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Art Tue May 29 2012

On Making Things Matter: Strategies For Preservation @ SHoP

by Albert Stabler

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Bruce Nauman's "Cast of the Space Under My Chair" is a pretty good rebus for a lot of postwar art. A cast concrete block bearing the rectilinear impression of nondescript legs and a seat, it disposes of concerns with high-tech functionality, high-fashion prettiness, or high-concept intangibility. Precious without being at all special or unique, it recalls a moment and a space that can be recorded but not retrieved, just an oddly pointless fossil of the industrial-design era. Much the same could be said of the thrust of contemporaneous Pop, Minimalist, and Fluxus artwork, currents which have resurfaced in the last decade.

Slated as the final show at the grand, rambling Howard Van Doren Shaw mansion in Hyde Park that has been known for almost a year as the Southside Hub of Production (SHoP), On Making Things Matter/ Strategies of Preservation projects its mood of remembrance in much the same spirit as Nauman's block, offering a collection of collections celebrating nonspecificity. There's Michael Webster's geometrically sunbleached found bulletin board and his photos of blank surfaces around Chicago that formerly bore plaques, Andrea Smith's porcelain replicas of paper dishes, Alex Bradley Cohen's colorful portraits of canonical dead rappers, Matthew McWilliams' painted rocks and crude ideographic tablets, and, in a similar prehistoric vein, Rebecca Beachy's window piece comprised of twigs, mud, and birds' nests, and her rooftop ritual array of horse bones, chicken feathers, and ash; all strange clusters to come across if one did so unexpectedly, but perhaps owing only to the opulent context. Even things that refer to particular local objects and spaces manage to present them with a studied lack of drama, such as Mara Baker's tasteful installation of unsurprising basement detritus, Hui-Min Tsen's shots of rooms in which the photos are then hung, Jorge Lucero's quasi-anthropological labels of mundane items in the children's art workshop space, and, most grandly, co-curator Alberto Aguilar's indexical installation of white objects borrowed from residents of Hyde Park. All of these approach the reflective anonymity of the huge mirror in the front hallway, but conspicuously lack the mirror's self-conscious grandeur. The few pieces with narrative content or symbolic weight, like Daniel Tucker's biography of Karl Hess, the domestically-scaled auditorium by Madeleine Bailey, Adam Farcus, Alexander Stewart, and Erik Peterson, and Teresa Pankratz and Bryan Saner's meticulous craft pieces, seem ironically to fade into the background.

SHoP has hosted an enormous amount and variety of cultural and community gatherings in its short life, and the house served the area as a social service center for many years before that -- a past to which this show offers only an elliptical tribute. Nauman's eloquently mundane physicalization of space may have been read materialistically at first, denying or bracketing any internality or "soul." But that an elegy can be both heartfelt and featureless, the history and activity of the departed recalled in desultory murmurs, may now be a mark of sentimental restraint. In writing on a retrospective of "happenings" in New York, Barry Schwalsky speaks of recent art "nostalgic for an old-school bohemia," regardless of the fact that, in remembering fleeting events, their "wistfulness... may be contrary to the spirit of the events themselves." The quiet, stammering seance of On Making Things Matter, however, seems an appropriate form of reverence for a place in which too much has happened to be easily apprehended.

On Making Things Matter: Strategies For Preservation runs through July 15 at the Southside Hub of Production, 5638 S. Woodlawn Ave. More info here.

 
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Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

Paul Goldberger Describes the "Pragmatism and Poetry" of Frank Gehry's Architecture in His New Book

By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »

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