Critics’ Picks

  • Betsy Odom, Birkenstock, 2018, black cork, leather, buckles, paint, rabbits' feet, 10 x 4 x 3".

    Betsy Odom

    DePaul Art Museum
    935 W Fullerton
    January 17–March 31

    Like the queer communities that came before her, Betsy Odom speaks in code. Folded handkerchiefs allude to Hal Fischer’s “Gay Semiotics,” 1977. Birkenstock, 2018, is a rendition in drag of the shoe closely associated with lesbian culture. The open-toed sandal evokes summer—a loose, sweaty season between the fixed points of propagation and death, a time for slumber parties, summer camp, and self-actualization, all before heading back to the intellectual locker rooms of high school. There’s also the subtlety of Bandaids, 2016, a set of four strips of leather arranged like pasties that suggest a vexed—or healed—relationship with one’s queer body, nipples and all. Sure, there’s a great deal of stereotyping in this small show, but the stereotypes are so pervasive that Odom uses them to crack inside jokes with the folks she’s speaking to. This produces a kind of transgressive joy that resists capitalist values: Many of Odom’s works reference productive, useful commodities (baseball helmets, cleats, flotation vests, shorts) but possess no utilitarian value themselves. In toying with the idea of function, Odom highlights the usefulness of beauty, aesthetics, and a well-timed punch line—what many of us would call real means of survival.

  • Garry Noland, If your six year old saw something like this, would he know how to phone for help? (detail), 1995–, April 1972 National Geographic magazines, decollage, photomontage, this component 10 x 7 x 1/2".

    Garry Noland

    Cleve Carney Art Gallery
    425 Fawell Blvd. McAninch Arts Center at the College of DuPage
    February 7–April 6

    An economy of means and attention to the overlooked have always characterized Garry Noland’s practice, but the message has never felt more urgent than in this show, during this year, and in this country. The works are modest enough: A chunk of blue polystyrene affixed to darkened wood extrudes an arrow-shaped length of rebar in Anchor, 2015. This sculpture points toward a long row of issues of National Geographic from April 1972 hung on the gallery’s west wall. Their iconic covers were repeatedly incised to reveal the same three interior black-and-white images: smokestacks at the top, grazing sheep below, and the titular question in the middle—“If your six year old saw something like this, would he know how to phone for help?”—citing a telephone company’s ad campaign to train children to spot emergencies. On an adjacent wall hangs a 2017 work comprised of ’60s-era “America the Beautiful” posters produced by the Department of Agriculture; their rustic horizons are disrupted by black collaged text that reads “ATTENTION FASCISTS.” Next to this series, three runic carvings of waves on grit-covered, painted foam resemble missives from an environmentally ravaged future (Landscape with Ocean, 2019).

    While addressing our culture of denial, these works are rooted in one of the nation’s perpetual blind spots: “flyover country.” A prolific artist who has been based in Kansas City, Missouri, since the early ’80s, Noland has influenced several generations of practitioners in the Midwest, where his oeuvre is well known. Somewhere between B. Wurtz’s quixotic formalism and Gee’s Bend’s outsider quilts, Noland’s work transforms “Base Materials” (as this exhibition is aptly titled) into humbly inventive sculptures. This thoughtfully concise survey brings together fourteen works and series from the past twenty years, juxtaposing the artist’s signature pattern-driven assemblages with more rarely exhibited politically charged collages that together argue for a broader and deeper appraisal of Noland's practice.