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Bernard Williams

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The more I stared at Bernard Williams's large assemblage Queequeg's Monument at I Space, the less I understood it. At first the buckets, chairs, and bulging shelves looked like the view through the back door of a packed moving van. But the strangely cohesive and precarious composition drew me in with the rhythms of rich wood tones and textures matched to simple geometric forms--like the perfect wicker circle set next to the polished molded spirals of a bentwood rocking chair. Williams emphasizes the work's power as a formal composition by exhibiting it alongside his paintings, which use similar shapes in saturated blacks and simple primary colors. The towering Queequeg's Monument resembles an expanded Robert Rauschenberg or Jasper Johns with folded blankets and stair banisters substituting for the sloppy brushstrokes and sculptured body parts. Charmed as we are by a thing's beauty, though, inevitably we want to know what it means. Of course Queequeg (painted in bright yellow at the bottom) is the Maori character from Moby Dick, and gallery materials tell us that Williams included objects from his own "travels, research, and scavenging." But the piece is not a tidy narrative combining Melville's whaling story and Williams's experiences. Reducing it to an illustrated treatise equating the quest for art with the obsessive, ultimately futile attempt to harpoon a whale is a bit like taking the rope that hangs from the front and tying a bow around the piece: less is held together than slips out. More than an attractive arrangement of objects or a well-honed message, Queequeg's Monument is an intricate, seductive, unsolvable puzzle. Thankfully, even an itemized manifest never reveals who's moving in. a Tue-Sat through 10/9, 11 AM-5 PM, I Space, 230 W. Superior, second floor, 312-587-9976.

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