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Phantom Limb: Approaches to Painting Today

Sigmar Polke, Ashes to Ashes, 1992.  Gerald S. Elliott Collection. Photo © MCA Chicago.
Sigmar Polke, Ashes to Ashes, 1992. Gerald S. Elliott Collection. Photo © MCA Chicago.
MCA Chicago

Running now through October 21, 2012 Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago

Isa Genzken "Basic Research"
Melissa Gumbs

Historically, painting has long been considered the most traditional and significant form of art making. So, an exhibition dedicated to the medium might conjure up thoughts of conventional landscapes, still life imagery, and portraiture lining the museum walls. This is not that type of art show.

Instead, the Museum of Contemporary Art’s new exhibition, Phantom Limb: Approaches to Painting focuses on new and innovative methods of painting. The title is derived from the sensation of a person retaining the feeling in a limb that has been amputated and fighting the impulses to utilize the missing body part. In the context of the exhibition, the title refers to artists’ urges to fight revealing the artist’s touch in their work, though the feeling often remains present.

The second floor show opens with homage to 1960’s Pop Art and the movement’s artists who challenged the notion of hands-on art making with their experiments with the silk screening process. Instead of perfect technique, work during this time focused mainly on process and the media-driven society. In this section, the work of Robert Rauschenberg and Andy Warhol is intermingled with the art of contemporary artists like Richard Jackson who also hoped to remove the artist’s hand from his work. His Untitled work from 1979 not only removed the artist’s touch but also the paintbrush. In this piece, Jackson transferred and manipulated paint onto his canvas by using another canvas as his tool. Isa Genzken incorporates a similar paintbrush-free technique in her work Basic Research. Here, the artist, working on her floor is focused on scraping away paint, in an effort to show what is underneath.

The second part of the exhibition continues to deal with the media-conscious society but also incorporates street techniques of non-conventionally trained artists. Highlights of this gallery include Josh Smith’s Untitled (Chicago Collage), a graffiti-influenced block printed work on collaged newspaper that acts as a self-interested advertisement, with the multiple use of the artist’s own name, as well as John Henderson’s 2012 work, Cast, which actually contains no paint whatsoever. Instead, the artist built up a canvas to create the look and texture he desired and then cast the painting in aluminum, creating a finished work that acts as a tribute to the painting process. The artist, who lives in Chicago, will be giving an artist talk about his work and the exhibition on Tuesday, August 7th at noon. Admission is free to Illinois residents.

The final part of the show deals with abstraction of subject matter, once again placing the focus on the method of art making. Here the standouts include a number of works by Christopher Wool, including his 2010 Untitled work which is on display for the first time. Like Henderson’s work, this piece also contains no actual paint. Instead, the artist has photographed some of his previous paintings, collaged them together, and screen printed the montaged image, creating a work of art about a painting that contains no paint.

Featuring works from the MCA’s collection along with pieces from local collectors, Phantom Limb: Approaches to Painting is a sweet summery treat for the art lover. Visitors are able to realize how far the field of painting has come with this exhibition, which highlights innovative and creative methods aiming to further the field of art. The show does a great job of releasing the creative juices of the artist within and one can’t help but leave the exhibition feeling inspired. Make sure to add it to your summer to-do list.

Melissa Gumbs


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