Beverly Mayeri at the Perimeter Gallery
You can never get too much of Beverly Mayeri. Since 1990, we have seen every single one of her shows in Chicago. Her latest exhibition, at Perimeter Gallery in October and November, featured 17 ceramic wall and pedestal sculptures.
Mayeri focuses on the human body, largely crafting faces and full-length sculptures and busts. The slim-figured woman with a very long neck and moon-shaped face who appears often in Mayeri's work must either be the artist or her alter ego. This woman, who looks forever uncertain and expectant, leaves us to wonder just what her story is. Other sculptures suggest that the moon-faced woman is absorbed in family life.
The most striking pieces in the Perimeter Gallery show are oval-shaped faces with no hair, very smooth skin, prominent brows and partly open mouths that the artist hangs on the wall. Using the most economical of means, Mayeri endows her creations with so much life and personality that we expect them to begin talking. The gallery told us that many visitors to the show found these heads "spooky," and we can see why.
Mayeri paints the faces with acrylic in pale blue, green, pink and gray washes. She places imagery on each face, which suggests its meaning. We see animals on Endangered Species (2001-04), a bird whose wings protrude from both sides of Winged Head (2003), and letters on the ear of Listening Hard (2004).
The amusing Family Support (2004) is the bust of a man with his heavy brows raised, eyes looking straight ahead and lips pursed. Beneath him are much smaller heads of two women and one man, presumably his parents and wife -- and also the family dog! The smoothness of the man's face contrasts with his wonderfully unruly hair.
Several of the figures in this show have tattoo-like skin markings with scenes in simple outline that recall ancient Greek pottery. We see animals, a giant drinking a river, houses, a family, a tug of war and more. These narratives reflect the artist's concern with over-consumption and pollution. Some scenes, such as the tug of war, could be autobiographical, but Mayeri leaves us only suggestions and clues.
Chicago's oldest continuously operating alternative space is NAB Gallery, which was founded during 1973 by three art students in the Northside Auditorium Building, hence its name. For many years, NAB had a regular schedule of exhibitions and performances as it moved from one space to the next. At one point, the gallery was housed in a building of artists' studios, but the landlord raised rents to prohibitive levels and everyone had to leave.
Four of the studio-less artists pooled their funds, purchased a run-down building next to the elevated tracks, fixed it up and gave NAB the first-floor storefront. When a plumbing firm wanted to rent this space, NAB moved upstairs. Art lovers must now fight their way through outdoor displays of giant bathtubs and luxury commodes to reach the gallery.
"We're non-profit," says Craig Anderson, the painter who runs NAB today. "Once we had fundraisers, big parties at which we sold work that artists donated. We also sold from our shows. Now we have about one show each year -- and there are ten in the hopper. We hope to restore the showing schedule soon."
NAB's current exhibition is Anderson's "100 Paintings/100 Drawings Project," which fills the entire gallery from floor to ceiling. According to the artist, human perception is linked to "what we look at and how we focus our attention." To suggest a deep architectural space, his paintings and drawings employ overlapping marks that recall pipes and girders, and color fields that look like interior walls. When he hangs his paintings in the corner of a room, they cancel the reality of that space, Anderson says.
The artist favors dark grays, browns, blacks, silvers and creams. He manipulates shadow and light to give his marks body and tilts the entire image so it seems to move. In his drawings, Anderson employs subdued colors and creates an active surface.
Anderson is a born painter, who confesses that he becomes horribly grouchy if he doesn't get to the studio for a few days. When his wife sees the signs, she kicks him out of the house. After several hours of painting, he is once again fit for human company.
Connecting the Ages
For "Artist's Month" in October, the Wood Street Gallery, which was once a commercial space but now opens only for special occasions, presented a three-day group show called "Sculpture: Connecting the Ages." The curators invited 19 established sculptors to show. Each invited artist chose an emerging sculptor and made a collaborative piece with him/her. Visitors saw three works from each sculptor pair -- one by the established artist, one by the emerging artist, and the collaboration.
The artists took the project more seriously than we expected and produced attractive work. Bruce White and Jason Peot made the most successful collaboration. White, the senior artist, constructs semi-abstract sculptures in metal or wood. Simple geometric shapes and brightly-colored flat surfaces characterize his work. His Quake is a lively yellow cube with its members cut on a bias.
Peot, the junior partner, showed his H Louver, a constructed aluminum wall piece full of white rocks and light deep within. The collaboration, called Bounce, is small aluminum shapes fixed to the wall. Light bounces off them to create a variety of shadows.
Mary K. O'Shaughnessy chose Stacy Stern as her working partner. O'Shaughnessy's You can never be too rich or too thin, is a woman's shape covered with ersatz million-dollar bills. (The late Duchess of Windsor appears on the million-dollar bill.) Stern's PL 107-243 is a woman's shape covered with mere one-dollar bills. Give and Take, the collaboration, is a woman's form made from cut paper shapes that are piled atop each other like strata. Each piece of paper has a text about long-suffering woman, who give and take.
"Connecting the Ages" is just one recent project by Chicago's sculptural community, which formed Chicago Sculpture (CSI) International in July to advance its interests. On Dec. 3, CSI, now 100 members strong, held a "Maquette Night" in a sculptor's studio. Each attendee brought a maquette, which was displayed on a pedestal. The artists gazed at the work, socialized and tolerated a mercifully brief business meeting. Chicago needs many more such events.