Gregory Jacobsen at Zg Gallery

by Jeriah Hildwine


Jeriah checking out "Prostrate," new work by Gregory Jacobsen at Zg Gallery.

This past friday, Gregory Jacobsen's show "Prostrate:  New Paintings and Works on Paper" opened this past Friday, January 8th, at Zg Gallery in River North.  Readers of my Snack Report
may recall how excited I was by this.  Jacobsen has been one of my
favorite Chicago artists, ever since I saw his work in the 2005 Midwest
edition of New American Paintings.  I saw his 2007 exhibition, Palpitating Remains, at Zg Gallery, and have been waiting eagerly since then to see new work.  I was not disappointed.


Jacobsen with his work, "Triumphant Aeronautics," oil on panel, 16" x 36". When my wife Stephanie Burke asked him to pose with one of his pieces, he said, "Let's do this one. It's a self-portrait."

from Jacobsen's work are all of the shackles holding back much of the
rest of the Chicago art scene.  Missing are the resurgent irony and
halfassery of the casual, lazy, and easy artworks that demand more time
of the viewer than of their creators.  Gone are the naive seriousness
and faux sophistication of the over-conceptual and under-aesthetic
exercises in illustrating critical theory.  Nowhere in Jacobsen's work
will you find that which is all too common elsewhere:  dumb, one-liner
jokes at the viewers' expense, no better in the seeing than in the


Jeriah with Jacobsen's painting, "Wet."

Jacobsen avoids all of these pitfalls, presenting
instead a strange new kind of beauty.  A perilous word, "beauty", taboo
now for just long enough to be hip again.  But Jacobsen earns it,
devoting himself to the craft as painting as much as anyone else
today.  His paint is handled with a Flemish clarity, perhaps surprising
considering the ambiguity of so many of his forms:  Is that an anus? 
Are those intestines?  Is that a vagina, or a stab wound?


"Autumn PiƱata," oil on panel, 36" x 24"

Jacobsen's work draws easy comparisons to Arcimboldo,
set the precedent for assembling figures as painted assemblages of
still life objects way back in the Sixteenth Century.  Many regard him as the "father of Surrealism," and he certainly had much in common with that movement, 400 years ahead of the rest of them.


"Eve and the Apple, with Counterpart." 1578. Oil on canvas. Private collection, Basle, Switzerland.


Eve and the Apple, with Counterpart. 1578. Oil on canvas. Private collection, Basle, Switzerland.

relevant are Arcimboldo's paintings of Eve, made of little fornicating
figures, and "The Vegetable Gardener," associated with the fertility
god Priapus because of its turgid, phallic nose and swollen, vulva-like


"The Vegetable Gardener," as hung. c.1590. Oil on wood. Museo Civico Ala Ponzone, Cremona, Italy.


"The Vegetable Gardener," inverted. c.1590. Oil on wood. Museo Civico Ala Ponzone, Cremona, Italy.

(I saw "The Vegetable Gardener" last month, at the Museum of
Fine Arts, Budapest, while visiting my sister in that city.)  Certainly
Arcimboldo would have appreciated Jacobsen's
irreverent sense of humor, as well as his devotion to technique.


"Ladies' Room," oil on panel, 24" x 24"

works in this exhibition are by far Jacobsen's best yet.  I was a fan
of Jacobsen's previous work, but it was easy to read as a simple dirty
joke (albeit a very funny one).  His new work transcends such an
interpretation by virtue of the devotion with which Jacobsen works the
surface, while avoiding sentimentality through his subject matter. 


"Yellow Pile," oil on panel, 24" x 24"

the train ride down to see the show, my friend Elise Goldstein
and I were talking about the difference between "dirty-funny" and
"dirty-hot."  She said, "I want to look at art that makes me want to
lick it."  I agree with her, and this is the difference between
Jacobsen's older work and the current show.  In the older work, the
imagery is rendered with an illustrative, naive, folk-art sort of stiff
flatness.  The result is that the disgusting, horrific imagery comes
off like a dead baby joke:  nasty, but implausible.  (I was
nevertheless a fan; dead baby jokes were better than much of the art
that was out there.)


"Pink Penis," oil on panel, 36" x 16"

Not so his work from 2009.  If his older work is a dead baby joke, his
newer work is more like watching some extreme gonzo porn in one browser
window, and a terrorist beheading video in another, at the same time. 
A slick, glossy surface and bright, vivid color draw in a viewer like a
flower draws an insect, while Jacobsen's vastly improved draftsmanship
and paint handling turn crudely raunchy imagery into something palpably
repulsive.  The paint surface makes you want to lick it, but the
imagery tells you it's going to be more rimjob than lollipop.


"Wet," oil on panel, 14" x 11"

"Prostrate," (no, not "Prostate") runs at Zg Gallery through February 20, 2010.  Zg Gallery is located at 300 W. Superior St., Chicago, IL 60654, at the Chicago Ave. stop on the CTA Brown Line.  Gallery Hours are Tuesday - Saturday 10:00a.m. to 5:30p.m.  For more info, check out their website at, call 312.654.9900, or email

Jeriah is an artist,
educator, writer, and snack enthusiast.  You can see his work at, and read his columns at Art Talk Chicago and Chicago
Art Magazine
.  Jeriah lives
and works in Chicago, with his wife


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