Amy Vogel


The UP—Michigan’s upper peninsula—is about as topographically dramatic as the Midwest gets. Once the site of extensive copper and iron mines, the UP is now kept afloat largely by tourism and recre- ation. Wedged between Lakes Superior, Michigan, and Huron, it is the site of brutal winters, the target of some of the most severe weather in the continental US. In the summer, though, it’s a sylvan wonderland, with large national forests and hundreds of miles of vacant beaches. Chicago artist Amy Vogel has summered on the UP for the past couple of years, and in her recent exhibition she engaged in a kind of rustic Conceptualism, crafting objects and paintings that balance the indolence of summer vacation with the deeper year-round context of where that vacation takes place.

Recently, Vogel has collaged UP-suggestive objects, including a fishing pole, bearskins, antlers, and a wolf trap into her work, and her paintings include images of a camping trailer and lounge chairs. But the items she deploys are typically altered or rendered otherwise ambiguous, made strange and dislocated. The shaft of the fishing pole is arrayed with hundreds of tiny acrylic stripes, for example, and the trap nickel-plated. These things, reflective of the relative positions of the hunter and the hunted, suggest the uneasy but symbiotic relationship between humans and the area’s indigenous wild-animal population. But the UP is only superficially a tamed environment; when summer is over, wolves and deer take much of it back, sharing their surroundings with the men and women who live up north year-round, hunkering down during the long, cold winter. There’s a kind of woodsy blue-collar humility to much of Vogel’s work, an identification with the UP’s permanent residents. It was a long cold summer that year, 2007, is a large wall piece, a five-pointed star rendered in bands of colored knit and crocheted wool, somehow imbued with the sweat equity of many hours of knitting done indoors. Vogel’s practice of covering deer antlers in knitted wool, as she does in Dollarville 8 pointer, 2006, is even more emblematic of her concerns. She domesticates a wall-mounted trophy of the wild by making it decorative in a way that renders deer and knitter cohabitants.

Vogel’s paintings are more cursory and evanescent, relaxed and reflective. Perfection, 2007, is distinguished by schmeary vertical and horizontal stripes of color, some sketchy floral motifs, and a small, carefully rendered depiction of a trailer/camper, all on a canvas largely left blank. The work conjures a summer vacation, a time for the mind to wander. The vehicle does double duty here—it could be the affluent vacationer’s portable home, lugged around for creature comfort, or it could be an image of the kind of trailer that some of the less advantaged year-round residents of the UP live in all the time, a broader glimpse of the arcadian milieu. In the sculpture Northern Kindness, 2007, a bearskin is draped over a folding chair, the wolf trap lies ready at its feet, and a skein of wool and crochet needles are left on the fur on the seat. It’s a latter-day summoning of an age-old theme in American art, the apprehensive confrontation between the domestic and the frontier, that thin and permeable membrane between the wild and the cultivated that now resides in tourism.

James Yood