Daily Archives: April 24, 2013

West of Visibility- (On Chicago gallery criticism)

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.

Fortunes of Abstraction: Matthew Metzger at Kavi Gupta Gallery

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.