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Chicago Athenaeum at Schaumburg
Many notable creative periods in literature, art, music, owe their success to finding support and encouragement -- patrons and a public. "Spectrum: Contemporary Art of Chicago" at the Chicago Athenaeum in Schaumburg represents just such support in a city where established museums, galleries, curators increasingly showcase lively and diverse selections of current Chicago art. "Spectrum: Contemporary Art of Chicago" will be at the Chicago Athenaeum in Schaumburg from May 25 through September 1, 2002: Thirty-two Chicago area artists represented by paintings, traditional and digital prints, and three-dimensional work. This exhibition offers quality and variety. "Spectrum" includes artists with prominent reputations, those developing careers, and some new faces.
Frank Piatek is a noted figure in contemporary art, and is represented in this show by two works on loan from Roy Boyd Gallery, Chicago: Drawing-Dyad (Graphic ink on paper) and Self-Portrait With Early Dyad (Acrylic transfer on paper). Both are fine examples of a highly individual idiom which the artist has developed over many years.
The circle may approach Platonic perfection; but cylinders offer far more possibilities. Piatek's art centers on tubular forms, and in his work a surprising array of allusion and suggestiveness emerges through ingenuity and a subtle skill at implying volume, luminosity, and living motion. Today, the Erotic is a rare and endangered quality. So much explicit art, designed to arouse or shock, ends in mere tedium. The sensual may begin in the mind, but it is not cerebral. Drawing-Dyad affirms that eroticism can reside in abstracted forms. (Dyad means 'pair,' and, in genetics, also describes a meiotic chromosome after division.) This work's composition of cylindrical tubes is at once an ensemble of parts, and their intertwining act: yoni or multiple linga; both and neither. Shading and light nuance give it a soft, fleshy dimensionality. The strong symmetry -- in what might seem an impossible and alien sexual coupling -- lends an almost Indian ritualistic, sacred decorum to the work. Self-Portrait With Early Dyad, its companion piece, stands testament that a unique individual conceived the unified expression. Frank Piatek, together with William Conger, Miyoko Ito, and Richard Loving, in 1982, coined the name, Allusive Abstraction, for an art which explores form as a metaphor. His work remains true to that impulse. Piatek is a well-documented artist and his art is discussed in Art Scene:Chicago 2000, Art in Chicago: 1945-1995, and Les Krantz's Chicago Art Review. He was earlier noted in www.artscope.net ("Transcultural Visions":Feb:2001).
Children of the 12th Planet (2002) by Rita Dianni Kaleel is a triptych in oil, wax and gold leaf on canvas. Its muralistic, cloisonnist style evokes Les Nabis (from Hebrew, 'Prophets'), artists such as Maurice Denis, Edouard Vuillard, or their forerunner, Paul Gauguin. That Kaleel's fanciful content should employ a decorativeness reminiscent of Symbolist painters or Les Nabis, is no disparagement. Children of the 12th Planet is excellent, engaging work. Gauguin once noted:
Gauguin fled to Tahiti, in part, in search of those qualities. Nor is it a light matter. Maurice Denis asserted early on that a painting is foremost "a plane surface covered with colors assembled in a certain order." That changed many conceptions of art. In that new awareness, Denis concluded: "What is art if not the disguise of natural objects with their vulgar sensations by icons that are sacred, magical and commanding?" (In "Definition of Neotraditionism" (1890).)
Children of the 12th Planet resonates equally to astronomical fantasy and psychological speculation. Kaleel to some degree drew inspiration from Clive Barker's Weave World, in which a threatened world older than Man is crafted into a carpet and then entrusted to human guardianship. If that world should fall into the wrong hands, its threads -- the interdependent lives of all -- would break apart. (Kaleel's caption, however, comes from an Earth Chronicle volume by a second writer, Zecharia Sitchin.) The theme accords well with Denis's postulate of art cloaking natural objects as magical icons. A natural landscape forms the background of Kaleel's painting, but it is seen through a flowing curtain of french curves, an ectoplasm from which forms and faces emerge and intertwine. In the left panel, a male form huddles and withdraws into self; in the right section, a female form languishes. In the center panel, male and female meet, overseen by a face above. The framing curves, whether carpet, wind, or spirit, counterpoint the work's rectangular format, a division of color and form which unites allegory with art.
Two sculptures by Indira Freitas Johnson bring visual metaphor into three-dimensions. Communication Gap consists of a figurative lower torso, legs crossed in lotus position. This is a finely executed element in the style of classic Indian art. Above this portion, however, is mounted a ceramic insulator. One speculates about the connection implied with a higher power. Recycled Energy combines a lower torso with an inverted meat grinder topped by a curved sausage-like form. Here, images of flesh into flesh come to mind, and are quickly counterpoised by incongruously, unalterably inert materials. In these works, the joining of finely shaped, but incomplete human form with utilitarian objects made by man poses unresolved equations. Either matter (here, human -- with the aid of man-made extensions) aspires to spirit; or physical symbol is merely the visible evidence of something apart, a power which passes on. Both of Freitas Johnson's sculptural works are ceramic with mixed media. Freitas Johnson is profiled in Art in Chicago: 1945-1995.
"Spectrum: Contemporary Art of Chicago" in fact presents a number of artists whose work alludes to or intuits the unseeable in terms of its visible consequence. Yumiko Irei-Gokce is represented by two striking monoprints: Urge of Growth - Sprouting and Urge of Growth - Germination. One finds a balance between detail and general flows of contour in the artist's composition; a sensitivity for form and the process which engenders form. The artist has noted her underlying Buddhist philosophies, and here she seeks out the teeter-totter sense which dualities create: consciousness and unconsciousness, microcosm and macrocosm. In these monoprints, a Zen awareness emerges from expertly rendered detail and it finds a balance of natural patterns, a discreet but vital power. This inspiration does have echoes in the West:
When viewed from sufficient distance, or with eyes slightly unfocused, the monoprints equally capture the shapes and dynamics of nebulae and galaxies. It is the visual masses and implied flux which give the images their arresting presence. Yumiko Irei-Gokce is featured in Art Scene: Chicago 2000.
Underlying pulse and shape need not correspond to exact reality, yet it still commands effect. Jill King is represented in this exhibition by two oils on canvas: Tears for Solomon and Reflecting Pool. The matrix of Tears for Solomon is a frenetic mosaic of tiny visual particles: a weave of diminutive faces, snails, predatory teeth, and what the artist terms mythoglyphic shapes. Three large tear drops resolve out of an seething, underlying 'whole cloth.' Reflecting Pool takes natural forms and creates an alien terrain. Jill King's work appears in Art Scene: Chicago 2000 as well as The Chicago Art Scene (1998). She is also treated in New American Painting (No.35:Vol.6,No.4(Sept.2001)). Jill King was earlier reviewed in www.artscope.net ("Paintings...":July:2001).
Kathleen King's Odd Becomes Even (acrylic, acrylic transfers on canvas) pushes even closer to pure elemental pulse which engenders a patterned order. Kathleen King reinterprets the dynamic matrix of botany, protozoic life, the delicate structures of anatomy, reshaping them into a renewed art. Complexity, here as in biology, evolves out of particulate chaos. Kathleen King appears in Ivy Sundell's Art Scene: Chicago 2000, and was earlier reviewed in www.artscope.net ("Art Scene Chicago 2000":Feb.2001).
Antiqua (Oil on canvas) by Sallie Gilmore Roniss reveals a figurative surrealism through a technique in which clean, precise rendering combines with a spontaneous use of drip, splatter and paint flow. In this composition, heads -- seemingly alter egos -- align along a diagonal compositional axis which draws toward the upper left, while in lower right quarter of the image, a luminous, white spiral dominates the painting's overall palette of strong, deep blues and purple. Roniss has done impressive images through what she terms her 'domino' mirroring of visage. A painted fame-like border along the image edge further unifies what might otherwise seem a vertiginous flow of image elements. Roniss is featured in Art Scene: Chicago 2000 and was earlier reviewed in www.artscope.net ("Art Scene, Chicago 2000":Oct:2000).
Work Place (acrylic on canvas) by Joanna Pinsky is an irregular canvas of 12 edges, and is representative of this artist's paintings. Her use of clean, precise simplification and compositional balance harkens to artists such as Louis Lozowick or Niles Spencer, but her construction of asymmetrical, multi-edged canvas formats emphasizes the painting's geometric abbreviation of form, creating a semaphoric visual idiom. While the artist retains a clearly figurative reference, her laconic, deliberate arrangement of objects, structures, and buildings focus locale as an icon for the activities which comprise urban life. Work Place is a generalized symbol for industrial sites: its bare, utilitarian beamwork, the two mounted funnel tanks, two drum containers at mid foreground; all might equally be found in a quarry as a foundry. Pinsky often begins with sketches rendered from her photographs of scenes, urban and rural. A bright, saturated palette and occasional inclusion of natural materials -- sand, gravel, sawdust, even rock salt -- distance the final images from the more somber realities that were her inspiration. Three of her canvases are reproduced in The Chicago Art Scene. She is represented by Perimeter Gallery.
Structure in its precise detail and integrity of solid mass has an aesthetic of its own. Architecture expresses not only its designer and builder, but its time and place as well: Form has its own phenomenology. Roland Kulla's Construction IX and Construction X (oils on canvas) are companion pieces -- bridge turrets, rendered after originals at the Ashland and Fullerton bridge, Chicago. In this set, however, a central focus -- the bridge itself -- is absent; left to the viewer's imagination. Roland Kulla is featured in Art Scene: Chicago 2000, and was reviewed earlier in www.artscope.net ("Art Scene Chicago 2000":Feb:2001).
Affections attach to place. Whether steel mills or farmhouses, buildings shape a childhood love, a sense of place, a belonging. Emotional bonds, a personal world, all this inspires Maria Gedroc's paintings. Her Cityscape (mixed media), literally reflects the coexistence of intimate space within urban boundaries. In Cityscape, enclosed within a muted black border, a paneled window reflects a panorama of high-rise buildings. This painting was also reproduced in Ivy Sundell's The Chicago Art Scene (1998), and is reproduced in www.artscope.net's earlier review: "The Chicago Art Scene":Feb:1999).
Mark Pelnar, in Wind River Range #6 and Moraine Hills #3, reduces landscape to its minimal essence. These paintings are executed in acrylic and gouache on canvas. An earthen palette of low-key blues, iron reds, and subtle greys, is deployed as areas of nearly uniform color. In Pelnar's current work, rough surface textures counter a discreet modeling of shade and light. The paintings' figurative cores (evident in their titles) are subordinate to formal considerations of visual mass and color. One imagines a Barnett Newman attempting a return to representational art upon visiting the American Southwest or the Dakota Badlands. In Wind River Range #6, a narrow horizon (much like Newman's famed bisecting "zip"), divides a clay red terrain from a pacific sky. The upper half of Moraine Hills #3 is a payne's grey color field; a cerulean blue fills the lower half of this image. Mark Pelnar is documented in Art Scene: Chicago 2000 and The Chicago Art Scene (1998). He was reviewed before in www.artscope.net ("Art Scene Chicago 2000":Feb:2001).
Personal effects, ephemera, have for centuries been used to evoke poignant, private emotion. Even before the Dutch 17th Century and the rise of bourgeois sentiment, small mementos stood as talisman for deeply-felt affection. Grace Cole's two entries in "Spectrum" are carbon pencil and mixed media renderings based on paintings by Jan Vermeer. Each of Cole's pieces incorporates photographs, cards, printed ephemera, echoing the selected theme of the 17th Century master. After Vermeer From "Lady Writing a Letter" (32"x22") resurrects Vermeer's young girl, but Cole's addition of artifacts kindred to the lady's own letter bridges 17th and 21st century in a timeless, yet very intimate human nature. This drawing-collage, and its companion, After Vermeer "Girl with a Red Hat (32"x22"), form an extended series. Grace Cole is also featured in Art Scene: Chicago 2000, and was previously reviewed in www.artscope.net ("Art Scene Chicago 2000":Feb:2001).
Judith Geichman's Untitled Scene (2002) (mixed media) is included in "Spectrum" by courtesy of Fassbender-Stevens Gallery. Its light red 'paste paper' configurations recall the compositional dynamics of artists such as Henri Michaux or Mark Tobey. Geichman's painting evokes a pulsing, rippling surface of energy; a quantum field of some half-remembered mental state.
A visitor notes in this show a number of pieces lent from major Chicago galleries, selections from well-known independents, and deeply satisfying accomplishments from young talent. The thirty-two Chicago artists in this exhibition present a wide sampling of current paintings, traditional and digital prints, and three-dimensional work. "Spectrum: Contemporary Art of Chicago" will be at the Chicago Athenaeum at Schaumburg through September 1, 2002. "Spectrum..." is sponsored in part by the Illinois Art Council and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
Finis PART I
--G. Jurek Polanski
Editorial Note: Books mentioned in www.artscope.net are often in print and may be purchased through this site's Amazon.com link. Ivy Sundell's Art Scene: Chicago 2000 (2000), and her earlier volume, The Chicago Art Scene (1998), are published by Crow Woods Publishing, Evanston, Illinois. Of additional interest is Art in Chicago: 1945-1995 (Thames and Hudson/Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago:1996); and Les Krantz's now sought-after Chicago Art Review (American References, Inc.:1989). Historian Judith Russi Kirshner notes Allusive Abstraction in Surfaces: Two Decades of Painting in Chicago (Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago:1987). Gauguin and Denis are quoted from Theories of Modern Art: A Source Book by Artists and Critics, compiled by Herschel B. Chipp (University of California:1968). Clive Barker's Weave World was published by Poseidon Press (c1987). William Blake is cited from Romantic Poetry and Prose, edited by Harold Bloom and Lionel Trilling (Oxford University Press:1973).
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