Michelle Grabner

  • picks April 13, 2009

    Dana DeGiulio

    The agile lines that judiciously bend, curl, snake, and meander through Dana DeGiulio’s creamy oil grounds tease the viewer into thinking that her paintings are an elegant breed of gestural abstraction. But get your nose in them and crane your neck to examine the edges of her canvases to observe DeGiulio’s determined messy scuffle with all the conundrums abstraction affords. The elegance of her easeful contours is pugnaciously negotiated with uncomfortable blots of impasto paint and the persistent act of painting out, masking, obscuring, and smothering previous gestures.

    DeGiulio’s struggle to

  • Howard Fonda

    Howard Fonda makes earnest declarations about his medium. In the statement accompanying this show, for example, he writes: “I see painting as a philosophical sanctuary and spiritual outpost”; “Painting is poetic and transcendent”; and “Painting is a vehicle of contradiction adept at conveying the hubris of, and understanding of, existence.” Fonda desperately pines to be a Romantic; his tender portraits of bearded nineteenth-century philosophers and his text-based paintings composed of words like endless, timeless, limitless, and nothingness lay bare his infatuation with mystical truths. Yet zeal

  • picks March 19, 2009

    Robert Davis and Michael Langlois

    Robert Davis and Michael Langlois have collaborated for over ten years and are committed to deliberate imitation. Their oil paintings of miscellaneous images do not stem from the tenets of Photorealism, as it might first appear, but instead from the critical underpinnings of appropriation. However, their team-copying act is not intended to undercut the authority of painting. On the contrary, they hope to reinforce it. They plainly state on their website, “We enjoy taking a mundane image and transforming it into something significant and visually arresting.”

    Yet what is most significant and visually

  • Vincent Fecteau

    The viewer may find it disconcerting when Vincent Fecteau’s wonderfully erudite abstract sculptures reveal themselves, on close inspection, to be made of papier-mâché. Plaster, ceramic, or cast bronze seem the obvious media in which to produce such classically formal exercises reveling in unpretentious plays of shape, volume, color, and contour. But Fecteau is not compelled by elaborate lost-wax casting techniques; instead he uses simple means, building up these recent works with paper, glue, and gesso.

    Curator James Rondeau notes in the exhibition brochure that “few artists have made such

  • picks February 20, 2009

    Dennis Balk

    There is a renewed enthusiasm for the freedoms inherent in parafictions, falsehoods, and deception in contemporary art. Take, for example, the work of Reena Spaulings, Toni Burlap, Claire Fontaine, and Donelle Woolford. While pseudonyms and aliases expose limitations intrinsic to individual practices, lies and falsehoods inflate narrative impact, expanding political and entertainment value. The art-world sage Dennis Balk is a master at creating competing visions of reality. He has zealously presented his fictions in the form of plays, props, diagrams, drawings, books, and various other instructional

  • Mickalene Thomas

    Mickalene Thomas’s exhibition “Girlfriends, Lovers, Still Lifes, and Landscapes” far exceeds the decorative wallop of her first solo show two years ago at the same venue. She has become masterful at maximizing ornamentation and slick in her fearless color combinations. Her paintings, which combine large fields of poured enamel, thin brushy passages of acrylic paint, and thousands of fastidiously applied glitzy rhinestones, brazenly bring the feminist-inspired politics of the Pattern and Decoration movement to genre painting.

    Landscape with Woman Washing Her Feet (all works 2008), which measures

  • picks January 18, 2009

    “Bad Moon”

    Shunning novelty and artistic ego, Steven Husby’s two small, hard-edged abstract paintings are unrivaled in this group show. These immaculate grayscales, both Untitled, 2008, are so perfectly proportioned and precise in their value shifts that they could be prototypes for gradient scales in the printing industry; they leave no trace of Husby’s hand or subjective imagination, and they conjure Giacomo Balla and Bridget Riley equally. Esteban Schimpf’s God, Imagine the Storm on Jupiter, 2006, is juvenile by comparison. Here, orange paint is sprayed onto a blue bedsheet spelling out the piece’s

  • Amy Mayfield

    A chintzy drape and kooky lettering cut from various materials spelling out the backward show title, “Doog vs. Live,” marked the entrance to Amy Mayfield’s absurdly ornamented theater. The exhibition was festooned with craft projects, colloquial decor, and a selection of paintings that appear to exhaust every possible method of applying acrylic paint. Underfoot was a multicolored geometric field, a pattern of triangles painted on Masonite flooring. Houseplants, blobby expanding-foam stalagmites adorned with blooms of push-pins, pheasant feathers tucked behind rheostat switches, and animal cutouts

  • picks December 18, 2008

    Joseph Grigely

    Deaf since the age of ten, Joseph Grigely has dedicated his fifteen-year artistic practice to researching the various translations and subsequent shifts in meaning that take place when music, language, and informal talk are communicated through visual form. His compressed survey comprises eleven works created since 1999. The show is anchored by his masterly 2007 video installation St. Cecilia, an eight-minute production depicting the Baltimore Choral Arts Society singing familiar Christmas carols with unfamiliar lyrics. These baffling verses are the result of Grigely’s lip-read translation of

  • Rashid Johnson

    Walls of ruddy oak paneling provided a posh backdrop to Rashid Johnson’s third solo exhibition at Monique Meloche, for which the artist loosely transformed the long narrow gallery into what appeared to be an exclusive black gentlemen’s recreation center, punctuated by rim shot after rim shot of racial spoofs delivered in the form of gauche assemblages. Incorporated in these sculptural configurations were Johnson’s notorious parodic photographs, as well as houseplants, bowls of shea butter, a beige shag carpet, a wicker chair, tacky decorative paintings, sundry brass knickknacks, and more. Taken

  • picks October 30, 2008

    Carrie Schneider

    Although the artist is the principle figure in the photographs and films that make up Carrie Schneider’s first solo exhibition at this gallery, this is not a show of self-portraiture. Instead, Schneider is playacting, assuming roles and portraying caricatures from Finnish- and Estonian-inspired mythology. This is a risky practice for a young artist, since today’s favored chronicles are based in highly subjective and idiosyncratic experiences. By contrast, Schneider esteems conventional and moralistic forms of storytelling, thus risking cliché. Yet she avoids the pitfalls inherent in staging

  • picks October 22, 2008

    Maggie Hills

    In painting, juxtaposing geometric forms with organically structured systems typically sets up incongruent pictorial relationships that evoke theories of representational critique and other endgame strategies. Yet in “BLUNDERLAND”—an exhibition of new works by British painter Maggie Hills—this diametric opposition becomes an unexpected emotional quagmire. Her lush landscapes, inhabited by singular modernist buildings or architectonic sculptures, elicit empathy, passion, and sentimentality. These high-pitched emotions resonate neither from her sketchy atmospheric landscapes nor from the geometric

  • picks October 21, 2008

    “Can Bigfoot Get You a Beer?”

    Exhibition curators Anthony Elms and Philip von Zweck plaintively write, “Some of the artists in ‘Can Bigfoot Get You a Beer?’ may be familiar. Or possibly the objects encountered only seem recognizable, a blur in the eyes and a thing in the mind. After all, when fools rush in, blobsquatches are known to run. And we are rooting for the fools.” This don’t-trust-what-you-see rhetoric is of a piece with the work of the mostly Chicago-based artists collected in a vast (by local standards) third-floor apartment gallery. The highlights are the three contributions by women in the show. Laura Mackin’s

  • Molly Zuckerman-Hartung

    At the bottom of the checklist for Molly Zuckerman-Hartung’s exhibition at Julius Caesar was a Shakespeare (mis)quote: “Macbeth: If we should fail? Lady Macbeth: We fail. But screw your courage to the sticking point and we shall not fail.” This might be a motto or abridged artist statement for Zuckerman-Hartung, who has gathered up her courage and screwed it to the continued project of rethinking abstraction.

    The artist seems to imagine abstraction as Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari do, as an infinite field of potentials; contrary to any conception of abstraction as an endgame of absences and

  • Santiago Cucullu

    Santiago Calatrava’s Quadracci Pavilion, completed in 2001, is the architectural antithesis to the Milwaukee Art Museum’s original Eero Saarinen building. Skeletal and dazzling white, Calatrava’s expansion flaunts its pièce de résistance: the Burke brise soleil, a series of steel rods forming two massive fins engineered to raise and lower like the wings of a bird. Connecting Calatrava’s gracile landmark to Saarinen’s blocky mass are two long and narrow enclosed walkways, also designed by Calatrava, that are used as exhibition spaces. It is in one of these, the seemingly endless west galleria,

  • picks July 29, 2008

    T. L. Solien

    Over the past twenty-five years, T. L. Solien has given pictorial form to the mawkishness of human erring. This harrowing and self-deprecating feat is elegantly demonstrated in this survey exhibition, comprising image-laden canvases and a selection of works on paper. Madison-based Solien has become adept at composing impeccable, doleful narratives founded on a basic lexicon of signs, symbols, and tropes that range from the exotic to the mundane. Coloring-book kittens, fish heads, self-portraits, three-eyed ghosts, and Norwegian oxen secure their roles as metaphors in Solien’s disquieting orbit

  • picks June 22, 2008

    Kelly Kaczynski

    For this exhibition, the five large bay doors of the Hyde Park Art Center open onto a theater that is latent with cataclysmic shift. Two stages, each supporting an approximate rendition of Vladimir Tatlin’s Monument to the Third International, 1919, face off in a modernist showdown with uncertain consequences. These mountainous pylons, constructed from building-grade materials (lumber, luan, drywall expanding foam), mirror one another from their individual platforms. But unlike the sturdy (if cursory) towers, the stages’ surfaces present a more refined wood surface, beneath which a large-scale

  • picks May 01, 2008

    “Indexical Frontiers”

    “How do people have so much free time?” asks INOVA curator Nicholas Frank in the essay accompanying his exhibition “Indexical Frontiers.” It is an artless question concerning a genuine present-day riddle, and to illustrate it, Frank offers three artists whose work is all-consuming, obsessive, and teetering on the edge of pathology. Michael Banicki, Annabel Daou, and Renato Umali employ indexing, itemizing, listing, and recording to process, rank, and aestheticize the world around them.

    Banicki has dedicated much of his life to “regarding” the towns of America. The result is a complex grid system

  • picks April 03, 2008

    “Ed Ruscha and Photography”

    Mounting a teeming collection of Ed Ruscha’s photographic work in the Art Institute’s snug subterranean photo galleries may initially seem counterintuitive, given the artist’s eminence as an American Pop icon. Yet this intimate, relaxed space happens to be an ideal environment for examining the more than ninety original and infrequently showcased prints included in this exhibition. These cozy galleries are also conducive to a leisurely thumbing-through of Ruscha’s more familiar photographic books from the 1960s and 1970s. “Ed Ruscha and Photography” was organized by Sylvia Wolf for the Whitney

  • picks March 07, 2008

    “Gaping Hole Found in Universe”

    Last August, astronomers at the University of Minnesota announced they had found an enormous hole in our universe that spans a billion light years and is devoid of all cosmic material, including gases, stars, galaxies, even the “dark” (or unseen) matter that supposedly makes up the majority of the cosmos. Liliya L. R. Williams, an associate astronomy professor at the university, said of the finding: “What we’ve found is not normal, based on either observational studies or on computer simulations of the large-scale evolution of the universe.” Enter “Gaping Hole Found in Universe,” an exhibition