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Barbara Rossi
DePaul Art Museum
935 W. Fullerton, Chicago, IL 60614
May 12, 2016 - August 21, 2016

The Sublime Delinquency of Barbara Rossi’s Poor Traits
by Stephanie Cristello

There is nothing reductive or insignificant about Barbara Rossi’s Poor Traits, a collection of paintings under the homophonic title that refers to the artist’s portrait-like compositions, currently on view in the DePaul Art Museum’s second floor galleries. In a series of graphite drawings from the late 1960s and reverse Plexiglas paintings from the early 1970s, Rossi’s works are some of the more enigmatic examples of the Chicago Imagists. As this exhibition makes clear, Rossi’s twentieth century contributions were less Pop in their registration; other than the gestalt effect of the abstractions, they feature almost no conventionally familiar material, brand, object, or otherwise. Rossi’s illustration of form approaches instead the limits of the Imagist movement—with a certain inscrutable, mysterious, and sphinxlike effect.

Whereas the portrait is often outward facing by nature—a central configuration that depicts the subject looking toward the viewer—Rossi’s paintings develop inward, as if their series of overlapping gestures, marks, and ornamentations were woven into a visual fabric, presenting the viewer with a knot, rather than a ribbon. For most artists, this quality would make the work withdrawn and impenetrable. Though for Rossi, this is one of the virtues that makes her works unlike anything else that exists in the world: they produce their own image, bound in the conflation of realism and abstraction, in a method that undoes the conventions of the genre at hand.

In a series of three works, whose titles unfold like absurdist, cartoon-like alliterations—Quick-N-Quack (1975), Knot-N-Knob (1974), and Gnat-N-Gnaw (1975)—the tangled collection of curved and angular forms results in anthropomorphic characters. In Knot-N-Knob, the composition echoes the outlines of nineteenth-century Japanese Oiran woodblock prints, though the impression of the insinuated figure is treated no more or less importantly than the passages of light blue, deep burgundy, and ochre yellow pattern surrounding it. While the figure is clearly demarcated against the camouflage-green background, the flatness of the painting’s treatment renders the portrait anonymous, unspecified, and unknown. In the lower section of the image, robot-like hands spindle and intertwine, imperfectly mirroring the quasi-symmetry of the work’s overall structure. The negative space within the central configuration of marks, untouched by the sinuous ornamentation of shapes alluding to hair or textile elements, becomes a stand in for a face—or perhaps “mask” is a better term—adorned, almost ceremoniously, with accessory. The paintings resist the historical qualifications of their genre; while the portraits are built out of these “extras,” they are hollow of the figure itself.

This is the first mark of delinquency of these Poor Traits.

Installation view of Barbara Rossi: Poor Traits, 2015, Courtesy New Museum, New York. Photo: Maris Hutchinson


The second is born out of their defiance to the singular. Instead, the paintings favor multiplicity—an image that lets you know how much there is within the picture through its visual experience. The portraits’ ambiguity suggests that there are countless faces to be found within the labyrinth of gestural forms, while at the same time, each of these actions is meticulously and laboriously embellished with line work and dot patterns to create a frenetic tessellation across their entire surface. The overwhelming detail in each of the Poor Traits’ compositions forces you to study the entire picture slowly. In Rose Rock (1972), a corporeal mass of blushing pinks, rare flesh tones, and enflamed scarlets presses up against cool bands of verdant greens, and desaturated hues of riverbed blue. Within the composition—an exquisite, pulsating reservoir of endless forms—each of the demarcated parts ebbs and flows into one another to create myriad combinations. In an interview with Natalie Bell, Associate Curator at the New Museum in New York, where the DePaul exhibition is travelling from, Rossi alludes to this concept as a fascination born out of her relationship to Indian Miniatures. The same conceit, of scenes within a scene, allows for the portraits to work against their rigid illustrative structure, transforming them from a subject into a setting. In Rossi’s omniscient landscapes, their gaze usurps the viewer’s. 

The conquest of Rossi’s portraits is that they defeat the certainty of a subject that stares back.

Barbara Rossi, Eye Deal, 1974, Acrylic on Plexiglas panel and frame. Courtesy of the DePaul Art Museum, 2016


Their third offence is against time. There is something persistently anachronistic about Rossi’s paintings—they belong to the future as much as they appear timeless, forever bound in their own moment. Their peculiar and fantastic treatment of the figure in space makes them hard to chronologically pin down. Just as Indian Miniatures were painted for a god, without shadows—timeless, and unaffected by the degradation of history—the historical functions of portrait painting cannot be separated from its once-religious purposes; icons were painted for saints commissioned by the Church, nobility was rendered according the divine right of Kings. While the formal tenets of Rossi’s compositions may exist outside of time, they are not without gravity—this is their cardinal sin. Their folds indicate movement, a simultaneous compression and progression of form developed through evolution, rather than stasis.

But of course, the moral suggestion of Poor Traits is that the paintings are beholden to (if not validated by) their transgressions. To be sure, they are corrupt—though their crimes are as premeditated as they are permissible.  


Stephanie Cristello

Stephanie Cristello is a Senior Editor at ArtSlant.


(Image at top: Barbara Rossi, Rose Rock, 1972, Acrylic on Plexiglas panel and frame, 27 3/4 x 23 3/4 inches. Courtesy the artist and Corbett vs. Dempsey, Chicago) 

Posted by Stephanie Cristello on 5/24 | tags: abstract painting Chicago Imagists portraiture Barbara Rossi

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Sharon Lockhart
The Arts Club of Chicago
201 E. Ontario St., Chicago, IL 60611
May 12, 2016 - August 13, 2016

In a New Collaborative Film, Sharon Lockhart Puts Teenage Girls in Charge of Their Own Image
by Alison Reilly

Through close collaboration with a group of teenage girls living at the Youth Center for Socio-Therapy in Rudzienko, Poland, Sharon Lockhart creates a striking portrait of the complexities of adolescence. The centerpiece of the artist’s latest exhibition, currently on view at The Arts Club of Chicago, is the 2016 work Rudzienko, a two-channel film installation featuring short scenes choreographed and performed by the young women from the Center. As both facilitator and documenter, Lockhart fosters a safe environment for her subjects to express themselves and empowers them to take ownership of their voices and representation.

In one clip, the film’s only indoor scene, two girls slow dance with each other, holding a profoundly tender embrace for the duration of the shot. Tattered, mustard-green wallpaper serves as their backdrop as they seem to simultaneously grip and heal one another. The slowness and stillness of the portrait undermines traditional portrayals of teenagers as angst-filled, disengaged youth. In its staged yet candid portrayals, Rudzienko provides a powerful answer to the question: how can teenagers be accurately and responsibly represented on screen?   

Sharon Lockhart, Still from Rudzienko, 2016. Courtesy of the artist, Gladstone Gallery, New York/Brussels and neugerriemschneider, Berlin 


The other eight vignettes—interspersed with text from dialogues performed by the young women—unfold in outdoor spaces near Rudzienko, which is on the outskirts of Warsaw. Lockhart situates the girls in close conversation with the rural landscape; they are embedded within the trees, brushes, and grasses of the Polish countryside. In one shot, three large trees, backlit on a cloudy horizon, dwarf the figures of two girls who slowly come into view. In the dark, the bright image reflects onto the cool, stone floor of the Arts Club gallery.

Sharon Lockhart, Milena, Radawa, 2016, Chromogenic print, 32 1/2 x 40 1/2 inches. Courtesy of the artist and The Arts Club of Chicago


In 2009, while working on the film Pódworka (“Courtyard”), Lockhart befriended a girl named Milena, who makes a brief appearance in one of the Rudzienko vignettes. Milena is Lockhart’s muse; since their first meeting, when Milena was nine years old, the two have developed a close relationship. Over the past seven years, Lockhart, who is based in Los Angeles, has returned to Poland more than a dozen times and documented Milena through several films and photographs, which were recently on display at Gladstone Gallery in New York. 

While images of Milena are largely absent from the Arts Club exhibition, she serves as the crucial tie between the girls from the Youth Center and Lockhart. Rudzienko is a product of workshops that the artist organized for Milena and the other girls living at the Center that focused on the development of personal narratives through performance, writing, and dance. Together they choreographed scenes for the film and staged conversations as a means of building self-confidence and trust. These exercises were based on the practices of early twentieth century Polish educator Janusz Korczak, the author of How to Love a Child (1919), who advocated for the respect of the emotional intelligence of children.

Sharon Lockhart, Installation view of Rudzienko at The Arts Club of Chicago, 2016. Photo: Michael Tropea. Courtesy of The Arts Club of Chicago


Throughout Rudzienko Lockhart maintains the fixed camera position typical of her films. The absence of jump cuts within a vignette provokes a kind of deep looking often absent from contemporary culture. Lockhart does not manipulate narratives through montage, splicing, and other heavy editing techniques, but rather lets the girls perform their own stories before a non-judgmental lens.

The fixed-frame camera’s stillness also allows for moments of pure joy to unfold through surprises in movement. An entrancing scene of a lush meadow is interrupted as a group of girls emerge from the beneath the tall grass and yell in unison. In another scene the focal point is a full-grown leafy tree, majestic in the daylight as clouds pass overhead. A few minutes into the footage, a girl hidden from view casually drops down from its enormous branches and walks off screen.

Lockhart’s still shots also provide opportunity to listen more keenly to the ambient audio. The girls in the film speak to each other in Polish but the sound of their voices fades into a soundtrack of humming bugs and chattering birds. At times during the 40-minute film it’s striking how loud the countryside can be. Echoing in the background of the gallery is the second channel of Rudzienko, installed in the opposing alcove. A Polish voice-over reads an unnamed poem by Andżelika Szczepańska, one of the girls from the Center, as an English translation appears on screen. Szczepańska’s poem reiterates the themes of acceptance, abandonment, and fear expressed in the text passages in the first channel.

Sharon Lockhart, Installation view of Rudzienko at The Arts Club of Chicago, 2016. Photo: Michael Tropea. Courtesy of The Arts Club of Chicago


In transcribing the conversations between the girls, Lockhart pays respect to how adolescent dialogue can swing from deeply profound to incredibly mundane, and back again. This respect, coupled with her sustained engagement, fosters a critical lack of self-consciousness revealed in the teenagers’ spoken words and performed gestures alike. 

“When you’re on the run, you walk in the dark. It’s so nice to walk through the dark woods. And then, if there’s a sunset too, before the darkness, it looks so cool.” 

“When’s your birthday?”

“The 20th of March. It’s the worst date. I also don’t like the 5th, the 5th of July…that’s when my dad left us.”

In the main gallery of The Arts Club are three photographs of girls from the Center—Klaudia, Selena, and Bula—caught in the bright flash of Lockhart’s camera as they race by her into the woods.

Sharon Lockhart, Installation view of When You're Free You Run in the Dark at The Arts Club of Chicago, 2016. 
Photo: Michael Tropea. Courtesy of The Arts Club of Chicago


Alison Reilly

Alison Reilly is a Chicago-based writer and curator. She is currently the Managing Editor of Chicago Gallery News.


Editor's note: The original version of this review mistakenly identified one of the girls in a scene in Rudzienko as Milena. The review has been updated to better reflect Milena's position in the film.


(Image at top: Sharon Lockhart, When You're Free, You Run in the Dark, Selena, 2016, Chromogenic print, 49 x 62 inches. Courtesy of the artist and the Arts Club of Chicago)

Posted by Alison Reilly on 6/3 | tags: photography realism video-art

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