Rite of Spring

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west-loop-galleries.jpgOver the past several years, it had always felt to me that spring had definitely, finally arrived, if the weather was warm enough to go on an art walk during the opening night artists’ receptions at the art galleries concentrated around the Peoria-Washington corridor and the Fulton Market stretch in the West Loop.   After what seemed like an eternity caught in dreadful winter’s gloomy and freezing chokehold, it felt so joyous, so celebratory, so civilized to move from one gallery to another, sipping an alcoholic beverage du jour, soaking yourself in various forms of paintings, photographs, sculptures, multi-media, and all points in between, some of them jaw-droppingly good, some of them headscratchingly awful, most of them intriguing telescopes into the workings and aspirations of the creative mind. And yes, the people-watching couldn’t be beat too!  So despite the fact that my face and eyes were puffy like the Pillsbury Doughboy’s after a bad Botox session, thanks to my other rite of spring, pollen allergy attacks, I, together with BFF Camela in the spirit of cultural intrepedity, made our way last Friday at several opening receptions in the West Loop’s Peoria-Washington intersection. 

I love the West Loop art scene, since it’s the perfect confluence of all the great things that mark the other Chicago art districts:  mature and elegant like River North, but without the stuffiness and haughty pretension (I mean, there’s still pretension, but of a less snooty kind, for sure); undeniably contemporary like the West Side but without the studied, put-upon messiness and edginess; and relaxed and accepting like Pilsen but with better booze.  At the top of my list from last Friday’s openings were Sheba Chhachhi’s installations at the Walsh Gallery (118 N. Peoria, 2nd Floor, ongoing until April 25), which blew my mind away.  These post-modern, 2-dimensional “light boxes”, as big as plasma TVs, superimposed various seemingly unrelated images on top of one another, with the top image in a continuous moving loop, to provide commentaries on the current state of Asian culture and the impact of trade, globalization, and technology on the region.  Installed in a dark room with an Indian chant as soundtrack, they’re powerful, heady stuff, and I got to admit, as I told BFF Camela, I felt pretty intellectually one-dimensional in front of them (I’m still pondering the connection of images of Avian bird flu and pilgrimage of Buddhist monks to one another – is there a religious aspect to eating bad chicken?).  Regardless of how maddeningly obtuse they were, visually, the “light boxes” stopped you in your tracks.

Not as intellectually intimidating but no less impressive  were Spencer Finch’s collection of sixty photographs of trees in a foggy forest, with each photograph subtly, almost imperceptibly, tracking the movement of the fog, so you see more of the trees in some photographs, and close to absolute blurs in others, with most of the photographs seemingly indistinct from one another, on view at Rhona Hoffman Gallery (118 N. Peoria, ongoing until May 2).   They were beautifully, painstakingly photographed in haunting black and white, and I just stood there in utter amazement at Finch’s craft, discipline, and artistic vision.  I had to look at many of them twice, thrice, in order to make out the differences in them, which to me successfully drove home Finch’s point of our inability to truly capture the “ephemeral” nature of an image.  I wasn’t too enthralled with the main exhibit at Kavi Gupta Gallery, 835 W. Washington Blvd. (New York artist Angelina Gualdoni’s paintings inspired by ruined, decaying buildings and skyscrapers, which frankly looked like piles of sweaty, smelly clothes on the floor to me) but was thoroughly engaged by the work of Tom Greenwood in the parallel exhibition, “Vaguely Paperly”, curated by Chris Johanson, a collection of works by artists working with paper in various media.  The works on display were comprised of cutout figures superimposed on vaguely faded newspaper clippings and then splattered with paint.  If you looked closely, you would see that the cutout figures, mostly human, some animal, would be reflective, in an expressionistic, stylistic sort of manner, of the news clipping it framed (some of which were tragic or violent).  The pieces captured the way I would visualize images in my head as I read through a newspaper or magazine article.  Fantastic!  The Fulton Market art galleries will be holding their openings tonight, Friday night, so I will have more art chatter next week.

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