CHICAGO — Greetings, Margot Bergman’s fourth solo exhibition at Corbett vs. Dempsey, feels like a gesture to the gesture in its titular painting. “Greetings” (2013–14) hangs near the front of the exhibition, the only painting on the left wall of the gallery, featuring a sunglasses-wearing woman extending one hand in a friendly wave. Her greeting lives completely in that open hand, her gaze masked by the dark glasses on her face. The lonely piece appears small on its large expanse of brick wall. It gestures across the room to a row of malformed women with mangled expressions and sullen eyes, offering them an open invitation to surface, to put themselves on display.
In her past solo shows, Bergman has collaborated with strangers, painting on top of appropriated canvases from thrift stores and flea markets, mixing the expressions of the new with the static faces of the found. This latest exhibition showcases Bergman’s collaborations with herself: her own canvases — seemingly inspired by artists from Willem de Kooning to Nicole Eisenman — are layered with peeping eyes, balding scalps, and partially hidden noses. The powerful paintings appear as if they’ve been revisited several times, and Bergman’s style pulsates from each addition. The works push the viewer away from their scribbled messes while also seducing her to come closer, to understand why they exude a confidence as wholes that the individual components lack.
“Bernice” (2014), one of the center portraits on the gallery’s main wall, is a magnet within the exhibition. A realistic eye can be seen peeking out from beneath its messy peach-flesh depths. Another eye is seen to the left, thinly covered by pinkish paint. With taut skin, the figure looks as if she’s been wrapped in a fleshy bandage, attempting to recover from a plastic surgery botched by Bergman.
“Hair Clip” (2014) yells from the back corner of the space with anger and confusion. Heavily applied makeup and smudged lips suggest a compensating performance: overstated feminine elements attempt to counteract the wide, masculine jaw and bulbous nose. The flowered hair accessory painted on the awkwardly short hair adds another layer of confusion: Is she a tween who messed up a haircut? A man in drag attempting to pull off an ill-fitting wig? “Le Salon” (2014) expresses a similar gendered imbalance, with quieter impact. The face looks like a take on Frankenstein’s monster, pieced and patched together from ill-fitting parts. “Le Salon” is also the only work that deviates from acrylic on linen, using chalk as the disparate element smudged beneath the right eye and outlining the same temple. The figure’s full lips counterbalance her grotesque hair, with shy eyes as a soft compromise between the two.
Each of Bergman’s portraits here is an exercise in searching for emotion, wading patiently beneath the slashed marks of the surface. They force us to think about the undecided parts of ourselves, elements not quite prepared for outer consumption or judgement, by displaying them directly on the surface.
Several floral paintings are also included in the show, gestural flowers placed against wallpapered backgrounds. These images lack the energy found in the beautifully confusing portraits. Still, there are resonances: the thin leaf of the flower in “Mars Black” (2012) imitates the acknowledging hand of “Greetings,” while the eye-like circle at its center returns a stare that the woman in “Greetings” can’t deliver.
Margot Bergman: Greetings continues at Corbett vs. Dempsey (1120 North Ashland Avenue, Chicago) through July 19.