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Engage or Abandon?

Wandering around the West Loop’s gallery season openings.

By Arts & Culture

Wandering Around the West Loop’s Gallery Season Openings

There were some murmurs that the September 6th Chicago gallery openings didn’t have the same hype from years past. Indeed, information about what could have potentially been an important night in the life of a local gallery was scant even on the Internet. Could EXPO CHICAGO, the largest art fair in the Midwest happening later this month, have stolen some of the thunder of Friday’s events? Have certain notable galleries put all of their exhibition eggs into the EXPO basket? Is the gallery system simply changing as curated commodities move online? A stroll through the West Loop that night seemed decidedly anticlimactic, like an average Second Friday art opening event that galleries in the neighborhood host each month during the season.

Eitoku copy-s

Michiko Itatani, “Cosmic Wanderlust” painting from Virtual Eitoku, 2013, 96”x154”, Sumi ink & oil on canvas (courtesy of Linda Warren Projects)

The first stop was Linda Warren Projects on North Aberdeen, with one of the most impressive, if not the most interesting, exhibitions in the neighborhood. Works from SAIC’s own Michiko Itatani’s “Cosmic Kaleidoscope” fill both rooms in the gallery with Baroque interiors empolying with a sci-fi twist.  Here, alien concert halls and huge parlors with fantastical chandeliers really are, well, “cosmic.” A strange theme emerges in a majority of the works: floating rings of glowing blue orbs situated in the lower middle of the paintings. It’s easy to feel like a part of Itatani’s works, most of which are on eight-by-six canvases; without a single figure in any of them, they seem an invitation to enter the artist’s reality. But, the reoccurring glowing orb design stops us, not as if it were blocking entry into one of her scenes, but rather more like the distraction of a superfluous detail on an otherwise excellent creation; the small design takes away the viewer’s interest in the whole. A highlight of the opening was Ms. Warren herself because her enthusiasm for the work was very apparent.

Michiko Itatani, "Cosmic Wanderlust" painting from CTRL-HOME, Echo CRH-11, 2012, 78" x 96", oil on canvas (courtesy of Linda Warren Projects)

Michiko Itatani, “Cosmic Wanderlust” painting from CTRL-HOME, Echo CRH-11, 2012, 78″ x 96″, oil on canvas (courtesy of Linda Warren Projects)

Itatani’s paintings were infinitely more thoughtful than “Wisconessee,” Duncan R. Anderson and Daniel Bruttig’s creations down the street at Kasia Kay Art Projects, but their A/C was pumping and the gallery felt great. There was even some taxidermy. “Alter,” a study by Bruttig in cuckoo clocks is especially architectural; the chopped-up donor clocks had been fitted together in a grand repurposing of Bavarian folk design. Childish-chic monochromatic drawings of wolves, among other things, fill out the rest of the show.

Across the street at Design Cloud, a welcome surprise. Robert Burnier’s “Things That Can Be Mistaken For Plans” represents a detailed, methodical and intuitive practice. It includes a variety of explorations with folded cardboard, aluminum and plastics, in addition to other media. In “Ten,” Burnier decorated a square piece of plywood about two feet across with hundreds of parallel but jagged ballpoint pen lines. The result is a fine, exquisite texture, and though the lines run off the edges of the piece, the lack of contrast between the ink and its background keeps the work self-contained. The piece is a rare case in which both admiration at a distance and close-up examinations are equally gratifying. One of Design Cloud’s designers mentioned that the gallery space is actually a side project of the design studio’s main work. During the day, the space is filled with desks and chairs, but once a month, a different guest curator puts a show together as part of a curatorial residency, turning the office into a contemporary art gallery for one night.

Some blocks away, Western Exhibitions, Paris London Hong Kong and Document in the 845 West Washington Street Building. It was disappointing to see that Kavi Gupta had no opening on this night and bewildering that Carrie Secrist was already closed at 7:30pm. Michael Genovese showed “Joliet” at Paris London Hong Kong, and although just barely evocative of the strange beauty of cracks in porcelain, frozen water or a windshield, the thin, jagged lines of nickel-plated steel seem like ideas not fully realized. What he says with the decision to place them as accents to the room is perhaps simply lost on us.

But, Genovese’s work at least provokes consideration of such things, whereas the works on display at Western Exhibitions and Document did not warrant further note. Making it to the top of the building, we came upon Volume Gallery’s intriguing and delightful show of Jonathan Muecke’s postmodern furniture designs, “Open Objects.” Two of the five pieces on display take to task our preconceived notions around touching things in galleries. That gallery’s director explained that all of the pieces in the show are functional, such as a beautifully crafted wooden bench cradling several gallery-goers. Adjacent to that, a tall and spindly metal table with a drastically uneven surface had a group of men standing around it, itching to set their PBRs somewhere on top. Muecke’s piece, much like the West Loop’s contributions to the gallery opening event, made them unsure whether to engage with it or abandon it.

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