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Annual Art Reviews Compilation

Molly Zuckerman-Hartung’s ‘Negative Joy’ at Corbert vs Dempsey

by Sean Ward

“Moreover, I protest, not only as I have already done against the cutting off of intellectual originality by the difficulties of the means of communication in the modern world, but even more against the ax which has been put to the root of originality because the people who have elected communication as a career so often have nothing more to communicate”.

  • Norbert Wiener, The Human Use of Human Beings

There are many artists today that make paintings, obviously. But there are few that can and should enjoy the title, painter. Especially in a city like Chicago that prides itself on the various studio programs at the various institutions throughout - where they push the conversation on painting as the foundational art whether you detest it or love it. Confusing though is the lack of paintings to see that actually question or seem to struggle with the very act of painting. Few range beyond the simple act of questioning painting itself. The danger of painting is its own nature; the act of confronting a surface, alone, with some colors in a course of unspecified, almost unlimited amount of time, but today this is an assumed, prescribed and known argument. Disturbing to me is the fearful lack of rigor though in the questioning, like those paintings of Michael Krebber, Richard Aldrich and the artists that follow this vein. Cool, quirky gimmicks and cleverness are not enough today.

“What sometimes enrages me and always disappoints and grieves me is the preference of great schools of learning for the derivative as opposed to the original, for the conventional and thin which can be duplicated in many copies rather than the new and powerful, and for arid correctness and limitation of scope and method rather than for universal newness and beauty, wherever it may be seen,” complains Norbert Wiener in The Human Use of Human Beings, speaking volumes to our compliance with the tried and true of the commercial art world rather than asking what art can be. The questions that flow through these artificial poses are redundant, trite and banal in a way that exemplifies the rigidity, conventionality and elitism of the fashion world, not the fashion on the street. There needs to be more of the antithesis of these artists and the only way we might find them is to seek those who are looking and seeing. Perception is a stance against loose facts and methods that are abstaining from communication and imagination.

In her show, “Negative Joy” at Corbett vs Dempsey in Chicago, Molly Zuckerman-Hartung presents us with a painter struggling with dialectical synthesis through a perception of the world hinged on the communicative ideas of language; rather than simply an artist making paintings, she is a painter making paintings. Paintings that respond to her own psychology, physicality and acts in and of the world - confused by whether it should be done in paint or in words. The hurling, cutting, ducking, expanding frenzy are off set by the curious manner in which they hang in the gallery in clusters forming sentences ending in ellipses. Her paintings summon us to question reality in the way our eyes help our brains experience the world. Sampling reality, our brains create distortions from these collages gathered by our eyes, striving to determine the real from the memory.

Paintings that look decayed, zombie-like greens, resurrected and reconstituted with new flesh - have survived death. They live on. The longevity of Molly’s conversation with painting is the extension to the outside world- referencing a digitally printed bedspread with a website as a title in or some seem to be simple novelties of a day like Homecoming Mud Puddle. We could easily cipher her paintings in the language of Robert Rauschenberg through choice materials or liken them to Franz West’s paintings of naked figures and scatter-brained marks but they come with more intimacy which does not need to be decoded but confronted. It is necessary though to mention Rauschenberg because of this strange tenderness that we find in both Hartung’s and Rauschenberg’s work. Looking at Rauschenberg’s Bed we find similar concerns of what painting can be through material but also something personal, the use of an object of one’s own to locate one’s self in the act of painting. In Barbara Rose’s interview with Rauschenberg, he says “I told the students I addressed about what being an artist is about and why they might want to be one. I told them that I had heard outstanding speeches by mathematicians and physicists - scholars of all kinds - who could measure their input and control it and even grow with it, but I ended up saying that art is nothing that you can measure. It depends on the time, the look, the intensity and the devotion that is placed in it.” This patience that Rauschenberg felt, exudes to Hartung’s work.

We build our world with ‘the look’, a vision, there is little to escape the world of perception. The endeavor to communicate this world has been taken up by Molly Zuckerman-Hartung through an incarnated mind. Painting offers, for her, a way to “install ourselves in them [perceptual behaviors] in order to pursue the analysis of this exceptional relation between the subject and its body and its world”. To continue to quote Maurice Merleau-Ponty on the matter of The Primacy of Perception in relation to Hartung’s paintings, “the body is no longer merely an object in the world, under the purview of a separated spirit. It is on the side of the subject; it is our point of view on the world, the place where the spirit takes on a certain physical and historical situation.” It is this source, the body for Hartung’s work that creates the dynamism missing in many paintings today. Generating paintings through her bodily situation in external space: walking from one end of the studio to the other or a stroll home or trying to discover which chair is best to read in. Her environment is not lined with information to be obtained but knowledge to be gained by looking, struggling, and baring the dead and living flesh on a rectangle with joy.

Review: Yto Barrada’s RIFFS at the Renaissance Society

by Sean Ward

Yto Barrada’s exhibition title, “RIFFS,” refers to the Rif Mountains, in Morocco, which run east from Tangier, where the artist lives and works. Riff can also be understood as a monologue or spoken improvisation, like in a musical performance. The Renaissance Society’s hallway leading to the main exhibition space is covered in lists - Rue de Tanger, names of streets in French and Arabic in Tangier - referring to memories still colonized, while films of appropriated imagery bookend photographs in the main space, generate myth from a concoction of Moroccan and personal histories. In the gallery, photographs cover the walls guiding viewers through a wealth of images and information. The experience of moving among these images is like driving in an unfamiliar land while reading a map, seeing dilapidated buildings, piles of rubble, vacant lots, landscapes and roads and people.

The photographs, either individually or in groups, at first stand like a document of a place, but they also strive to be symbols of past and present. This shifting depletes them of the possibility of stating “it is what it is”, losing their sensorial and imaginary qualities that they can hold for a viewer in their large scale blankness and instead gives them an agenda to fulfill. To deny us as viewers the act of rebuilding the vacant lots with our own imagination is in congruence with the artist’s interest in how globalization and social histories in Morocco, through economic, social and political policies have overwhelmed and hindered the lives of civilians.

Through her monotone narration of her film Hand-Me-Downs, she illustrates the confused border between the literal and the symbolic by using her own gathered family history from questionable sources as a monologued script to archival footage of others in Morocco. Suggesting that the creation and invocation of myth can be a form of surviving places filled with a mysterious past and an unknowable, malleable present and future. The Tangier that arises from Barrada’s exhibition culminates in a feeling of repeated failures, a continuous hesitation to fill holes in one’s own life in a place.

Review: Zachary Buchner/Andrew Rafacz Gallery

Andrew Rafacz Gallery’s long, shallow and rectangular main space opens up with Zachary Buchner’s sparsely hung solo exhibition. All of Buchner’s paintings are a similar size, touched with florescent yellows, blues, reds, and pale hues recalling spring. The brushstrokes are light, without rigor, as if the artist was coloring something in. The paintings are numbered “JSY 01” and “JSY 02” and so on. Serialized, the titles serve as an indication of a controlled experiment or a forbearance of something else to come, perhaps. With each painting holding a load of plaster dribbled, dotted or poured on the surface, and not breaking nor fighting with its frame, the seven paintings end up as limited permutations of each other.

Primarily concerned with surface, Buchner’s attempted arbitrariness and asymmetry of plaster placement seems negligent. To call them sculptural is misdirected; simply using a sculptural material as paint does not qualify the term. The transferred index of one painting to another is intriguing but does not reveal much about their potential. The materials used suggest a connection to fresco, but there is a self-awareness absent in this regard which counters that conclusion. Buchner shows restraint through thin paint and little compositional and structural variation between the paintings (paint-plaster-paint). Buchner’s paintings are curious in this regard because of the lack of questions they ask. With their assuredness in surface, everything hangs off of it. Painting is surface, is that where the possibilities lie for this work?

The exhibition’s title, “Just Say Yes,” is a spoiler. The paintings are made to be bright and inviting, and play at being untamed. Neither questioning the world nor themselves in the process of being made, the paintings feel unengaged and less tied to image, framing, or the act of painting itself. It is difficult to allow curiosity to follow these paintings, though their formal qualities are pleasurable, but I desire a position beyond the neutral. (Sean Ward)

Through May 5 at Andrew Rafacz Gallery, 835 W. Washington Blvd.