S: First stop for the night was Ken Saunders. Lured by the promise of dirty martinis, we showed up right at 5pm. I think that glass art is one of those mediums that are often shrugged off by artists (myself included), relegated to "craft" status and told to stay over at SOFA. Some of the work in this show,thankfully, transcended those initial judgements. Though the titles were a bit pun-ny (and Jeriah can attest to my hatred of puns), Jay Musler's glass and paint constructions struck a creepy/Escher-esque quality I could get into. The reminded me of epic over grown cities, lost and collapsing in on themselves, bringing to my mind comparisons to the current Hyde Park exhibition, Spatial City. The textural quality also elevated these pieces beyond just "glass work" by looking chalky and almost like balsa wood, betraying their truly delicate state. A glass show worth giving a look.
J: I'll be the first to admit that glass art isn't my primary area of interest, but I am a big fan of dirty martinis, so there was no way I was going to miss this show. I really enjoyed it, and not just for the martinis! Priced in the low- to mid-five figures, this is some high end stuff. I'm not acquainted with many (any, really) artists in this medium, but Ken informed me that the artists he represents are all quite well established. One thing I really like about glass art in general, and this show in particular, is that I have no idea, or almost no idea, how any of this stuff was made, making it extra impressive!
J: One piece that caught my eye was Dante Marioni's "Yellow in Blue Vessel Display Case," which reminded me of a music video I remember seeing on Beavis and Butt-Head, especially the color scheme and the form on the center shelf, right side, like a trumpet with bubbles stuck to it. I had to do some digging to root up the now-deleted passage from Wikipedia that describes the video, so I'm just going to quote it here:
"In another review, they were watching a video by a band called Sausage (a side project of Primus' Les Claypool). Beavis thought this band was actually Primus (ironically, he was close to correct, since Sausage was composed of the original members of Primus), while Butt-head believed they were a fictional band called the Seminiferous Tubloidial Buttnoids."
That would be my title for this piece: "Seminiferous Tubloidial Buttnoids." The song is Riddles are About Tonight, and you can watch the video (without Beavis and Butt-Head's commentary) on Yahoo Music. It actually isn't anything like I remember it, but at any rate, that's what this piece made me think of. Maybe it was the bright blue color of their jumpsuits. Ok. I have seriously wasted a lot of time on this tangential digression. Let's move on.
S: Next stop was Roy Boyd Gallery, a place I'd only been to once before, and Jeriah'd never visited. I remembered the work from scanning website the week before, a group of works by Manfred Muller. Pretty minimal abstract work. The rolled paper works, pieces including graph paper, and one particularly washy image attracted my sensibility, though this type of work I often find hard to engage with. These pieces were elegantly simple, but allowed for obsessive staring, keeping my attention. My favorite part of the visit, however, was heading downstaris to see a selection of works from, what I assume is Boyd's stable. All the work seemed to be united by an overall air of obsessiveness and simultaneous quite elegance, echoing the upstairs work. Artists I particularly enjoyed were downstairs were Jerome Powers, Sarah Krepp, and Leslie Wolfe.
J: The above piece by Jerome Powers is the one that really stuck out for me as well, I liked the way the horsehair was used as a drawn line. I also really liked the drawing with the gold leaf, not 24 carat but 23.8 carat, or something like that, depicting semi-concentric circular forms. Not much to say about it, but I liked looking at it.
S: Next we strolled over to 300 W. Superior St. to visit Zg, David Weinberg, and Judy Saslow. Downstairs at Zg we checked out some new work by Dan Gamble. Zg has a solo exhibition of Dan Gamble paintings. Gamble is one of those people who tread a fine line between hippie-style Alex Grey, mechanical Escher precision, science geekiness, and Dark City/Lovecraft black hole visual language. Though I don't necessarily like each of those alone (I really dislike Alex Gray, while I LOVE Lovecraft), these styles, or influences (if they are so), or whatever, make a whole that I just can't stop staring at.
J: I totally see the Alex Gray/Escher crossover with this work, but more than those, it makes me think of Renaissance architecture, or Renaissance drawings of Classical architecture. What's the famous dome with the oculus in the center? In Rome or something? They look like that. I think the Escher reference has got to be pretty close to Gamble's intent; like Escher, he seems really interested in solving the spatial problems these images present. For me, these works are all about space puzzles; that they are paintings seems almost incidental. They could be executed in charcoal, or ink, or anything else, and would remain essentially the same work. They're fairly conservative in the grand scheme of things, but better than many. Also, introducing this type of geometric, architectural form seems a worthwhile way to keep abstraction alive.
S: We mosied upstaris to visit our buddies at David Weinberg and check out Amanda Friedman and Miss Aniela. Friedman's ghostly landscapes were fantastic, continuing the slightly creepy, Outer Limits theme of much of the evenings work. "Campground, Coachella, Indio, CA" was particularly alluring, with the thousands of tents and beams, as though the image were of a refugee camp pleading to outer space, while the descriptor gives us enough to know it's just that friggin' huge music festival the hold out in the desert every year. I was less enamored with Miss Aniela's work. There were a few images I enjoyed, particularly when she was defying gravity or doing a blurry dance, but many didn't escape cheesecake enough for me to take them as much more.
J: I think what I liked about Miss Aniela's work was the strangeness of the images, which I attribute to a combination of really cinematic lighting and some heavy digital editing. The result is a subtle distortion that moves these images away from traditional photography and towards a combination of painting and digital art. The large size of the prints helps them to read as paintings as well. As is often the case when an artist as a distinctive visual style, with these works I'm left wanting the subject matter to be as strange as the execution. The images are, broadly speaking, basically, sexy pin-ups, in the (Western, European, white, male) tradition of the nude, with some retro pop culture influence (1940s aircraft nose art) as well. Don't get me wrong, I love sexy, but I wish it was a little weirder, with a little more bite to it. Less Playboy, more Blue Blood, less "I'm ready for my close up, Mr. DeMille," and more "Baby wants blue velvet."
S: On our way out, we popped into Saslow, a predominately outsider artist gallery in the same building. We pined over a snake walking stick we both wanted, talked about how good the prices were with the gallerist, and checked out some awesome dino-truck drawings. Then it was time to be off to the West Loop.
J: I love that dino-truck, because I know the image, from National Geographic, of a life-size model dinosaur being moved to a museum in the bed of a pickup truck. It's a really surreal image, subject matter to which I was attracted myself, and so I really felt a sense of communion with the artist who drew this, like he and I had seen the same image and had the same response to it. It's probably a false identification but I still enjoyed it. This work I remember being very reasonably priced, perhaps as little as fifty bucks, and would be a great piece for a collector interested in the self-taught artist.
J: I also really liked that snake walking stick. I'd been admiring it at the last few shows, when it was laid across the coffee table, and I loved seeing it again. Very reasonably priced at only $85, this is what I would have bought if I bought anything at all this weekend. As it was I had to resist the temptation to spend my next month's studio rent on this piece, but I resisted it, because where would I be without a studio? Love this piece, though. This has my strongest "buy it" recommendation. It's reasonably priced and a great piece.
S: Our last stop of the evening was over in the West Loop at Spoke to see If Nature Could Talk, a solo show of work by Grant W. Ray. It was really fun, a playful and yet deadly serious look at ecology, fuel, and the environment. My favorite part was being invited to "clean coal," a humorusly futile project. And though I did disagree with some of the artist's implications with his talking plants, it was great to have him there to banter with, and anyone who missed it sorely missed out on a lot of participatory art fun. After that, it was time to go home and hit the hay, which I did with a vengeance.
J: I'll share here what I told Mr. Ray at the opening: the pieces I liked the best were the ones where there was some ambiguity as to the truth value of what was being presented. Like the Museum of Jurassic Technology, my favorite of his works stretched, but did not break, the bounds of plausibility. Pictured above, it featured three display cases holding books which had been covered (allegedly through natural growth) of Spanish moss or similar plants, obscuring most of the books but leaving certain phrases visible. This was just incredible enough to be bizarre, but not so absurd that you can be certain the artist is pulling your leg. Does he really believe plants can communicate in this way? Is it a form of divination? Or just a clever joke? The fact that these questions aren't immediately answered by the work itself, is what makes this my favorite piece in the show.
The other works in this show cleave to one side or the other of this delicate balancing point. The project of tracing the shadows of a plant on the wall was fun; I did one. It didn't really make any kind of statement that could be true or false, but it didn't have to. It was fun, it was neat, okay. Good deal. Ditto the Sisyphean task of cleaning a lump of coal: a tad didactic, but playful enough that it didn't read as ham-handed or preachy. It was fun. Oh, and he let me keep the lump of coal I cleaned! I'm going to give it to someone as a hilarious Christmas gift. Or keep it. Because it's art.
Anyway, there were two pieces in this show which I think had a lot of potential to be awesome, but need a little more work to get all the way there. In the first of these, a plant allegedly sheds blossoms which appear to have text on them. On close examination these are clearly fortune cookie fortunes. In the other piece, a pair of plants are rigged with an electronic device that supposedly lets listeners hear their "conversation," which turns out to just be clips of commentators talking about politics and the environment. Both of these pieces have TONS of potential, but as I told Ray, need some work to really be what they can be. In both cases, the problem is that the "reveal" is too total: as soon as you look or listen, you understand that it was a gag, and you'd been taken in. This creates a disconnect, where the viewer gets the joke and disengages. Far better would be the reaction of a slowly dawning suspicion that, like the Museum of Jurassic Technology, things might not be entirely on the level...but you're not quite sure what's real and what's not. If the little scrolls paper were more obscured, to the point that they COULD plausibly be naturally occurring, if uncanny, pieces of patterned bark, and if the audio being transmitted by the plants sounded mostly like noise with what might be an occasional piece of audible voice, then these pieces could really put their hooks in the viewer. I'm really looking forward to seeing more work from Mr. Ray; he's got great instincts and I really want to see where his work goes.
Jeriah is an artist, educator, writer, and snack enthusiast. You can see his work at www.jeriahhildwine.com, and read his columns at Art Talk Chicago and Chicago Art Magazine. Jeriah lives and works in Chicago, with his wife Stephanie Burke.
Stephanie Burke was born in Nevada City, CA in 1984. She received her BA in Studio Art and Anthropology from Humboldt State University in 2007, and her MFA in Photography from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2009. Currently she lives in Chicago with her husband Jeriah, makes work, teaches, writes for Bad at Sports, is Editor-in-Chief of Art Talk Chicago, works as Managing Editor and Director of Operations at Chicago Art Magazine, as well as maintaining her own blog, The Gallery Crawl and So Much More. When not making, teaching, looking at, or writing about art, she enjoys running around in the woods, drinking beer by bonfires, crazy quilting and target shooting.