Monday Morning Quarterback: Saturday 1/8/11 & Sunday 1/9/11

by Jeriah Hildwine and Stephanie Burke


Saturday - 1/8

Andrew Rafacz Gallery
- 835 W Washington Blvd. New Inventory, work by Ali Bailey, Zachary
Buchner, Robert Heinecken, John Opera, Nancy Spero, Matt Stolle and
Wendy White. Reception 4-7pm.  Through January 29th.

Stephanie:  So, on our nice Saturday jaunt, we first popped into Andrew Rafacz. Therein, I gave a hug to John Opera, one of the members showing in the current group exhibition, and proceeded around the room. It was standard Rafacz fare, bold colors, a fair bit of abstraction, and always the feeling of some tongue-in-cheek humor. The first piece I managed to settle attention on was a pair of spray painted rectangles.  Though I don't think they were Opera's work (sorry, John, if they are and I'm miss attributing), but they seemed to play with many of the spatial issues he has worked with in his photography. I'm thinking specifically of his window pieces, which look like geometrically structured test strips of nothing. The works before me at Rafacz played with depth and perception in many similar ways to Opera's images, confusing the "figure-ground" relationship, and defiantly nodding too, if not completely immersed in, the cannon of op-art. They were a one trick pony, but a pretty, pie-bald one at that.

The piece I fell in love with was, what I called, the wave. A white field, four images of waves breaking, and an 80s-ish blonde with an up-swept bouffant. It's pretty, it's funny, it's a visual pun, it's a bit dirty, and I don't feel like I missed the point. It was, perhaps, a "few-trick pony" but I'm ok with it. The mirror of the hair and the wave was clever, but I think the best part of the whole piece, not on its own, but in completing the whole, was the glue. The sexual undertones of the work are obvious, the power of the sea, the sexy lady, etc. But the "picture looks like it's affixed to plexi with dried cum" just sealed the deal. It undermined the heavy handed sexuality of the piece just enough that the work felt like it was laughing at itself, and you were simply joining in on the joke.

Jeriah:  I liked a lot of the work in this show, especially Ali Bailey's humorous collages, but what really surprised me was Zachary Buchner.  What surprised me about Buchner's work was that I liked it.  If you described it to me, I think I'd roll my eyes and groan:  they're paintings, sort of, made by layering burlap and dripped puddles of plaster onto Masonite panels and then painting over them with enamel (presumably spray enamel), first in bright colors, then in either metallic gold or hot pink, leaving only occasional small gaps to reveal the color beneath.  It sounds, in description, like terrible, New Easy, Anti-Monumental, slacker aesthetic bullshit.  It makes me want to puke my fucking guts out.

Except it doesn't.  That's what's so surprising to me about Buchner's work.  So many artists talk about taking mundane subject matter and making it beautiful, or at least trying to.  Buchner uses materials and techniques that are mundane in their novelty, like so many of the hip, lazy assemblage sculptors and abstract painters we see in Chicago's galleries.  It was not despite this but because of it that Buchner's work is so surprising.  There is no formula, no principle of design that adequately explains the success of these works, but at least part of the key must lie in their surface.  The specific interaction of the three-dimensionality of the poured plaster with the small bits of color showing through the speckled, cheap, faux-opulence of gold spray paint creates an effect that is largely indescribable, but is at least partially like an abstract expressionist relief sculpture inspired by Impressionist landscape.

Trying to describe why I like something I don't really understand, I'd probably be better off just quoting song lyrics.  Here's some L7, "Scrap," from the album Bricks Are Heavy:

I met a skinhead named
He lived in my friend's garage
every day he's shaking that spray paint can
and comes out seein' stars
grab a paper bag like an oxygen mask
until your mind starts to gel
cause the ball in the can
has a crazy beat
the funky dying brain cell
so he met some christians from hell
who said, "let's go to vegas man"
so he packed up his leather and his red beret
into that big, bad christian van
use revival meetings like an oxygen tent
'til your mind starts to gel
cause the preacher thumps the bible
with a crazy beat
the funky dying brain cell
well, he came back to the garage
but the garage it wasn't there
and he dug metallic gold more than luke and john
now he's growing his hair
grab a paper bag like an oxygen mask
until your mind starts to gel
cause the ball in the can
has a crazy beat
the funky dying brain cell

Tony Wight Gallery - 845 W. Washington Blvd. Talia Chetrit and Daniel Gordon; Three Specific Works, work by Matthew Metzger. Reception 6-8pm.  Through February 19th.

J:  It's easy to get me to like work by making it dirty.  Daniel Gordon's collages hit this nerve nicely, particularly the recursive meta-mouths in "July 26, 2009", which is the sexy kind of dirty, and the coarse faux leg hair in "July 22, 2009", which is the gross kind of dirty.  July 7, 2009 is a conch shell with layers of fleshy pink stacked inside the shell, where the animal's "foot" would be, and yes, it looks like a vagina.  Like cowrie shells in Africa, the conch has yonic ("twatteriffic") associations in Latin America especially; "concha" is a euphemism for the female genitalia (much like "clam" in English) and "la concha de su hermana" is a common insult. 

Talia Chetrit's work is pretty diverse but what drew my dirty little eye was her "Abstract Nude," a black-and-white photograph of what appears to be (but might not be) a woman's vulva viewed from between her closed legs and buttocks, all vignetted through a jagged hole in a black barrier.  The work is actually very formal and doesn't seem at all prurient in its intent, but managed to titillate despite this.  I'm secretly hoping that what I'm reading as the hamburger bun-like aspect of a woman's genitalia is in fact a man's scrotum, or an orange tucked in between two people's armpits, or something like that.

I don't mean to belittle all of the work in this show by reducing it to is most vulgar aspect, it's just that its most vulgar aspect is...well, to misquote the kid from Goonies, "That was my favorite part!"


"Goonies," 1985, directed by Richard Donner, still from a 35mm film.

Roots and Culture
- 1034 N. Milwaukee Ave. A Certain Ratio, work by Elijah Burgher, Ryan
Fenchel, Jonah Groeneboer, Shane Huffman, and Erin Zona. Reception
6-9pm.  Through February 12th.

J:  One piece in this show really stood out for me.  Jonah Groeneboer's graphite-on-vellum drawing consisted of a white, linear, geometric form, against a field of what look like painstakingly hand-rendered clouds.  In some ways it could be called an easy example of contrast:  hard, straight, white, against dark, nebulous, and organic:  okay, good job, you stayed awake in Design I class.  This alone wouldn't be enough to carry the work, but it's also got a sort of dark psychedelia, like H.R. Giger took peyote and then watched Donald Duck in Mathemagic Land and Pi on a split screen TV.  It looks like something a computer would do, but done by hand in the least efficient way possible.  It may not be entirely clear by this point whether I liked the work.  Well, I did.  I liked it very much.  I was drawn into this work to the extent that I probably did not give the rest of the work in this show the attention that it deserved, which I hope as taken as a compliment by Goenboer and not as an insult by his fellows.

Sunday - 1/9
Renaissance Society - 5811 S. Ellis Ave., Cobb Hall 418. A Thing is a Hole in a Thing It is Not, work by Gerard Byrne. Reception 4-7pm.  Through February 27th.

S:  Sunday night we headed down to the Ren. First, let me say, the work should be viewed after dark. It is a series of projections on large, leaning screens. The opening felt like a strange Plato's cave, discovering pieces and people as I stumbled through the darkened space. The videos, meditations on minimalism, were surprisingly accessible. I say this coming from a place of being bored with/hating most minimalism.  The artist takes on the movement with simultaneous reverence and irreverence, that makes it open for anyone to enter and interpret. There is a humor in the works that so often feels lacking in minimalism itself, that if nothing else, makes it a valuable teaching platform.

I attended the artist lecture as well, though I found it hard to stay engaged, as the conversation slipped into the trodden path of Minimalism discourse. Though Hamza's banter was smart as usual, and the artist's humor shown through, I still found my mind wandering away from the conversation and analysis back to my own experience of the piece. Perhaps, then, that is the best compliment.

J:  I liked how the angled walls referenced Richard Serra's leaning slabs of Cor-Ten steel, and I tried not to throw out my shoulder patting myself myself on the back for catching the reference before Byrne mentioned it in his presentation as intentional.  All told I tend to regard most minimalism as an historic curiosity, although Serra's work in particular does give me a visceral sort of tickle; I can't help but imagine being squashed by them, and this draws me, perversely, to approach them even closer.  Byrne's videos, which are enjoyable on their own but really completed by their installation, lends new relevance to this old bit of the past we all too often take for granted, sort of like Monty Python and the Holy Grail did for Arthurian legend, or like Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter did for ol' J.C. in a way that Mel Gibson never could:  by having fun with it.

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, runs Art Talk Chicago, and maintains
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.

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
.  Jeriah lives and works in Chicago, with his wife Stephanie

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