Review: Black, White, Gold (and other thoughts)

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Black, White, Gold is an art exhibition that might be precisely for people like me. The Chicago-based collective Casualiving began in Boston in 2005 as a group of artists, musicians, thinkers, and friends who shared the same philosophy: “People take things too seriously!” Since its start, the group has hosted over 50 happenings including art exhibitions and performances, concerts, and underground dinners. These events serve as escapes from the over-complicatedness of our culture. They are reminders to put everything in perspective. CL began the Spectrum Series in 2006, which was “a series of shows based on themes of color as an effort to loosen restraints often imposed by group shows.” Black, White, Gold completes this series, bringing the core members of CL together for a show that re-examines the group’s collective aesthetic philosophy and re-introduces it to the Chicago art scene.

I cannot help but interject here. As an artist who frequents local galleries and D.I.Y. spaces for emerging artists, I often find myself thinking Chicagoans do not take things seriously enough. Strong group shows full of cohesive, but also individually intriguing and well-executed work is harder to come by than most people would think for a city as big and culturally diverse as Chicago. My hyper-detail-oriented-self finds comfort in the sweet gems of exhibitions that give thought to how each element in the gallery connects to one another from the artworks themselves to the shelving to the PR materials. (I am pretty certain CL would not welcome me into the group.)

While I am quick to associate disappointing art shows with a lack of seriousness, I think CL is doing something different and, I must admit, clever. The group is intentionally putting a lighthearted glow on the often critical and at times conservative gallery art scene. CL is attempting to shake things up a bit, opening people like me up to possibilities of creating a looser framed art show that can be just as successful as, if not more than, a more rigidly planned exhibition. Each individual artist can bring his/her own unique practice to the space without feeling constrained by all of the tiny details of a traditional show. Then, when all of the members of the group come together, there is potential for unexpected and intriguing juxtapositions that otherwise would not have existed. It is almost as if CL is taking the notion of process-based art and utilizing the same idea in creating the exhibition.

Many readers might disagree with my take on the local art scene and with what I am writing. I am taking a group that makes shows together for the pure fun and hilarity of it all and turning it into a serious conversation about the successes and failures of the D.I.Y. gallery scene. But I think this cannot be ignored and is also worth discussing. Does the level of seriousness determine whether an artwork or an exhibition is good? I have been to a number of galleries that take themselves very seriously, but still curate awful shows. And on the flipside, I have been to some pretty spectacular shows held at spaces with more relaxed atmospheres. If seriousness is not the main factor, then why are so many local exhibitions falling flat?

It is possible that artists from opposite ends of the spectrum can learn from each other. Maybe if we insert ourselves into the other world, we will have a surprising spark, causing us to take inspiring ideas back to our own studios. By simply communicating and engaging in these types of dialogues, there is potential for a mutual learning that encourages us to create new work with an unforeseen freshness.

The show details: Black, White, Gold is a group exhibition with artists Jimmy James “Mapache” Canales, Colin Grimm, Jasmin Elisa Guerrero, William FitzPatrick, Enzo Moscarella, Garet Munski, and Kory Yates. Most of the work deals with identity, allowing the artists as individuals to really shine. Canales explores this through a video of a performance of him cutting off his Texan mustache. Grimm investigates social and cultural identity through traditional garments worn by soldiers and political figures. Guerrero uses textile-related materials and techniques to represent her own daily process of accumulating memories. FitzPatrick is exhibiting furniture pieces that trace back to his own history, allowing him to see the present more clearly. Moscarella investigates his ethnic and religious backgrounds as well as his current personal struggles through embellished taxidermy alligator heads. Yates searches for human connection to the earth and its history, embedding memories within his materials. There is a lot going on in this show, and I suggest that everyone (especially the more slightly uptight, control-freak artists like myself) attend. You are bound to be inspired and will most certainly have a good time.

Black, White, Gold opens this Saturday, April 7, 2012 at 119 N. Peoria Street in Chicago at 7pm.