In a joint exhibition of painting and sculpture, the Hyde Park Art Center showed the work of Allan Boutin and Vladmir Bubulo. Bubulo’s sizable paintings are composed of flat areas of color curling over the picture area. With little pattern or development of line they are limited to shape, shapes which interact between subject and ground. The surface of these paintings marked by lumps and ridges of pigment could, conceivably play a part in the total statement but they do not, and such surface textures seem to be at variance with the painted forms, even a hindrance to their realization.

Boutin’s six pieces of sculpture all date from the last two years. They are strong, full-bodied and powerful, an expression of a personality which is receptive to a number of influences but with the discipline to take and weld these into a consistent, thoroughly personal style. As with most sculpture which is solid and monumental in proportion, these pieces need more spacious surroundings, ideally the open air. This says more about the character of the sculpture itself than it does about the gallery space or the installation.

The three earlier pieces combine wood and metal, weathered beams, rusty couplings as in Gate (1965) and in addition, worn rubber tires in East Jesus Country (1965). Readymade forms such as these have played a varied role in 20th-century art.

Boutin’s use of couplings or tires articulates a feeling of power which is both simple and majestic. Neither the lean, spare quality of Duchamp nor the lighthearted gaiety of Stankiewicz is present. (Although the weathered wood and the tires both suggest comparison with some of Di Suvero’s work, there is little similarity in form.) All are self-contained entities with great strength and dignity. Without artifice they celebrate the machine and reflect its economy of parts and boldness of form. There is a shift away from the use of the readymade elements in the three recent pieces which are spray painted in red, blue or yellow. Without the ingratiating qualities, the patina, of the earlier ones, these pieces, Homage, Venus and the ziggurat-shaped untitled piece (all from 1966), are even more straightforward and uncompromising in character. Each is a variant on a basic theme, a form which tapers slowly upward from the wide, ample base like the pylons of an Egyptian temple or a structure as elemental as the pyramid. These are large simple forms defined by planes which are limited in their variation of size, scale and direction. Each sits quietly like a self-contained generator of power. Though massive they are not cold or impersonal but are at times tinged with a lyrical note.

Sculpture today, or at least one branch of it, seems to be confronted by certain conditions not faced by painting. These result from our technology and the structures created by it. The materials and the processes such as steel and welding derived from industry have given modern sculptors new means, to be sure, but this has also placed the sculptor in a kind of competition with the engineer and his structures. The sweep of highways and bridges, the height of the skyscraper’s skeletons are such that any inspiration derived from that source is bound to be almost overwhelming. In the face of this, Boutin’s sculpture holds its own and manifests an achievement of considerable magnitude.

Discussion of the show of Karl Wirsum’s paintings in the Dell Gallery might well be prefaced by noting the announcement poster with its photograph of the artist in his studio and which billed him as “Dr. Karl . . . C. A. Doctor . . . more than a sundae doctor.” Since the days of Dada, greater and greater emphasis has often been placed on the artist himself and his public image as the product of his own creative effort. With Wirsum, painting and personality must be considered an extension of one phenomenon.

Puns, word play and anagrams which make up titles such as Gila Teen, Miss Tree and The Awning Awed are a counterpart to the paintings themselves. For example, the homonym Doggerel, which in sound suggests the image of a dog-faced girl, announces the subject. Although Picasso’s composite portrait of Dora Maar and his dog Kasbec comes to mind, Wirsum’s style and conception are utterly different. Whereas Picasso’s is a metamorphosis, this is metaphorical, an image of violent, ferocious comic fantasy. It is painted in flat, sharp edged shapes, often jig-saw in contour, now jagged and staccato in rhythm. The picture surface is a tightly knit, handsome abstract pattern—in some examples almost too strong for the image. In style these paintings have much in common with images from the mass media such as the mechanically printed surfaces of advertising, or billboards which display brand names, labels, etc. From the almost overwhelming welter of the commonplace and banal, certain images have been selected by the artist which despite their origin take on an almost exotic quality, e.g., the brightly painted panels on glass with the addition of glitter, which might well serve as the backdrop for a pin-ball machine. Marked by a Dada irreverence and a Surrealist fantasy, the bizarre, the monstrous, that lurk in the commonplace can be identified as one version of the American Dream.

Baudelaire’s aphorism “The beautiful is always strange,” applies, especially, since it comes from another artist who insisted on celebrating the world of the commonplace.

Joe Zucker’s work on exhibition at the Adele Rosenberg Gallery consists of a number of paintings of similar format, square, covered with interlacing bands of alternating colors—creating a basket-weave effect. Since labels and brand names are evidently a part of our vocabulary and are considered to be necessary to our categorizing processes the artist has himself termed these “Systemic Paintings.” This term or another, “pattern art,” are descriptive of the work. The self-imposed restrictions set up a narrow framework within which to operate. Such conditions have been apparent in other exhibitions of Zucker’s work devoted to theme painting and it is surprising that the linkage between each painting in the series in this exhibition is not more in evidence since the concept here seems to be the presentation of an idea through repetition, subject only to minor variations. In a number of the paintings this rigid concept is distended—both literally and figuratively—since the canvas is stretched out over a bulging framework bringing the vagaries of shadow into play as part of the painting in addition to a slight but significant shift in perspective. As a consequence there is a shift away from dependence on absolute values as guideposts.

This same informal manner is evident in the largest painting of all—again square, composed of interwoven striped and polka dotted bands. Thus the restraint and the logic is broken in an almost casual offhand manner. Although consistency is not a condition of art and the breaking of a set pattern is inherent, one is forced to question the almost casual breakdown of the self-imposed limitations. Instead of achieving a heightened tension of pictorial elements, the relaxation checks any possible synthesis which might be expected.

The furor caused by President Johnson’s refusal of Peter Hurd’s portrait recently, has caused the Richard Gray Gallery to organize an exhibition of Portraits of LBJ by 30 Chicago artists. It was installed for one week in February and received an inordinate amount of press coverage.

Although a number of artists participated who have already proved themselves, the show lacked a great deal and they were not represented by their best work. Ladybird’s Johnson by Mary McCarty, Gladys Nils-son’s watercolor, Little Leapin LBJ, Ray Reshoft’s portrait and the LBJ Doll by Ellen Lanyon were qualified exceptions. The possibilities for caricature, the opportunities for burlesque were all present; the humor was often sardonic, scornful, bitter but usually thin and seldom trenchant. The show illustrates the fact that social protest plays no significant part in contemporary art in Chicago, although one might conclude that there is genuine and legitimate need for such a style.

Pop artists highlight commonly accepted material values and by magnification show their general unquestioned acceptance to be absurd. The works in this show, cannot, however, be termed satire and there is little art produced today (some cartoonists excepted) of a satirical nature. Drollery is possible; buffoonery can be underlined and occasionally absurdity can be isolated but the styles of these artists, each valid in its own context, lack the focus and incisiveness which are needed for a satire which can cut through layers of indifference and apathy.

Saying this does not question the sincerity or the depth of feeling, the sense of frustration, the need to revolt, on the part of the individual artists. This is evident. However, satire, which needs to be finely honed, is not a device or a style which may be readily assumed.

Another show, the drawings and collages of Saul Steinberg at the B. C. Holland Gallery, presents the work of an artist whose style includes elements of satire along with other qualities as part of its pungent wit. His art illuminates the absurdities to be found in reality and deflates the myths of the self, important, the folk-heroes, and the trite cliché. Line, which is stiff, wiry, liquid, flowing—or expressive of a hundred other qualities—encircles his idea. Combined with collage and/or rubber stamps its sheer economy and the quality of now-you-see-it now-you-don’t sleight of hand, an essential part of his elusive style, exert a subtle fascination. Although much of his work comments on the times and is of a topical nature, a considerable portion, a recurring theme, is involved with art, the play back and forth between illusion and reality. It is in this tantalizingly ambiguous area that his achievement seems most meaningful.

Whitney Halstead