Author Archives: ionbehar

Joan Mitchell at The Poetry Foundation

“Joan Mitchell: At Home in Poetry” at the Poetry Foundation, is both elegant and sober. It is perhaps too restrained knowing the intensity and expression of Mitchell’s works. As a lover of contemporary art, the idea of visiting the Poetry Foundation may not seem the most appealing, but this is a show everyone can enjoy.

The extremely well funded Poetry Foundation opened its River North home in 2011 at the corner of Dearborn and Superior, designed by the Chicago firm John Ronan Architects. I first looked at Mitchell’s Minnesota (1980) – a large quadriptych painting installed in the entrance of the institution – located outside the building. The transparency of the building and the reflection of the outside trees superposed to the painting itself was uncanny, more than being inside the gallery space. (See the image below)

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Mitchell is not known for her lines. Only as a child did she write poems, but literature and poetry would remain sources of inspiration throughout her career as a painter and printmaker. Her mother, Marion Strobel, was a fiction writer, editor and poet and worked as an associate editor at Poetry magazine. (The Poetry Foundation is the publisher of Poetry). Poetry and painting have been in a long and complicated relationship. Clarifying poetry through art exhibitions, lectures and other events, has been a goal of the foundation, to make poetry less insulated and open it up to the public, not just to the academic community. While I cannot conclude that this is successfully achieved here, poetry is perhaps the most difficult of all literary forms to teach. Through Mitchell’s example, the foundation may seek to address the difficulties and rewards of bringing the visual and the verbal into friendly contact.

The exhibition also includes four vitrines in the library featuring several photographs of Mitchell’s childhood and later years, the December 1935 issue of Poetry in which her poem “Autumn” was published, and letters from her parents. Another vitrine showcases correspondence between the poet, art critic and curator Frank O’Hara and Mitchell. One can review gossip-filled letters, an original copy of O’Hara’s poem “Adieu to Norman, Bon Jour to Joan and Jean-Paul,” (1979), and photographs of the two.

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Although Mitchell lived most of her life in France, her childhood memories of the Lake Michigan and the Midwest were always part of her oeuvre. As she said, “I carry my landscapes around with me;” indeed Mitchell also carries poetry with her, another type of landscape.

“Joan Mitchell: At Home in Poetry” is on view through May 31 at the Poetry Foundation; poetryfoundation.org.

Joan Mitchell at The Poetry Foundation

“Joan Mitchell: At Home in Poetry” at the Poetry Foundation, is elegant and sober. It is perhaps too sober knowing the intensity and expression of Mitchell’s works. As a contemporary art lover, the idea of visiting the Poetry Foundation may not seem the most appealing, but don’t let that stop you from seeing this show.

The extremely well funded Poetry Foundation opened its River North home in 2011 at the corner of Dearborn and Superior, designed by the Chicago firm John Ronan Architects. I first looked at Mitchell’s Minnesota (1980) – large quadriptych painting installed in the entrance of the institution – from outside the building. The transparency of the building, the reflection of the outside trees superposed to the painting itself was uncanny, more than being inside the gallery space. (See the image below)Image

Mitchell is not known for her lines. Only as a child she wrote poems, but literature and poetry would remain sources of inspiration throughout her career as a painter and printmaker. Her mother, Marion Strobel, was a fiction writer, editor and poet and was an associate editor at Poetry magazine. (The Poetry Foundation is the publisher of Poetry). Poetry and painting have been in a long and complicated relationship. Clarifying poetry through art exhibitions, lectures and other events, has been a goal of the foundation, to make poetry less insulated and open it up to the public, not just to the academic community. I’m not sure if this is successfully achieved but poetry is perhaps the most difficult of all literary forms to teach. Through Mitchell’s example, the foundation may seek to address the difficulties and rewards of bringing the visual and the verbal into friendly contact.

The exhibition also includes four vitrines in the library featuring several photographs of Mitchell’s childhood and later years, the December 1935 issue of Poetry in which her poem “Autumn” was published, letters from her parents. Another vitrine showcases correspondence between the poet, art critic and curator Frank O’Hara and Mitchell: their gossip-filled letters, an original copy of O’Hara’s poem “Adieu to Norman, Bon Jour to Joan and Jean-Paul,” (1979), and photographs of the two.

Image

Although Mitchell lived most of her life in France, her childhood memories of the Lake Michigan and the Midwest were always part of her oeuvre. As she said, “I carry my landscapes around with me,” she also carries poetry with her, another landscape.

“Joan Mitchell: At Home in Poetry” is on view through May 31 at the Poetry Foundation; poetryfoundation.org.

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.

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Troy Briggs at Shane Campbell Oak Park

Troy Briggs at Shane Campbell Oak Park