CRADLE OF FILTH
May 4 – June 22, 2013
The current role of “Gallerina”, artist, and critic in Chicago is frustrated and constipated. There is little invisibility of hostility in this art venue of Chicago. The artists continue to create and it gets handed to the “Gallerina” and the critic is unwelcome for business, because it’s just bad for business. In a struggling economy no one wants more bad news. Yet bad news is the latest gossip worth writing and reading about. We all are not so secretly paranoid about what we are consuming.
Opinions should be free. Critics should be critical, but the quality of interpretation should be directed. If an object is meant to sing its heart out for the viewer the viewer should be open and willing to do some investigating. Things are never as they appear to be. The gallery walls are meant to be unobtrusive. We want them to lose sight of scale and imagine the piece in the ideal space. But as unblemished as the walls become it will never be a neutral space. No space is neutral. Traditionally the artist makes work in a private space. Bringing the work into the public at a price feels like prostituting the makers children. They want to hold their integrity as they hold their pose on the icy stage as they sell their soul to the viewer. The gallery stage is cold and the artist is always left vulnerable and bare.
I understand the desire to want to be greeted without hostility by objects. The handler is there to hold the hand of the buyer to reassure them of their investment. If there is foul play stirred by a critic they are having second thoughts. Explain to them what they missed at opening night. Not everyone makes it on time. Everything seems to be Fifteen minutes away, but it tends to end up just another block further. An explanation for creation as we stand there so patiently for those seven seconds is so desperate. We crave the reassurance that the artist isn’t hiding an ambivalent agenda. No body wants to be taken advantage of. We want to be sure of how many calories are in each art piece. We want the cage-free, pesticide free, and hormone free organic work stamped on it before we sign on the bottom line.
The gallery system is old buildings with flat white walls. Chicago is a new building with old pipes. It is quite clear that when it rains Chicago doesn’t lift its skirt and wave in a free ride. Chicago opens up and swallows its habitants. The format of constructive critique relies on the potential for improvement. How can we represent art if it’s passing through corroded pipes? We all have witnessed what happens when pipes kink this city starts to sink. The runoff and sewage passes through the same pipe into our summer water. Don’t look up the plumber, or the insurance company find the social worker and engineers.
Chicago-based artist Matthew Metzger’s three works in Waver at Kavi Gupta Gallery, aim to do nothing less than mark the space, or even better, several overlapping spaces – the space of the commercial gallery, the space of painting, and the space of abstraction.
As you enter, on the left wall of the smaller room of the gallery is “Apparition,” originally installed in 2011 as “Ghost” in the Smart Museum of Art (University of Chicago) in the institution’s entryway. It is a large painted red and white latex scuba “diver down” emblem in the middle of a canvas that echoes the flags used on the water to indicate that there was a diver below. At the gallery, the work is installed with the two extreme sides falling and draping giving the sense of the flag wavering in the ocean. Or perhaps the message of the sign, used here for a different purpose, is one that feels doubtful, unsteady, wavered. Although the sculptural painting points to a specific sign with a specific form, the work seems to be about “nothing.” By this I mean to the issues of both nothingness and likeness, inescapable provocations when dealing with abstract art.
The scuba sign is appropriated from Edouard Manet’s The Dead Toreador (1864) that depicts a dead man lying down with a flag. Manet represents the birth of abstraction and also the death of figuration, something that inspired Metzger’s works titles pointing to the “dead man.” For the first time in his career Metzger re-contextualized his own work by moving “Ghost” from the Smart Museum to “Apparition” at Kavi Gupta. By appropriating Manet’s work and his own gesture, Metzger creates a dialogue between the three works together.
“Apparition” is a composition of geometric shapes – basic forms that are also part of a “high” culture once they are in the gallery. Although simple to construct, the work becomes complex and charged during the process of creating the image. The big question I asked myself walking around the space was “Why abstract art?” or “What is or means abstraction today?” These questions became more relevant when I connected Metzger’s show with other two exhibitions I visited recently: Destroy the Picture: Painting the Void at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago and Inventing Abstraction at the MoMA. These two museum exhibitions are historical but maintain a modern relevance by setting forth questions like those that are asked in current times regarding aesthetic issues, void and nothingness. Do abstract artists today do not pretend to the great ambitions of the early 20th century – revolutionary and utopian? It seems that Metzger is not interested in abstraction as a social idea or a historical category, but believes in the possibilities of non-objective image making. His works show a sort of “evolution” towards a deep abstraction; they make the viewer look at what’s not there.
Two other paintings were installed in the center of the two remaining walls of the room – The Other Side of One and Three Signs (Left) and The Other Side of One and Three Signs (Right). Almost identical, the two medium size works are painted in Ultimatte Green, a color that is used in the motion picture and video industries today to maintain extreme detail in figures on the screen. The colors chosen by Metzger, the red and the green, create a dizzying combination in the small room and it makes it necessary to think about the strong chromatic choice that is at stake. Similarly to Peter Halley, there is a deep sense of pessimism in all this bright and affirmative color. And this clash or tension between red and green, makes the work much more appealing.
Abstract art apparently refers only to invisible, inner states or simply to itself. But in Metzger’s oeuvre it seems that abstract art refers to something else today. That reference is unclear; it reveals emptiness and a history of eternal appropriations. The blurring on the wall or in one’s own mind, suggests mental representations of some vague unclear trace of past ideas.
Nozkowski is problematic in a sense by being so un-problematic. He’s now an older generation artist, with a massive web of connections to world’s most prestigious museums and collections, which have been eating up his modest size abstractions since an early 70’s first show with pleasure.
Current show on display at Russell Bowman Art Advisory is the first group of Nozkowski’s to be shown in Chicago over 20 years, which sounds like someone was bound the see the opportunity at hand to make a quick buck offloading some small abstractions to less in-the-know midwesterners –no particular offense to globe-trotting collectors of Chicago. Gallery 1 offers a display of “larger” works, oil on panel and oil on paper pieces subtly varied in size from 22’‘x28” to 22 1/4” to 30”. Gallery 2 contains a mix of pencil and gouache works along with a few smaller oil on paper pieces. These smaller works do not provide he usual dynamic of “in the grand showroom we have the large masterpieces, and if you go the room behind the curtain you shall see the studies”, since they are finished works too, equally dense as large ones, with similar paint application and sizes Nozkowski painted in the past decades insistently.
When I look around the room, I see an endlessness in variety and invention, which makes me grow suspicious when I’m face to face with work that cherishes these qualities in abundance. In his interviews, Nozkowski often alludes to magical qualities of optical play between shapes and color, maintaining a purified relationship to making and generating information. He says, speaking of a Pisanello painting he found inspiring as a child, “I was trying to find out why those elements work. How could a pale yellow disc have such a strong effect?” , or when asked if he ever did figure out what makes things work, he replies: “not in specifics. I mean, if you could figure it out, it would lose a lot of its magic. You’d possess it too closely. What I did come to understand was the possibility of working out of a feeling rather than a formal direction.”
This mystical speak which comes up too often when artists over 50 are questioned about their work, is banal to my young eyes and mind. I was shaken with a similar sensation at Judith Geichman’s talk at Carrie Secrist few weeks back, when the content of the work was described as “the moment”, even the “momentary moment”, or “my life experience”, “my way of seeing things”. Although we all possess a dreamy idealist, mid-century romantic deep down somewhere, these romanticized notions simply don’t cut it for my fresh out of grad school mind, especially coming from estabilished artists.
Indeed, artist’s who have had their start three or four decades ago are not expected today to make work to look as if they are 25 years old, but as in Nozkowski’s case
, when hundreds and hundreds of “young artists” today are churning out similarly modest sized, similarly colorful and eager to invent work, potency of his masterly persona is lost (this persona born in the aftermath of promotional efforts, gallery and institution support, art historical elbow rubbing)
Yes, these paintings are lively and colorful and yes, abundant biomorphic shapes clash with possible signifiers and architectural grounds all over the pictorial space, but at the same time they remain too closed off, predictable and non critical.
-this review is (clearly) based on subjective musings and meant to ignite possible discussion.
In a sea of luke-warm exhibitions that flooded the West Loop this past month, one seemed to stand out as the obvious and desperately needed temperature shift. Judith Geichman’s new paintings and works on paper displayed at Carrie Secrist Gallery allowed me to sink my teeth into work oozing with the aura of being made.
The black and white paintings appeared to be made with a keen awareness for limitations; each was painted on the floor in black and natural white on a square canvas, identically scaled (except for one smaller black and beige work towards the back of the gallery), and seemingly executed with identical tools—one of which was a zigzag cut out plastic shovel from Target, manipulated by the artist to achieve a rake-like texture. Despite the laundry list of restrictions, Geichman succeeded in creating an installation where each painting stood entirely on its own and contained its own set of formal properties. Variation in space, texture, speed, contrast, and energy kept me aware of how un-formulaic the paintings were, despite their formal set of parameters. Some works came across full of color, others achieved a high level of mood and atmosphere, and a few challenged space by allowing a flattened, pattern-like texture to take over the composition.
The abstract, expressionistic paintings could be perceived as having a direct relationship with the masculine abstract expressionists of the 1950’s, but I think to assume such a lineage would be a premature and perhaps inaccurate judgment. Instead I read the work first as a practice in intimate investigation with materials, not intending to point to any other moment in art history except for the artist’s own—these paintings felt uniquely conjured and performed by Geichman, alone in her studio, struggling to find resolve in each piece as its own, individual entity.
I felt the works on paper in the adjoining gallery worked successfully as one, clean, installation on the wall—I had difficulty singling individual drawings out as better or worse than others. I thought each worked in relationship to both their immediate neighbor and to the entire wall as a whole. The wall works also succeeded in acting as their own work, as opposed to being seen as preliminary drawings for the paintings on view.
At Geichman’s gallery talk in conversation with Dana Degiulio, it was made abundantly clear that the artist’s concerns were to allow the work to grow organically, and to keep challenging herself to create engaging work that pushed forward and against any formula. She aims to do this by changing up her approach to painting when work begins to feel boring or static in the studio. When asked (by a member of the audience) if she was bored with this process and making plans to delve into a new project, she politely hinted at her next body of work having an unknown future—but a future no less.
In the darkened second floor gallery space at Rhona Hoffman Gallery, Karthik Pandian’s Reversal plays behind curtains. The single channel moving image program is paired with six heavy humming speakers strategically placed throughout the space allowing viewers to slowly settle in with the moving image. Filmed with two cameras onto 16mm film, Pandrian’s video is a selection of still images that fade in the Ken Burns style drawing on the nostalgia for documentaries. Red rectangles slowly move across the stills that allude to 1960’s performance documentary. With such attention to documentation it comes as a surprise that the image stills and rectangles appear through a program that Pandian has designed to produce random selection choices. The sound, as well, is produced through chance calculations that play six synthesized tones, which in turn, structure the empty darkened spaced with an auditory architecture.
In the lower gallery objects, which were used or visible in the video stills, are exhibited as a collection of ephemera. His selection of objects draws on Pandian’s earlier interest in archeological methodologies. Cast bronze gloves, an perpetually emptied bottle of whiskey, and boxing gloves on a curved arc, all are objects that concern themselves with tongue-in-cheek reference to 60’s conceptualism and its historic lineage to the Dada readymade. For Pandian this archeological methodology comes as no surprise. In his 2011 exhibition at the Whitney Museum “Unearth,” Pandian turned to the Native American city of Cahokia and featured monolithic columns filled with earth and embedded strips of film. In “The Incomparables Club” he nostalgically exhumes the cool of the 60’s, and with it, the insularity of the “cool” of the time.
Pandian considers each of these images encapsulated “medium and motion” memories that zoom through the contained space of the projection room. In it, he allows viewers to be mesmerized and captivated by synthesized humming that displaces focus with aestheticized seduction. And much like the minimalist artists of the 60’s, we are left out of the club. Indeed, the surface of the objects are polished, reflective, and presented with such autonomy that they disregard the viewer. In fact the gaze reflects from the object towards other objects in the room, seeking to find one that will allow entrance into Pandian’s club. In the back room Muddy Waters, a mop leaning against the wall has been used to clean up Drakkar Noir cologne. Paired with other objects that resemble ready-mades, Muddy Waters leaves viewers inspecting for perfection in the object’s imperfections to find the punch line. The objects in the gallery are left as reminders of what was seen in the film, they comparable to objects seen in galleries to remind us of what has been seen in history. Unfortunately with Pandian, this might not be the cool club we wanted to remember.
“The Incomparables Club” is now on view at Rhona Hoffman Gallery through April 20th, 2013.