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Review Roundup

Check out 4 staff reviews on current exhibitions in Chicago.

By Arts & Culture, Uncategorized

Photo by Alejandra Monserrat Gonzalez Romo

Objects That Grow Souls: Mindy Rose Schwartz at threewalls gallery

Photo by Alejandra Monserrat Gonzalez Romo

Mindy Rose Schwartz
Jan 14 – Feb 26, 2011
threewalls gallery
119 N peoria #2c

In Mindy Rose Schwartz’s solo exhibition at threewalls, ceramics figurines like the ones we remember from our grandma’s favorite cabinet, paper, marbles, feathers, mirrors, macramé and furniture-like structures have been combined into sculptural installations with an almost mystical evocative power.

While still retaining their connection to interior decoration, domestic objects make the leap from the realm of the mundane to the fantastical. Schwartz is interested in the mutability of domestic objects imbued with a wide range emotions and personal stories, and she uses these elements as the building blocks for pieces that blur the boundaries between the object and the human.

Papier-mâché hands with leg-like fingers have somehow sprouted human-like faces, like characters extracted from a fantasy story, and they quietly greet the viewer as she enters the gallery. Another sculptural installation serves as an unusual piece of furniture laden with recognizable household symbols, which has also mysteriously grown feet and hands.

The exhibited pieces bring back memories of tacky knick knacks and ornaments that we have encountered a million times, and perhaps have hated; but in Schwartz’s installations, they are transformed. They surprise us, but also remind us of the strength of their sentimental power, the way they manage to occupy the exact same spot in a home for many years, with the sole purpose of pleasing the eyes and filling an empty space.

—Alejandra Monserrat González Romo
Photo courtesy of Western Exhibitions

Heads on Poles at Western Exhibitions

Photo courtesy of Western Exhibitions

Heads on Poles
Jan 14 – Feb 19, 2011
Western Exhibitions
119 N Peoria #2A

It appears that the West Loop has been invaded by a sense of fun and willingness to experiment that can be all too rare in Chicago’s typically placid art scene. Across the hall from Mindy Rose Schwartz’s solo show, Paul Nudd and Scott Wolniak have organized an exhibition at Western Exhibitions that is, in a word, awesome: roughly 50 artists have been invited to show their unique take on the concept of a head on a pole.

Western Exhibitions is a small space, and this show is incredibly crowded — but fabulously so. The viewer has the thrilling sensation of entering a strange forest of Pop, kitsch and gore, a garden of tortured forms that you might expect (or at least hope) to see in the garden of a particularly morbid outsider artist.

It’s hard to choose a favorite, but Nick Black’s “Popcorn” machine stands out in particular — this mixed-media kinetic sculpture includes the form of a toy horse, a television, and a huge vat for popping popcorn (yes, it really works). John Riepenhoff’s “My Old Head” was also particularly striking: an eerily lifelike plaster cast of a face, adorned with a shiny blonde wig and thick glasses, has been mounted upon a sword. Fake blood drips down onto a note that has been impaled underneath the sword, upon which the artist (or his friend?) cheerfully asks us to enjoy his old head. Some artists took a less literal, gory approach, like Vincent Dermody’s “untitled,” a post with wooded arrows pointing in different directions, painted his trademark black.

What’s the overall curatorial statement here? I don’t know, and I don’t really care. This was one of the best gallery-going experiences this reviewer has had in a long time.

Letter from New York: Jimmy Joe Roche at RARE Gallery

Jimmy Joe Roche
Jan 6 – Feb 3, 2011
RARE Gallery
547 W 27th St, Ny NY

If the alternative arts scene in Baltimore can be compared to a brightly colored hippo squirming ecstatic synth-beats as it devours ice-cream, Wham city native Jimmy Joe Roche is its shape-shifting barbarian-wizard. Wrapped in cables and wires, he rides on the city’s back as he casts dreams and nightmares on those curiously watching below. For those unfamiliar with this scene, it’s characterized by loud, frenzied and colorful musical acts such as Ponytail and Dan Deacon (a long time collaborator of Roche’s) and alternative art events like Whartscape.

Photo by Nick Briz

In a solo show currently on display at New York’s RARE gallery, Roche presents videos, a mixed-media installation, and a hand-cut paper wall sculpture — a chaotic array that aptly reflects Roche’s propulsive, varied and interdisciplinary practice.

His videos are a psychedelic collection of characters, scenes, noises, and moods — sometimes appropriated but usually hand-crafted — that join together in kaleidoscopic communion. The characters in his videos (performed by Roche) are constantly shaking, shifting, jumping, and jittering. They’re frantically working on tasks, which almost always require sharp objects and electric guitar pedals, rushing to finish them on time before the 2012 YouTube Apocalypse, all the while contemplating the mysteries of the pop-spiritual narrative that ties all of Roche’s work together.

Photo by Nick Briz

This mythical narrative, which I had previously encountered in Roche’s online videos, became real for me as I paid reverence to the spirits depicted in his life-size hand-cut paper wall sculpture, “Deep Horizons.” Similarly, when I approached “Pulpit,” his mixed-media altar, I found an American eagle trucker hat, a home-brew mace, and a hard, plastic vest wired with electronics, forever waiting for its preacher (or the “True Soldier of My Lord,” as was written on the pulpit) to take them up and lead the gallery’s visitors in media-doomsday meditation.

Roche’s seemingly personal spiritualism is a hyper-concentrated reflection of the iconographic landscape that makes up our on-line and off-line pop-media culture. And while it’s easy to get lost and disoriented, it never ceases to thrill.

—Nick Briz

Finding Vivian Maier at the Cultural Center

Photos courtesy of John Maloof

Finding Vivian Maier
Jan 8 – Apr 3, 2011
Chicago Cultural Center
78 E Washington St

I was skeptical about this exhibition when I first read the press release, which described the Henry Darger-like, post-humous discovery of a treasure trove of images captured by a self-taught photographer. In general, exhibitions that are so determined by biography are not very interesting.

Photo courtesy of John Maloof

I was wrong. “Finding Vivian Maier” at the Chicago Cultural Center is a knockout. Scores of black and white photos from the 50s and 60s (as well as a few color prints from the late 70s) do include some of the more expected street shots — lots of dirty children playing, grotesque character types, and so forth. But there are also some incredibly striking compositions: one photo that stands out in particular shows a solitary woman striding down a covered arcade. The columns supporting the arched roof cast strong, inky shadows alternating with bright bands of light, formally echoing the light and dark strips of the window blinds adorning the shops lining the street. There’s a powerfully eerie, de Chirico-esque feeling in the image.

Photo courtesy of John Maloof

The obvious art historical reference here, of course, would be Eugène Atget. Like her French predecessor, Maier almost obsessively attempted to capture ephemeral moments of her daily urban experience and the changing cityscape around her. Unlike Atget, though, Maier had a predilection for photographing herself, and these are some of the strongest photos in the show: we see a sternly concentrated young woman looking down into her camera view finder, as she points the lens into a reflective window or mirror, intent on the work of her lifelong obsession.

—Ania Szremski, Arts Editor

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