Native Chicagoan Bernard Williams not only has had two concurrent exhibitions up—“Mine(d) Museum,” at McCormick Gallery and “Blanket Paintings,” in Rogers Park at Iceberg Projects— he is also a featured artist for Chicago Artists Month.
For those familiar with his work, some pieces in “Mine(d) Museum” (which closed over the weekend) hint at his previous large-scale sculptural installations, which feature intricately cut and pieced together sheets of wood, layered one over the other. The almost calligraphic lines of these previous pieces are evoked by the snaking geodesic wooden sculptures in the “Brain Studies” grouping, the largest in the exhibition. The black pigment portrait busts which reoccur in a majority of his paintings and sculpture appear in a more decorative, three-dimensional form in his “Air Heads” series.
But this body of work, according to Williams’ artist statement, functions on both the macro level, museology as a medium, and the micro level, cellular biology and psychic mental states, oscillating between concealing and revealing both the internal and external.
While the title “Mine(d) Museum” most clearly references Fred Wilson’s iconic 1992 show “Mining the Museum,” held at the Maryland Historical Society in Baltimore, it can also function as an elaborate pun or homonym, with "Mine(d)" meaning perhaps both mine, in this case Bernard Williams’ museum, and also mind, as in museum of the mind.
Like Wilson, Williams also appropriates museological practices of display and presentation as a tool of institutional critique. But unlike Wilson, there’s less of a pervading sense of pathos in this grouping of Williams’ work, which exudes a playful and peculiar quirkiness.
Similarly, a crucial element of Wilson’s work is its institutional context; it examines what objects museums keep under lock and key in deep storage and also what information is also unintentionally suppressed or absent. Seeing Williams’ pieces in the main room of a commercial gallery functions quite differently however, and perhaps accounts for why objects in the exhibition skew towards the psychological and emotional and away from the racial equality and social justice themes so prevalent in his practice to date.
What the artist refers to as “Culture Racks” or “Culture Cargo” are shelves of the inexpensive, prefabricated plastic variety, and the hand-constructed wooden kind, sometimes with glass shelves, all of which are wheeled. Many of the objects in the often-cluttered shelving units feel notational and fragmentary, like a three-dimensional sketchbook or studio storage space. They include everything from a specific class of urban refuse, such as cans of Colt 45, shattered glass bits of fifths of Hennessey and plastic Pokemon toys, to objects crafted from toilet plunger suction cups, spray foam insulation, gaff tape, knives, rubber balls in various states of inflation and stitched military and scout badges.
Williams comfortably traffics in pop cultural and commercial references that tap into a shared lexicon of images and symbols alongside highly idiosyncratic and personally meaningful ones; the familiar constantly abuts the foreign. The resultant associations provoke a rapid-fire series of impression that encompass everything from the random to the rehearsed, the mundane to the unexpected. And at its zenith, the amalgam of objects and sculptures on view in the “Mine(d) Museum” turn themselves inside out before your eyes, shedding the skins of their previous meanings and redefining themselves according to Williams’ arrangement and construction.
-Thea Liberty Nichols, ArtSlant Staff Writer
(All images courtesy of McCormick Gallery)