The Artistic Spirit of Satire--Daumier Continued

We’ve been looking at the spirit of 19th century French artist HonorĂ© Daumier this week and last week on the Chicago Art Blog.  Last week we looked at Daumier himself a bit, then we looked at Daumier’s legacy and a Chicago Reader cover.  This week we’ve been discussing the Chicago Aldermen and a recent exhibition at Johalla Projects.

Today we’re going to take a closer look at that exhibition.
Aldermen, their follies and all, took center stage at Johalla
Projects.  The slideshow above shows several artworks from that exhibition which I discuss.

Now I
don’t want to misrepresent in any way– I didn’t see the Johalla
Projects show.  I was out-of-town when it began and the short run of
two weeks meant I didn’t make it there.  But nonetheless, I think this
was a great idea for a show and it got the gallery a lot of attention
from local and national news, in addition to the usual Chicago media
coverage, The New York Times even showed up.  Hopefully other emerging galleries are paying attention. . .

Interestingly, Lauri Apple, who envisioned the exhibition with Jeremy Scheuch,  says they
weren’t thinking about Daumier when they conceived this project: “As for the connection [to Daumier] — there is no direct one, really. We didn’t
think of any other artists in making this show besides the artists who
participated/made work. It was all about them.”  And artists should take center stage in an exhibition.

Nevertheless, even if Daumier wasn’t considered in the idea for the exhibition, it doesn’t mean that the artists were not aware of him or his work. So I would like to point out a few of the works within the show that seem to carry on Daumier’s spirit.   More artworks from the exhibition are on the Reader‘s great slideshow of the entries.

A lot of the entries had a strong graphic design presence and tended to be less critical, appearing to near a pseudo-official portrait, or subtly making a bid for campaign imagery.  But if artists got or get work out of this, more power to them.

However several entries took a more thought-provoking approach and those are the ones I will comment on.

Most closely related to our conversation of Daumier, is Aaron Wooten‘s portrait of 45th Ward alderman Patrick Levar.  Done in a near bust format, Wooten’s portrait also shows influence from Daumier, aside from the picture format.  Like a Daumier bronze, Wooten lets the politician’s corpulence nearly envelope his face, firmly carrying on a caricature tradition.  

Daumier originally made the sculptures in plaster and had painted them, but never meant them to be shown, using them instead as an aid for his printmaking practice.  It was only later that they were cast in bronze and editioned.  An image of a Daumier painted plaster bust is provided in the slideshow for comparison. So Wooten’s coloring is also in-line with Daumier, but also follows Wooten’s own individual practice as he seems to show skin as mottled and imperfect, calling to mind another important artist also on view at the Art Institute, Ivan Albright.

I contacted Wooten and asked if he was thinking about Daumier in making the work.  He had this to say about the Daumier connection: “I also very much had [Daumier] and other artists in mind while painting this piece.  I would have
to say that my piece reflects [Daumier’s] work more than any of the other
portraits [in the “50 Aldermen / 50 Artists” exhibition].  I’m not saying that to stand out but rather to point out
the obvious.  Daumier knew very well, as [do] other artists, that caricature
and politics work hand and hand.  Flipping serious into absurdity is a
great artistic statement and does much to preserve a sense of humanity
and democracy.
” [emphasis mine]  Well said, Mr. Wooten.

Wooten’s work may be the closest to Daumier, both in spirit and execution, but that doesn’t mean that other artists didn’t take up the satirical mantle to make a point.

I especially liked the portrait of Ricardo Munoz, 22nd Ward Alderman.  Artists in this show were required to interview or attempt to interview the alderman whose portrait they were painting.  It would seem that the artist simply identified as DF was part of the “attempted” crowd.  It’s a hilarious image and indicates the accessibility, or lack thereof, of the aldermen.

Especially relevant to the discussion here on the Chicago Art Blog was Aron Gent‘s submission.  Gent did a portrait for disgraced ex-Alderman Isaac Carothers (29th Ward), whom we discussed earlier.   The portrait was simply an image of Carothers house.  It gains much more significance when you consider that it was the approximate $40,000 of ill-gotten, quid pro quo improvements to the pictured house that led to charges against bribe-accepting Carothers and recently convicted briber Calvin Boender.  It may not be caricature, but it certainly has a critical edge to it.

Casey Stockdon provided a portrait of the 33rd Ward Alderman, Richard Mell.  Mell’s face dominates the painting against a neat fisheye perspective of the Chicago skyline.  Mell is also the father-in-law of former governor Rod Blagojevich, who makes an appearance in the work as a King-Kong stand-in  threatening to throw a El train car at Mell, while bi-planes whiz around their heads.  Again, it’s not Daumier, but it is satirical.

Finally, Eric Lebofsky contributed very funny portraits, six of them, of 36th Ward Alderman John Rice.  You’ll have to check it out in the slideshow to see why it’s so funny.  Lebofsky showed his drawings at Western Exhibitions in October of last year, and has been creating a drawing-a-day and showing them on his “Superfreaks” blog.   Definitely worth checking out.

While that concludes our discussion of the “50 Aldermen” exhibition, by no means is the satire of politicians concluded and for good reason. 

Artist Andrew Ek read this series and sent over images of two portraits that he did of Blagojevich and Mayor Daley that he will be showing at the upcoming exhibition “Phantasmagoria” at the Golden Triangle on April 30th.

And I’ll be keeping an eye out for artists continuing in Daumier’s tradition of provoking political change by provoking politicians.

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