Monday Morning Quarterback, June 7th, 2010

by Jeriah Hildwine and Stephanie Burke


Monday morning quarterback n. [informal] one who criticizes or passes judgment from a position of hindsight

Now that we've rested up and nursed our hangovers from the weekend's openings, we (Jeriah Hildwine and Stephanie Burke) present you with our " judgment from a position of hindsight." J:  I had a couple of
interesting conversations this weekend, discussing this column with some
of my gallery-homies and getting their thoughts on criticism and its
roles.  Steph and I also had a good talk about this on Friday night. 
Talking to Patrick Bobilin and Erin Nixon at Noble and Superior Projects
on Friday night, Patrick shared with me his views on the nature of
criticism, which he posed as being largely a response to the artist's
statement, or rather on the relationship between the statement and the
work.  A critic, he said, is in the position to wrest control of the
statement from the artist:  If an artist's statement makes claims about
their work which the critic believes to be false, the critic's duty is
to correct that.  Of course a critic could also affirm or support the
claims of an artist's statement.

On Saturday night, Steph and I
were invited to sit at David Weinberg's table at a Marwen Fundraiser,
the Paintbrush Ball.  David himself was at another fundraiser,
apparently, but we did get some time to chat with Aaron Ott (gallery
director) and Meghan McCook (educational program director).  Aaron and I
had a really great conversation about criticism, and he said something
that I had been talking about with Steph on the previous night:  that
one of a critic's roles can be to tell collectors to buy stuff!  Steph
kind of disagreed with me, saying that there was no need for this kind
of specific advice, but I'm with Aaron, I think it's useful.  We live in
a city with a lot of private wealth, but unfortunately not a lot of it
goes to buying art, compared to, say, New York or Los Angeles.  We've
got art, we've got money (well, not me, but you know, "them"), and a
critic can serve a useful function pairing 'em up.

So, Patrick's
and Aaron's arguments form, for me, the two main types of criticism:  on
the one hand, an intellectual dissection of the conceptual and
aesthetic functions of the work (and its relationship to the artist's
intent as expressed in their statement), and on the other hand,
pragmatic advice to collectors on what to buy (and to artists on what to
make, and to curators and gallerists on what to show, and to potential
viewers on what to go look at).

International Museum of
Surgical Science
- 1524 N. Lake Shore Dr. Chromatherapy, work by
Patrick Ryoichi Nagatani & Yew Tree Project, work by Carolyn
Bernstein. Reception 5-8pm. 6/4-8/20.


Work by Patrick Ryoichi Nagatani from "Chromatherapy," part of Anatomy in the Gallery at IMSS.

J:  These two shows, in
relation to each other, had a neat science-fair feeling to them. 
Nagatani's staged "documentation" of chromatherapy sessions translate
very well as color photographs; the surreal colors used in chromatherapy
work just like the dramatically colored gels of stage lighting. 
Nagatani acknowledges to some extent the lack of documentation and
evidence for the effectiveness of chromatherapy, while maintaining a
sort of personal faith in it, saying that it "might be a dream rather
than reality, but perhaps some dreams should be reality."  This kind of
documentation of pseudoscience has for me associations with other, more
overtly fabricated displays, particularly some of those at the Museum of Jurassic Technology.

S:  I find
photography to be a medium I connect with easily, probably owing to the
fact that I am primarily a photographer in my personal art practice. At
the same time, my familiarity with the medium causes me to hold it to a
higher standard that I do other mediums in which I am less versed. The
result is that I often gravitate to and fixate on photography in
exhibitions, but rarely come away feeling revolutionized. Perhaps I
expect too much.

Nagatani's images are beautifully constructed,
and at moments disturbing. Most depict human bodies, usually bearing
visible and large scars or other surgical byproducts, including one of
the artist's scarred torso, receiving chromotherapy. Additionally, the
south wall of the gallery featured various animals (a bird nest, a dead
fish, some goats supposedly living in some animal testing center, I
think) undergoing colored light exposure for one reason or another.

photographs functioned as a jumping off point for my own personal
musings, thoughts concerning historical employments and ethnographic
studies of sickness, scarring, and medical experimentation, both human
and animal. Not to say this was the direction Nagatani intended his
viewers to go. I feel perhaps the intent was aimed much more at a
contemplation of healing, but when I see scarred bodies, healing is
rarely where I go.

During the course of observing the pictures, I
constantly had to fight the bitchy voice in the back of my head
complaining about the work being a throwback to the '80s era over use of
colored gels. Obviously in the context of the work, this is an
inappropriate  problem to have, but I did find it distracting. Seeing my
buddy Ting in a few of the photos was also a welcome surprise. I was
interested in the books encases in plexi in the center of the room, a
couple of which, the artist told me, were extremely rare. It would have
been nice to be able to flip through them, as they are part of the
artists personal chromatherapy library.


Work by Carolyn Bernstein from "The Yew Tree Project", part of Anatomy in the Gallery at the IMSS.

J: Bernstein's Yew Tree
Project didn't immediately strike me so acutely in the senses, but its
ideas have lingered.  It amazes me that it takes (or formerly took?) an
entire 40-foot yew tree to be ground down into half an
ounce of cancer medication; six trees, if I remember correctly, provide
medication for one patient (for how long?  life?  to get one cancer into
remission?).  I'm probably betraying my nerd roots when I say that what
I think of is how much great bow wood that is, going, well, let's not
say to waste, but certainly being used in a such a low-yield way. 
Apparently it's no longer necessary to harvest wild Pacific Yew trees
for this purpose, as a "semi-synthetic" method was developed, which
(according to the Wiki) uses "extracts of cultivated yews of other

So this is how Bernstein's project reads for me, not
really aesthetically or visually, but more intellectually.  The diagrams
were easy to look at, but their main function for me was to convey
information and generate interest.  And they did that.  I learned things
I didn't previously know, and was inspired to do a little outside
research, even if it was just looking it up on Wikipedia. 

S:  I
had no idea about the use of Yew trees in cancer medication previous to
entering this show, so I was initially a little confused (maybe I
should have read the wall text before entering). This is, I believe, the
second time Bernstein has had the opportunity to exhibit this work, the
first being during her thesis exhibition at SAIC. Since it's first
incarnation, the body has grown in size and complexity, however, it is
the etched glass pieces that singularly hold my attention. Ranging in
size from that of a small coffee table to to the full size of a human,
each piece is hand etched to resemble an MRI scan. The painstaking
detail of these pieces, as well as the textural narrative of the artists
hand on glass are worthy of extended staring and contemplation.

Noble & Superior
- 1418 W. Superior St. Sense Objects, work by Kate O'Neill
and Rebecca Kressley. Reception 6-10pm. 6/4-7/7.


Work by Kate O'Neill from Sense Objects at Noble and Superior Projects.

J:  Kate
O'Neill's series of photographs, "Third Law," worked really well for
me.  Steph pointed out, while we were there, that they functioned really
well as they were grouped, as triptychs, and wouldn't have worked
nearly so well as individual images.  I totally agree with this.  Each
little group of three held together perfectly, the images apparently
intrinsically interrelated.  They weren't labeled but I just have to
assume they were created as triptychs.  I didn't ask about prices or
sales but these photographs, assuming they're intended and sold as
triptychs, are something that collectors should have their eye on. 
They're good.

S: "Fun."  That is probably how I would describe
O'Neill's triptychs if I had to wrap it up into a single word. Being all
black and white, shot indoors, and with a general
young-hip-art-studenty look (Mac power cords and tight pants wearing and
Chuck-sporting wrestlers to name a couple of the indicators) that,
surprisingly, didn't raise my hackles, the work all hangs together well.
The particular decisions made in constructing the triptychs deserve
kudos, each group of three brackets and cycles withing itself in an
extremely pleasing manner. One shout I do have to give is for the nylons
image (all are "Untitled"). That image is fantastic and could easily
hold its own. Creepy and sexy, good combination.


"On The South Lock Over Shrine" by Rebecca Kressley, from "Sense Objects" at Noble and Superior Projects.

J:  Agreed, the one with the nylons was probably my favorite.  Rebecca
Kressley's installation "On The South Lock Over Shrine," was a little
harder for me to get into.  Now, obviously, a subtle sound-and-scent
installation is going to face some major obstacles when I've got a beer
in one hand and a dozen people are talking around me, as is the norm at
an opening.  I really wanted a strong smell coming off of this
installation and just wasn't getting it.  I've got suggestions but they
sound glib, like having someone dance on the pile of materials to crush
them and release their smell.  Yeah, that's a dumb idea.  Ignore that
suggestion.  I guess, to be fair, I'm going to suggest that viewers
check out Noble and Superior's gallery hours on Saturday between noon
and 6pm, and see the work in a quiet, semi-solitary environment, so they
can better appreciate it.

S: I tried to tell Erin that I wanted
this piece to punch me in the face, to assault me with sensory overload.
Piles of herbs and spices, crank that stereo up to 11, damn it! She politely informed me that she believed the artist was trying for
something more subtle. I guess when it comes to work like this, I suck
at appreciating subtle. I did enjoy sitting out on the porch and
listening to the lengths other gallery goers had gone to to get the full
sensor experience.

J:  Would I get in trouble if I admitted to crushing a peppercorn with my Leatherman so I could smell it?  I know...hypothetically.  Someone else said they stepped on one.

- 119 N. Peoria St., #2A. Post-Cursor, work by Eric Fleischauer.
Reception 6-9pm. 6/4-7/3.


Stephanie checking out the Stashbooks, a collaboration between Eric Fleischauer and Susannah Kim, from "Post-Cursor" at Threewalls.

J:  I like the books:  small,
artist-made books, blank, but with some pages cut out as one would to
make a "stash" book with a hidden compartment inside, although since the
cut pages are non-consecutive, it isn't functional as a stash book. 
The pattern of cut-vs.-uncut pages is a quote from "Art In The Age of
Mechanical Reproduction," translated into binary.  It's a neat idea and
they're cool to look at.  They're an edition of three, and this is
another piece I'd be thinking of as a collector.  Although the other
works in this show weren't as interesting to me as the stash books, all
of the work in this show was really modestly priced (mid- to low-hundreds of dollars), and would be a
great way for a young or beginning collector on a limited budget to
start a collection.

S: Yes, the "Stashbooks," a collaborative
piece, I believe, between Eric Fleischauer and Susannah Kim were the
highlight of the show. I love these books, because they exemplify
something I think makes a work of art truly great. When I flipped
through these books, Jeriah asked me if I knew what they were about. I
(having again not ready the wall test) proceded into a succinct
explination of them as totems of a bygone era of books, having had the
meaniful parts removed, which now functioned as totems. I was perfectly
happy with my explination, one that made me greatly enjoy the pieces. He
proceeded to tell me what the books actually were, which though not my
exact read, was close, and more importantly complementary and additive
to my appreciation. So yes, Fleischauer and Kim's "Stashbooks,"

in the Blank Gallery
- 5038 N. Lincoln Ave. Cultivation, work by
Jennifer Hines. Reception 7-11pm. 6/4-6/26.


Work by Jennifer Hines from "Cultivation" at Fill In The Blank.

J:  I was pretty
drunk and half asleep by the time we got to Fill in the Blank.  The show
was "Cultivation," by Jennifer Hines.  Most of the work were ink
drawings of plants growing out of hands, or digital photographs with
tree-like forms painted on them, growing out of the model's body.  But
by far the best things in the show were the fabric trees, "End of Spring" and "Before Fall."  They have a
homey-crafty feel to them, being made out of assorted, patterned fabric,
with big, visible zig-zag stitching.  A lot of artworks feel like they
belong in a museum or gallery and would be hard to live with in a home;
these trees are just the opposite.  They look like they want to be lived
with, and at $500 each, they're not unreasonably priced.

S: I
have an extremely hard time with work like this. Like patchouli and
reggae, it's kind of been ruined for me by growing up in one small
NorCal hippy town, and moving to another even more hippy NorCal town
(Arcata, in Humbold County) for undergrad. So, not being a hater, it's
just really not my thing. Kudos to the handwork though, stitch and line
quality were beautiful.

J:  Here's a little wrap-up for the
benefit of any collectors who may be reading:  You've got a lot of great
choices to consider out there right now, and many of them are
surprisingly within reach for more than just the super-rich.  Take a
good look at Kate O'Neill's photographs at Noble and Superior, and
consider buying the whole set if that's possible for you.  If I had to
pick, I'd say O'Neill's photos were the best work I saw this weekend. 
Those who are trying to collect on a tighter budget should take a look
at Fleischauer's work at ThreeWalls, especially the stash
books ($400 each, or all three for $1,000; in this case I don't see the need for more than one).  If you've got slightly deeper pockets, Patrick Nagatani's work
is available through Andrew Smith Gallery in
Santa Fe, New Mexico; 18" x 10" prints from Chromatherapy are listed at
$1,000, not including shipping (and presumably unframed).  I'd also
suggest a collector who's interested in painting check out Trew
Schriefer's work at ebersmoore, which we discussed last week.

As always, I'd advise
all collectors to buy only works that they, personally like, regardless
of what the critics, myself included, say about it.  Like something? 
Buy it, even if the critics don't like it.  Don't like something? 
You're the one who's going to live with it, so don't buy something you
don't like just because the critics say it's good.

Lastly, I've
got to add that the shows we cover here are only a small percentage of
the work that's out there.  There are plenty of great shows that we just
weren't able to make it to.  This week we skipped all of River North,
missing a ton of shows, including Addington,
KH, Gruen, Habatat, Jean Albano, Judy Saslow, Ken Saunders, Nicole, Perimeter, Roy Boyd, Russell Bowman Art Advisory, Vale Craft, Zg, and Zygman Voss.  A new show
also opened at Art on Armitage.

got to give a special shout out here especially to David Weinberg Gallery,
which opened their show Wheatley, Kaiser-Smith & Glink (work by
Rhonda Wheatley, Yvette Kaiser-Smith, and Marissa Glink) this weekend. 
We didn't make it to the opening Friday, but Aaron Ott and Meghan McCook
from the gallery were nice enough to invite Steph and I along to the
Paintbrush Ball at Marwen on Saturday.  David Weinberg is extremely
generous in supporting local arts education in a number of ways,
including contributing to the fundraiser as well as directly supplying a
number of scholarships to Marwen students, plus of course the excellent (and
free) educational programming that Meghan runs.  I brought one of my
college classes there and it was great!  If there's a commercial gallery
in Chicago that will do good things with the money you spend there,
it's Weinberg.  I'm going to hit up their gallery hours this week, and
if you missed the opening, you should too.


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