“Chicago and Vicinity” at Shane Campbell Gallery

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Composition with red, green and pink sweatband,” 2016
Ethan Gill, Oil on canvas, 45″ x 37″
Photo: Evan Jenkins, courtesy the artist and Shane Campbell Gallery

From its early days through the 1980s, the Art Institute of Chicago held an annual invitational called “Chicago and Vicinity” to recognize the very best of the city’s artists. Shane Campbell Gallery directly references this component of local art history with an exhibition of the same name, with a stated intention to “frame a broad selection of work… a sample of Chicago’s breadth from within.” Although almost a 100 pieces by more than 50 living Chicago artists (all works cited 2016), emerging and established, are included, the scope of this show proves to be narrower than the title implies. Nonetheless, some of Chicago’s unique and most persistent characteristics are present. The inclusion of Imagists like Gladys Nilsson, and generations following, like Phyllis Bramson, nod to Chicago’s long-time emphasis on the figure; the latter contributes one of the larger paintings of the exhibition, titled The Collector’s Wife’s Collection (All That She Owns), a work exuberantly commingling kitsch, decoration and appropriated imagery from a wide variety of sources. Ethan Gill’s neon-colored Composition with red, green and pink sweatband, featuring a close-up of football players facemask-fouling each other with an actual mouth guard wedged into the painting’s frame, proves the figure to be as crucial to young artists’ practices as it is to their predecessors. Chicago’s humor is also peppered throughout the exhibition, a style that tends towards the low, the ordinary, and the absurd. Chris Bradley’s Banana Peel w/ Birdhouse replicates the peculiar pairing of objects in the title, unexpectedly crafted of steel and wood. Ben Stone’s Up Dog Redux transforms a jokey phrase into sculpture of a naked pink dog with a human head that wags its vestigial tailbone as viewers approach.

Overall, it’s formalist painting that’s most plentifully represented here, with geometric and patterned-based abstractions that span from the precisely rendered to trendy “casualist” kinds of pieces. There are only a dozen three-dimensional works and a handful of photographs amongst all these paintings, drawings and other wall-bound works. Unlike the original “Chicago and Vicinity” shows, this exhibition was mounted in a gallery, and so it comes as no surprise that missing here are the less salable kinds of mediums: installation, sound, video, performance and social practice- the latter especially a major component of Chicago’s artistic dialogue. There’s no arguing that each of the people chosen for this exhibition are very strong artists, who have had a significant impact on other artists in the community. However, as is, the exhibition reads more as a survey of Chicago’s commercial art market than its contemporary art-making practices.