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Looking Up, Marking Down

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“of or relating to the sky or visible heavens” at Western Exhibitions

Currently installed at Western Exhibitions, “of or relating to the sky or visible heavens” features the work of Michelle Grabner, Carrie Gundersdorf, Shane Huffman, Matthew Northridge, Melissa Oresky and Stan Shellabarger. Curated by the gallery’s director, Scott Speh, this show plays off the sociable and airy quality of the main exhibition space, made so by the wall of windows at the gallery’s far end. The title of the show is the dictionary definition of the word “celestial,” and, in the straightforward but expansive fashion of a definition, the exhibition includes artworks that elaborate on simple associations related to the standard meanings of “sky” as well as the lyrical meanings of “visible heavens.”

This mixture of both systematic and poetic implications—along the with “scare quotes” that surround the title, preventing anyone from taking the phrase too seriously—allow artists to represent both a sincere version of the exhibition’s theme and to touch on the irony of trying to represent the immateriality of the celestial. For instance, many of the works, including those by Gundersdorf, Grabner and Huffman, document how they were made: emphasizing their materiality.

In her trio of paintings, including Trails and Space – 20 min – neon pink and gray version (2008), Carrie Gundersdorf’s muted neon watercolor and color pencil designs extract forms from images that use various methods of recording the sky (from spectroscopes, computer-enhanced photographs, time-lapse photos, etc.). These images break down this intangible landscape into symbols and simple geometric shapes—think Color Field paintings by Helen Frankenthaler, overlain with Minimal Sol LeWitt forms, but with astronomical implications.

Shane Huffman’s inkjet print Forevering (2008) at first looks like an ethereal landscape taken by a NASA satellite. However, the materials used to construct the scene are anything but celestial, consisting of semen and menstrual blood. As a print shown in a glossy format, these abject forms are transformed into a flat decorative surface. But, even though the actual materials are absent, their imprint still remains.

Michelle Grabner’s corner work, Untitled Flock Drawing (2009), hovers between drawing, painting and sculpture. Made from rayon flock and spray adhesive, the fluffy white specks coating the corner of the gallery float or migrate upwards, creating a second, textural layer to the gallery walls. Although small pieces of the material were falling off the wall on the exhibition’s opening night (or perhaps because this was happening), the work seems to gesture towards the process of its making. The splattering, spraying, and foaming of material result in and are indexed by the variegated, infinitesimal forms made on the wall. Similar to how no two snowflakes look alike, no two of Grabner’s globs of flock are identical.

The blue firmament becomes the common motif among the works in the exhibition, allowing for play and expansion upon a common visual and poetic theme. But what is significant about this fact and what does it mean that many artists express a relationship to the sky within their works? Though the works within this show were compelling instances of contemporary responses to materiality, the thematic nature of the exhibition left me with questions. A more in-depth connection is never established between the artists and the theme they all employ, leaving the relevance of the show’s “celestial” works in question.

“of or relating to the sky or visible heavens” will be on view Jan. 9–Feb. 14. Western Exhibitions is located at 119 N. Peoria, Suite 2A. Gallery hours: Wednesday through Saturdays, 11a.m.–6p.m.

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