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April 2008, NEXT: Invitational Exhibition of Emerging Art




 Kimberley Hart, Magnolia, 2008, 19 x 24 x 5 inches, Framed acrylic painting with
 Sculpey snare and wood scaffolding, courtesy Mixed Greens Gallery

NEXT: Invitational Exhibition of Emerging Art
April 24th, opening preview 7-10p.m., by invitation
April 25th through 28th 2008
“Art Smorgasbord: An Observation”

NEXT, as the exhibition map will tell you, is more than an art fair, it is a “showcase for the world’s talents and an adventure in cutting-edge culture. An opportunity to redefine the relationship between art and its public, NEXT is a portal to seeing contemporary art in brand new, innovative, eye-opening ways.” NEXT was held on the 7th floor of Merchandise Mart here in Chicago in conjunction with Art Chicago 2008, which is an annual international event held in the name of contemporary art and culture. The Merchandise Mart is a 1920’s architectural structure, which takes up multiple city blocks on the north side of the Chicago River at the junction between the north and south branches. Merchandise Mart is currently the home of a multiplicity of retail shops, stores and business’; dramatically massive in scale sprawling out over 4,000,000 square feet. NEXT Invitational Exhibition of Emerging Art occupied 150,000 square feet of the famous art deco landmark’s 7th floor.


 Merchandise Mart

On a warmish and dreary evening in Chicago, I trained downtown from my place on the north side in order to immerse myself into artistic madness at “The Mart”. From train to train from station to exit, I arrived only to stand with others swarming around a busy elevator bank. A man with a cocktail in his hand was checking patrons for passes and press credentials- seeing as my pass was legit I pressed on for 7. Upon exiting the elevator onto the main floor, I stumbled into a fully bustling exhibition, as the NEXT visitor you are hit with a sudden sense of panic and a wave of anxiety (where do I go and where the hell am I?). The first task was to A. get out of the way of human traffic and B. find one of the many filling stations, after securing a spot at the Grolsch table to pick up that much needed icy beverage; I roamed for 15 minutes in what felt like the wrong direction. Interesting sensation because there was no method to the madness, no formula- just multiple streaming avenues and rows upon rows of art works/displays. Do you remember that feeling of visiting an extremely large toy store for the first time? The feeling was reminiscent of my first trip to Children’s Palace, a huge warehouse of toys stacked to the ceiling. At times, NEXT was sensory overload, copious amounts of visual data to process bombarding you in all artistic forms and mediums without rhyme or reason. After the first 20 minutes of wandering aimlessly, I tried to figure the lay of the land. With my map in hand, I noticed that all the works were broken up into sections that had been conveniently color coded. From 7:30-9:00 pm, I was able to hit the red, blue and some of the orange section. The underlying suspicion that I was missing a lot of the work due to the overwhelming spread echoed in the back of my mind.


 crowds at NEXT

As for viewing a mass of creative works for an hour and a half, I must say that I was thoroughly pleased by the quality of the work and diverse range of styles, mediums and topics. Every piece seemed aesthetically well crafted and executed. My expectations were rather low considering that this was an art fair and these fairs are typically a lot of pieces crammed endlessly for a certain public in mind. For instance, have you ever gone to an opening expecting to see a bunch of literal re-hashed garbage and finding out upon entry that you were right? This did not happen to me at NEXT, I saw thoughtful pieces that really caught my eye and required me to re-examine closely. As an artist and someone who loves conceptual works, I get a thrill from watching others interact with the work. I feel that NEXT offered such an abundance of productions that it was difficult not to engage. At one point I turned to someone and made the analogy that this was like an aesthetic/visual science fair of contemporary practice. I know this comparison cheapens it a bit, but the layout was just these endless rows of art—what else is like that besides a grade school gymnasium or the flea market?


 Ward Shelley, Rock Genres, ver. 1, (34.5" X 23"), 2006, oil color and toner on polyesther (Mylar)
 courtesy Pierogi Gallery, Brooklyn, NY


 Ward Shelley, Rock Genres, ver. 1, detail, 2006, (34.5" X 23")oil color and toner on polyesther (Mylar)
 courtesy Pierogi Gallery, Brooklyn, NY

As methodology goes, one can see that NEXT was in fact taking on a new approach to the art fair as project space. By taking calculated risks with curatorial process and exhibition studies, a theme did emerge from the large scale maze-like floor plan. Even the untrained eye could tell that pieces were arranged in a way that made them accessible. So much work today seems out of reach—if you make the effort to visit art museums you know that there is a practice or approach method to viewing works on display. Nine times out of ten there are gallery guards watching your every move—making sure that you do not invade or penetrate the comfort zone of the work of art. It is my opinion that contemporary art and this recent turn to alternative gallery or viewing spaces will crush some of these older modernist traditions of looking. Hopefully, events like NEXT which play on a very large scale will or can inspire more interaction or more thoughtful approaches to layout and the displaying of art objects. As I mention above, accessibility is something that I always watch for in any space. I like to observe body language in these situations because that speaks volumes about the aesthetic quality of the work, the curation process and the venue. If audiences do not engage the objects or activate the space, something is very wrong.

Some Work:

Three major pieces stood out to me while exploring NEXT for an hour and a half. The selection method used for these works were based on authenticity, concept and aesthetics. The first pieces that really grabbed my attention were Ward Shelley’s diagrams. Shelley is represented by Pierogi Gallery in New York City, he tends to work in many different mediums, but for this particular show he displayed his complex diagrams in oil on Mylar sheets. The two works that I have selected here are Addendum to Alfred Barr, 2005 and Rock Genres, ver.1, 2006, a recent trend or possible unconscious movement by contemporary artists’ is the utilization of cartographic process and diagramming for the means of expression, reasoning and understanding. As a user of this style, Shelley is able to creatively assemble thoughts, influences and names of participants involved in the subjects he wishes to explore. This work does just that but in a completely artistic way that from a distance strikes the viewer as an abstract painting but upon closer inspection texts emerge as formula for the dissemination of the artists’ choices and cognition. This process of cartography and diagramming has been used for many subjects and is extremely helpful for artists wishing to plot interests via data collecting and visual representation. I particularly enjoy his interests and topics, which may make me slightly biased. For the Barr piece he charts the artistic movements of modernism to the start of postmodernism and for Rock Genres, he uses this meticulous style to track the origins and influences of rock and roll music. Besides delivering great illustration techniques in oil paint of all mediums, Shelley is well researched in his creative interests.


Ward Shelley, Addendum to Alfred Barr, 2005, Oil on mylar, 26 x 40.25 inches, courtesy Pierogi Gallery, Brooklyn, NY


 Ward Shelley, Addendum to Alfred Barr, detail, 2005, Oil on mylar, 26 x 40.25 inches, courtesy Pierogi Gallery,
 Brooklyn, NY

In a similar vein, another complex thinker and organizer of facts is Julian Montague, whose fascination with the random abandonment phenomenon of shopping carts has lead to a six year action research project complete with photo documentation, a well organized website and a widely circulated publication. Montague is represented by Black and White Gallery in New York. In this unique project Montague has devised a way to understand shopping cart displacement by creating two distinct categories, which allows him to study his “specimens” from a purely scientific approach method. Class A signifies what he refers to as “False Strays”, which is filed under two criteria and has multiple “types”. “Criteria 1-A shopping cart that while on the source lot is diverted from its primary function, damaged, or otherwise rendered useless. Criteria 2-A shopping cart that appears to be a stray cart but that is ultimately returned to service in the source from which it originated.” The types in each class become confusing and extremely humorous so I will leave it to you the reader for further investigation, but before I move on we must notice Class B. Class B or “True Strays” also have two criteria, “Criteria 1-A cart that will not be returned to the source from which it originated. Criteria 2-True Stray Types may be used as secondary designations for Class A: False Stray specimens.” Montague like Shelley works in different mediums but elected to show these works for NEXT. I was pleasantly surprised to find two interesting artists working from charts and data in fun and unique ways. Montague’s piece speaks to the inherent intellectual rigor that most artists’ put into his/her work. The work that I refer to is the kind that rarely is noticed by the public because of medium or artistic choices. Montague’s honest photography, design aesthetic and attention to detail are his strongest assets.


 Julian Montague, The Stray Shopping Cart Project,
 courtesy Black And White Gallery-The Chelsea Terminal Warehouse, NY


 Julian Montague, The Stray Shopping Cart Project,
 courtesy Black And White Gallery-The Chelsea Terminal Warehouse, NY


 Kimberley Hart, Trap Scenario I, 2006, 22 x 30 inches, colored pencil on paper, courtesy Mixed Greens Gallery

Kimberley Hart offers a great departure from the first two artists, (Shelley and Montague) because she represents a pure artistic strategy that lends itself to the very personal in a way that Shelley’s diagrams avoid deep emotion and that Montague’s humor distracts from personal referents. Hart is represented by Mixed Greens Gallery in New York City. The works Magnolia, 2008 and Trap Scenario I, 2006, draw from a personal place that generates Hart’s alter ego which combines the sweet girl with the tomboy. Metaphorically, you can think of the sweet girl type as a Shirley Temple character and the second as Pippi Longstocking—by merging these two types Hart is able to create work that suggests a tomboy girl figure in content and the sweet girl by way of medium and stylistic choices. The work itself is inspired from a kitschy arts and crafts aesthetic, which plays up the typical or expected female style of art circa 1950’s (see Good Housekeeping/Betty Crocker). The fascination with sporting scenes like angling, trapping and hunting help Hart communicate the tomboy, while creating the works in knitting styles force us to see the softer gentler sweet girl. I found this work to be thoughtful and aesthetically brilliant in a sentimental way. As a viewer, you have a special memory or place in your heart for quilts like grandma used to make and latch-hook rugs. You may not accept these as serious art materials but you are disarmed by their presence and you welcome them to the conversation. Hart’s dynamic fusion of the sentimental and novel knock you back on your heels. The materials do more than take you back to mom’s house, they also highlight female types and the past restrictions placed on young women. Three things are happening at once in this work, first there is a gender conflict, which splits Hart causing a rupture of an alter ego and then furthering her alter ego to splinter into two separate bodies that try to make the work of art in their relative images. Secondly, the artist is extracted from the process; leaving the two alter ego children too often times battle it out forcing compromise. Lastly, social roles confuse the process, leaving the entire work to make a statement about female positions within the art community and the greater male dominated culture.

Keith Brown


​W. Keith Brown is a Chicago-based art educator, writer, and researcher. In the past, Brown has been an editor and writer for the Illinois Art Education Association, Stockyard Institute, and the Critical Visual Art Education Club. His writing has appeared in two books and a handful of local, national, and international publications and writing projects. Brown uses critical pedagogy, social justice, and education knowledge to expand his thinking on contemporary art history, theory, and criticism.

 

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