Critics’ Picks

Restless: A Visual Essay (detail), 2008, mixed media, dimensions variable.

Restless: A Visual Essay (detail), 2008, mixed media, dimensions variable.

Chicago

Shannon Stratton

The Green Lantern
1511 N. Milwaukee Avenue, Second Floor
April 11–May 17, 2008

Empty brown paper bags, ragged Chinese parasols, popped champagne corks, dirty rubber duckies, vintage school ties, full diaries, and worthless Starbucks gift cards do not a pretty picture make. Shannon Stratton, however, has something of a Midas touch running through her fingers, and in this exhibition, these and other odd objects add up to the most picturesque of interior landscapes, one dotted with grottoes, rolling hills, a garden wall, and a meandering pathway. As founding director and chief curator of programs at the nonprofit ThreeWalls gallery, Stratton organizes some of Chicago’s most compelling shows. Here, rather than the traditional artist’s trick of transforming raw materials into something new, she has deployed the curator’s technique of rearranging preexisting stuff, in this case people’s seemingly random collections. Revealed is an aptitude intriguingly less akin to contemporary art curating than to what might be called visionary anthropology exhibition design. The resulting sum is both more than its parts and intoxicatingly regenerative of them, consequences I’m particularly well suited to notice: Stratton borrowed my own collection of out-of-date gallery postcards to line the installation’s rear wall, extracting them from their dark storage box and giving them new life not only as themselves but also as a scenic backdrop against which viewers can stroll and smell the plastic flowers.