Despite cooler days and slightly cooler nights as students return to school, plus a few changing leaves here and there, fall technically begins on September 22. The fall exhibition season is about the same. Fortunately, a number of city institutions are putting on some of their best summer shows through October, including ‘All That Glows in the Dark of Democracy’ at the Weinberg/Newton Gallery, ‘Slavs and Tatars: MERCZbau” at the Neubauer Collegium, and “Beyond the Frame” at the Museum of Contemporary Photography.
As the midterm elections approach in November, “All That Glows in the Dark Democracy” feels both timely and timeless. Let’s face it, the storm in America’s political climate no longer seems tied to a particular election season. It’s just. How are we dealing with this new normal?
The six artists in this collective exhibition have developed a variety of proactive approaches, ranging from the minimalist to the pragmatic and the fabulous. Predictably, much of it is participatory, as democracy itself is supposed to be.
The limitations of this principle are the driving force behind “The Official Unofficial Voting Station: Vote for All Who Legally Can’t” by Aram Han Sifuentes, referring to a huge segment of the population that includes young people, incarcerated people and formerly incarcerated, residents of US Territories and non-citizens like me. Sifuentes invites us to vote, an action that would be exciting on its own, but amplifies it to the disco level with black lights, neon signs and sparkles everywhere.
Ariana Jacob revisits her 2012 project, “The American Society for Personally Questioning Political Questions,” in which she bravely scoured the country for conservative, libertarian people willing to talk to a left-wing idealist — namely, her — from their political beliefs. Ten years later, she reconnects with those people and shares their follow-up conversations. Summaries can be found in a take-out newspaper, a website, and a series of lawn signs.
The exhibit also includes formal and material solutions to our political problems, such as Aay Preston-Myint’s proposal for a new American flag, a simple lavender rectangle that appears to be the prettiest blend of red, white, and blue; and the frame of Hannah Givler’s full-size house, its roof lined with thick felt baffles meant to dampen the endless noisy reverberation that makes it so hard to really hear each other.
Meanwhile, on view in the proper gallery of the Neubauer Collegium is a decidedly indecent sight: “MERCZbau” by the Berlin collective Slaves and Tatars. Part clothing store and showroom, part conceptual art exhibit, “MERCZbau” is radical historical revisionism. Eight mannequins display items that have been produced in unlimited editions and can be purchased at reception at prices generally comparable to the University brand, which they definitely resemble. The catch is that the university department in question no longer exists: the Department of Oriental Studies at what used to be called Jan Kazimierz University in Lwow. Or Lviv. Or Lvov.
The related political, linguistic, aesthetic, and ethnographic history is complicated, charged, and unexpectedly topical, involving ever-changing borders and populations between Russia, Ukraine, Poland, and Germany. Hence a logo sweatshirt that reads “Ivan Franko Lviv University” in Ukrainian above a mascot lion reading a book that reads “Allah loves you” in Russian.
There are also great local products, like an Oriental Institute baseball cap embroidered with “Szikago Jułesej”, the Polish transliteration of Chicago USA. The t-shirts emblazoned with the title of the exhibition – MERCZbau is a play on “merch” as much as a reference to the revolutionary “Merzbau” environment that Kurt Schwitters built in Hannover, Germany, in the 1990s. 1920s and 1930s – also feature a stylized doorway based on traditional Moroccan designs, a reminder that ideas of the Orient and the Orient have long meant Eastern Europe as much as the Middle East and the North Africa. For more, buy a fashionable pink and yellow scarf on which the extensive bibliography of the Slavs and Tatars was printed.
Collectibles exhibitions don’t often get the appreciation they deserve, especially those temporary hangs that strive to be more than just a showcase of the greatest hits. The Museum of Contemporary Photography “Beyond the Frame” is such a spectacle, and it has a very laudable goal of teaching visual literacy. Looking at images critically is a necessary skill in today’s world, and one of the most enjoyable ways to learn it is to practice with images from great photographers.
Abelardo Morell’s Roman Hotel Room with Camera Obscura and Berenice Abbott’s Fractured Light Capture through a Prism show how photography can be used to reveal phenomena – scientific, historical and otherwise – otherwise invisible to the eye. naked. Visually confusing compositions by Viviane Sassen and Paul Mpagi Sepuya, along with a series of scene deconstructions by Barbara Probst and a dust drawing by Vik Muniz, insist that what you see is not necessarily what is. , even when it involves no numerical manipulation. The portraits of Deana Lawson and Shizuka Yokomizo, in which the subjects are willing participants who make choices about how they are documented, wrestle with the power of photography to shape the perception of others. Constructed scenes – especially humorous ones, like Taiyo Onorato and Nico Krebs’ Grand Canyon view with fries ready to do a buffalo jump, or Peter Fischli and David’s incredibly balanced tower of bottles and balloon Weiss – disrupt ideas about the role of photography as a direct recorder of reality, while proving that it is a medium capable of revealing truths.
“All That Glows in the Dark About Democracy” runs through October 1 at the Weinberg/Newton Gallery, 688 N. Milwaukee Ave. ; free, reservations are encouraged. More information at 312-529-5090 and weinbergnewtongallery.com
“Slavs and Tatars: MERCZbau” runs through Oct. 7 at Neubauer Collegium, 5701 S. Woodlawn Ave.; on appointment. More information at 773-795-2329 and neubauercollegium.uchicago.edu
“Beyond the Frame” runs through Oct. 30 at the Museum of Contemporary Photography, 600 S. Michigan Ave.; reservations are encouraged. More information at 312-663-5554 and mocp.org