Tag Archives: Painting

Chicago Art District 2nd Fridays, May 9th 2014

RITUAL No. 11: Day & Night by ROOMS

RITUAL No. 11: Day & Night by ROOMS

Until last week I had never been to the Chicago Art District’s 2nd Fridays Gallery Night in Pilsen (a neighborhood in Chicago), although I had heard of it. It’s comprised of several nearby galleries hosting receptions for the work of various artists. I saw most of the galleries, and only have a few things to say about a couple of the artists’ works.

Above is a performance piece involving the a set of directions having to do with standing up and lying down over a determined period of time. Certainly something everyone looked at. I’m not sure what to say about it.

One woman’s paintings (either her first or last name was Sylvia, but I can’t seem to track down her full name or even the name of the gallery hosting her work) had the motif of flowers before windows overlooking great expanses. Her artist’s statement said that the window created as a “way out.” She writes, “My paintings are symbols of freedom at the same time as they are enclosures, harbingers of stability.” But I was reminded too much of a phrase about irony, which I’ll appropriate here to describe the sense of her work: it is the song of the bird that has come to love its own cage. Although the window is in the scene, the paintings give the appearance of a fear of freedom. The open window gives even more excuse for staying inside.

Honesty in Lines

(Left) Agnes Martin, Untitled #13 (1975); (right) Donald Judd, Untitled (1980)

(Left) Agnes Martin, Untitled #13 (1975); (right) Donald Judd, Untitled (1980)

Vulgarization of structure through a series of degenerations have led to the unsure gesture, atomized. The artist looks to start over. The entirety of society is questioned, but the questioning itself takes on the form of regression, and any form beyond the minimum becomes superfluous. Other forms acknowledge domination—at least they put their cards on the table: the artist is corporeal, but the artist’s techniques can’t cast off its conditions by means of the work’s interior forms.

Agnes Martin rises out of Abstract Expressionism, and we can see its search for the primitive and the Absolute. Her version meets Taoism and Zen Buddhism. From this view, it is clear she is not really a peer of the Minimalists. Her lines don’t pretend to be perfect, moreover they would destroy the paintings if they were. The true, imprecise gesture reveals its human touch. The ambivalent bars are so modest that they also restrict themselves in timidity, and the colors don’t wish to burden the painting too much. Spiritual asceticism holds its sway over these lines as well.

Donald Judd’s piece is well aware of its limitations. The work itself is based on the limits of human touch, because a list of instructions is the material for the process. We immediately recognize the alien exactitude of mechanical form. At first perhaps we can exclaim that the work’s naïve dream of reason and order cannot yet be realized here—that it must stay a fantasy. It’s naïvety, however, is more aware than it seems. The sculpture is arranged in the museum or studio so that, if only briefly, this dream of order might be vivified so that we might see it.

Premature Promises

Piet Mondrian, Broadway Boogie-Woogie (1942)

Piet Mondrian, Broadway Boogie-Woogie (1942)

Piet Mondrian’s painting, like the genre he alludes to, makes a promise of happiness grown out of his forms that it can’t keep—at least not yet. Gestures dancing around form give only a glimpse of what might be possible beyond the borders of the work, even though they themselves don’t know that the boundary they walk is still subsumed under an unfree world.

Even our reactions to the art are false, and we know it. Who hasn’t felt like a fool standing before a painting, or shaking on a crowded dance floor? My question is not meant to embarrass the viewer, listener, or dancer. In the social situation of art in different forms, one finds a peculiar distance between how one feels and how one wants to feel. The viewer is alienated from his own thoughts—from himself.

Some Recent Art Shows

Work by Laura Hart Newlon. Photo from her site.

Work by Laura Hart Newlon. Photo from her site.

A couple weeks ago I went to the SAIC MFA show, where probably over 100 artists were featured. I don’t remember many to be honest, but I do remember a few prints of photographs by Laura Hart Newlon. I think I was drawn to the pieces on display due their underlying tension caused by the flatness of the medium itself and the digital layering of the elements in some of the prints. Those elements differed in their own particular flatness. The image above includes flattened fabric, covered partially by a wooden circle. One of the works had fabric itself attached to the photograph, running over the side of the print.

Robert Morris, "Untitled (Pink Felt," 1970. Photo from  the Guggenheim.

Robert Morris, “Untitled (Pink Felt)”, 1970. Photo from the Guggenheim.

Newlon’s use of fabric is a nice touch in this sense, because it’s a medium that was used by artists like Robert Morris to argue against the primacy of flatness in art, who even invoked the critique of Clement Greenberg, the priest of flat modernist painting. Robert Rauschenberg’s “Bed” (1955) is another piece that comes to mind, in which the high modern techniques of abstract expressionism are challenged by the relatively ignored arts of weaving.

On April 19th, UChicago hosted a portion of the work of their MFA students. Mark Beasley’s work is certainly impressive, and from what he’s told me, we’ll be able to see it on his website soon. It was an interactive video-panorama of a room including most of his recent work. Using your hands, you could zoom in on each piece in the room to get a better view. I haven’t known him for long, but it seems like some of his recent stuff has become more performative and conceptual. Not that those themes weren’t in previous work, but rather, there are times where a concern with computer interfaces is cast off, and he digs into the act of interfacing itself.

Nick Bastis‘s installation/environment seemed to be a hit. At one point people packed into the room within a room to read or listen to messages displayed on different screens. It was an interesting experience in that the work was an amalgamation of architecture, furniture, reading, listening, etc.

Robyn O'Neil, "Miserable Hawaii". Image from the Western Exhibitions site.

Robyn O’Neil, “Miserable Hawaii”. Image from the Western Exhibitions site.

Last Friday I went over to Western Exhibitions to see some paintings by Robyn O’Neil. If anyone knows about my thoughts on art, they know I love Mark Rothko’s paintings. And so, yes, O’Neil’s paintings reminded me of his work, specifically his later paintings, like the work he did for the Rothko Chapel in Houston, TX. The subtlety of the darkness in O’Neil’s paintings reminded me of a moment in art historian Simon Schama’s documentary on Rothko, where Schama remarks, “it’s almost as though he’s painting to see how dark he can make the light.”

From Western Exhibitions I went over to Las Manos Gallery for the opening reception of some other photographers. My favorite work there was probably that of Jaun Fernandez—a choice which is probably based on being a fan of the New Topographics style of photographers like Robert Adams and Joe Deal.

I’m glad to finally be getting out to shows now. I’m not sure what was keeping me, before. Now that it’s the end of the school year, I think there will probably a lot of great stuff to see in the next few days too.