"Inner Positive: Michelle Grabner, Cheonae Kim, Agnes Martin," Feb. 20-Mar. 20, 2004, at Klein Art Works, 400 N. Morgan, Chicago, Ill. 60622
The art critic Rosalind Krauss nailed it in 1981 when she wrote, in reference to artists who use the grid, that their work ceases to "develop" and instead engages "repetition." This anti-modernist notion takes on a distinctly Buddhist tone in the presence of the works of Agnes Martin, the art-world's own legendary desert ascetic. Especially in a show titled "Inner Positive," Martin's serene grids -- here, a series of untitled prints -- suggest a higher, nonmaterial consciousness and even, perhaps, a Zen-like release from the endless cycle of being.
While Martin's works are easily recognizable, the show did offer a surprise in its juxtaposition of Martin's grids with those of two younger female painters, Michelle Grabner and Cheonae Kim. Both of these artists can be said "to elevate the human spirit through line, form, space and color," as Kim writes on her website.
For "Inner Positive," Kim installed a series of slim wooden beams, painted in various color sequences on their sides as well as their fronts. Some hung horizontally, some were vertical. In Turn and Turn Again, the bright blocks of color continue evenly off the front and down the sides, seeming to take on a darker hue in the more shadowed light. Is the hue in shadow or actually darker? This is the crux of these pieces. By utilizing depth Kim expands the grid beyond its axes.
Obsession and tedium fill the work of Michelle Grabner. Gone are the airy pink, cyan and lemon grids vibrating over a field of white-primed canvas. For "Inner Positive," she instead contributed several mandala-like dot paintings. On one wall was a single vertically oriented rectangular canvas densely covered with a tight spiral of ethereal green dots, while on another was an architectonic array of variously sized blue and green dot paintings on black paper.
In Grabner's new paintings the grid loses its hard edges yet retains the equidistant spacing of relative parts. Grids contain an ability to record time, and Grabner puts this to use in her process. In one untitled work, for instance, green curtains of iridescent Flasche paint vertically overlap in a similar pattern. The various hues of green represent a block of time that the artist spent at home, listening to music while mapping those idle moments.
The "For Sale" sign on Paul Klein's space on North Morgan is saddening. After more than 30 years in the business, Klein has decided to move on. Back in 1989, he was one of the original dealers to leave Chicago's River North district for the West Loop, which is now a thriving gallery district of its own. In the intervening years, Klein has been the place to go for energetic and colorful abstraction.
The gallery closes on May 8, at the end of the current exhibition of new media works organized by artist Sabrina Raaf and titled "Tart." Klein has said that he hopes to work more in the new media area, perhaps even in a museum setting. During the run of Art Chicago, May 7-10, Klein Art Works is hosting its annual pancake breakfast, as has always been its practice on Saturday, May 8 -- and which now stands as a good farewell.
TERENCE J. HANNUM is an artist and critic living in Chicago who runs www.panel-house.com and co-edits the art criticism newspaper Coterie.