Critics’ Picks

  • View of “Saturnine,” 2019.

    “Saturnine”

    Chicago Manual Style
    1927 W. Superior Street
    April 19–July 26

    To access Chicago Manual Style, visitors must open a tall gate, walk down a path toward the back of a residential house, and enter a nondescript two-car garage. This lead-up, and the domestic scale of the gallery, perfectly frames the readymade in the center of the room—Antoine Donzeaud’s Pink Monochrome, 2019, a double bed with rosy sheets.

    As the centerpiece of the group show “Saturnine,” this work invites visitors to lie down to observe the other works, which draw on the symbology of Albrecht Dürer’s Melencolia I, 1514, an engraving of a brooding, winged figure surrounded by devices and geometric forms. Theodora Allen’s painting Calendar, No.3, 2019, features an hourglass about to run out of time, perhaps connecting to the nearby experimental film by Wim van der LindenTulips—one of his “Sad Movies” from the late 1960s—in which a single petal falls from a vase of cascading, open tulips. Assaf Evron’s sculpture Untitled (Athens and Oraibi), 2019, consisting of a lone stair stringer, echoes the ladder in Dürer’s print. A sense of emptiness emerges: The stairs are just an outline, an idea (it takes two stringers to build a flight of stairs); time is slipping away; and the bed, without a blanket, offers little comfort.

    The most resonant works hang above the bed, face down, confronting the reclined visitor: Four large paintings from Donzeaud’s “Suspended Stories” series, 2019, incorporate ink-jet prints of Instagram screenshots; their installation replicates the contemporary experience of scrolling through social-media feeds before falling asleep. Together, these works suggest that we, like Dürer’s personification of melancholy, are surrounded by tools and yet rendered motionless by some unspeakable force.

  • Laura Aguilar, Motion #56, 1999, gelatin silver print, 15 x 16“. From the series ”Motion," 1999. © Estate of Laura Aguilar

    Laura Aguilar

    National Museum of Mexican Art
    1852 W. 19th Street
    March 22–August 18

    The “culture wars” of the 1980s and ’90s never ended—one of the many lessons of the retrospective “Laura Aguilar: Show and Tell,” curated by Sybil Venegas. Aguilar’s many series, from the testimonial “Latina Lesbians” portraits, 1987–89, to the utopian nude landscapes of “Stillness” and “Motion,” both 1999, gave voice and image to an intersectional range of marginalized people, including those who identify as Latinx, LBGTQ, differently abled, depressive, and nonconforming.

    Writing on an earlier version of this show, in 2018, Andy Campbell rightly noted the “radical intimacy” of Aguilar's portraits of friends, family, and acquaintances in East Los Angeles. Still, it is important to remember that the artist's engagement with this milieu was not without complexity and tension. For example, the “Plush Pony” series, produced during the time of the Los Angeles riots of 1992, contested the stereotype of the city’s communities of color as violent via straightforward group portraits of laughing and hugging denizens of a Latina lesbian safe space. As James Estrella points out in the catalogue, Aguilar’s forays into the titular club were tentative, given her awareness of the working-class origins of many of its patrons as well as her aversion to drinking due to the death of her brother from alcoholism. As the profound discord of neoliberal Los Angeles was erupting for the world to see, Aguilar was never more conscious of her alienation as an artist.

    Aguilar’s sensitivity to the communities she documented also extended to her self, an equally complex subject. She bared her body in the studio (Nude Exercise #3, 1991), on video (The Body, 1995), and in the deserts of the Southwest (Nature Self-Portrait #4, 1996). That the artist passed away last April, during the run of this exhibition, adds poignancy to this occasion to understand Aguilar's efforts to represent her relationships with her work, environment, body, and country.