Critics’ Picks

Robert Davis and Michael Langlois, Dads, 2008, oil on two canvases, each 34 1/2 x 28".

Robert Davis and Michael Langlois, Dads, 2008, oil on two canvases, each 34 1/2 x 28".


Robert Davis and Michael Langlois

Chicago Cultural Center
78 E. Washington Street
January 10–April 5, 2009

Robert Davis and Michael Langlois have collaborated for over ten years and are committed to deliberate imitation. Their oil paintings of miscellaneous images do not stem from the tenets of Photorealism, as it might first appear, but instead from the critical underpinnings of appropriation. However, their team-copying act is not intended to undercut the authority of painting. On the contrary, they hope to reinforce it. They plainly state on their website, “We enjoy taking a mundane image and transforming it into something significant and visually arresting.”

Yet what is most significant and visually arresting in their works are the classical sagas they weave with the imagery they transpose into paintings. The paintings themselves are flat and lifeless, but the juxtapositions of images are often-compelling examples of operatic pop arrangements. The three paintings that compose their show “House of the Rising Sun” meditate on the location of omnipotence. Face of God (all works 2008) is a radiating abstraction that takes its cue from solar photography. Dads, concerning the human equivalent to the sun, is a diptych; these portraits of Davis and Langlois’s fathers are derived from photographs taken at approximately the same ages the artists are now. The exhibition’s centerpiece is Babylon, a dense, mystical landscape graced with Art Nouveau fluidity and inhabited by trippy imagery familiar to late-1960s cover art. Here omnipotence is located within the mind, not in the heavens or in the artists' dads. Despite the lackluster and dreary quality of the Photorealistic language they have bridled over the years, Davis and Langlois have once again demonstrated their uncanny knack for examining popular truths without succumbing to cliché.