Art Review Archives:
Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art
"Significant/Signifiers," is on exhibit at the Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art, Chicago, until April 17, 2001: an exhibition centered about artists married to artists; artists collaborating with artists; artists as a discreet, cooperative class.
Science has demonstrated that each living creature is attuned, not to what it sees, hears, or physically feels, but rather to what in its environment is relevant to it -- survival value. Humans also 'distill' the essentials from a welter of sensations. Art does this all the more: at its ultimate, the eye abstracts. Chicago artist Shawn Ellen Curtin is represented in the current exhibit at the Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art by her Crow Island, an acrylic on canvas. Curtin's contribution to this show recalls the directions found with artists such as Howard Hodgkin, Graham Sutherland, Andre Masson, the later Adolph Gottlieb -- all artists who begin with fact (often suggested, still, in their titles), and who, through interpretation, follow it to formal arrangements of broad shapes and patterns, purified hues, and fundamental balance between simplified elements in composition. For this artistic view, form is function, and the full variety of sight distracts from the essential and the elan vital in life. In Curtin's Crow Island, white and yellow bands dominate the upper left of canvas, while a rich and heavy red scumbling over a black ground pulses at the upper right. In this work, four red baseball-sized dots focus the canvas's upper half, while in the remaining bottom, similarly-sized blue, green, red, and ochre circles are evenly dispersed. One imagines a Hodgkin reinterpreting Van Gogh's Crows in the Field; that latter artist's turbulent brushstrokes elaborated into bands of painterly hues, the figurative shapes breaking into massed, intuitive contours.
Richard Lindhorst and Bob Witter, together with Curtin, form a close association of art and affection. Lindhorst's The Bow of Odysseus (Limestone:46"x13"x7") does indeed evoke the bow of half-recollected history. This sculpture is pared to an essence of ideal. In Lindhorst's piece, space and volume are heavily defined: the hand-hold at mid-section decidedly anchors the top and bottom arch of bow, and all stands in equilibrium to the rigid, stretch of limestone 'cord.' The bow of legend was the object of a wager by Odysseus's wife, Penelope, who, after the heroic adventurer was presumed dead, was pressed to choose his successor. Penelope vowed to marry whoever could draw the impossibly taut and sturdy weapon. (Only its true master, returning after 19 years of wandering, managed to draw it and with it then killed the petitioning usurpers). Among this artists' circle, Bob Witter adds his Table-scape: gathered and painted rock fragments upon a marble table segment, with metal insert.
Ken Indermark's Untitled, although a photograph overwrit with pen, seems allied to the British school of drawing led by Ronald Searle and Ralph Steadman. A beach shoreline sets the artist with a sheeted figure; an image self-captioned as "Bush pilot." Hilda Berman's untitled Installation honors her parents -- mother, Rolande Glicenstein, costume maker and artist; and her father, Douglas Berman, poet, artist, astrologer -- parental bonds; among the deepest ties of affection.
In Ruyell Ho's Passion (Mixed media), a black outer band enframes a central green square, over which an orange wire grid is superimposed. Upon this last layering, and foremost toward the viewer, a red form -- a fluttering amorphous, almost butterfly-like mass -- is transfixed in the artist's material. In this exhibition, Ho is joined by his wife, Amanda Ross-Ho, represented by her Affirmation Book; Vol. I, a collection fashioned through letter and pen, and collected in an aluminum box.
In Galina Foukes's Untitled, 1995 (Mixed media), her father's death certificate occupies the leftmost third of the framed image, and confronts her birth certificate at the far right third of this assemblage. The central image is a photographic collage. Here, his daughter Galina, now in her twenties, dances to music written by her father, artist Maurice Foukes. At the upper edge of this work's centerpiece, her father's visage emerges; as spectral mentor, as photographic momento. Among artists, memories are images, and persist. In harmony with his daughter's homage, Maurice Foukes's Family Group 1971 (Oil on canvas) portrays, at image left, her mother embracing their child, their tones of flesh and orange forming a contrast to the greens and blues at upper right, where the father fishes from a canoe. An open lake, a wooded distant shore recede into background mists. Fellow artist and family friend, John Canon, joins to this grouping his Untitled, an ink drawing with painted butterfly and a poem beginning: "Beautiful woman of the East". Canon is also represented by an Untitled collage and ink, in which a balloon escapes into the sky from a little girl hidden beneath her hat. Among these works, the theme of loss is weighed by relationships. The significant varies.
Artists' children often collaborate directly in the art presented. Luke Buffenmayer's Life in My Backyard is a photograph, or rather a manipulated photomontage -- the artist's children, Jacob and Cailin, aided in arranging objects on the lawn, and by drawing the three symbols, line drawings really, for the lower border. The visitor sees two 'V-shaped' sticks, crossed in the soil, and seemingly paleolithic symbols; perhaps a horse head, somewhat of a (is it?) chicken, a human figure. Artists have always closely observed children's sense of things seen. In this show, many participate as well.
Ray Siemanowski's Verdi Garden (acrylic #0842 on canvas) adds a bright, Pop idiom of trees and assorted elements in a muralistic image, as if Julian Schnabel and Roy Lichtenstein were to collaborate in restoring a Thomas Hart Benton garden scene. This work displays a love of contour and prominent heavy outline for graphic expressiveness in itself. His approach to arrangement of shape and adjacent color gives the canvas movement within fixed forms.
Bernie Beckman's Figure Study (Watercolor) recalls Picasso's Demoiselles d'Avignon (1907). In this painting, Beckman pursues a synthetist furtherance of German Expressionism in palette; his forms are analytically reduced to vibrant colored contours, and arranged with a dynamic sensitivity to an integral composition. In "Significant/Signifiers," there are works which document the cameraderie which nourishes, sustains, and fertilizes art. Beckman appears in this exhibition as the second from the left in Tom Palazzolo's Ukrainian Venus (photograph:1967), also in this exhibit.
Among other husband and wife pairings are Linda and John Platt. Linda Platt's Jeanettics (Mixed media soft sculpture) intertwines in playful passion two stuffed jeans with patch-ons. She is also represented by Psychogynecologist, a late-night, Gothic portrait worthy of Man Ray; and framed in fur. John Platt adds his printed copies of Poetry, in a salvaged "Free Take One" wire basket.
Eric Jensen's Greeting (ceramic) employs a photographic image of a motherly woman who waves from a doorway. The image is worked as to lend a feel of age: a vision present, but increasingly effaced by time. The artist's memories persist through his art. Similarly, Laurie Shaman's Distant Village (ceramic plaque) reveals a blurred Soutine-like sense of remembrance. Ed Hinkley shares studio space with these two artists and his Atmospheric Hotel (Watercolor) investigates space, and the effects of atmospheric light. Atmospheric Hotel orchestrates a male nude lower in the image with a grouping of a woman (upper left quarter) balanced against companions to their upper right. A selection of photographic works in "Significant/Signifiers" attest that artists' commitments and loyalties needn't always be romantic or close. Michelle Litvin's Portrait of a Challenged Child (photograph) focuses on a young Black girl who proudly displays a painted paper plate. And Bill Stamets's Patriotic Event, also a photograph, draws the visitor to contrasts in commitments beyond the purely personal. In Patriotic Event, at upper right, a ground-breaking ceremony is taking place; while in the foreground, at left, a young boy stabs at an imaginary foe with a small complementary flag. Merely formal commitments, official sanctions, do not engage the child. His energies wander into aggressive play.
Tom Palazzolo's oil on canvas, Close Friends, plays with overtly signified companionship: a ventriloquist with a look-alike dummy. Palazzolo's second entry in "Significant/Signifiers" is Ukrainian Venus (photograph:1967). In recent years, an increasing number of Ukrainian professionals and students have made Chicago their home. The central figure of this shoreline re-enactment of Botticelli's Birth of Venus is Atka Holubovych, a Ukrainian student who studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Chicago artist, Bernie Beckman, is the second figure from left in this photograph, and mimes a Zephyr wind. Marcia Palazzolo's Have Your Cake... in this exhibition, although a hand-colored woodcut, harkens to the strong line and contour contrasts of Picasso's linocuts.
Several who have worked with Tom Palazzolo are exhibiting a grouped selection of photographs and artist prints. Mery Elyn Pocius's acrylic collage) reveals a kinship with experiments by Man Ray, as does work such as Gala Pocius's Lovely Lady, and Mike Pocius's two Untitled photographs. Allan Pocius shows two archival digital prints: A Downward Spiral and Sixty Four Windows. These latter, small intimate images of birds, approach a decorative quality such as in Bonnard's miniatures.
Immediate environments -- home and friends -- often influence artists as much as training, beliefs, or emotional sensibilities. Many even take on a 'sense of place' in their work. "Significant/Signifiers" offers gallery visitors the opportunity to investigate that for themselves: It is a testing ground. Certainly, one feels that with a couple such as Gladys Nilsson and Jim Nutt, or Stan Edwards and Margaret Doerr, the viewer discerns a visual dialogue. Such artists share lives, ideas, and often materials and techniques. They are 'significant other,' as well as signifiers -- artists. Elaine de Kooning, after a life with Willem de Kooning, observed : "Any artist, however, who looks only into his own life for his ideas is still going to find the irresistible ideas of other artists there." That is true even of friends and colleagues; as many art movements throughout history confirm. This exhibition gathers fine artistic work by families and close associates -- and an opportunity to consider the role of affinities from outside the art itself.
"Significant/Signifiers" is at the Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art, Chicago, until April 17, 2001.
Finis Part II
--G. Jurek Polanski
Editorial Note: Books mentioned in www.artscope.net reviews may be purchased through this site's Barnes and Noble link. Chicago Imagists 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). Elaine de Kooning is quoted from The Theories of Modern Art, edited by Herschel B. Chipp (University of California: 1968).