Critics’ Picks

View of “Sabina Ott: here and there pink melon joy,” 2014–15.

Chicago

Sabina Ott

Chicago Cultural Center
78 E. Washington St.
August 30 - January 4

I had an epiphany about Sabina Ott’s sculptures while riding a rollercoaster. Sliding through the Swiss Alps on Disneyland’s Matterhorn, beneath the Southern California sun, I saw it: pastel lights glowing on faux snow. Ott’s similarly garish, mystical mist of neon spray enamel on carved polystyrene and spray foam is an environment-design technique she may have smuggled from Los Angeles’s happiness industry during her tenure there in the 1990s. “Here and there pink melon joy” is her sensational debut large-scale solo exhibition in Chicago.

Ott’s vision of candy-hued icicles as hanging lamps is a welcome reverie in a city with so much dirty snow. The sculptures on view are embedded with round mirrors, dead clocks, exposed light bulbs, plastic and real houseplants, drums, and drum music composed by artist Joe Jeffers, whose rhythm echoes the ticktock beats of the bucket drummers on the adjacent Michigan Avenue. Like a funhouse, “here and there pink melon joy” takes visitors on a momentary journey; in three galleries Ott leads us through her versions of hell, purgatory, and paradise in a nod to Dante’s Divine Comedy. The show culminates with the video installation to perceive the invisible in you, 2012, a swirling tangle of ecstatic love poems by Rumi, William Blake, and Gertrude Stein among others projected on four walls.

Ott succeeds in building her own sort of Fantasyland. It’s a place where, like a Disney movie, objects might come alive to play with and protect you. But this dream is no escape from reality; Ott builds the type of world she wants us to live in.