Sunday, July 10, 2011

Alibi Fine Art 2011 Summer Group Exhibition

On July 9, 2011 I had the distinct pleasure of attending Alibi Fine Art's summer exhibition, which featured the works of such talented photographers as Sebrina Fassbender, Jacqueline Langelier, Jessie Seib and Sigri Strand. It was a well attended show, in an atmosphere that was classy yet cordial and appropriately understated.

Sigri Strand's stunning cinematic-style photographs evoke an ominous sense of mystery remnant of such horror giants as Dario Argento. Whether it's a stretched out hand in the red-drenched Answer the Telephone or a tentative step into some lurking danger in The Stairs, a sense of foreboding accompanies each image. Strand's artist statement expresses an interest in archetypes of film and a subsequent interest in horror. The goal has been effectively achieved, as Strand's photographs capture the aesthetics of film in a manner that is poignant, subtle and refined.

Jacqueline Langelier's work aims to challenge the nostalgia of childhood and draw attention to its often frustrating and solitary nature by exposing the darker side of those early years. In one of her Untitled works, a sullen and dissatisfied child sits to the side of a table with haphazardly strewn and seemingly abandoned candy, as if to reject this particular childhood icon. In another Untitled work, the often-daunting experience of the child's world is exemplified by a tall, spiral staircase that seems to go into infinity.

Jessie Seib's striking images of rooms immediately drew me in. Mostly black and white with select and well-placed splashes of color, the images of the rooms are sliced and  pieced together in a  manner remnant of a jigsaw puzzle. Seib's work evokes a lonely and austere environment. In Within, the blurred image of the child's face commands attention as she sits in a run-down and nearly abandoned room. The child appears to exemplify the existential crisis to which Seib referrs in her artist's statement when she speaks of the difficulty realizing selfhood. Exceedingly intricate, upon closer examination of the photgraph, the shadowy figure of a woman by the window becomes apparent. This Place is dreamlike with its saran wrap-like overlay and its lurking, mysterious figure in the far corner of the photograph. The In-Between is equally stunning and evocative.

Last but far from being the least is the work of Sebrina Fassbender. Her work documents sex workers, many who were sexually abused and all of whom she is personally close to. She gives a stark look inside the women's lives that transcends the all-too-frequent dichotomized picture of sex workers as either completely idealized or helpless victims. To be sure, the trauma (and subsequent attempts at escapism) of her subjects is palpable, but so is their depth and beauty. The subjects are depicted in a manner that is both intimate and individual: Yolanda is stark, yet pensive and contemplative. Black fishnet juxtaposed against a vintage flower bedspread, Nicolette portrays a woman that looks both porcelain and concealed. Allegra, with her hair dripping into the photograph and her dress straps half-down on her arms conveys a figure that looks worn and weary. This compelling subject nonetheless communicates a sense of quiet desperation. Sabrina 1 and Sabrina 2 show a sharp contrast, between an anguished character surrounded by the poverty and dissolution that often accompanies life on the fringes and a more narcotized state, peering from behind a shower curtain, that looks half-sensual. Fassbender's work appears both artistic and documentary, capturing the most raw moments of her subjects in a way that is as aesthetically rich as it is emotionally expressive.

In conclusion, I highly recommend a visit to Alibi while these artists are featured. In a time when style and sensationalism often trump substance, it is a joy to see the work of four excellent artists who not only are mature in technique, but exhibit depth and authenticity in their message.

Alibi's summer exhibition will run until August 28, 2011. Alibi is located at 1966 W. Montrose in Chicago, Illinois.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Newberry Library: Illuminated Manuscripts

Illuminated manuscripts have been largely overlooked in the history of art. Playful, frequently contained in the margins of texts, illuminated manuscripts range from playful images of cats and monkeys to more traditional religious imagery.

I was fortunate enough to catch The Newberry Library's exhibit, Illuminated Manuscripts and Printed Books: French Renaissance Gems of the Newberry. Primarily focused on French manuscripts from the Renaissance era, the beautiful exhibit was contained within a small, quiet room not far from the information desk. As my husband and I were the only visitors at the time we attended, we were afforded the luxury of a slow and detailed viewing. The texts encompassed a broad range of sizes, from small pocketbooks to large tomes. The books were elegantly displayed, protected by glass and resting on a rich blue base that served to complement the fine aesthetics of the works themselves.

One of the first pieces I viewed was The Pocket Book of Hours and Breviary. This small book from 15th century France had belonged to Louis XI and Charlotte of Savoy. I was surprised by both by the smallness of the book and the intricacy of the work. Artists creating these tiny pieces were often referred to as "miniaturists" due to their ability to craft finely detailed drawings within such a limited amount of space.

Equally inspiring was Jacques Le Grand's Le livre de bonnes moeurs. Estimated as being created some time prior to 1478 in Flanders, the piece tells the story, from God's point of view, of the fallen angels. This piece was much larger in size than the one I previously viewed. It depicted an austere God watching as descending angels became demonic in appearance. The rainbow above God at the top of the image contrasted sharply with the stark gloom of hell at the bottom of the page. The image evoked sentiments of awe and mystery that one might expect to see in a painting by such figures as Rubens or Hieronymus Bosch.

Most compelling was Ludovico Ariosto's Orlando Furioso. Upon looking at the image, my gaze was immediately drawn to the centerpiece: a black bird sharply contrasted by the bright blue background. It was only after observing the piece for a few moments that the surrounding frame of faces were observed. Intricate imagery of cherubs interspersed with a horned, yet God-like, old man. The more the image is studied, the more faces become apparent; even the columns had faces etched into them. With its subtle yet finely detailed background, the piece is a fine exemplar of work from this era.

One cannot fail to get a thorough appreciation for illuminated manuscripts at this well-designed and intimate exhibit. If you're already familiar with the art form, visiting the exhibit will be a distinct pleasure. If you are new to illuminated manuscripts, then a visit to the Newberry Library will give you a newfound understanding of the artistry that was so popular in Medieval and Renaissance texts.

The Newberry Library is at 60 W. Walton in Chicago's Gold Coast. "Illuminated Manuscripts and Printed Books: French Renaissance Gems of the Newberry" closes May 27th, 2011.