Caleb Weintraub at Peter Miller Gallery

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I do not like text-based work. It’s hard to explain; just a personal preference.  I hold a distinction between text-based work and work which happens to include text.  I’m not bothered at all by the dedication to the sheep herder scrawled at the base of Cy Twombly’s sculpture at the Art Institute, for example.  In fact, it’s one of my favorite pieces in the museum.  To me, work that relies on text and is at a great loss with the elimination of the text, displays a type of aggression which I generally would prefer to be expressed through image or material–something less blatant.  ALthough, I am willing to believe I just haven’t seen the best of a genre.  Furthermore, I have the tendency to eventually develop a taste for whatever I proclaim with confidence I do not like.  This has happened a number of times.  But I am not yet to that point.

Which is why “Spooky Action at a Distance”, the current exhibition at Peter Miller Gallery in the WEst loop left me disgusted and a bit nauseous. Text wasn’t entirely to blame, but certainly gave me an immediate (personal) excuse for dismissal.  But I couldn’t bring myself to leave the gallery. Caleb Weintraub must be just a little bit insane and I like that.  I gather his comfort zone is painting, but the bulk of this show was a series of shamelessly creeper digital images.  The claustrophobic scenarios swarmed with doll-like figures–mostly wide-eyed children–in garish setting, surreal and haunting.  Block-letter phrases hover above the figures like “This is It” or “Take Me”.  The images sit like an apocalyptic nightmare, or a car crash from which you can’t look away.  As I stood there, surrounded by them, I hated what the sentences were implying, i hated the disgusting kid’s expressions and the cheaply constructed forests, I hated the flashy cars and compute-game aesthetic.  I had a grimace on my face I couldn’t shake.

All that hatred aside, when most of the shows I saw around Chicago that weekend (I must have seen around a dozen) I haven’t thought about since–even if I thought they were good shows in the moment, Weintraub’s work has buried itself into my image back, for better or worse.  Although I am not quite willing to pronounce the work “successful” just because it’s memorable, I do question my hatred and am willing to allow the hatred to be replaced with fascination or intrigue, or disapproval etc–an alternate category which could help me accept or make since of my repulsion.

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