Critics’ Picks

Joe Zucker, A Unified Theory, 2010, watercolor and gypsum on plywood with painted frame, 50 x 50".

Joe Zucker, A Unified Theory, 2010, watercolor and gypsum on plywood with painted frame, 50 x 50".

Chicago

Joe Zucker

Corbett vs. Dempsey
2156 West Fulton Street
September 17–October 22, 2011

Though Joe Zucker has spent most of his forty-plus-year career in New York, this intimate retrospective homes in on the seminal work the artist produced in his hometown of Chicago, including pieces he made as a graduate student the Art Institute in the 1960s. For the “Joe’s Painting” series, 1963–66, Zucker covered variously sized cotton canvases in interwoven bands of color that represent the warp and weft of the support itself. This relationship between motif and materiality remains essential throughout his output, as does an embrace of the grid as primary structure. In ways similar to the historically gridded city, conceptual order is tempered with material excess: Canvas painted in a sunny yellow and green weave on a tented stretcher may reference its own making, but it also recalls the plastic folding lawn chairs that dotted Zucker’s native South Side in the ’60s.

In a suite of drawings titled “Figure Studies,” 1964, a freehand, ink-slinging Zucker pits himself against the grid, squatting atop his own canvases like a construction worker drilling on a building, or, in another, running Pygmalion-like toward a fleeing nude model with a grid on his or her back, its checkerboard motif looking like a gap-toothed grin. These allegories of the grid as burden or as physical weight foreshadow Zucker’s recent work in stone: For A Unified Theory, 2010, the artist fastidiously carved quarter-inch-square tiles into a four-by-four-foot bed of gypsum and then dotted each tile with watercolor. From this geometric brace emerges the figure of a stylized archaic sailboat—a canvas and wood support still at the heart of the image.