Size Matters In This Art Show
"Featuring more than 250 professional and 30 student artists in various media, this non-juried show -- organized by the Chicago Artists' Coalition in a vast gallery at 847 W. Jackson -- stuns with its sheer massiveness, if not with its consistency."
Size matters in the Chicago Art Open, the gigantic and oh-so-democratic annual exhibition on the Near West Side, billed as the city's largest gathering of artwork by Chicago artists under one roof.
There is, of course, an inevitable unevenness to this profusion of paintings, drawings, photography, prints, sculpture, textiles and installations by artists at varying levels of skill, talent and experience. And that may be the point. The Art Open isn't a "best-of-show"; instead, it's a valuable snapshot that captures the breadth, if not the depth, of the local community of working artists. It's a big picture in more ways than one.
The appealing and not entirely expected thing about the show is the emphatic way its best entries stand out in the crowd of unremarkable landscapes, sunsets and studio nudes. There's a special kind of pleasure that comes from finding the gems among the, well, non-gems. There's also a thing called stopping power, and as you make the long slog through this artistic labyrinth, you can trust your feet to pause at all the right junctions.
My feet ground to a halt, for example, in front of Hungarian-born painter Zsofia Otvos' "Quietly Breathing," an expressionistic and vaguely sinister portrait of a slender, somnolent young woman with arms and hands oddly distended, her right shoulder self-protectively drawn up in a way that's both painful and poignant. The olive-drab cast of her limbs and face recalls Toulouse-Lautrec at his most deliberately ghastly -- except that Otvos' sensual handling of acrylic paint, laid on here in wet-looking daubs, is positively luscious; the incongruity makes it thrilling.
The strongest work here, a bit surprisingly, is almost all figurative; pure abstraction takes more discipline and mastery of materials than almost all of these artists possess at this stage. But that just makes the representational work look that much better, especially when it combines expressionistic approaches with psychological complexity -- as in Andrea Harris' gutsy "Self-Portrait 2005: Both Sides Now," a bracing, bifurcated image that stays just this side of melodramatic overstatement.
The show's most effective single image, Mark Phillips' "Wander," blends abstraction and the figure with consummate subtlety and maximum emotional effect. Without polemics or preaching, this mixed-media work -- with its lone human form hunched and barely visible in a swirl of anxious color -- suggests the fragility and loneliness of the individual in this noisy, fractious world. It's powerful and haunting.
Maybe the best thing about the Chicago Art Open is the opportunity it provides students, several of whom prove themselves deserving. The standouts include Brandon Sorg, whose "Darkness #3" combines the compositional instincts of the best architectural photographers with the moody atmospherics of film-noir cinematography, and especially Jon Cancelino, whose series of backlit display photographs suggests offbeat narratives in the comically unsettling vein of Cindy Sherman and Anthony Goicolea minus their narcissistic impulses.
Cancelino, who enjoys the distinction of having a small alcove all to himself here, stages highly theatrical groupings of contemporary young people engaged in decidedly retro activities -- playing bridge, sewing -- that create a time-warp effect. Sometimes the sense of disorientation comes not from chronologies but culture clashes, as in "Afternoon Shopping," in which a white-bread suburban family seems to have conducted its weekly grocery run exclusively at an Asian market.
There's a whiff of hipster cuteness in all this, and you feel that Cancelino runs the risk of becoming just another postmodern imp stuck in ironic mode. But he has one big thing going for him: something to say. Congratulations to the Chicago Art Open for letting him say it. (from Suntimes)