Sunday, January 11, 2009

Notes From The Morning After #1

Steph: Well hello my dearest gallery argonauts. Hope you all enjoyed the new year of art out on parade last night. I managed to make it to three galleries in River North (Catherine Edelman, Ann Nathan, and Byron Roche), through the West Loop, and finally to where we all hope to end up (right?), Heaven.

Jeriah: In case you were wondering where Heaven is, you can see it from the Blue Line, right before or after the Damen stop. It's that building with the weird abominable snowman cutouts on it. I'd always wondered what it was. So that's Heaven.

S: I tend to avoid River North, but these three galleries are my favorites in that area, so I made the necessary pilgrimage away from my well trodden bee-line to 119 N. Peoria. Walking into Edelman, I was predisposed to like what was there (me doing photo an' all, and her generally showing good photo). The primary work, a series by Robin Bowman called “It's Complicated: The American Teenager” was a nice group of photos and accompanying dialogs conjuring Avedon and our own Dawoud Bey. Unfortunately, the selection of teenagers felt a little too cherry picked for optimum diversity, a bit too “It's A Small World After All” if ya get my drift. I didn't get a chance to thumb the monograph, so I don't know if it was the show, or the body of work itself, that had this issue. Overall it was interesting, I look forward to going back when there's no one there to be able to read all the stories. There were also some Julie Blackmons up, always nice to see full size. Got to love “The Power of Now.”

J: I also liked getting to see the couple of Joel-Peter Witkin pieces that she had. I didn't get a chance to see the show he had there while it was up, so it was exciting to be able to see at least one of his pieces. Witkin is a major guilty pleasure of mine, one of those people whose work I can't help but love even though I know he's so easy to love. And obviously he totally appeals to my love of the grotesque.

S: Next we were off to Ann Nathan. As usual, she had a smörgåsbord of work up, mostly figurative. Work that bears mentioning in my mind is that of Nuala Creed, babies looking gleeful with firearms, always a winning combination. If the figure is your shtick, this is your place. Even if it ain't, this is a good place for seeing what your fellow artists (read competition) are doing with the figure in paint.

J: Nuala Creed was a big hit for me, too. I saw her work at Nathan's booth at SOFA and it was a real highlight of that whole fair for me. I'm doing some stuff with child soldiers in my own work right now, so it's a pretty natural affinity for me there. There was also, as usual, a lot of good technical painting up at Ann Nathan. Rose Freymuth Frazier's portraits were straightforward but flawlessly executed as far as traditional oil painting technique is concerned. Mary Borgman's large charcoal drawings on Mylar were a good example of portrait drawing. Mary Qian's figure paintings were my favorite of the straight figure work at Ann Nathan right now; they've got that kind of tension or distortion where you can't tell if she's exaggerating the figure in interesting ways, or just found a really awesome model. Either way, they're fun to look at, if you like nudes. Which I do. I don't go to River North expecting a lot of critical theory or to have my preconceptions challenged; I go there to see rock solid, traditional technique, and these three artists up at Ann Nathan right now are a good example of this; they definitely know their techniques and materials.

S: Lastly we stopped by Byron Roche. That man is one of the truly wonderful people I've met up in River North. He showed us a hilarious video called “Creature Comforts USA – Art.” If you're having a bad day, taking art too seriously, taking yourself to damn seriously, check it out. He has some work up there by an artist named Isabelle duToit, uber tight renderings of birds (and banana peels, as Jeriah continues to point out) that appeal to my deeply ingrained Audubon/Walton Ford fetish. Then, in a mad dash to make use of our 25¢ transfer, we were back on the train and on our way to the land of Grolsch 'n meat packers, the West Loop.

J: Byron is one of the nicest guys in the Chicago art scene. He's really friendly every time we go in there. duToit's birds are technically fantastic and, like you said, uber-tight. It's the kind of painting that tempts you to leave nose-prints on the surface, you just want to look at the brushwork that close up. They're simple paintings, just birds, but the execution is so tight, they're really enjoyable to look at. There's a banana peel, too.

S: On our way into the West Loop I saw a friend, lost and walking in the wrong direction looking for the galleries, that reminded me: Maps People! Which reminded me further that I need to finish mine. I am working on a Google map of every gallery in the city, it's about half done, and will be posted here once it's complete for future reference. Yay, navigation, it sure has been helpful to humans in the past, has it not?

So, back to what I was saying, the West Loop. As usual, I started at 119 N. Peoria. This just seems like the appropriate place to stop, with 6+ galleries in one place, at least 4 more across the street, and home to one of my favorites, ThreeWalls.

On a side note, sorry about the bull shit with Tony Wright, somewhere (possibly only in my addled brain) I swear I saw it written that he was having an opening. Oh well. ThreeWalls had some new work up by Christa Donner, called “Re:Production.” Ok, so we've got babies giving birth to full grown women, alternative modes of animal reproduction mapped onto people (most noteworthy for pure awesome factor, the Suriname Toad. Think Gremlins after midnight with water), hyper elongated penises, hermaphoriditic transformation, collage, painting, video, 'zines. Christa managed to pack a lot of variation into this show. I'm still a little unclear of the root she's getting at, but she definitely went all out at giving it the good ol' college try. The work deserves a bit more viewing time than I could give it last night.

J: Reproduction is a pretty rich vein of subject matter, and Donner does a good job at coming at it from a smart angle. There's a feminist undertone to the work, but in this case that's not a bad thing. Her work shows (as if there was any doubt) that there is a uniquely female point of view that can be brought to the table, and that it's worth hearing. I'm also pleased to see work that is distinctly about SEX, as opposed to most work, ostensibly about sex, which is in fact about gender, or eroticism, or attraction, or romance, or fucking, or porn. Some of Donner's work shows fairly explicit depictions of probing penises, mounted couples (which become endless stacks of mounted, penetrating bodies), but it avoids the too-easy appeal of the erotic, and reads more like a biology textbook written by misinformed space aliens speculating on the mechanism of human reproduction. If I have any misgiving about Donner's work, it's that the technique and execution seem to exist solely to serve the communication of the subject matter. This might be a problem if the subject matter weren't so bizarrely intriguing, but as it stands, the science textbook illustration aesthetic simply avoids distracting from the strangeness of Donner's imagery. This stuff was definitely one of the high points of the night for me.

S: Away we sprang, like a pack of tiny reindeer on speed, across the street and up three flights of stairs to Peter Miller Gallery, the only thing open in an otherwise dark 118 N. Peoria. Peter Miller is home to a couple of people I consistently enjoy staring at, Laura Ball and Caleb Weintraub. Last night was a show called “Second Nature,” work by Melissa Dean. Aside from a somewhat heinous pseudo kite made out of folded labels, and a “painting” consisting of adds covered in what looked like encaustic wax, the work was good. Very much in the contemporary hipster style, vintage worship vein, the work took me to its point in a visually enjoyable, if straight forward way. The use of text on some pieces felt a bit redundant, but hey, no one bats a thousand. On thing I must say is that Peter Miller is always worth a visit if for nothing else that a gander around their back room. They show a lot of interesting stuff, and they've always got a nice selection out in the back.

J: I'm with Steph; Laura Ball and Caleb Weintraub are two of my long-standing favorites. There were some charcoal drawings by Weintraub up in the back room last night, I hadn't seen them before, and they were pretty great. Also, props to Melissa Dean for the use of the acronym “HILF” in one of her titles.

S: Down those three flights of stairs we went with a clatter (Grolsch in hand), and headed over to Packer Schopf. Packer is another one of my West-y favorites, thought humorously, it is usually the basement that elicits the most joy. Last night was no exception. Upstairs featured well rendered landscapes that reminded me of the Yuba, my dear sweet Yuba. But nothing could compare to venturing into the basement and confront 12 or so giant, lifelike bats hanging from the ceiling and looking ready to pounce (or flap, or whatever it is they do.) The work, called “Roost” by Deborah Simon, is some of the most un-pretentious and immersively enjoyable pieces I've seen in a Chicago gallery. It made me feel 10 years old, it the awesome way. Go see them, if you don't love 'em, man, I don't know what to tell you (aside from “So about that bat phobia of yours...” or “You're nuts! How can you not love these things?”). The Roost and Shark Girl need to hang out.

J: The bats were terrific. They invite comparisons to Patricia Piccinini's bizarre creatures, but their presence in the space is much more charming, and less dependent on being uncanny and unnerving. Also, Simon's bats are about individual personality, rather than microscopic perfection in execution. Convincing enough to pass for real from across the room, their materials reveal themselves up close, which only adds to their charm. There's something just plain right about the world, when cast silicone, carved foam, and sheets of fake fur can elicit such plain joy in an adult viewer like myself. They really disarm that part of me that thinks it's supposed to critically dissect and analyze everything. You look at these things, and if you start trying to think semiology or whatever, they just sidestep that and say, “Yeah...but just look at us! We're pretty! You love us!” And I do. Also, the basement space was perfect for these guys; even though the Indian Flying Fox roosts in trees, not caves, it nevertheless “felt” right, and even knowing better, the timbers of the basement could stand in well enough for tree limbs. Lastly, I should mention that the artist was present, and she was very friendly and eager to talk, which is always a big plus for me at openings.

S: Thoroughly saturated with West Loop art and Grolsch, Jeriah and I again made for the train, the Train To Heaven...

Heaven, no surprise to those of you who've been there before, was much more of a party and much less of a gallery show. I can't really tell you about any of the work aside from Jason's pile of posters (hope you all got one, it's free art!) and the French beat boxer dude. I guess he's more of a "sound artist" but he was described to me as "the French Beatboxer" so it just kind of stuck in my head. This latter “piece” was the primary focus of my art based attention and, eventually, disappointment. Now I must give him props: he managed to get 40 or so drunk people to shut the fuck up for 20 minutes, not move, and look in one direction. That, my friends, is a feat in and of itself. Second, he did have skills when it came to voice and breath modulation. But really, if I'm going to stand there silently for 20 minuets watching you do your performance piece, I expect a pay off. His piece, lacking in timing and climax, failed to deliver. I felt a bit cheated and grabbed another Miller (camo can, nice touch!).

J: I always appreciate the venue that puts itself in the postion of the art opening-cum-party that runs later than everything else, so we have somewhere to end up. The environment was fun but somewhat distracting from the work. The theme/piece/title “Try Harder” felt like the kind of advice so good it can't be repeated too often. Couldn't we all stand to “Try Harder”?

S: At that point, I was sufficiently arted out, and made my way toward the door. And in typical Steph fashion, I said goodbye to no one.

Now remember, my dear friends out there in TV land, love it or hate it, I just say, "Get your ass out there d see it!"

Over and out.

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