curated by Jan Tumlir
The Green Gallery West
830 E Chambers St
Milwaukee, WI 53212
Opening 1-3pm Saturday May 28, 2022
gallery talk at 2pm
Alexis de Chaunac
Ruth L Poor
Xinyan Wang 王鑫焱
Some painters need to grapple with subjects of world-historical import, whereas others would rather withdraw into the more intimate and outwardly inconsequential sphere of those genres that deal in the trivium of everyday life. Of course, these options are by no means exclusive: most painters shuttle back and forth between them, working out all sorts of compromise solutions along the way. Grandeur threatens to turn grandiose without a leavening touch of the prosaic and, reciprocally, the lowly sometimes absolutely demands an ennobling treatment. Painting is, after all, a virtual medium: small things can be endowed with monumental proportions, just as the big ones can be belittled.
Such negotiations are much in evidence in Exit Counseling, a group exhibition of recent MFA graduates from the Painting and Drawing Department of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. The first point of note is the prevalence of an enfolding, architectural space, which is suggested by just a few delimiting lines in certain pictures and fully rendered brick walls in others. Here, then, we find ourselves in the realm of the interior, which typically comes with connotations of coziness. However, even when it is appointed with all of its most familiar furnishings, it threatens to turn uncanny. Chairs, tables and lamps, items of use and details of décor, all of that which can be subsumed to the category of “belongings” assumes a sinister agency. When a figure appears on the premises, it is by no means to quell this disquieting tone, but rather to exacerbate it. Everywhere, it would seem, the domestic borders on the carceral. And for good reason: these pictures are largely the outcome of a period of forced confinement. Their purported intimism is shaken by global disaster.
A virus is a tiny thing, undetectable by eye, and yet its impact can be enormous. When taken together, the works included in this exhibition bespeak the effort of coming to terms with a new sense of scale. One moment, the close confines of the private room undergo a hallucinatory expansion, whereas the next, they further contract while multiplying in number. Walls subdivide the interior into a network of see-through compartments, only to reinforce the vulnerability of those within. These are at once fantastical projections of space and empirical mappings of its psycho-physiological coordinates.
Under such conditions, the body itself takes on the attributes of an enclosure, although not a fortress so much as a ruin, its internal organs exposed to the elements.
Over a large part of the past two years, in one town, city, country, and continent after the next, spiking rates of infection drove people indoors, whilst outside life was as if put on pause. The stillness of the view glimpsed from our windows, through fluttering curtains and balcony railings, came as a complement to the uncanniness of the interior. Certainly, for some, this state of affairs was seized as a reprieve from the daily grind, an opportunity to get reacquainted with the non-human world. The works in this exhibition speak to this too. The swaying of plants in the breeze is converted into a sinuous, arabesque calligraphy. The house cat becomes the stealthy avatar of its owner, who follows it out on the hunt and records the adventure on a series of small ceramic tokens. There is a curiously idyllic, even “fauvist” aspect to some of these scenes of natural communion. But then, as we know, the artistic pursuit of “luxe, calme, et volupté” – to cite the title of a painting by Matisse that in turn is borrowed from Baudelaire – has always been carried out under a shadow of crisis.
Elsewhere the view turns decidedly somber, whether completely obscured by a bank of billowing black smoke or else submerged underwater. One crisis builds on another: excessive carbon emissions cause water levels to rise. Air currents are whipped into a cataclysmic vortex that tears across the land, reducing houses to their structural skeletons while also baring those inside. Further, it might be suspected that global warming and the pandemic are somehow also linked in this chain of disasters. At any rate, the pile-on of bad omens invites thoughts of corporate blunder and cover-up. Monochrome painting returns as chemical spill, with small creatures trapped under layers of pigment. Even the prettiest colors exude a potential virulence when they appear as bruising stains on the picture plane.
The view out the window is informed by the screen, another window which sometimes narrows in on another room and other times dilates onto the world-historical stage. Here, again, we are dealing with questions of proportion and scale. Private conversations with friends alternate with the public rants of unhinged celebrities and political tyrants. These present the “big picture” as a conspiracy in which all of us are unwittingly implicated.
However, in art, at least, this dismal prognostic can be countered and even turned back on itself. Art is apotropaic. From even the humblest domestic items a shield can be fashioned against all evil eyes.
outdoor installation by Gyae Kim is at our East location
The following shows will also be open on Saturday from 11am to 1pm:
The Scripts Found in a Bottle, Found in a Can, Found in a Discourse
(Les Scripts Trouvés dans une Bouteille, Trouvés dan une Canette, Trouvés dans un Discours)
Justin Chance, Mark Harris, E. Jane, Nyeema Morgan, Jimmy Robert, Edra Soto A discourse of artworks organized by Matt Morris
The Green Gallery East
1500 N Farwell Ave
Milwaukee, WI 53202
The OO Guide to Sobriety (The Suburban)
723 S. 5th St
Milwaukee, WI 53204