First Friday: A pair to see

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I saw two really swell shows that opened on First Friday. I went with my daughter Minna and her friend Sigal, and we all pretty much agreed on what we liked and what we didn’t.

The paintings by Olivia Schreiner in her show, “Fly by Night,” at Vox Populi are beautiful and thoughtful.

The work puts a nice twist on the picturesque landscape tradition of juxtaposing the man-made with the natural. The bit of temporary construction fencing edges the bottom of skyscapes with dotty suggestions of birds (shown, “Cinemascape” above, and “Chicagoland”). The edge of a slide cover, a pattern of lights transform what might be ordinary landscapes or overhead views into our relationship to the mothership earth. Three thumbs up.

Also showing there were well-done drawings by Nils Karsten with a kind of creepy affect, a noisy tribute installation to heavy metal music by Robert Chaney, manipulated photos of woodland scenes by Kelley Roberts and video by Rob Craigie.

The other strong choice was the Russian nesting dolls at Space 1026. Three thumbs up.

It’s one of those concept shows where someone has an idea of what everyone ought to decorate. Usually those shows don’t work out so well. But that’s not the case here, maybe because the dolls themselves are intrinsically delightful and they have an underlayer of meaning–pregnancy, inside/outside, diminution, the kernel or seed, perspective–that immediately lift most of the artistic ruminations and give them greater meaning.

Even Ned Vena’s gangsta dolls dressed in do-rags with Japanese-brushstroke-like faces automatically, by the multiple sizes, raised questions about how the culture is raising its younguns, turning out little gangstas by the gross.

My favorite doll was Shawn Gurczak’s family, a great big dad in conservative shirt, the teenage child with sweetheart locked in an embrace, the gorilla emblazoned with “m’s” (from Micky D’s?) flashing the bird, the cheerful little brother and the little itty bitty grandpa, looking like he’s gonna have a cow, man, any second now, he’s so angry and so powerless. But he’s the one who started the whole family, and he’s at the heart of the matter.

But so many of them were beautiful and interesting to look at. I loved Matt Leines’ Persian bearded weird guys (shown at top), even though I wasn’t sure what size had to do with it all.

I loved the way a number of artists subverted the interlocking quality of the dolls, although maybe Melinda Beck, with her insect people, went so far with it that the graduated sizes became pointless.

Kristine Cortese’s diamond-eyed people got reduced in the smallest iteration to nothing more than an eye, a sort of artist’s self-portrait of herself as all eyes.

There was lots of flat-out swell drawing, including Kozyndan’s series that hit on the bright and dark sides of human nature and Gary Fogelson’s multi-gendered cartoon people (below) represented by a closer and closer, smaller and smaller perspective. There’s all kinds of ways to shrink down.

For painting, there was Kevin Cyr’s beautiful transportation series (not shown). Then there’s Chris Yormic’s approach of putting ladders underneath, so that each doll, no matter how different, ends up the same height. Are we talking about equal opportunity and leveling the playing field or what?

The invitational show from curator Eddie Martinez included 38 animators, skateboard designers and graffiti artists as well as traditional fine artists. Martinez gave each artist a blank set of the dolls. I don’t mean by naming the artists above that theirs were the only noteworthy work. I’d say another dozen or so turned in some great-to-look-at work.

We also stopped by the new Highwire Gallery space on the same floor as Vox Populi. At the moment, it’s a little hard to find it. The space is beautiful and paintings looked better here than they did in the old space. In the member group show in the front room, I have to give the best name for a painting prize to George Shinn’s painting of four guys: “It’s My Turn You Went First the Last Time.” Sigal liked an installation with some little cast caterpillers that you can buy for $5 (I’ll have to get you the artist’s name). Go know.

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