Critics’ Picks

Ivan Lozano, Narcomantas (Hanged Men II), 2015, vinyl, packing tape, ink, copper, rope, 72 x 54".

Ivan Lozano, Narcomantas (Hanged Men II), 2015, vinyl, packing tape, ink, copper, rope, 72 x 54".


“Present Standard”

Chicago Cultural Center
78 E. Washington St.
January 30–April 24, 2016

A showcase of twenty-five intensive studio-based practices, “Present Standard” casts welcome light on a core of Latin American and Latinx artists who have coalesced in Chicago over the past decade or so. Curators Edra Soto and Josué Pellot invoke the perennial question of identity—embodied by the normalizing measure of a “standard”—as a double-edged sword: a wellspring of distinctive content that risks becoming an essentializing, market-friendly limitation.

Expanded abstraction predominates, thanks in part to Cándida Alvarez and José Lerma, local professors and polar opposite in their approaches. Alvarez’s camouflage-like painting A Man Waved, 2004, conceals a newspaper photograph of the Iraq War, while Lerma flies a giant private-school shirt from Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, as a middle-class flag. Younger artists follow their lead: Melissa Leandro’s heat-fused industrial found materials produce dazzlingly patterned wall-based works, while Diana Gabriel’s Flecos, 2015, refigures Jesús Rafael Soto’s series “Penetrable,” 1969–2014, as a cubic quipu. The exceptions to this common ground address politics more directly: Ivan Lozano tapes strips of texts and photographs documenting Guadalajara’s drug violence in a circular form on a clear vinyl sheet stretched taut by copper wire for Narcomantas (Hanged Men II), 2015; Alejandro Figueredo Díaz-Perera’s bobbing microphone repeatedly bangs into a wall, referencing surveillance in contemporary Cuba; and Sofía Moreno, a mainstay of the city’s trans scene, is represented by Untitled I & II, both 2006, mixed-media works on paper that are equally viscerally damaged and strangely delicate.

On display concurrently at the venue is Pablo Helguera’s Librería Donceles (Donceles Bookstore), 2013, a Spanish-language bookstore perfectly illustrating what is missing in “Present Standard”: social practice’s reliance on communities. In its place is something like an inward turn, for which Latin America’s now canonical abstraction gets worked and reworked in perpetuity.