Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Art Review - Julie Blackmon and Joseph Grigely

Joseph Grigely at the Museum of Contemporary Art (220 East Chicago)

Joseph Grigely‘s exhibition at the MCA, St. Cecilia, is a definitely worth a second look – which, is something I rarely do when viewing contemporary art.

Given my aversion to Christmas, I rushed through the film installation where “Christmas carols” are sung by the Baltimore Choral Arts Society, as though I were being followed by Jehovah's Witnesses. Then, I spotted We’re Bantering Drunkening About What’s Important in Life, 2007. It was here that I lingered with childlike curiosity, mesmerized by the patchwork of hand-written notes scribbled on maps and stationary. This wall is a kaleidoscope of colors, shapes and textures, composed of pieces of paper which once lived in a cash-register, a hotel nightstand, a menu in a French restaurant – it’s like peeking into an artists’ diary with funny quips, confessions, remarks and little drawings portraying silly squirrels and smoking snowmen. This piece is a byproduct of Grigely’s disjointed conversations with friends and perfect strangers (Grigely will often ask people to write down a statement when he is unable to lip-read.)

The artist claims that “the walls owe a lot to Josef Albers, Sol Le Witt and Agnes Martin.” I see no trace of these artists, however, I appreciate the piece for its simplicity and ambiguity. Some of the papers are simple, one reads “yuck” and another reads, “she loves you” (the word “went” is next to “she” but has been crossed out.)

Others offer more comic relief:

“She asked ‘Are those your flowers?’ voluptuous lady holding a big orange”

And some tell a story with a picture.

What Did I Say?, 2008 is equally entertaining, featuring more pieces of paper from “conversations” with former professors, friends, acquaintances and strangers. When I stand here looking at the wall, I get a glimpse of what it would be like to be deaf. One napkin displays text that reads: “Would you like a salami and smoked turkey cold plate? Yes. No. Another soda?”

And then I discover a two headed dog and a squirrel that looks an awful lot like Gizmo and my mood shifts back to amusement and utter fascination.

I giggle at a card that looks a lot like this:

The 53-year-old artist marvels at how Europeans

describe him as an artist who explores communication, while Americans are quick to reduce him as the deaf artist. Grigely’s work seeks to explore the idiosyncrasies of language and communication. I am pulled in by his delivery, which is that of a mischievous intellect with a great sense of humor. I am left with one question: What’s with the smoking snowman that I keep seeing everywhere?

Julie Blackmon at Catherine Edelman Gallery (300 West Superior)

Julie Blackmon paints a picture of the world I live in –magical and chaotic. To say that Blackmon’s work is captivating would be like saying chocolate is good. Ummm….chocolate is divine, and so too are Blackmon’s photographs. The whimsical prints jump off of the wall begging you to investigate them further. The lucid colors and dreamlike compositions make me a little seasick at first, but once I have gotten my bearings, I am nothing short of smitten. Her contrasty prints are peppered with unexpected nuances, offering an imaginative alternative to suburban family life.

Snow Day, 2008, instills both nostalgia and dread in the viewer. A darling toddler looks as though she is half ready to run outside in her little boots and long-johns. She is perplexed staring at her belly as the bright, sunny day pokes through the door behind her, where her brothers are playing. Scarves and gloves are sprinkled on the floor along with fresh snow. I empathize with the Mom who is cursing snow days as she cleans the house later.

American Gothic,2008, is quixotic and dreary. Why would anyone dress their family in matching sweaters when they could be wearing all black and looking like an advertisement for Prozac?? I particularly like the duck who admires the family from a comfortable distance. I wonder if they have ducks on craigslist.

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