Friday Night -
S: We started the night out at Packer Schopf Gallery. Aron really
outdid himself this time, managing to hang four shows that complemented
each other, without looking over hung. Upstaris was dominated by three artists: Catherine Jacobi, Nancy Bardawil and Casey Gunshel. Jacobi's work occupied all of one wall, while Bardawil and Gunshel shared the other, and both spilled out into the mid-space.
S: Jacobi's work is one of the better examples I've seen of "recycle art." Using old wire, discarded inner tubes, damaged roofing material, just to name a few materials, she creates whimsical creatures in distressing circumstances. A tarred bird wing, both contemporaneously appropriate and feeling referential to the wings of dark and death-associated birds like the raven, sits broken and somewhat limp from the wall. Another piece presents the viewer with a rusty wire nest on a low pedestal. At first it seems like that is the piece, until you circle around it a discover, almost blended in with the floor, a little wire baby bird, sitting off to the side, fallen from the nest. As soon as I saw it, I laughed, then immediately felt bad for doing so. This is how most of the work struck me, disarming me with humor, then pulling me into the meat, so to speak.
J: I missed the wing. I liked the wire sculpture of the baby bird and nest, it was cute and sad. Seemed pretty straightforward, not a lot to say about it.
S: The opposite wall presented Bardawil and Gunshel. Appearently this was the first public showing of Nancy Bardawil's paintings, as she primary works in film. All representational works, each image featured a woman in a somewhat fanciful setting, and all were presented within custom frames conceptually linked to the work they held. My particular favorites were the featured image (of a woman, boats, and jellyfish) and the hairless woman and cat. Remarkable and beautiful work for a first show.
J: Elise [Goldstein] and I were talking about these, and she made an interesting point, which I agreed with: the tooled leather frames were amazingly awesome, and seemed an integral part of the piece, which wouldn't really work without them. The other two paintings, which featured much simpler (recycled) wooden frames, worked just fine, and in fact any kind of adornment on the frame would be extraneous and distracting. The result is that the paintings with the leather tooling on the frames read more as objects, beautiful to look at but largely decorative, while the other two paintings (woman in water, hairless woman and cat) had a more substantial kind of beauty.
I agree with what Elise was saying but feel a conflict, because (like her) I really, really liked the tooled leather on the frame of the other two paintings, and I'm not sure how to reconcile that with the face that the ones without it both didn't need it, and are better (more nuanced) paintings. Part of me wants to see her combine the ideas and take it further, like making more ambitious, complex paintings that have leatherwork involved in them, maybe running the leather off the frame and through the image? I also have a perverse desire to see a leather frame on "Heirless" made from the belly skin of the animal, maybe a pig, so it's got a row of nipples running up each side of the frame.
As it stands, any of these four paintings would be a fine thing to live with, and an interesting addition to a collection. "Heirless" would be my pick if I was going to buy one. The price is listed at $6,500.
S: Alongside Bardawil were two pieces by Casey Gunshel. First, I have to say, if you can ever afford expensive wall paper, look this woman up. I was looking for her website and found her company Placepapers, and they are AMAZING. The work at Packer was no less beautiful. Playing off Jacobi's distressed creatures and Bardawil's hairless woman, Gunshel's hairless, ear less dogs in hot pursuit of a neon pink rabbit created a an exciting triangulation withing the gallery. Each dog was inscribed with with an assertion that it was not lacking, "not hopeless," "not helpless," etc. Each molded dog was made of horse leather, and interesting not to me because I actually own a pair of horse-leather boots I bought in Chiapas. It is remarkably soft, supple, and strong leather, but is unfortunately often poo-pooed in the US. Behind the dogs hung one of Gunshel's drawings, a distressed circus elephant amid a riot of flowers and more written scroll work, equally as bold and subtle as the dogs.
J: These were really cool. What I really liked about them was what they did to the space, hanging there, running in mid-air. They look like they were made by stretching wet leather over a taxidermist's foam core, used for mounting skins, and this gives them a really convincing, lifelike look. All that muscle, overlaid with the leather, really gives the sense of power of a running animal. This is a great piece. Price is listed at $6,000.
S: Downstairs, I gave a peek to Harry Young's Cowboy Constructions, then headed to the back of the basement to see Danny Hein's South County Scrapbook. I'd seen selections of the work before and had always wanted to see more. I met the artist upstairs and found out I'd just missed a chance to see 20-odd pieces from the series at Sidecar, a new (to me) contemporary are space in Hammond, Indiana, only 20 miles from the Loop. Hein's anticdotal drawings are helarious, and take me back to my rural upbringing in Northern California. I'm in love with his "corn-fed-ghosts."
J: I remember Hein's work from a previous show. I remember that he had done one that was set in the Anza-Borrego desert. When I came upstairs and you were talking about Borrego with him, I didn't know who he was, and then when you told me he was one of the artists in the show, it clicked. I really like his work, they're really funny and have a distinct look to them, sort of like a coloring book for grown-ups. If the $6K price tags on Bardawil and Gunschel's work puts them out of your price range, you can take a Danny Hein watercolor home for $800.
S: After rocking out at Packer for a while, we hopped on our bikes and headed south to Pilsen. First stop on our route was No Coast Collective for the closing of Megha Gupta's Visions from a Burned Forrest. This was my first foray into No Coast, and they seem to have an interesting thing going on, as half gallery and half working print shop. Presented in association with Gupta's prints were "digestibles" created by Witchpilgrim, and these were definatly the highlyght for me. Rather than simply providing refreshments, Witchpilgrim creates foods imbued with mysticism and a pursuit of the supernatural. And, they are damn good.
J: Couldn't agree more. I covered this in great length in my Snack Report, so for my thoughts I'm simply going to refer readers there. But, short version is, Witchpilgrim is awesome. I took a look at Megha Gupta's work but I've got to be honest, as a dedicated snack enthusiast, I was really distracted by the snacks.
S: Next off for an abortive trip to Pentagon (I had gotten the date wrong, it opened Saturday, not Friday.) We wandered in, pet the cat, made some small talk, then were off again with lightning speed, headed to Chicago Art Department. CAD was showing ACTION!, an exhibition based around the idea of the summer blockbuster. I thought it was a funny premise for a show, and it did bring together a few good works. I'd originally planned on attending the show to see work by my friends Joseph and Sarah. Working as a husband and wife stunt team, they created stills from non-existent action packed movies, escaping a shed just before the blast or cliffhanging off the side of a building. I hadn't seen this work before, so it was interesting to view another facet of their artistic practice.
S: I think my favorite work in the show had to be the "Jaws" plushies. Each of the main characters were rendered quite identifiably, and there is something just, well, funny, and kind of quaint in a fucked up way, about rendering them and the shark in plush. Now the seemingly inappropriate plushie character is by no means a new thing, but I think this is one of the best executions I've seen. I close rival were the series of action figure photos, specifically the meeting of Big Foot, Nessie, and a 50's era flying saucer, and the Rambo and Where the Wild Things Are monster. Again it was the humor, the absurd internal logic of these images, like the equally absurd internal logic of many summer action blockbusters, which made them hilarious and addicting. You know it's ridiculous, but you just want more.
J: I liked Joseph and Sarah's work: funny action stunts where they're hanging off of shit and running out of burning buildings and stuff. That was cool. And I did also like those photos of the toys, that was cool, too. Oh, and that dude's cardboard gorilla was neat. I wish we could find our image list so we could credit these people!
S: We were waiting to meet up with a couple friends, so we poked our noses into a couple other galleries. A new space has taken over Vespine's former digs, which is a bummer only because I liked Vespine. The new direction of the gallery seems promising, and most of the work was heavily text based, a trend I'm curious if they will maintain in the future. We nosed around, giving everything a once over before we headed out, when we saw "it." Now I'm not usually one to bag on work, artists work hard and we put our asses on the line every time we put work out there. But sometimes there are things I just have to mention. Let me preface that with my thoughts on the other work by the artist. The work centered around reading, and seemingly the importantness, usefullness, and radness of the practice, something I can get behind. But when I see manufactured copies of Mein Kampf cut into the word HATE, I cannot groan long enough or yell "painfully didatic" loud enough to really let you know how much of a problem that is for me. There is a saying that when you are having an argument, and you compare someone to something to Hitler, the argument is over. I feel like that's what happened here. There are so many more subtly, engaging, or both, ways do deal with the issues around hate speech, racism, white power, the Holocaust, all of it and more. But something like this eliminated conversation. It's just, "Yep, true, but who didn't know." So, I'm sorry to the artist for all of this, but this piece really soured my experience of the rest of the work.
J: That principle you're talking about is called "Godwin's Law." I don't know that it applies literally here, for two reasons. One is that Godwin's Law, strictly speaking, really only applies to discussions on the Internet. The other is that conversations that are actually about World War II or the Third Reich are exempt from Godwin's Law: it's okay to bring up Hitler if you're actually discussing Hitler, just not as an analogy for other things.
Technicalities about Godwin's Law aside, though, your broader point stands: it is hard as hell to say anything new or interesting about Hitler. An artist seeking to do this ought to ask, "What hasn't been said about this subject before?" Salvador Dali's "Hitler Masturbating" is a masterpiece of satire, or so says my inner Beavis, anyhow. Gottfried Helnwein's painting Epiphany I is another excellent example, reminding us that not only was Hitler once a baby, but also that we can recognize him without his mustache.
So, an artist who wants to take four copies of Mein Kampf and cut them into a four-letter word has got some stiff competition, and a lot of history, to deal with if they want to add anything new to the discussion. When I was in my late teens and taking a beginning Graphic Design class at a community college in San Diego, I did an assignment where we had to combine an image with text, and I used an image of Hitler, and was torn between two phrases: "Three Inches," or "Choir Boy." (Hitler was a choir boy in his youth; popular rumor has it that he had a very small penis.) I ended up going with Choir Boy. I'm not bringing this up as a particularly awesome thing I did; it was just an assignment for a class I took when I was fresh out of high school. But I mention it up because, silly as it was, it was a legitimate effort to bring something new to the discussion. Four letter words that would be unexpected as cut out of Mein Kampf? Hope. Fear. Dare. Love. Life. Shit. Bold. Any of those would be less redundant than "Hate," which is virtually synonymous with Adolf Hiter's legacy. How about "LUST"? I'd go with that. Hiter's hatred was really only incidental, I think; it was his lust for power that predominated.
It's something of a disservice to reduce this entire show to that one piece. Some of the other books were awesome. The "Book of E's" was cool: a book, cut into the shape of the letter E, redacted so that everything but the letter E was blacked out on every page. Books have a lot of E's in them, it seems.
S: From there we popped into Logsdon 1909, to see their last show. I'll be sad to see them go, they were always super nice, have shown some interesting stuff, and I'm going to miss the Drones. Done with Pilsen, we hopped on our bikes and headed north to Noble and Superior. Oh, and I must apologize for the blurriness of the images. It may have been darker than usual in there, or we just got there later, but even with the assistance of my titty tripod (a beer can resting on my cleavage with the camera balanced on top if it), I still failed to take sharp images. In discussing the premise of the show, the website says, "The work of all of these artists (who together cover film, sculpture, sound, food, printed matter, painting, photography and video) considers the ephemeral nature of youth and beauty." The work in the show, overall, felt young, and not necessarily to its advantage. I did miss the second night an most of the video work, so I'm only really speaking from a place of seeing half the work.
J: The one video we have seen before that was in the screening we missed was Mike Morris' Kurt Cobain dream video, which was awesome. I included that piece in Video Store, an exhibition I curated as part of Laura Shaeffer's project The OpShop. I don't know any of the other video artists in Younger Than Janis but I can vouch for the awesomeness of at least that one piece.
S: The one thing I really liked, it made me laugh out loud in fact, was the birthday candle video. There is nothing more iconic of the American aging process than the birthday cake, with the honoree's age counted out in birthday candles. The gap in ages in the video was also something so part an parcel to American age and it's interaction with the birthday cake: it was kids and old people. No forty-somethings, who resent every additional candle, just the young excitedly counting, and the old before a towering inferno. That was a good piece of work.
J: I agree with you on the birthday cake video, that was good, solid. The other piece that you hated and I thought at least had potential was the marijuana bud landscapes. I think maybe your time in Humboldt burned you out more on stoners than it did me [Stephanie and I both attended Humboldt State University in Arcata, CA]. The concept is a juvenile one, in a way that at least fits the theme of the show. Not that this is intrinsic to the medium; compare this work with Fred Tomaselli's flat marijuana leaves embedded in layers of resin. Tomaselli creates patterns by embedding actual pot leaves in a matrix of resin; these were just photos of buds arranged to look like a landscape. What I liked about it, though, is how well the buds really did mimic trees: not just trees, but specifically, the miniature trees used in dioramas.
This has potential; however, I think this work has some serious room to grow. The reason is that this work does basically just one thing: it presents a visual pun, that pot buds look like evergreens. Okay, that's good. But it's not enough, for me. (Is that fog a haze of pot smoke? That's funny, too, and effective, but still not quite living up to what I think it could be.) I'd like to see these images address the intrinsic content of this subject matter. These photos contain, depict, are about marijuana, trees, and dioramas. As they are now, they depict a visual pun, that the buds look like trees. What I'd like to see is this taken further, somehow, to address the history of the diorama (perhaps also as an adolescent activity?), and something about marijuana other than, "Dude...that bud looks like a tree." Dioramas can be museum displays, school projects, game boards (a la Warhammer 40K), model train displays, or model battlefields for military models. ANY of these would be interesting possibilities for a diorama using pot buds as trees. I'd be particularly interested to see something addressing the bigger picture of marijuana cultivation: how about a diorama of a grower guarding his crop? Or of CAMP (Federal marijuana eradication agents) helicopters searching through the forest for pot plants, while they're all around them in the form of the trees. There's also the possibility of manning up to the liability perils of presenting these dioramas in life rather than in photo form.
All of this leads me to say that I hope this artist pursues this idea, takes it further, and exhibits a latter development of this idea in the near future. He's hit on a good piece of an interesting puzzle, and just needs to put it together with a few others to make something really interesting.
S: This is where I called it quits on art for the night, and headed to a party to see my old SAIC buddies. Jeriah's fun didn't stop here though...
J: That's right, I headed up to Fill In The Blank, for Aaron Delehanty's show up there. Aaron and I are pretty connected; I'm participating in his Co-Prosperity School, he was in Video Store as well, we're colleagues at LillStreet, and so on. I'm going to try and do my friend the favor here of evaluating his work as objectively as possible, despite the fact that, in a totally amazing gesture of awesomeness, he actually saved me a big-ass plate of snacks in anticipation of my late arrival!
Aaron exhibited two bodies of work: Visible City, and Map Room. The works from Visible City were mostly large paintings, and for me were the more successful. "Flock" is an impressive and ambitious work in the tradition of Walton Ford's depictions of passenger pigeons, a pleasant association for me, and a solid painting in its own right. "The Squirrels of City Park," another success, reminded me a lot of Caleb Weintraub's work which I've seen a few times at Peter Miller gallery and elsewhere, particularly in its incredibly vibrant color. If after the many drinks I'd had I managed to understand correctly, Aaron partially credits this new direction in his work to the time constraints imposed by the recent birth of his child: a surprisingly positive outcome, the way I see it. Apparently, having only time now for brief spurts in the studio, he works much more aggressively and assertively, using bolder color and much more gestural marks, not having the time to fuss around. The result is compelling.
There isn't anything particularly bad about Map Room: they're very respectable, small, geometric works on paper, sort of abstract but with a definitely architectural legacy to them. I like them well enough, but (and this may be the bias of my own practice here) they just couldn't compete with Visible City for my attention. This may be the peril of small works, or works on paper: they may need their own space, isolated from the larger work, to hold up. Or it may have been my mood, or the aforementioned drinks. Looking at the images on Aaron's website, these small works definitely stand well on their own, so I think my conclusion is just that they needed to be exhibited separately, preferably with more space between them. Maybe they would have worked better in that space if there had been fewer of them, so they had some room to breathe and didn't have to compete with each other as well as the larger works.
Saturday Night -
S: As I mentioned somewhere else on this blog, our Jeep has taken a monster crap, a likely very expensive monster crap. As a result, we were on a very limited schedule, and only managed to make it to Bridgeport. Sorry to Noble & Superior, MVSEVM, and Pentagon, we wanted to see you all, but it just wasn't happening. I was, however, not dissapointed in the cardboard show. Jeriah had two figure paintings in the show, which we had to swiftly do a price correction on. I wasn't sure what to expect out of a show using cardboard as the premise, but there were some really great works. The best of show has to go to the Bukowski piece, a magnificent drawing of him on a flat rate mailer, celebrating his post office days. Two opter's tied for second, a cinematic kiss rendered in colored pencil, and a demonic black robot deer head. Unfortunately, it was a one night only show, so if you missed it, you missed it. There are images of all my favorites in the slide show below. After this, I just tried to relax for the remainder of the weekend. Well, that's all till next week!
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.
Tags: Aaron Delehanty, Cardboard Show, Casey Gunshel, Catherine Jacobi, Chicago Art Department, Co-Prosperity Sphere, Danny Hein, Fill In The Blank, Harry Young, Jeriah Hildwine, logsdon 1909, Megha Gupta, Nancy Bardawil, No Coast, Noble and Superior Projects, Packer-Schopf Gallery, Pentagon, Sidecar, Snack Report, Stephanie Burke, The OpShop, vespine, Younger Than Janis