Monday, September 6, 2010

Review: "Uncrumpling" at the Exhibition Agency

This past week I reviewed the show Uncrumpling This Much Crumpled Thing at the Exhibition Agency for Newcity. The original review is in two paragraphs below (online here), followed by further reflections.

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(August 30th, 2010) Under the broad umbrella of falsely representational art, seven artists from Austin, Chicago and New York are situated within the tidy, manicured apartment rooms of The Exhibition Agency. Housed in the same space as the short-lived Concertina Gallery, Corinna Kirsch’s newest curatorial project brings together a pleasant array of sculpture, photography, painting, video and sound, many of which reuse functional materials in slyly unexpected ways.
The show’s title comes from a line in a Wallace Stevens poem, “Le Monocle de Mon Oncle” (1918), and serves as Kirsch’s link between the works. With the title she proposes that representative art is an overused, “crumpled thing,” but that these seven artists in particular have uniquely attempted to grapple with creating new methods of representing reality. The strangest and most compelling revisions of representation in this exhibition can be seen in the work of Anna Krachey and Christopher Bradley. Krachey’s visceral, sexualized photographs, “Bonobo” and “Floral Market,” depict fleshy objects obscured by a crumpled, semi-transparent plastic film. Bradley, with “Stupid #2,” has created an absurd sculpture of precariously placed paint rollers and beer bottles, grounded by a man’s right shoe. A constant stream of water shoots from the center of the piece into a cooler filled with empty beer bottles on the floor. Amidst these functional objects, the shoe enables us to see a human representation, and thus it becomes—crudely—a portrait of a man taking a piss in the middle of the room.

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Considering this exhibition further, however, beyond these two works the questionable link of representation falls short. Strangely, for a group show, there is little dialogue between the artists. In fact, the actual art is overshadowed by the curator’s hypothetical vision for what the work (and the space) should be. Rather than primarily being a venue to showcase what is new and contemporary, the Exhibition Agency leaves its visitor with confused and conflicting messages about the art, the curator, and the reasoning behind bringing all of these ideas together.

The Exhibition Agency does not quite function as an apartment gallery—a lived-in space to display and sell works of art. While people do live there, it is too clean, staged as if for a photo shoot, with no indication of the messy, functioning vitality of a home. Nor is it truly an agency, as the name would suggest—an agency being a business that organizes transactions between the artist and the viewer—for the work does not appear to be for sale (and indeed, cannot be for sale, legally. See some of the links below for more information). The only personal items left on display are copies of Artforum, a curious exercise in presentation.

While in his poem Wallace Stevens poses the question, “Shall I uncrumple this much-crumpled thing?”, hesitating at a crossroad, curator Kirsch turns the question into a statement, implying that these artists are above such self-reflection. The exhibition takes it for granted that an oft-revisited subject such as representation in art should necessarily be revived, and that representation is the best reason to bring these works together. Unfortunately, the works in this show suffer as a group from such a vague categorization, and ultimately from the conflicted nature of the space itself.

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Note: Writing this review (coming after previous reviews of shows at Home and Golden, two other iterations of apartment galleries) pushed me to read a little more about the history behind apartment galleries in Chicago. Below are some interesting resources for more background information.

- (June 4th, 2009), Medill (Northwestern University) "Chicago apartments: Private space meets public contemporary art venue" by Lauren Hansen. Some background on 2009 apartment gallery spaces.
- (Nov. 6th, 2009), RedEye "Roommates turn Logan Square apartment into art gallery" by Mike Hines. Article on apartment galleries, the publication of which prompted investigations and closings by city officials.
 - (Dec. 10th, 2009), Bad At Sports "On the matter of public space: or, my apartment gallery is an arctic explorer" by Caroline Picard. Insightful essay about living and working in an apartment gallery (the Green Lantern), and what it means for it to be shut down.
- (May 5th, 2010), Newcity Art "Art Break: City Evicts Gallery From Apartment" by Jason Foumberg. Article about recent apartment gallery closings.
- (May 14th, 2010), Chicago Art Magazine "Apartment Gallery Update" by Kathryn Born. Short update detailing legalities regarding apartment galleries.

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