Critics’ Picks

Deb Sokolow, Chapter 7. The Architect, 
2010, 
graphite and acrylic on paper, mounted to two panels, each 30 x 22”.

Deb Sokolow, Chapter 7. The Architect, 
2010, 
graphite and acrylic on paper, mounted to two panels, each 30 x 22”.

Chicago

Deb Sokolow

Western Exhibitions
1709 W Chicago Second Floor
November 19–December 31, 2010

“Conspiracy theory (and its garish narrative manifestations) must be seen as a degraded attempt . . . to think the impossible totality of the contemporary world system,” wrote Fredric Jameson in his 1991 book Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. Deb Sokolow’s highly entertaining works parody this idea by pushing the conspiracy genre to its absurdist extremes. In Sokolow’s hand-drawn works, even the Chicken McNugget—that degraded signifier of globalized consumer culture—is ripe with hidden significance. Using second person perspective––the destabilized “you” favored by numerous postmodern writers––Sokolow’s diagrammatic texts chart the paths of lone individuals as they cobble together unrelated information to form cohesive pictures––of what, we’re never certain. Taking the form of chapters from an unfinished book, her latest drawings speculate that drug cartels have taken over the US postal service and that Washington, D.C.–area McDonald’s restaurants are popular with spies because the spooks favor the McNuggets. Even the artist Richard Serra is drawn into Sokolow’s web: Several works posit an alternative reality wherein the “failed sculptor” finds employment as a “human butcher for the mob.”

Riddled with footnotes, redactions, and self-doubting asides, Sokolow’s drawings record the disorderly nature of human thought, but they also express a desire to make sense of—and, poignantly, to transcend—the more dispiritingly banal aspects of globalization, as anonymous International-style buildings, multitiered parking structures, nondescript corporate facilities, and bite-size chicken products appear as equally confounding symptoms of a creeping multinational malaise. One drawing asks: SHOULD WE BE MORE CONCERNED ABOUT THE POSSIBILITY FOR INANIMATE OBJECTS AND STRUCTURES TO SABOTAGE OUR LIVES? Perhaps; but as Sokolow’s outlandish narratives imply, there may not be a lot we can do about it other than wink conspiratorially and laugh.