New York

Michael Hurson

At best, this review is but a skimpy introduction to a signal body of work. Hurson, an artist in his early thirties, is not well known, although he has never really been out of the art public’s eye, at least in Chicago. Hurson’s superb paintings have been shown irregularly at transient galleries, and he has had the support of Chicago art patrons and art institutions. For example, several of the balsa wood constructions that make up this “Projects” exhibition have been shown at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, although a major work, Thurman Buzzard’s Apartment, is here shown for the first time. What all this suggests is that Hurson’s career awaits an entire accounting. Against the monolithic “high art” impulses of the ’60s he has maintained his own vision.

Hurson’s eccentric career, successful in all ways except financial, proves the viability of the ever-present alternative. The current works are miniature crafted sections of rooms, walls, window frames, and stairwells, although I still regard Hurson as a painter and draftsman. Some balsa rooms are devoid of passing incident, while others are replete with bicycles, television sets, sofas, and evocative trappings. The most ambitious piece, Thurman Buzzard’s Apartment, addresses the psychic and physical space of an imaginary personage, an avatar of the artist, part fantasy, cryptogram, and free association. Loosely speaking, Hurson equals Thurman, and Buzzard equals Burr Tillstrom, a reference to Hurson’s professional association with the celebrated puppeteer (Kukla, Fran, and Ollie); the two r’s in Burr equal the two z’s in Buzzard, and so on.

The Surrealist intonations of Hurson’s miniaturist constructions recall (incorrectly) Robert Graham’s plastic boxes. But in contrast to Hurson’s pieces, Graham’s are crammed with explicit sexual content and hedonistic profusion of visual and tactile clues. Hurson’s balsa wood pieces are subdued, atonal, and chaste. This formal “uptightness” is rendered more acute by the fact that none of Hurson’s rooms can be easily inspected.

Implicit to the problem of miniaturization and the psychic paths that led Hurson to it, is a mind-set derived from Marcel Duchamp. Remember that Duchamp made a tiny replica of his Nude Descending a Staircase in 1918 for Carrie Stettheimer’s dollhouse. And surely the Thorne Miniature Rooms at the Art Institute of Chicago provide an unexpected regional model for Hurson’s constructions.

The artist would be ill at ease with such causal logistics, so linked is his view of his work to the actual and tangible issues of balsa construction, whittling, and hobby work. This ambivalence leads Hurson to the compromise that his esthetic decisions—for all their finesse they are decisive—are rooted in intuition and spontaneity. What intrigues me in Hurson’s constructions and his paintings is the interplay between an overt ordinariness of imagery and a covert system of logic. One without the other is merely neutral; together in Hurson’s work, these impulses produce among the most intriguing art I know being done today—even more striking for being couched in such plain terms.

Robert Pincus-Witten