Croteau, "Endless Columns"

Mary Ellen Croteau, “Endless Columns” (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic unless otherwise noted)

CHICAGO — It’s become increasingly normal to see art shows in unusual locations, but recently I found one in a place that was a first for me: a Chicago alderman’s office. The politician is Ameya Pawar, alderman for the 47th ward on Chicago’s north side, and for the past couple of years he has opened the office walls to art created by artists from the ward (or who have a strong connection to the ward).

“As far as I know, Ameya was the first Chicago alderman to initiate this,” artist Patricia Larkin Green, who heads the selection committee for the Open Wall art program, told Hyperallergic. “We do about six shows a year, and we’ve had a very positive response from the people who visit. It’s been such a success that other alderman have expressed interest in doing something similar in their wards.”

Alan Emerson Hicks with “Ice”

The current exhibit consists of art made from recycled materials. What I saw was a mix of work by trained and untrained artists, resulting in variation in the quality with regards to intention and execution. But before I come off sounding patronizing (maybe it’s too late), there were works that caught my eye both by artists I’m familiar with and some that I’m not — and I didn’t ask if they fell into the trained or untrained category.

“Ice,” by Alan Emerson Hicks, is a rotating white diamond created from coat hangers fused together with cable ties and construction flagging. Suspended from the ceiling, it had an appealing minty-fresh whiteness to it.

There were brightly colored columns of recycled plastic bottle caps by Mary Ellen Croteau, who calls her pieces “upscaled corporate litter.” Croteau has been making a name for herself recently with these eye-catching pieces that combine a Pop art palette with references to the columnar sculpture of Brancusi.

The most impressive work was actually featured in an artist’s talk by Tatjana Jovancevic, who presented a set of photos of her Andy Goldsworthy–like arrangements of twigs, leaves, etc., that she makes in the parks and on the ponds near to her Chicago home. They were very reminiscent of Goldsworthy, in fact, but there’s nothing wrong with that. Jovancevic has a delicate awareness of the fragile materials, together with an exquisite sense of abstract design. She calls them Random Acts of Doodleness, and perhaps the modest title is an unconscious strategy designed to claim a small space for her visual songs, away from the bigger noises created by Handy Andy. Jovancevic’s work is well-done, and it would be good to see the whole series in a Chicago show some time.

Tatjana Jovancevic, “Synapse II” (courtesy the artist)

Opening night of Open Wall was well-attended, and it’s clear that the program connects art to the surrounding community. Patricia Larkin Green’s best moment from the past two years? “It’s hard to pick one. Maybe the time that we had an exhibition of art by high school kids. The place ended up looking like Pee Wee Herman’s Playhouse.”

Reciprocity: Artfully Aware continues at Open Wall (4243 North Lincoln Avenue, Chicago) through November 12.

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Philip A Hartigan

Philip Hartigan is a UK-born artist and writer who now lives, works and teaches in Chicago. He also writes occasionally for Time Out-Chicago. Personal narratives (his own, other peoples', and invented)...