Deb Sokolow: The Trouble with People You Don’t Know
The Flight of Fake Tears: Large-Scale Narrative Drawing: Dominic McGill, Robyn O’Neil, Claire Pentecost, Amy Ruffo
Peck School Of The Arts
Institute of Visual Arts
2155 N. Prospect Ave.
The Institute of Visual Arts in the splendid Inova/Kenilworth building welcomes their spring season with politics, pop culture and drawings (and photographs of drawings, plus a funky tent) of anxieties – to my mind, quite appropriate in a year already laden with political back-stabbing, crashing global markets and the continuing war. I left my condo on Prospect (I can see the Kenilworth from my north windows) armed with reams of print-outs detailing the heavy credentials of the participants. Curator Nicholas Frank is reason enough to pay attention to this show, though I figured if boredom set in I could duck into Urban Outfitters next door and peruse crazy in-your-face retail items.
Reviewing group exhibitions often (unless the work is wretched) demands several visits and careful consideration. James Auer, the late Milwaukee Journal Sentinel art critic, solved this problem by listing some of the artists in group shows he reviewed as “others,” thus eliminating names and lengthy text with a stroke of his powerful pen. Any artist who’s ever been identified as an “other” knows that it stings like a bee.
The Inova/Kenilworth event is divided into The Trouble with People You Don’t Know – works by Chicago-based artist Deb Sokolow – and The Flight of Fake Tears, which includes the talents of Dominic McGill, Robyn O’Neil, Claire Pentecost and Amy Ruffo. Ms. Sokolow will launch the Department of Visual Arts’ guest lecture series (“Artists Now!”) on January 30 at 7pm.
This is the first of a three-part series to explore more fully the works of each artist. Curator Frank was on site when I visited (two days prior to the opening), and Bruce Knackert, Director of Galleries, was busy hammering and helping the artists with the installation process. At one point, Frank dashed out for latte and healthy stuff from Beans & Barley for artist Deb Sokolow, who had forgotten to eat!
Dominic McGill’s canvas tent waited to be unpacked from its small cardboard box, while Claire Pentecost waited for some framed pieces to arrive. Propped on the north wall in a space Frank describes as a “cathedral space,” Robyn O’Neil’s graphite drawing had been freed from bubble wrap, but not yet installed. Amy Ruffo was due in at any moment, likely en route from Sheboygan where she is the special projects coordinator at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center.
Sokolow spent much of her time down on her knees, cutting and preparing her narrative drawing, which snakes around a generous space and invites the viewer to keep going, reading and thinking and making choices. She’s a storyteller for sure.
“I re-read lots of Nancy Drew books to prepare for this,” she remarked, adding that she’s in her studio so much that she doesn’t get much time to read things not directly related to her art. One would expect that she would be acquainted (she is, indeed, a big fan) with the weird tales of Henry Darger, the reclusive Chicago janitor who, after his death, was discovered to have made some 114 quirky collage drawings accompanied by narrative stories. At the end of a long day of measuring and adjusting her drawings on the gallery walls, Sokolow was driving home to Chicago, only to return again for the Friday night opening. In a few weeks she’ll be flying to Kansas City to install her on-site drawings in the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art. Robyn O’Neil is represented in the Kemper Museum’s permanent collection.
“Is this a ploy to pacify folks who grouse that the Mary Nohl Fellowships seem to be gobbled up by men?” I asked. He didn’t blink, and in the next installment of coverage of the exhibition, I’ll have more to say about his comments. I found myself wondering if I would be able to spot the work of the lone male, Mr. McGill. And was there anything about the work of the four females that identified the makers’ gender? And if there was, so what? Some will strongly disagree, but the gender issue seems almost antiquated in the year 2008.
I never did make it to Urban Outfitters. VS
Deb Sokolow and The Flight of Fake Tears: Large-Scale Narrative Drawing opens at Inova/Kenilworth on Friday, January 25 and runs through March 14. Opening reception will take place on Friday, January 25 from 6-9 pm. Please note: all Inova galleries are closed to the public on Saturday, March 15 – Sunday, March 23, for spring recess.