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Text and Image at the Chicago Cultural Center

At the Chicago Cultural Center, the show “Write Now: Artistsand Letterforms” (through April 2012) collects together work that deals with the printed word, in prints, type, signage, photography, collage, video, altered objects.  

The curators chose work that played both with and against the narrative implications of word-based work. Michael Dinges “Captain’s Chair” is a plain white plastic chair, engraved with thin-lined black drawings so that it looks like a piece of scrimshank carved by a nineteenth century sailor. Drawings give way to obscure phrases like “Proximity is no longer destiny” and “Made in France, Found in USA”, which don’t really make it any clearer who the Captain is, or what story, if any, his chair is telling us. 

That seems to be the artistic maneuver of many of the pieces in the show: including a word that leads you to want to “read” the piece, then taking you into a path where meaning breaks down and you’re left with a series of allusive fragments embedded in a visually arresting thing or image.  “Tableaux #4” by Mike Genovese, for example, is a ragged edge sheet of milled, plated, mirror-polished aluminum, covered with minute script that suggest the Rosetta Stone. 

When you peer up close, you see that the ‘writing’ is in fact tiny, meaningless marks (or a language that I don’t recognize). You come up close, but you end up seeing only your only reflection mirrored back at you. Elsewhere, there are Twombly-esque scribbles on canvas, gnomic Jenny Holzer-like neon messages, collage galore. 

The piece that worked best, to my mind, was Aron Gent’s “Interstate”, which consisted of a wall covered from floor to ceiling by hundreds of receipts from the Illinois tollway. 

With its witty combination of the classic Modernist grid and Warhol’s deadpan reinvestment of meaning in the banal through total repetition, Gent makes the dead language of the toll receipts speak in a mordant way about how words surround us to the point where we can become suffocated by them.

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