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Realism Gets Down in Chicago

By Ben Schuman Stoler in Arts & Entertainment on Feb 28, 2011 4:25PM

getreal1.jpg It’s a wonderful time in Chicago for non-abstract painting. Not that abstract painting is going anywhere, but a cluster of realist and figurative exhibitions, most obviously the one ongoing at Bridgeport’s 33 Collective Gallery, is making non-abstraction trendy again. What’s more, this youthful cluster is using mostly fresh approaches to realism and figuration, bringing what was once considered a stale and old-fashioned genre back into the marketable bosom of gallery relevance.

33’s Get Real; New Figurative Realism in Chicago only ossifies what the MCA’s Luc Tuymans show and other galleries tipped off: Chicago is, and has long been (via impressionism), a hotbed of realism. But what Get Real really pushes is that the realism being made today is directly related to our 21st century lifestyles - something that can't always be said about painting, that supposedly "dead" medium.

Against the backdrop of one of the AIC’s “most significant acquisitions in its history,” a definitely not realist Malevich that has no defined top or bottom, the paintings at Get Real feel fresh. They reference commercialism and suburban life. They reference photography and globalization.

Jennifer Cronin’s Untitled No. 3 (from the peculiar manifestation of paint in my everyday life) (visible above, on the right), is dated 2010 and, besides being huge, manages to balance an estranged, feminine, suburban narrative with some serious paint stroke technique. It’s a painting that tells a story, but the story isn’t necessarily moralistic or prescriptive. Honestly, it’s entertaining.

Likewise for Hector Hernandez, whose painting features a pink mohawked woman dripping eyeliner who has probably been watching TV for too long. The colorful shapes that make up her apartment only confirm the blinding presence of, as he titles the piece, Commercial Entrapment (also visible above, to the left).

It’s fun stuff. The show also features Ryan Shulz (he of Bravo fame), Zhou B Art Center resident Cesar Conde, and animal-obsessed Rory Coyne.

Here’s to more good realist and figurative goodness all around.

33 Collective at the Zhou B Art Center (1029 W. 35th St.) is open 10 a.m. - 2 p.m. Monday - Thursday, 10 a.m. - 7 p.m. Friday.