Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Message to Pretty: A Review by Eddie Rosenberg

SO, I was at my rich friend's house drinking a martini, flipping through a shiny local magazine when I came across a listing for this Juniortown gallery in Pilsen. The show: ''Message to pretty'' was being touted as your classic art vs. craft catfight, a 4-woman show, my favorite kind if you know what I mean. I instantly thought about my friend Mose, who goes to art galleries and sells them lightbulbs. I said to myself, ''Hey Eddie! You have a PHD in art history from Columbia, ok so the thesis was on the northern rennaissance but, that's pretty close." I says to myself, "Hey Eddie, you are underemployed, you AINT a bad scribbler by any means, so why not do like Mose, and go and make a few bucks. This is what it is you do: get your butt down there to Pilsen, review this art show, then sell it to a magazine or the Trib maybe even the Times?" "Fucking brilliant", I thought, "Ma will be proud, plus I might meet one of them art dames that's in the show. Hey you never know!" I had about four more martinis, and began to feel like a true genius. Next morning, I dusted off my old art history tomes, had me some runny eggs, tough coffee, and jumped the Halsted bus headin south. The ride took fuckin' forever, what with the crosstown classic, and the Dan Ryan and crap... plus, its a hell of a long bus ride from Skokie down to Pilsen. The good thing was that it gave me a chance to get my act together, take a little nap, and brush up on the Art thing. When I finally got down there two hours later, I bought me a couple of tamales from a guy on the corner, those were pretty good. Then I brushed back my hairs, put a big smile on my face, and stepped into Juniortown. I was a little let down because there was just this one guy in there, no chicks, shit I thought. Oh well, I'm here, might as well get to it. I began to writing...

''Message to Pretty"

by Eddie Rosenberg

Johannes Itten, the legendary teacher and founding member of the Bauhaus, defined the artist as: ''an enlightened craftsman''. "Enlightened" is a difficult word to pin down. One Random House definition could roughly be understood as: ''one imparted with an intellectual or spiritual light.'' ''Intellectual'' and ''spiritual'' are words that unfortunately in this day and age seem in opposition. Also, historically both terms have been used as hierarchical and elitist code, a line in the sand (or sand in the face) to separate the unclean from the better people. "Craftsman" seems more straightforward: (a man) practicing an art, trade, or occupation requiring special skill. There is no definition listed for craftswoman. Goddamn it Johannes!

Happily, all the artists in ''Message to Pretty'' seem not too concerned with the ramblings of an old garlic-breathed Swiss Mazdazan, and have moved on past the gender issues and political gauntlet as if breezing past a Chicago construction site at lunchtime. Apparently unscathed and without a second thought, well... of course, it is 2006 after all, isn't it? Most of those qualities that were once considered by the art dictators (you know who you are!) to be ''feminine'' or ''girlie'' have been embraced and encouraged in this show. A proud goofiness abounds in all the work, and it's a real relief for this critic to witness an all-woman exhibition that does not include nudity.

Erinn Kennedy's paintings are deceptively cool and distant, her minimally treated floral patterns seem to float on the top layer of immaculate surfaces, upon closer examination, however, the subtle color shifts and shape differences create depth and spatial shifts that mesmerize and confound with an overall effect reminiscent of Agnes Martin's quiet immersions into color.

Elizabeth Doherty's finely crocheted creatures are stunning little works. With Anime as a departure point, she has invented her own unique characters with pre-teen looks and issues, these are highly-tuned pieces that technically amaze, but this doesn't overwhelm the shy, somewhat melancholy personalities of the little dolls.

The hilarious crocheted cheerleaders by Julie Smith exist in their own individual dioramic spaces which include paintings and small shiny objects inside a sort of tiny theatrical stage. Appropriate enough, since each scenario seems like a little one-woman morality play expounding on the consequences of excess and vice, opium and suburbia, and yes...cheerleading.

Olivia Ortega's bright canvases touch on those fleeting fever-ream moments which intrigue and repulse simultaneously. It's that instant when you see mice being born, or when velvet tickles your nose (if only Paul Elouard were here, he'd have a word for it). These works are disconcerting and sensually sweet-grotesque, all accompanied by a technical dexterity and paint-handling that dazzles. Miss Ortega is one to keep an eye on, especially considering she's still in high school...scary.

The individual works interlock and play off each other nicely in this cute little space with menace laying just below the surface ready to suffocate with its syrupy pink goo. I began this review concerned with formal issues but I forgot about that and was quickly overtaken by the work itself. So, is it art or is it craft? The answer, I would say, is both. You can't have one without the other. Craft requires the same physical, intellectual, and spiritual muscles that art does. But the real answer is: IT DOESN'T MATTER, not one bit. To quote the Duke: "There is only good music and bad music...that's it''. Sometimes it all works together just right, the stars and the moon line up just so and you miraculously end up with a possible work of art. Other times, for some unknown reason, it just don't work and you end up with a well-crafted piece. I suppose history and time decide whether either is art.


E. R.


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