behind Ars Phoenix.

Editorial: The Great Catamite

Editorial: The Great Catamite
Originally Posted on Panel-House: October 2004

I do not recall how the discussion that lead to the argument came up but somewhere in the middle of a visit to my father over a summer years ago the photographs of Robert Mapplethorpe arose. I was fifteen at the time and vaguely familiar with art from frequenting Washington DC's free museums while my father was at work during my visits since my parent's separation. I had read that the funding for the NEA was going down and that all it had cost at that time in the early 1990s was .64 cents a year per person to fund and it was going down and I was concerned. My father felt that not only was it correct to lower the funding of the NEA but he felt he knew why and that reason was Mapplethorpe. At the time I was not familiar with any of Mapplethorpe's work nor the 1989 controversy so it was a new name to me.

My father verbally described the images to me and not only objected to their content but the fact the exhibition was funded by federal dollars. My father's verbal descriptions were not enough because I still weakly argued for their funding and right to exist regardless of content so we sped to a nearby Border's Bookstore. My father stormed to the photography section with me in tow and pulled a massive Mapplethorpe monograph off of the shelf and flipped it open saying "Just look at this".

He was pointing at a picture of a flower.

Not only was it a flower but it was a photograph that was so exquisite, so well done, that I thought maybe he was wrong with the name of the artist who took the image. But after being a bit flustered my father found the correct "offensive" image, of a man sticking a whip up his ass which I didn't find offensive. It also made arguing a blanket case for Mapplethorpe's obscenity tougher for him because that flower was amazing. At fifteen I had joined the photo club in high school and had some knowledge about developing and shooting but I was terrible at it, I quit the following year for the drama club which I was slightly better at, still I knew enough to know that was a phenomenal photograph technically.

I don't recall how the argument ended, it was diffused by this image of a flower and drifted to another discussion or arguement. That arguement and image were an important point for me. Though I gave up on photography it did start in me a more pointed interest in art and now that I think back to it in our current political time it illuminates other things for me.

There are things you don't know how to explain but you just know what you know about it. For however much Mapplethorpe has been engraved into the consiousness of art education and the post-1989 NEA situation; Corcoran Gallery shutting the show down, the protests, the ensuing problems in Cincinnati, etc. that image of those flowers somehow look fresh again to me. As an image that quelled an argument and an image I returned to recently because it reminds me of the brief drop in volume in right wing rhetoric my father experienced.

Some things do not change. When I was fifteen my close friends (including Jon Glover who does music reviews for panel-house) had a small zine called "Bullet" which we distributed amongst like-minded cohorts writing about music, poetry, and how much our high school infringed on our freedom of speech and expression. After my father and I argued I decided to write a page in "Bullet" about the NEA. Granted none of us on the staff could vote yet but all of us found it important to our concerns.

Given that we are in the mess of it this month I have kind of felt a bit paralyzed as far as what to say about art and finding some form of political relevance in shows and how to review it/discuss it/etc. That is not to say that the content of current shows is lacking, though of course there could be more, it is this aura of defeat or cynicism that sets in as you potentially face another four years of...well...this kind of logic that is debilitating.

In all honesty I do not know what that anecdote should mean to anyone, but it has made me realize the foundation for most of my art education through fine art, historical, and critical. It gets back to the work at hand, in this case an image that can cut through the jargon of Buchanan's culture war and allow for a pause, a check in my father's case - and for me a witness to the power of something so simple over searching for obsenity.

Written by Terence Hannum

NOTE: Sorry to return to that horrid time of almost hope before the past presidential election. Ugh, is it 2008 yet?

Rufus Wainwright Concert

Rufus Wainwright Concert
Originally Posted on panel-House: December 2003

There were never collected so many fourteen-year-olds, soccer mom chaperones and comfortable, middle-aged gay couples at what could have passed for a drag show as Rufus Wainwright’s 2002 performance at the Vic in Chicago, Illinois. Save for the performer wearing a shabby white undershirt with ratty jeans and sporting shoulder-length, unkempt hair rather than actually being dolled-up, all the motifs of the male transvestite saloon singer’s showcase were present: the piano; the cigarettes; the copious and copulatory pontifications meandering among the songs; the playfully hostile relationship to the audience; bawdy, blue and racially solidaristic humor; and desultory delusions of grandeur. It was libratory to see a niche form of performance, usually sequestered into small clubs for a pre-initiated subculture, writ rich and ribald onto a larger audience. The cumulative affect flew in the face of mass culture’s misplaced cooptation of drag as either the misogynist amusement of seeing a male movie icon in high heels or a pop-diva’s misanthropic sanitization of fringe raunchiness. In this performance, Wainwright located the real power of a lone representative of a disaffected minority guising as premier emissary of popular song. The fantasy of drag is that, via the adulation of a roomful of people, you just might belong. For a New York minute, the performer binds his adherents, through exposing hyperbolically fey tendencies and sappy sentimentality, in the space of a song wherein your body and soul’s most intimate desires need not be ostracized.

Importantly, Wainwright’s vamping was not wrapped up in the typical covers of the American songbook but his own potent songcraft. Unfortunately, the intimacy of his personal lyrics and deeply idiosyncratic music became too ensconced in the performer’s need for acceptance to truly provide a sustained uplift. As the show progressed, Wainwright snapped too much at his audience about, “How hard I am trying to be a pop star,” and referenced too often and too sycophantically his second album, “on sale in the lobby.” At most desperate, he incongruously removed his ill-fitting tee to flay his pale torso like a keyed-up rock-star to his own music, which though magical, lyrical and technically proficient, frankly, doesn’t exactly rock. Wainwright suggested that he, and by extension his audience, was too musically out-of-step, far too idiosyncratic and, ultimately, too gay to truly fit in anywhere. At it’s nadir, Wainwright proffered an ungenerous performer just haughty enough to know his talent but too insecure to surrender to song and share his genius.

Brief life rafts from this unfortunate undertow existed in the performance though. They were located in the moments where, in spite of himself, Wainwright unselfconsciously made his music. As he expertly yet passionately completed a long and complicated passage on the baby grand or hit a particularly soulful note, the audience was allowed fleeting rapture. Most memorable was a nearly a cappella cover Hallelujah. Standing with his arms barely away form his side, supine and hyper-extended, at center stage, Wainwright gently coaxed Leonard Cohen’s lament for redemption into a hypnotic crescendo, “Hall-el-lu-oo-oo-ah-oo-oo-ah-jah.”

In virtuoso moments of singing like this, what suppliants a celebrity’s brattiness is the artist’s potency. Wainwright is an Olympic singer. Much like the grandeur of opera is the sheer athleticism of a well-performed aria, Wainwright is capable of the type of Herculean sound that demands attention. Far from being just a prodigiously talented performer, however, Wainwright is also a masterful songwriter. His body becomes a resonator of his song. For a time, the song reverberates around his neurosis, needs, observations, organs and bones. Then the song is projected; the song becomes art. It flows out, shakes the room and magnetizes the atmosphere to confront the audience.

For some, the song will enter as though you were a vessel, touches your insides and wrings all moisture out through the eyes. For others, it will hover in your space, define your body’s boundaries and present itself as an object at which to wonder. In this moment, the theatrical fourth wall is permeable and this object and your self are mutually colluded, understood and redefined. The drama allows you to connect to something far greater than your lone body’s existence or that ditty’s sole duration. In this instant are parts of your make-up, the piece’s color, a glimpse of the artist’s meaning and the legitimacy of other viewers’ perceptions. The moment is fleeting, however, for at the same time, the sound waves have passed by you. Again your own entity, your body’s very existence has been validated during the exchange. You are both habitually present and infinitely just. Drag is a version of this power of performance as a conduit for a certain politic.

That agenda was not nearly so present at Wainwright’s return engagement to the Vic last night, but it had been replaced by an even more consummate artist capable of investing the evening with countless moments of transcendence cum presence. Now well-coifed and donned in a sharp button-up and multi-colored pants, Wainwright performed a rigid set list of songs almost entirely from his latest album with concentrated, heartfelt precision. He wore each song from his back catalogue with an easy familiarity of a well-loved garment. Not-yet-released tunes were eagerly shared with a parent’s delight. The rehearsed, between-song prattle undercut the subversive punch of his prior performance, but, paradoxically, Wainwright’s ability to act like a self-assured, professional pop star superceded the handicap of needing to be such a celebrity. As a fanatic shouted, “You’re a musical god!” from the audience, Wainwright, chagrinned and amused, replied with the brand of humility that co-arises with true confidence, “I’ll never live that one down.” What Wainwright became on stage was an artist completely in sync with his craft well poised to share it with his audience, not a cloying personality. His music’s performance allowed the songs enough authority to blossom without being uprooted by a performer’s ego or an audience’s rapaciousness.

The key visage of the event came, like the moment described above, about halfway through the show. Leaving the piano, Wainwright again comes to center stage and begins to sing Oh, What a World. Filled with histrionics, complex harmonics and the ludicrously flamboyant inclusion of the gaudy and repetitive theme form Ravel’s Bolero as it’s centerpiece, the song is perhaps Wainwright’s most indulgent. If there was any hesitation that his music was too ensconced in a passé euro-western classical training to be populist however, it was not in evidenced as he bounced, chuckled and gesticulated behind the microphone. Although the lyrics cant feeling unloved in a hectic world, they finally, boisterously boast, “but I think I’m doing fine.” The song, curious and queer to a spectrum of popular music that more readily embraces rhythmic traditions through hip-hop or rock-n-roll, willfully exists whether or not it is understood. I doubt, however, anyone in attendance didn’t get it. For that moment, we had art’s treasured simultaneity of being and belonging. As Wainwright lauds his arms aloft to sing, “Life is...,” we all knew, as he belts out the final triumphant note, we were, “...beau-ti-fuuulll!”


Written by Jeff M. Ward

NOTE: Occasionally the writers for Panel-House would come to me with excellent musings on things musical, I certainly miss Jeff's insights as he finishes his time in the CORE Program.

I Need Something for Over My Sofa | Monique Meloche Gallery

I need something for over my sofa | Monique Meloche Gallery
Originally Posted on Panel-House: December 2003

I once read that whatever art work that resides above one’s bed represents the summation of that person’s psyche. As such, that same image goes on to play a significant role in the dreams of the sleeper(s), a kind of subtler approach to Salvador Dali’s experiment in painting his bedroom in vivid oranges and pinks within which he drifted off with the lights on. This self-induced performance dream art, as a study of the unconscious, inevitably reveals a slighter, yet equally complex condition. How often do we actually pay attention to the art on the walls of our home, especially they are not the center of attention? And should we feel guilty about this? Or at least a wee bit sentimental?

Monique Meloche’s current foray into design and art, I need something for over my sofa., starts, and ends, with not art for the bedroom but art for that social hub of any respectable home - the living room. But here, as it was made quite clear, to sit is to eer. Displayed is artwork by seven artist reside above six seperate reclining apparatuses. Forcing the viewer to admire with physical and psychological obstacles, this foray into obviated curatorial decision making is so disturbing it actually works. The sunken gallery itself serves as a sort of abbreviated warehouse reminiscent of those exposes of Architectural Digest-type spreads of wealthy collectors homes regaled in stressed floral arraignments, ostentatious modern furniture and cramped contemporary art.

I could not help feel this overwhelming sense of yearn here, being a part of the reason this exhibition is worth visiting. Is this a desperate attempt to simply sell art by the gallery in a Merchandise Mart sort of way (with a nod to the gift buying season)? Or is this a antiquated postmodern slight of hand environment with subliminal underpinnings aimed at a narrative of aesthetic nihilism? Or neither? Regardless, standing and staring is the way to go here - believe you me.

Some of the works of art (the hanging kind that is) are really quite strong, but expectant. Laura Letinsky still-life photography, Robert Davis & Michael Langlois paintings and Carla Aracho’s blunt non-color field come to mind. But the point here is the combination of the two. Unfortunately, shoved together side by side with the inevitable peripheral obstructions, the experience becomes rather unnerving. In a perfect world each combination would exist unto it’s own, but alas, how many times has that thought been uttered?

The furniture, from a bright pink Philippe Starck piece that looked like it could have been pulled out of Target, to an old Victorian love seat that might have been featured on an episode of Antiques Roadshow - looked as uncomfortable to sit in as it did being there in the first place. All that was missing was a suspended gilded Italian chandelier (conveniently located one store east at Casati Furniture, an Italian importer of over priced home furnishings, that also provided one of the couches for the exhibition, and possibly one of the most fascinating “galleries” in the West Loop). A spied trixie and dudetrixie didn’t seem to mind too much though. It sounded like bells going off as they perused the price list and sipped their white wine. Ah, decisions.

Neither entity here, the furniture or the art, could have worked in this exhibition successfully without the other. A sad state of affairs perhaps, but alas, a telling trope on increasingly homogenous fine art/fine fashion amalgamations indelibly evident in today’s art world. One existing within the others confines, becoming ultimately nothing more than just a nail-hanger for the other, might sum up this disposition in short. Sort out the details yourself.

Is this an opportunity to display show pieces for the accommodating home, the occasional visitor who might object if the television gets turned on during the cocktails or the lambasted unconscious? Perhaps the next exhibition in the series, curated by Douglas Levine from January 9th to 24th, will substitute the settees with exotic televisions - and turn them on. At any rate, the soul of the painting above my own couch, er futon, has gained a more significant role in my household. The art above my bed, umm, other futon, has duly been removed and replaced by nothing.

Written by Britton Bertran

Found a small ad

Here is an ad Eric Lebofsky made for Panel-House for a space in regulator

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Raid in Chicago | The Pond, Standard & 1/Quarterly

Raid in Chicago |
The Pond Project, Standard, and 1/Quarterly
Featuring: Robert Mellor, Phillippe Hurteau, Nicole Farrand, Alison Smith, Jane Callister, Eric Beltz, Dimitri Kozyrev, Roland Reiss, Brian Ruppel, Liat Yossifer, Habib Kheradyar, Sherin Guirguis, Susan Cooper, Stephen Heer, Mela M., & Max Prisneill
Originally posted on panel-House: November 2003

Raid Projects is a loosely framed collective out of Los Angeles centered on Max Presneill. Presneill has been importing and exporting shows and artists in and out of LA, some of the artists featured in this Wicker Park dispersion are from France and other countries who had stayed in Raid’s residency program and now has arranged a Chicago exchange. The trade between galleries begins here with LA in Chicago at three galleries spread out across a few blocks in Wicker Park and will shift in January with Chicago artists in LA curated through Standard, The Pond, and 1/Quarterly. Importing and Exporting are an important concept between these spaces because it centers on the unique experience of this show in Chicago. When Standard, The Pond, and 1/Quarterly bring work to LA it will be contained in the large Brewery Complex but the spread-out experience of separate galleries is one endemic to the Chicago art experience. “Raid in Chicago” in fact raises the awareness of the experience.

Travelling through the few blocks between spaces has become a commonality but when the spaces come together for more than their individual exhibitions it makes the experience more intentional to try and visit all three. The trip becomes, itself, part of the exhibition. Sure Raid has compiled an interesting catalogue of artists that will be discussed below but one cannot ignore the intentionally episodic exhibitions based around this import.

At The Pond, Susan Logoreci’s “Untitled” colored pencil rendition of an aerial view of a strip mall parking lot where the buildings become squared off loosing their shape, perhaps becoming pixilated, yet you can recognize the building flattening itself out in the negative space of the paper. Dimitri Kozyrev, on the other hand, renders the dynamism of travel from an “8 Hour Drive” in more drastic attempt at combining speed and horizon. Kozyrev, using oil and acrylic plus (I’m assuming) some tape (which definitely has a pronounced presence from many of these artists), for the delicate straight lines in this painting creating multiple planes for the space to unfold where semi-recognizable forms emerge. This emergence in Kozyrev’s painting is comparable to a drive where the outside is witnessed only in segments of small glances but the road that is focussed on forms the geometry of the space. Obscuring form and planar recognition appears to be the goal of Habib Kheradyar’s “Untitled (Black & Blue) where the parallel armatures reverse direction from each other. One segment of the armature making a ‘V’ shape by being higher on the left and right ends of the line and converging at a low point in the center of the top edge of the panel and the other making more of an ‘A’ shape with their peaks in the center of the panel and their ends lower along the bottom edge of the panel. Kheradyar stretches a fabric over this armature, one side blue and the other black, in a diptych like relationship.

Working northward from The Pond Project in the middle of the trip at Standard, it is easy to forget that there are only five paintings in the gallery. Roland Reiss has a small tactile acrylic on canvas painting titled “Remax/Coto De Caza” and the small gray, white and orange house-like structure buried beneath mounds of pea soup paint swathed around it in orderly segments reminiscent of Tom Scheibitz. In “Long island, CA” Susan Logoreci again delivers another aerial view of commercial space, this time in gouache of a shipyard holding to the cubed/pixel-like technique which here comes to her aid with all those shipment containers for big rigs. Nicole Ferrand’s “Proximity” is a large blend of smooth alligator skin texture and clever circling with a green close to the color of the ground in this oil painting. Ferrand’s piece takes some time to gather together the elements inside of it with its subtle color variations.

Finishing this northbound trip through the Jewel-Osco parking lot up Milwaukee to the 1/Quarterly Space on the third floor looking over the street. Having the largest space, 1/Quarterly has been able to have the most work, eight artists and 11 pieces to be exact, compared to Standard’s five and The Pond’s eight pieces. Roland Reiss again shows up with his piece “Remax” and next to it is Jane Callister who has had one small psychedelic drippy acrylic painting in each space. The “Untitled” oil painting by Liat Yossifor is one in a series of fifteen depicting Israeli female soldiers painted completely in thick white brush strokes. It’s texture gives the Yossifor’s painting a dimensionality requiring a panoramic walk around to catch the way the light hits it. The monumentality of Yossifor’s fifteen painting project sounds overwhelming, imposing in fact, if they are all blenched of color and contain this much physical involvement.

This cluster of galleries within a few blocks, easily accessed by foot, banded together to import RAID from LA, set up this trek and will, in a few months, send a blend of Chicago art westward curated by each gallery.

Written by Terence Hannum

NOTE: The Pond and Standard closed their doors a year or so afer this exhibition. 1/Quarterly kept their open a bit longer thoug now, according to their website they are a virtual exhibition space.

And Then They Were Upon Him | Robyn O'Neill | Bodybuilder and Sportsman

Robyn O’Neill | “And Then They Were Upon Him” | Bodybuilder and Sportsman
Originally Posted on Panel-House: April 2004

Robyn O'Neil's drawings are sparse mid-winter forests occupied by middle-aged men in sweat-suits. Most of them are less than a square foot, but range up to nearly 6'x5'. The mountains, cliffs, and valleys are carved out from the snow by their shadows; evoking the bleak and threatening side of harsh climates and remote areas. Within this environment is the main character of O'Neil's series: the overweight white male in a black sweat-suit, completely unfit for the outdoors.

He operates in three ways. He is often found contemplating, such as in “A Prairie Falcon and a Snowy Plover”, where he staring at two dead birds lying in the snow in an open field. Or he is doing a form of calisthenics, as in “He Ends a Struggle with Difficulties”, where he has both hand outstretched holding a branch as if it where an exercise weight. Lastly, he is a group member participating in the ancient ritual of stoning, as in the title piece, “And Then They Were Upon Him”. Yet, there are group of drawings without the man; simply of a bison, caribou, or even a dead bird ceremoniously surrounded by nearly dead trees, as in “Seldom Seen, Solitary, and Fallen”.

O'Neil's work is dependent upon narrative. She provides a scene where something has or will take place, and gives it a title that encourages the viewer to imagine a greater story in which the subjects are characters. It is this narrative technique that allows these men to inhabit these treacherous environments with a sense of credibility. These images are anything but absurd, these men belong here, as they might belong anywhere else.

It's oversimplifying to interpret these images as another lampoon on the fat, white man who is finally getting what he deserves for destroying our environment. O'Neil's drawings are more focused on notions of humankind's relationship with nature, rituals, and evolution. She is plainly showing how strange it is to see a human in a natural environment. Humans have always sheltered themselves from nature in order to survive. Our culture is on course, as survival has become a given, towards the goals of comfort and convenience. It is through this evolutionary process that humans have shed ancient instincts, rituals, and ceremonies that arguably come from nature, as “Seldom Seen, Solitary, and Fallen” implies. It is within these rituals and ceremonies that wisdom resides, the very basic understanding of who we are as humans and how we understand our relationship to reality. Here, our main character is encountering what reality he has always lived in, and yet isolated himself from. The evolutionary cycle, while it should have made him better suited for this environment, has left him completely inept for survival. We live in a volatile environment (naturally, politically, spiritually, etc.) that we have lost the ability to relate to. This is what the man is realizing, as his calisthenics seem more like attempts at recovering rituals he's long forgotten. These drawings stand not as a critique or attack, but a mournful tribute to what we've lost. And this is why the drawings of only animals in their landscape, as in “Portrait of a Bison”, are so strikingly dignified.

Written by Rowley Kennerk who at the time had just moved to Chicago to attend SAIC for an MA in Art History.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Primal Secrets | Total Gym | Foundation Gallery

Primal Secrets | Total Gym | Foundation Gallery
Originally Posted on Panel-House: July 2004

There was something old fashioned about Total Gym’s recent one-week show, Primal Secrets, at Foundation Gallery. The art was, for the most part, discrete objects or video; the raucous sound of the birdhouse speakers and the blatant aggression of the looped Pokeman seizure footage was simple and pointed; and even the invitation to attend the opening with a mask provided for you by Total Gym in the spirit of a kid’s party planned enthusiastically. Children don’t have many modest parties with homemade paper props anymore, a fact which Total Gym surely knows and wishes weren’t so. This new collective’s name itself invokes a teenager’s hyperbolic valley speak about the mundane, surely a sign we are to think about the past, for a moment, rather than the future for eternity.

Digression/Topic Sentence: Just because I’ve mentioned children, nostalgia, and, most importantly, a collective doesn’t mean I’m going to discuss the idea of “play” in contemporary collaborative art practices. I’m not.* Plenty of critics and artists are doing this already. For a taste of what has become a debate, see Michelle Grabner’s essay in “Xtra” Vol 6 No 1 and Greg Sholette’s response to Alison M. Gingeras’ recent “Artforum” article (Summer 2004). The gist of the dialogue is that there is suspicion that the newer collectives, who get together and make things (like crafts, music, time), are not as socially responsible as some of the groups that came before and were formed in response to immediate political issues such as overpopulation or a dishonest media. Examples offered of the former type of collective are Milhaus and The Royal Art Lodge; examples of the latter are Temporary Services and REPOhistory.

This debate isn’t really anything new. It’s about process-heavy work v. concept-heavy work v. social issue-heavy work and the responsibility of the artist who makes work in whatever combination of the above. The artist’s responsibility will always be of concern to people who care. Recent political scandals cum atrocities have upped the ante for now. Outrage and a call to arms are warranted, certainly. However, collectives have no greater artists’ responsibility than their peers working alone. Groups might be more LIKELY than others to make an exciting and hard hitting statement, but they are under no more obligation to do so. With that in mind, I was excited to see how Total Gym’s show brought the energy and force of a group effort to make a self-aware product that has very little trace of the process in it. The work stands on its own. There is trace, to be sure, but it is of the humor and engagement with language that may or may not be Total Gym’s tools for working together. A mysterious press release read like hermetic grandstanding and good-humored joshing; now that I’ve seen the show of discrete art making quiet and succinct statements, that writing sounds more like an acknowledgement of the high expectations for and deep history of the collective process. “Implant, implant, implant, implant,” says Total Gym. And it will, in whatever way it wants.

* If I were going to talk about “play”, I’d do it as a dispatch from Vegas or the Indiana boats, where there is true game. Or if I were more of a fan, I’d go on location to a soccer stadium or baseball field. No matter what, though, I would not talk about play as the fictional ideal that artists are supposedly closer to achieving than the rest of the world. I think play is about having rules and working within their parameters (and of course breaking them when necessary). Spontaneity and improvisation are only such if there is something already there to work with. The feats of grace and agility that occur when players play are amazing because of the effort, training, and intentionality of the process. There is no such thing as play without parameters. And the more interesting the parameters, the more interesting the play.

Written by Anna Mayer

(((NOTE: Sadly Foundation Gallery left Chicago and, happily, is doing well in Los Angeles.)))

Roni Horn at the Art Institute

Roni Horn at the Art Institute
Originally Posted on Panel-House: September 2004

For this installation at the Art Institute we pulled our resources into a group article featuring myself (Terence Hannum), Mary Gustaitis-Beyer, Ruba Katrib, and Britton Bertran reviewing Roni Horn's exhibit.

Mary Gustaitis-Beyer

Roni Horn’s installation at the Art Institute is as unusual as it is good. Throughout the modern and contemporary wing of the museum, Horn has installed 80 photographs of the Thames River. By choosing this installation method, Horn leads visitors on a similar path to that of a river’s course. While this is interesting, what makes the arrangement more provocative is its placement among a top echelon of artists. Horn’s installation is identified by wall text and brochures throughout the installation - but not by each picture. Therefore if you haven’t been paying attention to it, you’re going to be mighty confused when you see a beautiful, yet random, picture of water next to a Picasso, Bonnard, or Leger. Did Rothko dabble in photography you might wonder? Viewers, when puzzled, automatically seem to search for a wall label, and Horn’s installation proves there isn’t a need for one. Her work, as with many others, can be hindered and complicated by the presence of text since it leaves no time for the viewer to have their own take on the work, and in fact, making up their opinion for them. Horn tries not to give us this easy way out, as we follow this Easter egg type hunt through the museum, her photos hold their own. I found myself only searching for photos by Horn, and ignoring everything else. Breezing through the museum, I found works everywhere, by the elevator, in the hallway, I almost tripped down a flight of stairs. The works add freshness to the galleries and oddly enough fit in every room reminding us how pleasing just looking at art in a purely visual way can be.

- Mary Gustaitis Beyer

Britton Bertran

Roni Horn’s photography project Some Thames, 1999-present, is the latest in the Art Institute’s Focus series. Focus is an ongoing presentation of contemporary artists whose work is usually resigned to the back rooms of the tiny contemporary art enclave. This exhibition however, ventures out to around a quarter of the museum creating an experience ripe for interpretation. This includes non-traditional spaces like the coatroom, the pencil-only Ryerson Library and the Gunsaulus elevator room. A cache of the photographs also graces the contemporary art wing, but the majority of the serial works occupy multiple rooms in the modern wing of the second floor.

The work itself is a series of eighty rectangular close-up photographs of the Thames River of London taken in different seasons, light and angles. The result is a refracting personal meditation on the artist’s own investigation of the role that nature and the self play in coalescing and/or departing. Concisely, this is a project that uses the metaphor of water to question the transition of space and history. The work embraces the concept of validating anonymity and stagnancy through the function of a transparent society. They are undoubtedly beautifully conceived and executed.

It is the intervention of the Thames itself, outside of Warhol’s Mao-protecting wing of contemporary art, upon the rest of the museum, which is irksome. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but partaking in this scavenger hunt created feelings from fascination to cumbersomeness and back again. Further enhancing this queasy feeling is “the pointed absence on institutional critique” that the curator, James Rondeau, firmly assures us of in the accompanying exhibition handout.

I should have never read this in the first place but the handout is vital to the exhibition. It contains anecdotes, histories, and philosophical musings of the artist that are that are an important extension of this exhibition and highly worth reading. Whether or not the artist or curator intended this intervention as “a reflection [rather] than transgression”, mockery abounds. Inevitably this is at the expense of the other works of art, artists, spectators and the institution itself.

The placing of “Some Thames”, in all its apparent opacity, reflectivity and abstract glory, is rather strongly reminiscent of a kind of hifalutin “Trading Spaces”. By uprooting some art completely and repositioning others, the photographs have a resolute manner of taking their cues from the hands of the institutional curator alone. This is his job, but to do so in a thinly veiled manner is pointedly egomaniacal. Consider: How many times did those poor mokes in the coat check room want to throw themselves in the wet darkness of that river? Did a conservative republican from Wilmette stare at the kinky Balthus’ “Solitaire” a wee bit too long? And the velvet ropes than line the walls of the galleries? Some are embracing the Thames as though its likeness has always been there, while others ignore it completely.

So “Blah, blah, blah…”, to grossly paraphrase Roni Horn’s excellent exhibition at the Dia Center in 2001, what this experience boils down to is the crux of what an intentional institutional critique defines. “Some Thames” metaphorically recapitulates an institution’s effect on societies past, present, future and the commodities therewith in. Ultimately, the Thames River and the Art institute of Chicago are both repositories and harbingers of this not-so-new concept. Coming clean is another story and one that makes this scavenger hunt worthwhile - no matter which way the pendulum swings.

Britton Bertran is an organizer in Chicago

Ruba Katrib

Framed photographs of water (photographs of the Thames River in London to be exact) are dispersed throughout the Art Institute of Chicago’s Contemporary and Modern exhibition halls. “Some Thames”, a photographic project done by Roni Horn in 1999 is currently exhibited in conjunction with “Saying Water”, a spoken word piece about the river composed by Horn.

While the ideas for the pieces are evident—the historical river, water’s movement through time, etc.—the manner in which the photographs are hung throughout Art Institute is perplexing. The text and photographs are connected to one another; once dispersed among other artworks that span the last century, the photographs lack the necessary support of the text.

The exhibition program avers that the photographs, when juxtaposed with other artworks in the museum, function as mirrors, allowing a stylistic comparison to be made between the different art objects. While interesting, this concept does not call for a photograph of water in a white frame next to a Pollock, Matisse, Balthus, or even a Cindy Sherman. Qualities of reflectivity and movement of water function as lackluster one-liners once they are literally applied: images of water “flowing” through the museum, images of water “reflecting” other artworks.

The critique of the institution as expressed in the accompanying exhibition program (the only place where you can find the transcription of the spoken word piece) is absent. Contrary to the program the photographs seldom encourage reflection nor successfully blend in with the rest of the museum. In fact, they stick out like sore thumbs, resulting in general confusion. Beyond the visual interruption, it’s also hard to ignore the cultural invasion of the Thames River, now running throughout the Art Institute.

“Some Thames”—what may have been a cogent exhibition—instead looks like a contrived exercise in unconventional curatorial practices. Lacking institutional critique where one should be present and the treasure hunt method used to hang the artwork result in negation of any coherence the photographs and text may have achieved otherwise.

(Ruba Katrib is the program coordinator at Three-Walls a Chicago residency and gallery program.)

Terence Hannum

“The color of water (whatever it is) changes constantly. Half of it is the sky.”

At first this exhibition annoyed and then, after the brochurewith the text “Saying Water” was discovered, it came together. That lasted about one week when the images dispersed through-out the Art Institute’s Modern and Contemporary wings became eclipsed by the portable texts. The compiled texts of what curator James Rondeau describes as “anecdotal observations, philosophical musings, and historical annotations relating to water” succeeded by being transportable and less didactic of a read than the photographs. Not that the contemporary wing is adept at exhibiting photography anyway just look at the cumbersome Cindy Sherman next to the meandering Wolfgang Tillmans.

Even the images in the brochure come off with more strength than when placed next to a Pollack due to their direct correspondence to the blurbs about water and rivers.

“Water is always an intimate experience, even as rain or ocean or river”

“When you photograph water you strip it of its form: of its restless, liquid reality.”

Of course bodies of water are a popular subject in contemporary photography from Hiroshi Sugimoto, Michael O’Brien, or James Welling. Roni Horn’s exhibition can also find a curious lineage to a previous exhibition at the Art Institute “Manet and the Sea”. In Horn’s texts the point gets made about the elusive forms of water, the lack of general color, and the constant change. These are points that the photographs deny and that horn admits saying in her brochure that “Looking at an image like this you may never get to the idea of water at all”. In fact you don’t and there are plenty of other photographers who do it better. It is “Saying water” that emerges as a fluid, as a compilation of changing opinion, that comes closer to engaging the properties of water.

-Terence Hannum

Bad Reception | Adam Scott @ Kavi Gupta & Leslie Baum @ Bodybuilder and Sportsman

BAD RECEPTION: Adam Scott @ Kavi Gupta & Leslie Baum @ Bodybuilder & Sportsman
Originally Posted on Panel-House: October 2004

More and more, artists are either unable or unwilling to reconcile the abstract and representational. The two aspects of their practice “come apart,” making conflicting demands on the viewer, the most crucial of which registers as a division of labor in the act of reception. We are asked to both see and read at the same time, fissuring our experience of the work. Two strong solo shows of painting opened this fall in the West Loop that exhibit this tendency, Adam Scott at Kavi Gupta Gallery and Leslie Baum at Bodybuilder & Sportsman. Both paint landscapes in heavily saturated colors using a limited, potentially gimmicky, repertory of techniques. Both of their work skirts issues of intention (irony versus earnestness) and combines the legacy of 60s formalism with Pop’s savvy with mass media imagery, comics, and cliches of the American visual imagination.

Adam Scott paints suburban A-frames, cabins, rural churches and other banal postwar architecture situated in generic American landscapes. His paintings would be ironic images of the American dream if there weren’t such suspicious, sometimes surreal goings-on in these landscapes. Loony Tunes-style arms holding mallets (or are they gavels?) and muskets (or telescopes?) peep out from inside clouds and behind buildings or trees, creating an atmosphere of judgment, surveillance, and potential violence. Scott’s paintings have an obvious political tone, made only a little less shrill by the goofy rendering. The world pictured in these paintings is one of homes that are under attack and recklessly defended, a world where paranoia and desire for mastery abound. Scott forms the images by pouring acrylic paint into thick, shaped pools. The color is highly saturated and the paint is foamy-looking, pockmarked with tiny air bubbles – the combination of which connotes melted crayons, to this viewer at least. The color-shapes have sharp but wavering edges like a cartoon version of what a TV with bad reception looks like. The materiality and iconography of Scott’s work are so specific and distinct from one another, they seem unconnected, an almost arbitrary pairing of form and content. This seeming incommensurability results in a lack of unity in the effect of the paintings.

The lack of unity is too conspicuous for us not to pay further attention. I imagine that one could argue that the cartoon idiom, high key color, and coagulated materiality together highlight the unreality of what is represented in the paintings. The cheery and childlike elements of form and process do ironically contradict the scenarios of menace and danger. Although the process and materiality arguably might function expressively and metaphorically in relation to the narrative, the latter does not return the favor, so to speak. The surrealistically rendered foibles of the Patriot Act overwhelm the material reality of the paintings. One could read some allegorical meaning into this disturbed pictorial equilibrium in light of our current political situation, that there are matters that are genuinely more urgent than others and that our vigilance must not lapse at any cost. And isn’t that what his work does? Each time we become wordlessly absorbed in color, surface, or edge, our attention is interrupted by a telescope - or is it a rifle? - pointed directly at us. In a decidedly Blake-an move, Scott creates an either/or situation where we are forced to choose between an innocent (and ignorant) world of play or, forfeiting our pleasure, the turbulent political field of the real, schematically rendered in the crass contours of cartoons. Just because the two levels derive from the same work, however, does not mean that we can have them present to ourselves simultaneously. Instead we toggle back and forth between perspectives, in effect activating a split consciousness.

Unlike Scott’s explicitly political work, Baum’s landscapes partake of that vaguely ironic, nominally apolitical romanticism so prevalent in art today. Like Scott, however, she combines heterogeneous pictorial elements: in her case, fragments of landscape, depicted, again, in a cartoon idiom, drift over and through stained, abstract fields of color. The effect is not unlike silkscreening bits and pieces of a Disney landscape on a Morris Louis painting. The juxtaposition of different visual languages is not jarring as in most postmodernist pastiche, however. The luminous oil stains (no matter how serious their pedigree in Modernist abstraction) and the blocky forms filched from Disney and Hanna Barbara (no matter how goofy) are both tremendously pretty, sometimes ingratiatingly so. Describing the colors, I want to speak the pseudo-poetic language of paint charts: pumpkin, lentil, chocolate. Just as Friedrich’s sublime vision degenerated into backgrounds for animation cels in Snow White, Modernist abstraction becomes wallpaper, subordinated as decor. We are all well aware of the diminishing returns of the cultural apexes of the past, and I would like to think that Baum’s practice is informed by these dynamics. Despite their pleasant demeanor, there is a real power struggle in Baum’s work. The power struggle can be located at the most superficial level in the contentious combination of cartoon landscape fragments and abstract grounds. To the extent that both connote cliché notions of beauty, the conflict is easily resolved in an utterly banal decorativeness. The deeper and more meaningful power struggle exists at the level of reception, in the dual demand that the viewer both read and see the paintings. This is as much a conflict between the abstract and the representational as between the visual and the textual.

Reading and seeing, however, do not easily correspond to cartoon-ish illustrations and abstract painting respectively – and this is most true in Baum’s best paintings. The abstract grounds possess a Rorschach-like ability to yield images of mountains, seas, and cloudy skies. The cartoons, on the other hand, sometimes perform visually, abstractly (as opposed to merely denoting a referent or connoting a graphic style), and are as likely to be illegible as they are to signify “tree,” “rock,” or “leaf.” "Summer’s Last Stand" (2004) evinces much of this ambiguity and struggle. The ochre and umber stains provide a ground, on top of which similarly earthy hued leaves dance and flurry along with a number of dark, feather-shaped forms, leaves of grass perhaps. The cartoon imagery turns the abstract ground into a representational one, a forest ground. Moreover, the cartoon idiom with which the leaves are rendered casts the abstract stains into the realm of cultural connotations, linking watery stains to a style of illustration that I associate with children’s books from the 70s ("The Very Hungry Caterpillar" anyone?). The ochres and umbers in turn become “mustards” and “khakis.” At the top of the canvas is a grove of eye-popping blue tree trunks, appearing as if they were quoted directly from Fantasia because of their graphic style. They are the furthest objects from the viewer (in illusionistic terms), although they thrust forward due to their blue being so heavily saturated and complementary to the brown-ish ground. The leaves and feather forms subvert illusionistic space by not decreasing in size as they scale the surface of the painting, flattening the picture plane, as well as creating an abstract rhythm in their seemingly random, allover placement, as in Larry Poon’s early work. This essentially modernist attention to the picture plane is contradicted by the graphic style, which arrests the visual play, inscribing the picture into a chain of references, cooling its visual heat by putting quotes around it. In this way, abstraction and representation, and the visual and the textual, struggle against one another, vying for whether we read or see the picture. Does Baum inscribe a chain of references in her paintings to critique Modernist ideas of art, casting modernist immediacy as always already a representation? Or is she using a Modernist vocabulary of form to “melt” cliches, reanimating what little truth has been arrested in their ice. Are these question even relevant? And, if not, is that a strength or failure of the work?

Much work recently shown in Chicago stakes its meaning on the sheer visibility of informational glut. The viewer is lead through a succession of pop and subcultural references, as if lost in a labyrinth of hypertext. The substance of much of this work is a tissue of quotations, to paraphrase Roland Barthes. The mode of reception is textual (as opposed to phenomenological), amounting to maneuvering through a network of allusions. Further, its structural model is the digital, in which everything is equivalent, weaved from the same stuff, ones and zeros – a transformation into data in the service of radical mobility and fluidity. The artwork, the one that occupies the same space as you, the viewer, in the gallery, is rendered a mere material instance of an immaterial design. Scott and Baum depart from this unilateral embrace of the textual by activating the viewer’s capacity for seeing in addition to reading. The lack of unity in their work results from a necessity to acknowledge both the world of representations – immaterial, digitized, multiple, simulacral – on the one hand, and our daily bodily experience of the material world, on the other. I would argue their most recent forbears are 90s artists like Peter Doig, and Chris Ofili, who represent a tendency in recent art to put into perspective the increasing evaporation of our world into media sign systems by embedding representation in materially specific practices. Visually dense, semi-autonomous artworks decelerate the deterritorializing flows of data precisely through courting reference and allusion – and thereby also running the risk of dissipating in textual play. Scott and Baum both seem to be continuing this latter practice, but the question remains whether the work symptomatically indexes a split consciousness, half-consciously registers our predicament, or participates critically in this context.

Written by Elijah Burgher

Den Nya Framtidsvetenkapen | Lisa Boyle Gallery

Den Nya Framtidsvetenkapen | Lisa Boyle Gallery
Originally Posted on Panel-House: September 2004

My parents just got back from Germany and while they were there, my mom (who usually proceeds to make a joke out of just about anything) said that every year a contest is held for who can make the longest, logical word. And you might be surprised but Framtidsvetenkapen falls ten letters short of last year’s winner.

Den Nya Framtidsvetenkapen (The New Science Fiction) opened at the relatively new Lisa Boyle Gallery on August 7th. Housed in an industrial building comprised mainly of recording studios, Boyle’s gallery is joined to Western Exhibitions, in fact, to visit the latter you have to walk through the Boyle gallery. These two exhibition spaces are pleasant surprises among their surroundings of sleepy freight railroad tracks and lonely signaling bridges.

The show is “a collection of works meditating upon domestic design and gardening” gathered under the title “The New Science Fiction.” Curated by EC Brown, the show ponders the connection between science fiction and domestics and finds these connections are not a new strain of genre even though these works could potentially show “the grand new realms in domestic possibilities.” Instead these connections are merely tactical “devising a situation where weird/surreal exertions risk striking a flat note.” The works in this show were strong and visually appealing but after leaving the gallery the question was how do we see the curatorial statement shaping the choice of works in the show?

Kara Braciale’s floor constructions are made of ceramic tiles, grout and foam. Mixed Flock (Covering) expertly displays an ordinary domestic element in an organic way. These pieces waver in between the realms of the home and science fiction. If one were to find this in a home, say being used as a rug, it would come close to serving its function but fall short since rugs are usually made out of some type of cloth. Thereby these pieces do “risk striking a flat note” since they leave a frustrated feeling since they cannot fall neatly into the domestic or science fiction arenas.

A scherinschnitte installation of works on paper by Shona MacDonald and Eric Salus use images from their own domestic space in order to disrupt notions of traditional rural scenes. The various drawings show hand juicers, eggbeaters, plants and a red tree, which instead of having leaves has televisions, clocks and stoves hanging from its branches. Fusing nature with elements of the home MacDonald and Salus extend the possibilities of this union.

For Wallpaper Sumakshi Singh took molds of existing irregularities of the walls of the gallery and employed them as a decorative element. By gathering them on one wall, she creates an intriguing brand of wallpaper where flaws are celebrated. These reminded me of Rena Leinberger’s At the Edge exhibition at the old Gallery 400 space where she took molds of electrical outlets, doorknobs and hinges and placed them in unusual places around the gallery space. They could be easily missed but called attention to the beautiful simplicity of elements we take for granted. Singh’s work differs however because it stretches the possibilities of interior design rather than pointing out overlooked fixtures.

So often are curatorial statements so loosely applied to works in an exhibition that even though the works are good they end up lost since they do not adhere to the mission of the show. The curatorial vision as seen in the works in this show is commendable. However if an exhibition is going to put such an intense amount of weight in its curatorial statement as this one did (and if this statement is fairly theoretical) than it should be explained more overtly and clearly.

Wriiten by Mary Gustaitis-Beyer

French Impressionism from a Bag | Lee Godie | Carl Hammer Gallery

French Impressionism from a Bag | Lee Godie | Carl Hammer
Originally Posted on Panel-House: June 2004

“Lee Godie: French Impressionism from a Bag” opened recently at Carl Hammer Gallery. Although Godie died ten years ago, she continues to shape Chicago’s art community in numerous ways, an indication of which is the thorough, illuminating catalog which accompanies the exhibition. Godie crossed the paths of art collectors, art students and various passer-bys and imparted some of her magic upon them. Perhaps Godie’s larger influence however is her position in a revenue driven gallery scene where an artist is positioned between creating and selling.

Godie’s art is categorized as outsider which she definitely was. Extremely reticent about her personal life, Godie was married and had three children but after her marriage ended and two of her children passed away, she began to live on the streets in the mid sixties. It was here where Godie made and sold her art. Both Godie’s art and personality were important to her success – each thrived off the other. Stories of her are utterly unusual, humorous and memorable. For instance, she proposed marriage to Carl Hammer several times; at times she would affix a million dollar price tag to her works (opting to lower the price eventually).

Due to her humble lifestyle, Godie would work primarily in mixed media, often adding pen to photographs taken of herself in a photo booth. She would then manipulate these self-portraits and take on different personas, sometimes painting bright red lips on herself. Femininity occupied an important aspect in Godie’s work apparent in such titles as I A Woman and Miss America. These titles along with Godie’s ubiquitous fur coat reveal her penchant for luxury and femininity despite her poverty.

It is in this vein that we can recognize Godie’s ability to create a brand of pure art. Her role as an artist permeated her entire lifestyle yet she resisted gallery representation until 1991. Despite this, Godie did achieve artistic success in the late seventies and entered many collections due to her own entrepreneurial skills. She was unique since she was able to distance herself from the art market yet still make her living off of it on her own terms. Both her lifestyle and art should serve as a guide to artists who are sometimes put off by thinking of their art in terms of commodity. Godie recognized the value of making money but when she made art she was able to put these thoughts aside. Through this she developed a genre of work that encapsulates her personality and innate desire to create art.

Written by Mary Gustaitis Beyer

Allover | Suzanne Doremus & Jim Lutes | Zolla/Lieberman

Allover | Susanne Doremus and Jim Lutes | Zolla/Lieberman Gallery
Originally posted on Panel-House: November 2004

There is something so basic about line. Something incredibly commanding about the underlying fact of its presence. Line has nothing but itself, it is contained: lyric and concrete. Both Susanne Doremus and Jim Lutes have in their individual practice, a lot of which is on display at Zolla/LIeberman, exhibited their focus and fine execution of line. In “allover” Doremus and Lutes not only show this individual work allowing it to bleed across galleries but they also exhibit works where their lines crossed and spilled collaboratively.

The mix of drawings and paintings coagulate through the galleries. A line of Doremus pieces then a single Lutes painting, or a patchwork of both artists and then a horizontal drawing both Doremus and Lutes worked on. Certainly there are differing approaches in both of their individual work; Doremus’ sinuous line over flat grounds and Lutes’ frenetic semi-figurative paintings. Their intersection into large collaborative drawings is a plateau in this show.

In these collaborative drawings Doremus and Lutes meet. Areas in these drawings are activated by ink dips, spills, graphite lines, and pools that compose a graffiti like surface. A surface much cruder than the refined de rigueur retro-“urban” graffiti writing rather the mottled walls of a public restroom crude and improvised. More the gouge or the pathetic genitalia than Futura 2000. A surface of random marks, scribbles, and doodles that opens the field to Cy Twombly just as much as Jean Dubuffet. This connection to the abject in graffiti has been made in the case for Twombly in Roaslind Krauss and Yves-Alain Bois’ “Formless: A User’s Guide”. In “Formless” both Bois and Krauss link a differing trajectory of modernism away from purity but, through Bataille’s ‘informe’, to a place outside of the form or content binary to a third area of the ‘formless’. In the scattered and strewn collaborative drawings of Doremus and Lutes perhaps what is so striking is these works contrast from the contained inclusiveness of their own individual recognizable pieces as paintings and drawings. The logic evacuates and the sense of who did what disappears and no longer are the authors looming. The untitled collaborative drawings begin to lose their form as drawings or as mistakes. The markers get thankfully muddied as they should be.

It is refreshing to observe their lines stutter, repeat, skip, catch, and spill. The methods of these drawings differ much from Twombly’s but their engagement to creating a field of marks, that appear intentional or accidental, exhibits an allegiance to the scrawl. Certain forms repeat, go unfinished, riff and blast across these drawings with an uninvited brashness that exposes the weight of this welcome collaboration.

Written by Terence Hannum

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

David Altmejd | Don't Fail Me Now | TBA Exhibition Space

David Altmejd | Don’t Fail Me Now | Group Show | TBA
October 10 – November 8 2003
Originally posted on Panel-House: October 2003

Interesting, but David Altmejd’s two “decapitated heads” at TBA’s group show Don’t Fail Me Now don’t look like they ever belonged to bodies. They look more like they were deliberately formed, they might even be in the process of forming, and they seem to conflate life with earth and mineral processes.

Have you ever been to Death Valley? There’s a sign overlooking a spot called Dante’s View which describes the fate of any creature left in the salt flat for three days: death, desiccation and encrustation. Altmejd’s Untitled 2003 (described as the head of a hippy in the gallery materials) looks as though she’s been there for three years. Caustic crystals have formed complex rivulets of shimmering color, eating into and corroding the surface thickness of her face. One eyelash still hangs on while the gaping excavation into the dark hull of her interior, lined at its peripheries with barbed wire defenses, becomes her faceless no-gaze. All beneath the nostalgic glitz of a perfectly dressed wig.

There is a certain didactic, nagging quality to this work. Riddled with allusions to the core emptiness, the black-holiness of femininity: Meet the vagina dentata with silky hair. With her gaudy cheap jewelry add-ons, she is all container. Yet there is this potentially theatrical space inside her head, beyond the barbed proscenium, that Altmejd seems to unwittingly ignore. And this oversight is passed on to you, the viewer, as you wait in vain for the lights to come on and illuminate the missing show.

The werewolf head on the other hand, Untitled 2002, ought to smell like a tar pit. Fixed to a wall from its right side, you can peer into its open neck, the black earth ooze continuing like a rough tunnel into a deep mountain. The whole thing is about life size, if you suppose I know about how big werewolves are, so don’t think you’re being literally invited into the wild to mine the pyrite crystals studding this handsome creature’s accreted, devastatingly scarred skin. But amidst the patches of hair-fur you’ll note the gaudy jewelry again and be snapped back to city streets so fast your head spins. Maybe you’ll wonder, is he just too cool? Or is he a she, and is she just too too? And please, be careful not to snag anything on the rhinestones. The message on the little piece of tape stuck on the antenna-like projection helps: “everything clear.” I love irony when it’s onanistic, don’t you?

Here’s a last thought: I wonder what would happen if Altmejd ever recognized that he’s on the verge of creating spatially projected arenas, not just empty busts. He constructs rich, varied surfaces and depths that, if allowed to speak for themselves, would invite the projection of your own narrative urges. These evocative topographies are landscaped by Altmejd’s desire to make his message just a little too un/clear.

Written by Phooferpfeffer

NOTE: TBA Exhibition Space was at the old Art Chicago space and is now, sadly, closed. Thsi show featured; David Altmejd, Melina Ausikaitis, Jay Heikes, Andy Moore, Amanda Ross-Ho and Molly Smith and was curated by Keri Butler and Lisa Williamson.

Recent Inventory Acquisitions | Vedanta Gallery

Recent Inventory Acquisitions | Vedanta Gallery
Originally posted on Panel-House: October 2003

There are only two works in this exhibition that do not fit the pictorial aesthetic at play in this exhibition. Surprisingly the two images are from Hiroshige Sugimoto, one cannot forget his grandiose photographs planted at the MCA months ago, and they are “Winnetka Drive-In, Paramount, 1993” and “Metro, Vienna, 2001”; 20”x24” focused gelatin prints of two different theatres. The pictorial aesthetic I am referring to is that of the not-quite-grandiose-but-almost-there large format mounted onto or behind something shiny and reflective.

The subjects of these photographs widely differ which is what makes them interesting, for the most part. Massimo Vitali’s “L.A.” (c-print behind plexiglass 71” x 89”) is a detailed and touched/edited/manipulated depiction of a church conference inside of a stadium. It is quite a captivating long glance at spatial confusion brought on by the event that is captured, especially if this is Oakland’s Network Associates Coliseum which it may well be considering the Raider’s logos. I mean where and when have Christians been in coliseum’s before and what was their fate? Erwin Wurm’s “Indoor Sculptures” and the nighttime blurs of Mischa Kuball “Urban Lights” are disparate in subject and effect yet compelling on their own.

Here are these images, mostly large with two exceptions, and not to forget sleek, so what? Vedanta is pointing to the current of contemporary photography very well and it is bizarre inventories like these that shape the photographers to come. You can witness it by the pocket emptying graduate work emerging from local institutions. Thankfully there is no disguise on Vedanta’s part of their new inventory on promenade. Vedanta has no illusion as to what these acquisitions imply. “Recent Inventory Acquisitions” is a perfect exposition of photography’s place in the “market society”. The question is, quite simply, why? They have never just blatantly exhibited their recent purchases for public viewing before (notice I said blatantly). They normally split their space well with younger emerging artists and more established contemporary artists in an attempt, most of the time successful, at installation.

Nagging in the distance, however, is not only the question of scale and its exaggerated output as massive but of the nature of photography itself. Why look at photography aside from its stream into daily life? It appears as if scale has momentarily solved this photographic viewing experience because if it is “big” it must be important. By importance I mean worth time to view them. These are not, nor could be confused as, snapshots. They are precious.

To stand in front of Candida Hoefer’s “Schindler House Los Angeles, 2000” and take it in brings her presence to your awareness. For it is the empty studio of modernist architect Rudolf Schindler where he and his family and friends attempted, around architecture, to structure a new way of living down to their diets. In fact, she stood in “that” place. The scale does not quite allow you to enter into the space, almost though, and there is this question of what if this photograph were really small? What if it could fit in the hand, in a wallet? Is all that is separating this photo from one a tourist would snatch is its scale, lab resources, and art market superstructure? I don’t think so, Hoefer has a very interesting way of capturing institutional spaces that though copied pales in comparison to her work. I think it is more complicated then placing the tourist who photographs against the photographer against the artist who photographs (and that itself is very complicated). In an art environment where the photograph is appearing more and more homogenous by way of its shape, scale, and price to the point where the subject is irrelevant the antithesis then rears up to counter.

Written by Terence Hannum

NOTE: Man I was a smarmy turd then. Worth noting is that Vedanta Gallery is now Kavi Gupta Gallery and I found out later that this show was arranged after another had been cancelled.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Diana Guerrero-Macia | 12x12 Space | MCA

Diana Guerrero-Macia | 12x12 Space | Museum of Contemporary Art
October 3-November 2, 2003
Originally Posted on Panel-House: October 2003

Twenty-one years ago, Diana Guerrero-Macia made her first painting in a high school art class. For her show at the 12x12 space she’s reproduced that first painting in her current style, which uses hand-sewn layers of fabric stretched like canvas. The original painting, which is presented along with two recent collages, is an advertisement for a fictional circus. It’s not the size of a poster, but has all the makings of one (beckoning clown, big-top font). The new painting is 300% larger and is one part of a diptych. The other part is an Op Art-style bulls eye. The careful treatment of the materials of the clown panel is overpowered by the sheer graphicness of the vibrating bulls eye, which results in a funny feeling of frustration. The old painting was so faithfully and sensually reproduced, yet we’re not meant to enjoy the sense of satisfaction that comes from comparing the original to its offspring? No, we’re not, and we’re also not encouraged to revel in the crafting of the bulls eye; its optical effect is so immediate and intense that it might as well have been rendered with paint. This work is Guerrero-Macia thinking about her socialization as an artist—the pressure to know one’s history and to make work that goes beyond what came before. The grandness with which she re-makes her first painting is so qualified by the Op Art quilt next to it, its as if all her book learnin’ is hovering, waving, shouting, “Over here!” If we are a product of our influences, what happens when those influences won’t back down? And if the young artist who painted the fanciful fake circus poster (what is more blatantly naïve subject matter than the circus?) is supposed to be the innocent before the storm of schooling, then the artist who made this 12x12 installation is struggling with her impulses and how to situate herself art historically. This is self-consciousness as art. We are witness to the struggle and are, even, invited to the tent as witnesses. Come one, come all!

Written by Anna Mayer

Paul Shambroom | Museum of Contemporary Photography

Paul Shambroom | The Museum of Contemporary Photography | Columbia College
Originally posted on Panel-House: October 2003

If you want exploitation for exploitation's sake visit the Alec Soth photo’s on the second and third floor of the Museum of Contemporary Photography at Columbia College. If you want exploitation for libidinal sake visit the the registrar’s office on the fifth floor in the same building. For a meditation on decorum’s sake please visit the exploitation on view in the main gallery of the MCP. Here you will find Paul Shambroom’s large-format C-prints and inkjetted canvases conveniently accessible and offering a stunning study of bipolar civics.

Access is the key here. For over a decade Shambroom has been engaged with two conceptually “separate but equal” documentations. In Meetings the artist visits town hall meetings presented in compositions of full-frontal salon style portraits of those powers that be, namely that of the assemblymen council members. In Nuclear Weapons we are greeted by mostly womb shots of our governments arsenals attended to by the occasional anonymous worker/robot/soldier gingerly, almost lazily, keeping things ticking. An additional room on that first floor includes evidentiary detritus that serves to document the documentation that really should have been cordoned off in order to preserve aesthetic fruition. Nonetheless, it is illuminating.

Though firmly and obviously political in approach, the dissemination that results from taking in the exhibition is really rather sociologic. The second and third layers of discourse here reveal a voyeuristic tension - from confronting council members with out the guide of minutes and confronting various buttons, wires, shells and bunk beds without the guide of perspective. This is serious business here. Decisions are being made and not made yet the only proof we have is courtesy of a man who’s making it his business. How many of you have ever been to a city council meeting? How many of you have bothered trying to access a military base? Would you really want to do either? (You know you can, just ask).

By activating the anthropology of both these environments, a keen sense of damnation is felt. The composition of each work places the viewer in the social system forcing a decision. Run and hide? Laugh hysterically? Is this the beginning of Armageddon or just the last people on earth you would want making a decision for you? If only Angie Harrison, Barry Thomas (Mayor) or even Claudia Baker, the council members from Stockton, Utah (population 567), would turn their heads around (RIGHT NOW!) and look at the familiar symbol that's oddly been left on the Twomblyesque chalkboard behind them. Curious? Go take some minutes of your own.

Written by Britton Bertran