WHEN Through 3/3
WHERE Dubhe Carreno, 1841 S. Halsted
WHEN Through 2/28
WHERE Italian Cultural Institute, 500 N. Michigan #1450
About seven years ago Cynthia Consentino read a study that has figured in much of her work since: five-year-olds were asked which animal best represented them. "The boys identified with animals that were predatory, and the girls with animals that were cute and cuddly," she says. "One girl even answered with a flower. I thought that there would also be girls who wanted to be tigers, but then I remembered loving playing a flower in a school play at that age." She began to create ceramic sculptures that played with gender stereotypes; in 2001's Wolf Girl I she put a wolf's head on a girl in pink clothes. In 2005, when Consentino was commissioned to redesign a bathroom at the Kohler Art Center in Wisconsin, she created about 60 tiles that either depicted a head, middle, or bottom, then combined them in hundreds of different figures, in a manner reminiscent of the Surrealists' exquisite corpses. That project led to the figural sculptures in her show at Dubhe Carreno, which also includes drawings. She made 18 molds in three categories--heads, middles, and bottoms--of animals, people, and flowers, then combined them in small or almost life-size ceramic sculptures. Flowerman is a guy in a suit with a sunflower head, Birdgirl is a bird's torso with a girl's head and feet, and in Harpy a woman's head is joined to a bird's torso and oversize claws.
An avid reader, Consentino had her earliest "feminist moment" at about nine, she says, when she pulled out every biography in the children's library and found only a few about women. As a child she was fascinated by the gender-related power struggles in Bewitched. "The woman is in control, but she will placate the man and say she'll do it his way," Consentino says. "But then she uses magic even though she'd promised him not to." Animated cartoons appealed to her for their mix of "reality and fantasy," but her colors in this show are more gentle than cartoonish, inspired by the 50s palettes of books from her childhood.
Consentino says her family was highly dysfunctional; both her parents were often unhappy. She calls her maternal grandmother, who lived with them and her three siblings, a "true Italian matriarch. My mom never got a chance to be in her own element. There was this weird Italian role thing where the man was king but not really." The three adults argued often, sometimes yelling--about money, about how to raise the kids. She thinks her father, a computer programmer, would have liked to have been an artist. "My father was a pack rat," she says. "He collected things like bottle caps, the tops of tin cans, computer tape. We'd go on walks in different cities, in weird neighborhoods, and he would bring back pieces of wood, or metal, or bicycle wheels. He thought he could make something out of them." While he was at work, his wife would throw away bits of his collections.
At the beginning of grad school, in 1994, Consentino made work about her family. "I did a piece where my grandmother carries my father in her mouth," she says. But the present show, with its mix-and-match neo-surrealism, is more universal, without such family references, leaving interpretation to the viewer.
Work from the 40s and 50s by Italian artist Lucio Fontana (1899-1968) is presented in a superb show at the Italian Cultural Institute. Best known for monochromes on paper or canvas with slashes or holes in them, Fontana has several such pieces here on tinfoil, from a series titled "Cuts for Dresses," plus small sculptures and other "flat" works with relief effects. The gashes are startling, suggesting vandalism or wounds, but they also open up a third dimension that serves as a metaphor for expanding viewer consciousness. There's more to the gallery experience, he seems to say, than flat works and their illusions of depth. One of Fontana's manifestos, reprinted in the useful catalog, mentions airplanes and missiles, revealing that, like many early modernists, he was responding to the space-expanding possibilities of the machine age.