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Prairie Smoke
by Victor M. Cassidy
 
The Chicago Project
In 2003, Catherine Edelman Gallery, which specializes in photography, created "The Chicago Project," an on-line gallery at www.edelmangallery.com that presents roughly a dozen images by each of 23 Chicago photographers. Early in July, Sarah Gillmore of the Edelman Gallery selected 29 photographs by 12 of the Chicago photographers for "The Chicago Project," a gallery show that will be on view until Sept. 2, 2005. This is one dandy show.

Gabriella Cifuentes photographs the mildewed, darkening interiors of abandoned buildings in small towns. Quiet, contemplative, and with beautiful light and colors, these painterly photographs are free of sentimentality or nostalgia.

Jen Davis also photographs interiors, but her work is painful to look at. Davis photographs herself in her private world as she tries to come to terms with being overweight. In Untitled #4, we look through a screen door to see the artist, clad in a loose dress, possibly a nightie, standing uncomfortably in her bathroom. In Untitled #6, we see the artist from behind as she walks through her living room, coquettishly holding up her skirts to expose her heavy thighs.

Paul Clark photographs community gardens in Chicago suburbs and takes a special interest in the structures that gardeners use to train plants. In Garden #54 and Garden #59, we see the patterns that abandoned wire tomato cages make against the snow. Modest and straightforward, these photographs are witty adventures in pure line.

Tone Stockenstrom contributes two images of a circus boy. Nino and Neide shows the boy looking amused as a circus dress, roughly his size, is held up next to him. In Nino, the boy stands before a red curtain clad in billowing trousers, suspenders and a huge bow tie.

Seriousness, straightforwardness and lack of pretense unite the twelve photographers in this show. This writer knew only one of them and was astonished to discover so many excellent artists all in one place. We hope that the Edelman Gallery sells thousands of images from this exhibition so we get to see another edition of it next summer -- or even sooner.

Two Cubist Printmakers
"Syncopation: André Lhote, Louis Marcoussis, and the Cubist Print" is up at the Smart Museum of Art at the University of Chicago until Sept. 11. According to the museum, the work in this show comes from "the second florescence of Cubist prints [that] follows the experimentation of Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque and becomes more elaborate in design and sophisticated in techniques."

The core of the show is "Grand Sweep," Lhote’s 1925 portfolio of six woodcuts with the original pen-and-ink studies, and "Aurelia," a portfolio of ten etchings that Marcoussis made to illustrate Aurélia, a long poem by the French Romantic Gérard de Nerval. Additional materials include two prints by Braque, more work by Marcoussis and a print by the little-known Henri de Waroquier.

Lhote (1885-1962), a painter, printmaker and critic, learned to make woodcuts in adolescence, trained to become a decorative artist and welcomed the term ‘decorative’ as a description of his work. As an artist, he found ways to reconcile Cubism with figuration. He was most successful when he employed overlapping planes to create geometric rhythms in his images of ports and sailing vessels.

Ports of Call is the only woodcut in Lhote’s "Grand Sweep" series to show boats in a harbor -- and it is the best by a long shot. In the others, half-clad South Sea Island ladies greet sailors, who seem oddly unmoved after many celibate weeks at sea. The sailors in these scenes are not real people, but decorative elements in Lhote’s design. Nothing in these images connects to life and we wonder why the Smart Museum resurrected them.

Marcoussis (1883-1941) was a newspaper illustrator who painted Cubist still lifes after meeting Apollinaire, Picasso and Braque in 1910. Later, he made black-and-white etchings that showed the influence of Braque and Villon. "Aurelia" is one of several print series by Marcoussis that illustrate literary texts. Planes, shadows and mysterious shapes float through the dream-like images in "Aurelia," evoking the mood of de Nerval’s poetry. Still, these etchings are wildly uneven and the Smart Museum should have selected the two or three best and left the others in storage -- but if the museum had shown one or two Lhote woodcuts and three or four Marcoussis etchings, it would have had no show.

We had looked forward to this exhibition because it promised to enlighten us about late Cubist prints. Instead of learning anything, we were baffled and annoyed.

Sandra Perlow
After leaving Lhote and Marcoussis, we had a pleasant encounter with Sandra Perlow, whom we shall call a "very late Cubist." Her semi-abstract mixed-media compositions, which suggest tables, terraces and other flat surfaces seen from above, are indebted to Braque in particular, but also to Picasso and Gris. Perlow has been painting in Chicago for 25 years. Restrained and unified, this is her strongest work to date.

Perlow is particularly good with surfaces. She collages paper everywhere on the canvas, usually painting over it but sometimes allowing printed patterns on the paper to come through. Collage gives her a hard, very active surface. In Gear Shift, the background is all bright orange, green and yellow. We see a semi-abstract form at the center and an object with teeth that could be a machine part. Gear Shift succeeds because the artist thought her composition through and stopped working at precisely the right moment.

With its brightly colored surface, strong black form at the center and floating semi-abstract imagery, Flow could almost be a Cubist still life. But it also suggests landscape and pure fantasy. Dragging Shadow, with its bright colors, rounded shapes and vertical composition, suggests an ice cream cone. It’s hard not to smile at this cheerful painting.


VICTOR M. CASSIDY writes on art from Chicago