Tidy, picturesquely gritty Bridgeport resembles the Wicker Park of 20 years ago: rich in architectural history, it has a large, stable working-class population and good access to public transit. Home to the White Sox, the Chicago Police Department, and the Daley regime, it's also become the latest destination of local "independent" culture with the advent of Select Media Festival 4, a jam-packed month of exhibits and events spearheaded by Wicker Park interventionist/impresario Ed Marszewski, the man behind Buddy, Lumpen, and the Version media festival. In true Buddy fashion, a key component is a busy schedule of one-time-only experimental/activist party-performances. But there's also a large, flashy flagship exhibition of 34 artists, "The New Chicagoans," at Iron Studios. As claimed, the show provides an overview of many local "emerging and established practitioners," if not a terribly "wide range of approaches to contemporary art making"--from a conceptual standpoint at least.
One of the strongest areas is the sculpture. Christine Tarkowski's beautiful untitled mound of litter is immersed in murky layers of fiberglass, cropped to look like it's oozing from the wall. Engulfing this effluvia blurs it and gives it a dreamy quality. Nick Black's motorized contraption, which inflates and deflates a mouth-shaped balloon, is modest but engaging. Most amusing is Dolan Geiman's Art-o-Matic, a towering painted-wood monument to the all-too-predictable tropes of outsider art: hand-lettered Bible verses, anthropomorphic found objects, strange hybrid animals. The photography in "The New Chicagoans" is also good, sometimes used in distinctive ways. Greg Stimac's Recoil is a thought-provoking quartet of framed photos of gun enthusiasts in outdoor settings training their weapons on the viewer. 3X, by Melinda Fries and Andrew Wilson, is a low-key but lyrical installation of small photos of romantically bleak Chicago vistas (many involving angry dogs) as well as video segments and ambient sounds collected on their melancholy, overcast treks.
The wall pieces tend to rely on trendy design, though many are improved by their texts. A comic strip painted on the wall by veteran zinester Al Burian doesn't benefit from its large scale, and conflating credit cards and the events of Revelations is far from novel, but the piece is funny and occasionally elegant. Michael Genovese creates a big, snazzy font for some pretty good Willie Nelson lyrics in Just Now Falling. But Elisa Harkins's sloppy attempt at shojo cutesiness (and iffy politics) in Eskimo Infinity Room comes off as adolescent, while Ryan Davies's plywood caribou silhouettes are perfect prototypes for CB2 whenever it jumps on the "nature = lumber" bandwagon.
"The New Chicagoans" includes a smattering of old-school painted abstractions, perhaps in sympathy with the Zhou brothers, whose new studio is nearby. Carl Virgo's subdued, graceful retro-modernist paintings of paint are attractive in both color and brushwork. Duk Ju Kim makes the most of a large canvas in Blockage, a portrait abstracted into blocks in the way Barry McGee clusters framed images. I'm tired, however, of Ashcan-style paintings of boxers morphed with abstract expressionist bravura to make a hypermasculine point that by now is moot--an effort not helped in John Salhus's case by his apparent inability to paint. Much more successful are Paul Nudd's delightful hairy-zit-studded booger-wad drawings, which might fit humorously into the ab-ex category. (His odor-based performance, scheduled for opening night, was postponed in consideration of patrons' gentle sensibilities until a presumably less crowded day, Saturday, November 5.) Text figures in most of the other drawings. Michael Merck's engrossing-ly odd contour drawings are interspersed with writing and printed-out photographs. John Parot's purple and pink funk-Victorian drawings and paintings of words, polygons, and faces are always a pleasure to pore over.
Though not officially part of the festival, there's also a show at the Bridgeport Museum of Modern Art--aka artist Chris Uphues's apartment--called "BMOMA #3." The sculpture here is memorable too. Hanging over Uphues's electric organ is Juan Angel Chavez's lyrical wall "lamp," a subtly glowing yellow traffic light surrounded by a sunburst and clouds on sticks. Cat Chow's abstraction sits on the coffee table like an uncanny sea creature, while the refrigerator is home to Erik Wenzel's plasticine doggy. There's also photography, painting, video, and drawing, including a wide selection of Nudd's charming icky visions.
Another ongoing component of the Select festival is the Community of the Future Experimental Culture Zone (enterprise zone?), which features well-stocked temporary outposts of Myopic and Quimby's bookstores. This weekend another exhibit, "Secret Histories Museum," opens on the same colossal floor as "The New Chicagoans"; it looks to be an interesting activist/interventionist documentary art show with, yes, a focus on history. For more see the full Select schedule in this section.
The New Chicagoans
When: Through Sun 11/13
Where: Iron Studios, 3636 S. Iron
When: Through Sun 11/13
Where: 3213 S. Lituanica