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Gallery Shorts

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F sent its crack team of art reporters into the field to gather information on the hottest small gallery action in Chicago. Below you’ll find the greatest hits from their intrepid journeying

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Nature of Wilderness
Kasia Kay Art Projects
1044 W. Fulton Market, through July 28

The wildness of nature and how it may be perceived in modernity are examined by the eleven artists in Kasia Kay Art Projects’ Nature of Wilderness exhibition. Whether slyly questioning or blatantly mocking, the show questions how much we can genuinely appreciate nature, or even know it at all. In Howard Fonda’s untitled paintings, trees are stripped of their leaves and all but a handful of branches remain. The branches themselves appear to have been broken off and then reattached artificially. The naturalness of Fonda’s subject is amplified through his use of simplified, textured planes of color, alternating blues, browns and other tones serve as the background. Fonda’s tree paintings, however, are pieced together not by observation, but by memory, from stories and pictures-but never from nature itself. Whatever a natural setting might actually be is filtered through years of modernization and third hand perspective.

In Julia Oldham’s two video pieces, Pull and Night Spider, the artist similarly interrogates the relationship between nature and modernity by mimicking the movement of insects. In one work, she waves her arms at a giant light like a moth and in the second, she simply bends and pulls at the grass. In both, Oldham’s movements are artificially accelerated, and the fluttering sounds of legs and “wings” are added, creating a frenetic effect. As a human replicating the movements of insects, the artist seems to be both honoring and mocking the mechanics of nature. There is a sense of sincere appreciation and futile imitation in Oldham’s presentation, as there is in much of humanity’s interaction with nature. There is simultaneously, however, a potential lack of respect for or knowledge of the significance of natural functions.

Chris Oakley’s video piece, Sight/Seeing, is similarly and consciously reductive in its portrayal of the relationship between tourists and nature. The artist’s attempt to create a modern, mediated perception of nature is most aptly accomplished in the image of a lion chewing at a carcass while the camera shutter clicks away. In this scenario, even nature in one of its cruelest and most untamed forms becomes a benign photo opportunity. As a whole the show is a successful conglomeration of different mediums and different takes on the same thought: even when we are most inspired by the natural world around us, we still do not entirely understand it, and, perhaps, never will.

The Last Seduction-A Welcome Surrender to Beauty
Through June 30, 2007
Carrie Secrist Gallery, 835 W. Washington

Few exhibition concepts are contemporarily considered more pass than a show about beauty. This outdated-ness is acknowledged immediately upon entering The Last Seduction-A Welcome Surrender to Beauty, currently on view at Carrie Secrist Gallery, with a quote from New Yorker art critic, Peter Schjeldahl, who asserts that: “There is something crazy about a culture in which the value of beauty becomes controversial.” Schjeldahl might have a point in his observation regarding the devaluation of aesthetics; as The Last Seduction demonstrates, however, in the wide variety of works selected, the idea of beauty is much more amorphous than it may commonly be perceived. Kirsten Hassenfeld’s Shrine in White, for example, consists of a sort of feminine sort of beauty that is both surreal and delicate. The installation consists of a child-sized enclosed shrine entirely in white. The size, pristine whiteness, and intricacy of Shrine exemplifies beauty in its most traditional sense; the installation would not be out of place, for example, on stage at a beauty pageant. Guy Limone’s Marseille Orange/Paris Yellow characterizes the more varied sort of beauty explored in The Last Seduction. The work consists of two fluorescent bulbs with colored transparency film containing brightly colored, almost garish images drawn from popular culture in the designated colors yellow and orange. Combining an everyday object such as a light bulb with images which the viewer has potential encountered elsewhere, the artist invites re-consideration of where beauty might be found in postmodern culture. While Limone’s work does not correspond with traditional aesthetic valuation, it demonstrates Secrist’s interest in pushing the boundaries of the concept, exploring its presence in the everyday, and renewing interest in an oft-scoffed-at idea.

Zak Smith: Half the Artist’s Proceeds from This Show Will Go to Benefit the Victims of God and Capitalism
Kavi Gupta Gallery
835 W. Washington, through June 16

Smith’s punk-rock, schoolboy doodling aesthetic has gotten him as far as the Whitney Biennial and much international recognition. The artist-cum-rebel is no new idea, but it seems to be extending into a whole new economic realm these days, with an art world mooning over mysterious graffiti artist-identities such as Banksy. Smith, who also goes by the name Zak Sabbath in his other career as a porn star, deftly straddles the line of life and art in his art and identity, and why does he need two names to do two different jobs? Kavi Gupta’s show presents a character as a substitute for the artist; Smith’s boyish rebelliousness (as an act?) comes out with titles such as “Sol Lewitt I spit on your grave”, “the girls in the Naked Girl Business” and “Drawings made around the time I became a porn star.” Besides being provocative and fun to look at, the paradox that Smith clearly wants to get across is that he doesn’t really care about the art business; nonetheless, his intricately composed drawings clearly reflect the opposite. This paradox extends beyond his presentation or his titles; content-wise, sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll co-exist with tender portraits of tough girls and sensitive, tiny sketches of dirty apartments, all enhanced with expressive highlights of color and speckles of whimsical squiggles. The extensive show seems out of place in a cleaned up gallery space, but leaves us wondering what the difference is between an art star and a porn star?

There: University of Chicago 2007
MFA Thesis Exhibitions

through May 27th,
ThreeWalls SOLO, 119 N. Peoria, #2A, through May 27,
continuing at Hyde Park Art Center through June 10, 5020 S. Cornell

The small group show featuring the work by five MFA students at the University of Chicago seems to all bleed together into one work, with the exception of the marvelous installations of Leigh-Ann Pahapill and Carey Lin. Pahapill, whose cacophonous installation includes field monitors, drywall, color gels and other instruments which attempt to capture reality, attempts to stage through various mediums, “the impossibility of representation.” With a simultaneous nod to Robert Smithson and Jessica Stockholder, the work guides you through a kind of multimedia still-life which never quite leads to any original source or final rendering of any kind. Lin’s contribution (in the main gallery space) consists of oil on panel paintings of trash bags propped up along baseboards and, oddly enough, an office-style filing system filled with books of shaped poems. The content of these poems are the subject headings from thousands of emails she received (one reads, “re: Carey? Is that really you? oh, I don’t know”). The most successful work of Lin and Pahapill gropes towards and purposefully fails to grant us a satisfying end to the dilemma of immediate representation and perception.

Commemorating 30 Years, 1976 – 2007, Part Three, 1991-2007
Rhona Hoffman Gallery, 118 N. Peoria,
through June 16

Rhona Hoffman’s third, and last, installation of the gallery’s “greatest hits” from the past thirty years is a comprehensive, if at times overwhelming survey of the most well-known, and pricey works of art still left in storage. It becomes hard to know where to look as Sol Lewitt competes with Kehinde Wiley, and Lorna Simpson converses with emerging artist Adam Pendleton. Nonetheless, Hoffman’s contribution to Chicago’s contemporary gallery scene is evidenced through the chock-full collection of museum-worthy work on view. Although the show includes work from the past sixteen years, the expansive space is crowded with works that cross generations, styles and approaches to art-making. The collection seems more like an airing-out of the store-rooms filled with second-market acquisitions than any kind of considered, curated selection. For example, afrenetic painting by middle-aged Egyptian artist Ghada Amer is juxtaposed with a sculpture by the long-deceased Arte Povera artist Lucio Fontana which hangs, snuggled in a corner almost as an afterthought. Luckily, a catalogue of all three exhibitions will come out shortly. In the mean time, Hoffman’s ambitious project has provided Chicago with an offering that is better suited for a (haphazardly organized) art history survey course than a gallery exhibition.

<Tony Fitzpatrick: The City Etchings, 1993-2003
Architrouve, 1433 W. Chicago,
through June 30

The discomfort experienced at the opening of Tony Fitzpatrick’s The City Etchings-where a gallery, back porch, and backyard couldn’t contain the crowd which flocked to see the first public exhibition of the artist’s ten-year-work-in-progress-testifies to Fitzpatrick’s status as a Chicago art scene heavyweight. His latest offering includes etchings in the artist’s characteristically intricate style which attempt to create an urban narrative that exists somewhere between the Fitzpatrick’s psyche and real life.

Reading the Remains: A Group Show
Around the Coyote, 1935-1/2 W. North,
through June 2

A little over a week remains to see the work of SAIC’s own Visual and Critical Studies graduate students at Around the Coyote. The relatively young department encourages graduate students to bridge the popularly perceived gap between thinking and making, resulting in thought-provoking work. The works on view vary from photography to sculpture, graphic design to film, and include works by students Dakota Brown, Ismiaji Cahyono, Mayi Carles, Sarah Jane Mallin, Julia Marsh, Kelly Mullendore, Ann Pandjiris, Michelle Sciumbato and Garland Taylor.

Peregrine Honig: Pretty Babies
Gescheidle, 1039 W. Lake, 2nd floor,
June 1-July 14

San Francisco artist Peregrine Honig’s saccharine yet haunting drawings have been acquired for such big-name collections as the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Fogg Art Museum at Harvard University. Honig exhibits a series of these drawings at the recently-relocated Gescheidle beginning on June 1. This recent set of multimedia drawings are inviting in their inexplicability and intriguing in the implications about contemporary consumer culture.

Jennifer Presant: Project
Linda Warren Fine Art Gallery, 1052 West Fulton Market,
through June 23

The moment when the viewer realizes that Jennifer Presant’s strikingly realistic images-which appear to be elaborate collages of photo and silhouette-are actually entirely painted is one that comes a surprise. Presant’s recent paintings, on view at Linda Warren, physically and contextually evoke the concept and manifestations of human memory. The relationship between the artist’s previous background as a graphic artist and the works on view at Linda Warren should prove to be interesting for anyone invested in the much-considered debate regarding the future and current state of painting as a medium.

The Paul Nudd Curatorial Experience: Arlene TextaQueen, Jason Villegas, and Aaron Wrinkle
Western Exhibitions, 1821 W. Hubbard, Ste 202,
June 2 – July 7

Gross-out extraordinaire artist Paul Nudd has put together, not surprisingly, a deadly serious pop-culture manifesto. TextaQueen, from Australia, creates soft-core porn cum Olympian, big-headed nudes with felt-tip markers. Villegas, recently named “Houston’s best artist,” incorporates painting and sculpture around the concept of Ultrabastard, the artist’s invented brand name for an imaginary, but all-too-real consumerist, amoral sector of society. Wrinkle, who is just finishing his MFA at Calarts, uses found objects and cliched sayings in his “lo-fi” installations, putting swastikas and “for sale” signs on the same physical and conceptual level. Paradoxical in execution, all three artists use everyday imagery, and through pure juxtaposition reveal the trauma and revulsion that lies all around us. Concurrently, Nudd will exhibit his own viscerally vile work, (and a new sculptural angle), with Stacza Lipinski, in the project space.

Gladys Nilsson: 25 Years of Watercolors, 1982-2007
Jean Albano Gallery, 215 W. Superior
through June 30

SAIC Professor and one of the several founders of Chicago’s legendary Hairy Who group, Gladys Nilsson is known for her watercolors, many of which depict bizarrely elongated figures in dream-like spaces. Nilsson first began to exhibit with artists such as Karl Wirsum who also has a major retrospective currently on view at the Chicago Cultural Center at the Hyde Park Art Center in the 1960s, consistently creating crass, funny, and cerebral work that directly addressed the pretension of the 1970s New York art world. Nilsson’s most recent paintings consist of a further developed variation on both her earlier content and interest in watercolor as medium.

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