CHICAGO — Thick snowflakes drift from the gray sky above, the energy-sapping inflatable Christmas decorations are in a constant state of blowing across front lawns citywide, and even my parents’ German Shepherd needs a sweater. It must be that time of year again, when the last of this season’s art exhibitions either close their doors or stick it out into January. I’m busy compiling listicles and lists for you, dear reader, to help all of us remember which artworks struck us this past year, and which pieces we just used as platforms for #artselfies.
#1 – Guy Ben-Ner’s Soundtrack at Aspect Ratio Gallery
Aspect Ratio Gallery (119 N. Peoria St, #3D, Chicago)
March 15–April 26, 2013
Guy Ben-Ner is a family guy in the most artistic sense of the phrase. In his video works, he regularly explores interpersonal relationships in today’s modern world, where consumerism rules and our lives sometimes seem like they’re filmic productions of themselves. That’s exactly what his 11-minute video “Soundtrack” (2013) deals with. Here, the artist plays with the idea of heightening everyday moments through the use of an appropriated soundtrack from Steven Spielberg’s 2005 film War of the Worlds. The domestic becomes catastrophic in scenes surreal and bizarre as the drama of the world is projected onto the family.
#2 — Paul D’Amato’s We Shall at DePaul Art Museum
DePaul Art Museum (835 W Fullerton Ave, Chicago)
September 12–November 24, 2013
Photographer Paul D’Amato’s eight-years-and-running series HereStillNow considers the lives of Chicagoans on the city’s West Side. Documenting a variety of subjects and places, from a young man spinning on turn tables on his back porch to women wearing sharp red dresses outside church, D’Amato shows ordinary people living their lives. His photographs remind us of the deep underlying class issues that exist in Chicago today. We shall live our urban lives; we shall.
#3 — Jeroen Nelemans’s Higher Definition at Terrain
Terrain Exhibitions (704 Highland Ave, Oak Park, Illinois)
April 27–May 22, 2013
Nowadays it’s nearly impossible to drive somewhere without either a robotic Siri or voice-activated navigator directing us to our destination. For this site-specific installation Higher Definition at Terrain, Jeroen Nelemans took a hyperconceptual approach to Google StreetView and Google Earth, using them in three different ways: A sheet of glass positioned in the front yard of the home-turned-gallery literally framed the structure through a “screen,” which turned the digital ideal into an analogue reality. Elsewhere on the lawn, scannable QR codes sent participants to a YouTube video of a spliced Google Earth video of Terrain’s location on the map. Inside, the same YouTube video played on a TV positioned above the fireplace. Where are you now? Situated inside a home captured by Google, which aims to always make sure you are somewhere no matter where you happen to be physically.
#4 — Amanda Ross-Ho’s Cradle of Filth at Shane Campbell Gallery
Shane Campbell Gallery (673 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago)
May 4–August 3, 2013
From the teen-girl Tumblr aesthetic* to the world of selfle culture, 2013 felt like the year of the teen-girl — an idea that also came through in Amanda Ross-Ho’s exhibition Cradle of Filth. The idea for Ross-Ho’s solo show began when she discovered the backpack of, presumably, a teenage girl, scrawled over with markings like the phrase “cradle of filth,” black stars, bleeding hearts that appear almost embroidered, and fragments of song lyrics. After rescuing the backpack from a dumpster, Ross-Ho made a sculpture of it that is 400% of the original size. Hanging on a wall in Shane Campbell Gallery, it was both a reminder of youth and a conceptual work of art. Ross-Ho reimagined the emotionally charged object, forcing us to consider adolescence as nothing more than a social construct.
#5 — Meow Wolf’s Nucleotide at Thomas Robertello Gallery
Thomas Robertello Gallery (217 N Morgan St, Chicago)
September 6 – December 14, 2013
Santa Fe–based collective Meow Wolf did the unthinkable — in creating Nucleotide, they brought the New Mexico woo-woo shit to the Midwest, creating an immersive site-specific installation filled with moments psychedelic, organic, surreal, and as manufactured as LSD. The dazed ‘n’ confused viewer wandered into an imagined cave landscape that brought together the glow of Christmas lights and Lite-Brite dots, scraps of hanging lace, a plastic black beetle housed in a dome, and miniature plant environments carved into fake walls. A pleasant break from the urban grit outdoors, Meow Wolf let visitors camp out in a magical universe — if only for a little while.