Pedro Cabrita Reis, “7 lines (Chicago)” (2015), aluminum, fluorescent lights on MDF, electrical cables, paving stones, variable dimensions (all images by the author for Hyperallergic and courtesy of the Arts Club of Chicago)

CHICAGO — In Pedro Cabrita Reis’s exhibition at the Arts Club of Chicago, A few lines, a façade inside and a possible staircase, the artist confuses the audience by blurring the lines between his work and the elements of the hosting building. Cabrita Reis creates his works to fit the space while generating new works from their detritus during installation. His painterly sculptures converse and joke with the building’s architecture, either literally or historically, creating lighthearted jabs at the original Mies van der Rohe design and subsequent redesign by John Vinci.

“Column (Chicago)” (2015), one of the spontaneous interventions during the course of the exhibit’s installation, is an aluminum beam wedged below the museum’s signature “floating” staircase as a gesture of support. Cabrita Reis’s work jokingly aids the famous Mies van der Rohe design and painted orange, the only color used in the exhibition, the piece acts as a signature, a painterly expression of “I was here.” A cheeky installation, the piece converses with the work in the Art Club’s West Gallery, “7 lines (Chicago)” (2015). This work contains seven large, yet elegant, sculptures produced from aluminum and fluorescent lights, which due to their size and weight must balance against the walls of the gallery. The sculptures rest upon small paving stones taken from the reconstruction of the building’s front parkway, another way in which Cabrita Reis has allowed the architecture to simultaneously support his work.

“7 lines (Chicago)” is the pinnacle work of the exhibition, its structural lines crisscrossing between the gallery’s interior and exterior. The bright fluorescent lines reflect on the tiles below one’s feet while also reflecting in the windows, extending the sculpture just outside of the building. Again, Cabrita Reis seems to be playfully mocking what is already there — forcing the audience to see his work each time one attempts to look back to the city just outside the walls.


Pedro Cabrita Reis, “Column (Chicago)” 2015, painted aluminum, wool, felt, synthetic textiles, 53 ½ x 4 x4 in

Like Cabrita Reis’s project ‘a remote whisper’ in the 2013 Venice Biennale, “7 lines (Chicago)” embodies the process of construction, leaving the methods in which the sculpture was erected exposed. Some pieces also reference other works in the exhibit, including “after a few of them” (2015), a simple work containing just a piece of wood, a stir stick, and white and orange paint. The orange is the same that was adhered to “Column,” hinting at the mark of the artist’s hand just to the left of the staircase. “One down (Chicago)” (2015) (yet another piece conceived of onsite) is composed entirely from the vertical, alloy steel covers of the fluorescent lights used throughout the exhibition. This spontaneous work serves to expose the wires within the fluorescent light pieces, allowing the audience to recognize that Cabrita Reis is not using the lights as a pure form, but simply as an everyday constructed material.

The work that references the space the most is “a facade inside” (2015), and like “7 lines (Chicago),” all elements are exposed — cords from the fluorescent bulbs fall to the floor and act as simple, drawn lines within the piece. The title of this piece references the way in which John Vinci redesigned the Arts Club of Chicago, formerly situated on Chicago’s Ontario and Rush. In the previous iteration, Mies van der Rohe had placed the building’s stairwell right at the entrance. Vinci’s redesign however, pushed the staircase behind another set of doors at the center of the building, creating a doubled facade. Cabrita Reis’s piece, installed just inside the entrance doors, triples and quadruples this reference of multiple facades, while also reflecting its light upon the main gallery’s floor.


Pedro Cabrita Reis, “a facade inside” (2015), aluminum, fluorescent lights on MDF, electrical cables, Plexiglass, 78 ¾ x 260 ¾ x 10 in

Cabrita Reis, as mentioned in the exhibition’s catalogue, can be seen as a “bricoleur,” combining structures from his own canon with elements within the building so that they don’t lay dormant. Through simple interventions Cabrita Reis is able to make the building speak, if only it agrees to hold some of his materials. This interchange is a successful, subtle, and often witty conversation, one that encourages the audience to further explore the artist’s work and its architectural setting.

Pedro Cabrita Reis continues at the Arts Club of Chicago (201 E Ontario St, Chicago) through May 9. 

Kate Sierzputowski is freelance writer based in Chicago. Fascinated by artists' studio processes, she founded the website INSIDE\WITHIN to physically explore the creative spaces of emerging and established...