Museum showcases Midwest

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//img-MswDhgwDXV.jpg’, ‘Image provided’, ‘‘Pinkyholders Couple’ by Doug Smithenry of Highland Park, Ill., will be displayed as part of Rockford Art Museum’s Midwestern exhibit, opening May 14.’);

Rockford Art Museum opens Midwestern exhibit May 14

The Rockford Art Museum opens its exhibition of new work from artists throughout the Midwest region May 14.

James Rondeau, a curator of contemporary art at the Art Institute of Chicago, faced the daunting task of pulling this show together in a time when fresh perspectives in art are celebrated by diverse art strategies. Realism is returning, painting is alive and well, and drawing, and even watercolor, is taking its rightful place alongside sculpture and oils. Rather than being defined by trends, this show explores ideas, formal traditions and the creative uses of materials.

Margaret Whiting, in her construction “A New Set of Ground Rules,” dares to address what is on the minds of the American public. The assemblage alternates pages from a book etitled The Laws of Nations and the spines and flimsy remnants of pages from destroyed books. Circled in the visible text are the words of wisdom for this difficult time. This piece is simple, gutsy and gracefully beautiful.

Her second contribution to this exhibition is in equal parts fun and profound. Imagine law books, volumes 1 through 10, rolled into what one might interpret as oversized rolls of toilet paper. A Sam’s Club special.

Mark Sladen, in his The art, defined art of this new millennium as, in part, labor intensive and positively anti-technological. In exploring these realms, Matt Irie won Best of Show for his compulsive use of handwriting as both a medium and a technique. Developing quiltlike patterns by varying pencils and ink, Irie’s dense verbiage repetitively explores our thought-making processes. Contrasting these two large pieces is one simple page torn from a spiral notebook. It is a folded note offering help—something Irie must have been dreaming of as he labored over these graceful, hypnotic pieces.

“Accident Victims who Didn’t Listen to their Mothers” is fun photography at its best. Judy Langston recalls this admonishment from our childhood and places it squarely into horrific, adult detail. A grid of small, torso photos show men in pantyhose, heart-decorated boxers, women’s undies and the like, while women embarrass themselves with sock-stuffed bras, curlers and holey stockings. No mother could resist saying, “Didn’t I tell you?”

Paul Clark and Bill O’Donnell use their cameras to find sublime abstractions in their worlds. Clark’s linear, black-on-white works entrance you while you pull from your memory what you are actually seeing, tomato cages resting in a layer of snow. Inspired colors and shapes, on the other hand, arrest the viewer before O’Donnell’s pieces. Knowing that these are photos and must “be” something are but passing thoughts, easily dismissed in the works’ simple design.

Several pieces rely on photos of figures from the ’20s or ’30s for their story. Two seem to use portrait photos that gay couples had taken to signify their devotion. Doug Smithenry’s men leaving farm country hand in hand are fractured, then reassembled slightly out of alignment. This gives his work both a distinct, even joyous, rhythm and a broken, uneasy feel. Norm Knott, on the other hand, combines glitzy materials with a photo of a gay couple swinging on a crescent moon, a common pose for these types of photos. His statement in this work, though, is punctuated by two rough-hewn boards nailed to the front that bar the viewer from entering the private scene—and keeps the couple from moving out in the world.

The 2004 Rockford Midwestern Exhibition is full of treasures and surprises from a pair of nylon-clad legs coyly posed in a corner to a series of cobalt-blue glass bars leaning against another wall. Explore the talent and imagination of today’s artists at the Rockford Art Museum, 711 N. Main St. The opening is May 14, 7-8:30 p.m., and the show continues to July 25. Museum hours are Tuesday-Friday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., and Sunday, noon-5 p.m. Phone (815) 968-2787.

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