October 12, 2010

HPAC gets warm and fuzzy with nostalgic Ground Floor

Courtesy of Hyde Park Art Center

Many artists take creative cues from childhood. There’s something foreign—yet universally accessible—about it, especially when confronted with moments of transition into adulthood. Graduates of various Master of Fine Arts programs were selected to show their work at the Hyde Park Art Center in an exhibition entitled Ground Floor, and these emerging artists take time to reflect on where they’ve been and what they’ve experienced in order to take this large step in their lives.

Ground Floor’s pieces respond to and cooperate with one another in a fun and lively manner, and viewers can see trends emerge in this interaction between innovative talent coming out of Chicago’s graduate-level art programs. The three galleries on the first floor of the HPAC display work from Northwestern University, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Columbia College of Chicago, the University of Illinois (both Chicago and Urbana-Champaign), and our own University of Chicago.

Visitors first entering the exhibit are greeted by a mish-mash of mixed media and color: a rather large wood sculpture, paintings, photos, painted synthetic balls crawling up the wall, cloth newspapers fluttering down, and large flakes of bright- green grass on the floor. The space has an air of innocence and childlike spontaneity.

Each piece represents a moment, feeling, or trend that is identifiable with childhood and its nostalgia. Warped wood stretches off a worktable in “What’s Your Favorite Posish” by Emily Hermant. With a curly, wild shape that speaks of unlimited imaginative possibility, it is a wonderful piece to put at the beginning of the exhibition because of its exuberance. It brings to mind the exciting possibilities of the artists’ futures.

In the middle gallery of Ground Floor sits a projector beaming light on a ceiling fan mounted on the wall in front of it. The effect created by the artist, Joe Grimm, is mesmerizing: It takes you back to hours upon hours spent lying on your bed staring up at the ceiling fan.

Front pages of newspapers printed on fabric in Eliza Myrie’s “Rag” seem to flutter down from the ceiling as if someone threw a whole paper up in the air simply for the fun of watching it all fall down.

Jessie Mett’s painted figures—whimsical, imaginative combinations of animals and humans—gaze out of their frames with personality and emotion. The figures are playful, sublime subjects and display a beautiful use of color.

Later in the exhibit, Mett aminates these characters in a cartoon: an undeniably childlike medium, albeit with dialogue from an adult novel. Here, in lieu of pure innocence, Mett acknowledges adult themes.

“Untitled” by Samantha Jaffe is a swath of neon green grass that occupies part of the floor between Mett’s paintings and Hermant’s sculptures. Its placement almost seems to invite viewers to remember what it’s like to lie on the grass on warm summer days, removed from time. It extends upward with enlarged, malleable leaves of grass, winding and twisting toward the sky.

In the next room over, there are more sculptures and installations than paintings. Daniel Lavitt’s “Sorry I Missed You” is a kitchen counter on wheels. The interior of the cupboards resembles a dollhouse, as there are rooms upon rooms filled with miniatures. Out of the whole exhibit, this one most explicitly deals with childhood. It takes individual memories as its subject: lunch fixings left out on the kitchen counter, the television left on in the family room, or the family pet, who seemed more tiger to you than cat.

Ground Floor is a wonderful exhibition of artists from various Master of Fine Arts programs around Chicago. Not only are all of the pieces formally finished and indicative of rigorous training, but they also have personality and presence. Take a walk through the galleries and you will take a walk through your own memories of kickball, diary pages, television programs, lazy days, and endless imagination.