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Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art
Elaine and Willem de Kooning; Lee Krasner and Jackson Pollock; Pablo Picasso and Francoise Gilot; Frida Kahlo and Diega Riviera; Georgia O'Keeffe and Alfred Steiglitz; even Gilbert & George.... Artists are not purely technique and inspiration -- the impetus of eye, hand, and a vague artful instinct. Their real-life 'terms of endearment' come into play as well. It is said that pets (and spouses) grow more alike with time, forging bonds that go beyond affection, that result in visible affinity. "Significant/Signifiers," at the Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art, Chicago, on exhibition until April 17, 2001, affords an opportunity to test that lore. This exhibit couples spouses in the arts, kindred mates, and friends, for the visitor's consideration.
Some partnerships in "Significant/Signifiers" suggest an awareness of converging affinities: as one grows to an other, a playfulness develops in that knowing. Karen Savage's photogram, Pair (Silver dye bleach print), manipulates a pair of lace gloves in visual space, as if suspended within the print, both gloves poised in free fall gesture. This artist has had numerous shows in which single photographs, arranged together, have built narrative series. Savage's photographs harken to Man Ray, Duchamp and Warhol -- common sights constructed into aesthetic innuendo; and that innuendo carried beyond a gallery frame -- carried here to Savage's husband, Ray Martin, who counters with For Someone Special. This is a photo lithograph which mounts dual images of a heart-shaped locket in what seems a wry, schematic documentation of affection. The lowermost caption in the right recess of the locket declares the work's title sentiment, while a generic bar code, together with a "Made in China" label, sits within the left shell of the pictured token. Martin, a painter-printmaker has often employed symbols and icons from popular culture for sequential, if at times analogical parables. There is a loving whimsicality in these offerings. Savage was graduated from the Art Institute of Chicago; Martin is a graduate of the Institute of Design, Chicago.
Artist/father, Paul Lamatia is represented by Darksinkali (Oil on canvas). In this painting, Lamatia melds Expressionism with Surrealism. At upper left, one views the human creature rendered in sharp, brutal brushstrokes from which a slender, serpentine tongue unrolls down to curl about the shank of a hatchet. At lower image right, a double-headed chicken attacks, with all its claws, an iguana-like creature beneath it. Amid elements of a chimerical freneticality in composition, multiple iguanid forms emerge. Eli Lamatia is Paul Lamantia's son and his Untitled (Oil on canvas) seems a further progression toward dark and frenzied expression: something of a H.R. Giger as interpreted by Charles Demuth. This head in profile arches upward, gazing toward the upper left, its shoulder, center and fore, moulded by arched curves. A second son, Jason Lamatia, presents a mixed media sculpture, also an Untitled piece. This seems almost a freeze-dried centerpiece in parody of Valentine bouquets: roses and cupids cavort on and about a caverned mount; a color scheme of bright orange, red, and, for contrast, green, characterizes the piece. Jason Lamatia here approaches a Pop Baroque.
"Significant/Signifiers" offers much that plays with both: the artist's self and its debt to a separate, but kindred soul, with all the negotiations, compromise, and dividends that follow. Gladys Nilsson 's art so often recalls a Dorothy Parker, one at peace with domesticity. There is lively wit, wry humor, and yet a loving acceptance in her art. The gallery displays Nilsson's Green Pepper and her Sna-phoo (both watercolor/gouache). (The latter no doubt a reference to the military's Situation Normal, All Fouled Up, that is: SNAFU.) In the first painting, the central, autobiographical woman holds the title's green pepper, while at left a man intrudes as spectator. In the lower center of image, a small figure gyrates -- a frequent element in Nilsson's art. In Sna-phoo, a painted sheaf, both windowsill view and a free-floating virtual window in itself, divides the man from the artist who sits with brush and palette by the very real window. Further, in Sna-phoo two additional figurettes are interpolated at lower center, beneath her floating window painting. Chicago Imagist, Jim Nutt, Nilsson's spouse and fellow member of Chicago's celebrated "Hairy Who" artists' group, adds his Now What? (Pencil on craft paper) to this showing. In a work which strongly parallel's Nilsson's own idiom, Nutt portrays a woman ripping out the heart of a man. A small figurette at lower left (that frequent device in Nilsson's paintings, both collaborator and commentator) is dwarfed by the larger, cartoonish balloon-like head which raises brows at the situation. In some degree, a visitor feels that each artist toys with the other's favoured idiom. It is an expression of undefensive dialogue, a wordless act of affection as well as art.
The works of Carol Hormel, 'Alexandra,' and Arthur Lerner form a family set, and in this ensemble, the ties are explicit and direct. Alexandra is the adopted daughter, a young girl of Asian origin, who unites the mutual affections of a couple nearly 20 years apart in (only) chronological age. (Hormel is in her 50s, Lerner near his 70s). Both have a strong desire to teach their daughter art: a gift given for a gift. Carol Hormel's Screen (multi-media) is a triptych, each section fretted by panels ordered three across by five down. Within each panel, the viewer finds either Hormel's photoprints of new-born Alexandra, or the photoprints of roses. Hung between Hormel and Lerner are Alexandra's three 'refrigerator renderings.' In the uppermost of these, a cat and dog, chimerically conjoined, survey a path which passes a hydrant to arrive at a giant bone and doghouse. Cats abound in the remaining two drawings: the bottom-most presents a cat on a full multitude of clouds. This is a refreshing inclusion in a gallery showing -- sincere, naive art by a child (perhaps 'Outsider Art'), and yet purposeful. It is both contrast to two experienced professionals, and a reminder of every artist's origins, subsequent evolutions, and an enjoyable (because unfeigned) visual touch. Arthur Lerner's Hanging Figure (Oil on canvas), an immediate, serene, even aery vision, presents a hanged man at right, a hanging cow skull at left; all in a light, deceptively gentle blue mist-like working of the image ground. Here, the juxtapositions between emerging life and life's ultimate finality are arresting.
Kindred souls -- Damon and Pythias: the bonds of artists are often to fellow artists. Roger Brown befriended architect George Veronda (1941-1984), a friendship which resulted in several murals on Chicago's LaSalle Street. Roger Brown's Study for Icarus and Daedalus (Oil on canvas) is his voice in "Significant/Signifiers." Artist and patron throughout history have formed a dialogue; one which, when it was a lively art, yielded the best of art. In "Significant/Signifiers," a visitor has access to the originals; the developers subsequently insisted that both be shown in flight (to fall is deemed unsaleable). A further testament to the collaboration among artists, beyond any simple balance sheet, is Jay Wolke's Roger Brown at Installation (Color photograph) -- where an artist 'does it right,' there are colleagues who applaud. "Significant/Signifiers" supplements this history: Aldo Piacenza's Birdhouse Commissioned by George Veronda (Wood, metal), in fact, duplicates in miniature a church-like structure. At right, a center facade with pointed roof is flanked on both sides by extensions of facade. At right is a conjoined bell-tower.
The gallery visitor is always free to speculate. Carl Wirsum is well-known as a Chicago Imagist. Wirsum's piece in this exhibition is Suburban Salamander (Acrylic on acetate), and it hangs below Polywog O'Doodle by Lori Gunn, a color pencil rendering by Wirsum's artist-spouse. Since the early 1980s, Gunn's work has turned to flowing lines and analyzed abstraction of form. Although showings of her art have been recently infrequent, here the gallery visitor confronts a whimsical, French-curve interpretation of both natural science (swirling eddies, tendrils, the flow of liquid colors and of line) and ethnology (as if her art were totems of Jung's psychological subliminals). Wirsum's accompanying Suburban Salamander is a face and bust, with strident features painted into a light reddish mauve head. This head is perched upon a red painted pedestal -- this all against a green granite faux finis background. Bright hues, aggressive line, and equally 'Pop' condensation of image characterize this art. In this pair, a visitor may speculate -- one finds an allied inspiration, a 'sense of things,' but Gunn's soft sense of form seems to complement Wirsum's chiseled, rigid idiom.
Art links what one sees with what one feels and with what the viewer is prepared to see. Affinities in art, as well as presumptive resonance in personalities, are also evident in works by Margaret Doerr and Stan Edwards. Doerr's series "Five Boxes" are titled: Gypsy Daughter, Seven Days to L.A., Torch Song Trilogy, Buddha Dreamed, and Nine Rings for the Voodoo Princess (all mixed media). Doerr's work follows trends explored by Joseph Cornell -- The artist gathers found objects and fashions them into varied unities. Stan Edwards's Face exploits what that artist gathers in as well. This oil with acrylic on canvas (66"x60") and the artist's original maquette assemblage work in tandem toward his creation: the artist reinterprets on flat surface what gathered and assembled artifacts suggest. These works are part of Edwards's "Assembled Art Imagery Series: Icons for a New Era." Here, a maquette centers a black ring below a studied conglomeration of electronic parts: capacitors, condensers, resistors. Stan Edwards builds from a working 'feel' of form and concurrent use, distilling an elemental logic which derives from inevitable aesthetic necessity: the most efficient design dictates the result. (The Chicago Bauhaus dictum resided in 'Form follows Function': a wisdom informed by logic.) With these two artists, the gallery visitor must wonder how much of maquette material is mutually suggested and shared. An Edwards painting was recently featured in Nicholas Roukes's book Humor in Art. Both Doerr and Stan Edwards are represented by Corporate Art Source.
The art of this exhibition revolves around artists as significants and, simultaneously, very conscious givers of significance, in art and in direct and self-aware relationships. For some works of art, the links are experienced unawares, and only later openly realized. Each visitor is presented with an end result, a final sign: the art. It is the patron who must ferret out what he perceives as underlying threads. Often in these works, the bond of affection emerges not so much in specific work, but in its reference to adjacent art -- to that art's being there at all, to the circumstance in which it came to be. Such art, in complex ways, does mirror life.
"Significant/Signifiers," will be at the Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art in Chicago, until April 17, 2001.
Finis Part I
--G. Jurek Polanski
Editorial Note: Books mentioned in www.artscope.net reviews may be purchased through this site's Barnes and Noble link. Of further interest is Who Chicago? An Exhibition of Contemporary Imagists (Ceolfrith Gallery/Sunderland Arts Centre, U.K.:1980). Stan Edwards is profiled in Art in Chicago: 1945-1995 (Thames and Hudson/Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago:1996). He also appears in Humor in Art: A Celebration of Visual Wit (Davis Publications: 1997). Nilsson, Nutt, Wirsum, and Roger Brown are featured in "Jumpin' Backflash" (reviewed here in Jan. 2000). A catalogue was published for that exhibition (Northern Indiana Arts Association: 1999).
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