Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Review: Molly Zuckerman-Hartung @ Julius Caesar

Molly Zuckerman-Hartung lifted a small format (APS-C) DSLR to her eye and slowly turned round her studio space; at fairly regular intervals she depressed the camera's shutter-release button. Then, without post-processing, Zuckerman-Hartung employed a consumer-grade lab to print her documentary photography. Finally, overlapping one of the little (A6) pictures upon another she assembled five different projections: working as a geographer to map the spatial distribution of phenomena within her environment.

Molly Zuckerman-Hartung @ Julius Caesar

"Scrying," meaning an effort to gain knowledge through object-assisted visualization, is the title she's chosen for her show. Here, in lieu of a crystal ball, Zuckerman-Hartung has found the glass of an optical viewfinder, and lens elements, through which to gaze. And, mounted upon the gallery walls, a record of her objective, albeit Cyclopean, "vision" is available for public consumption.

In contrast, a low platform in the center of the space contains a collection of what the artist refers to as "scries." Said objects are small-diameter metal and plastic lids, each containing a little nonobjective abstract painting. These peculiar products look like the work of Zuckerman-Hartung's hand; they offer no explanation for their being, other than their maker. Whatever it is that Zuckerman-Hartung, or any other observer, "sees" in the scries is subjective.

Molly Zuckerman-Hartung @ Julius Caesar

While linked by a circular framing device (lens/lid) and a rectangular presentation (print/platform) the whole is otherwise characterized by a rough juxtaposition of the literal to the fantastic. And, the strongest connection between (a) and (b) is cleverly conceptual: it's usually from brief glimpses only, each colored by our imperfections, that we're able to cobble together some framework of understanding...

Molly Zuckerman-Hartung
November 7 - 28, 2010
Julius Caesar Gallery
3311 W. Carroll
Chicago, IL

Molly Zuckerman-Hartung,

Jason Foumberg's November 2010 review in NewCity,

Alicia Eler's April 2008 review in Time Out Chicago,

MW Capacity's December 2010 blurb and comments,

- Paul Germanos

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Review: Peter Otto @ Devening Projects

Peter Otto's putrid palette befits his ghoulish subjects: he is a painter of the dead and the dying. Even so, "gore" per se isn't wholly descriptive Otto's preoccupation. In formal contrast to the documentation produced by photojournalists working in the theater of war, Otto consciously employs "painterly" abstraction. Through said means he's able to communicate in a nuanced manner, preventing both immediate fixation by horrific details and also too quick an interpretation thereof.

Artist Peter Otto @ Devening Projects

It's only slowly, while carefully examining the whole of Otto's most recent show, "The Lodger," that one is moved to consider what relationship might exist between a human skin stretched taut to form a lampshade and the fabric of a tent set in the desert. What does one membrane have to do with the other? Why establish such a parallel? Well, "cruelty and suffering," as enduring features of the human condition, might be one short answer. A better and longer exegesis would entail some discussion of the propensity of men to cause harm under cover of the name of that which they call "good."

Peter Otto @ Devening Projects

Moving masses of people to believe that they've freely chosen to participate in national and international conflict usually depends upon the promulgation of some ideology. Being non-corporeal, that ideology must (where visual artists eschew the use of text) symbolically "incarnate" prior to being available to spectators. Emptied of their humanity, Otto’s lifeless subjects are placeholders for the bad ideas which led to their demise.

Peter Otto @ Devening Projects

Metaphorically, "headhunting" is suggested by Otto to be the practice of savage warriors and effete politicians alike. For if some men do derive erotic gratification from the suffering of their fellows (we hope that) most do not. Most men need to be led to believe in the "rightness" of the cause for which they leave all that they love--only to fight and die in alien lands.

The (cyclical) tragedy depicted by Otto reaches back to the foundational works (if not also the symbols) of the Western canon, e.g., Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War. Seafaring, cosmopolitan, and commercial, Otto's own kinsman from the Netherlands might not be so distant from those Athenians of yore.

Artist Peter Otto @ Devening Projects

Whether particular knowledge of art and history is prerequisite to access the deeper levels of meaning available in Otto's paintings, the selection of works at Devening Projects is focused upon the time and space extending from Europe in the 1930s and 1940s to the present-day Middle East. Found most bluntly in the title, "Hand of History (Ode to John Heartfield)", is Otto's acknowledgment of Modern art historical precedent. Yet more incisive than said textual citation of Heartfield's name is the visual reference from the same piece, wherein Otto seems to wholly appropriate the central motif of Heartfield's 1934 montage, "O Christmas Tree in German Soil, How Crooked Are Your Branches."

Peter Otto @ Devening Projects

In Heartfield/Herzfeld's oeuvre, symbols with otherwise positive connotations were as a matter of routine co-opted and re-made into Nazi emblems; Heartfield's "Christmas Tree" suffered a deformation of its limbs, producing a swastika. Otto appears to lift that tree-become-swastika, that equilateral cross with arms bent at right angles, only to set it once again in a human arm bent at a right angle. As goes the tree, so goes the man.

Neo-expressionist brushwork and color keep these paintings distant from Herzfeld's photomontage. But, the paintings hang tightly together in what's a remarkably cohesive presentation. In toto, it looks like a display of mature style--something which is now found only rarely outside of local museums. And it's a pleasure to encounter that maturity not only on the canvas but also in the artist himself. What hope Otto has to offer is found only there, outside and above the spaces depicted, in his own real, creative act.  His verdict upon large-scale political solutions can be identified in the form of flags, not so much folded as deposited--coiled in snake or feces-like piles--upon the coffins of vainglorious corpses...

Peter Otto @ Devening Projects

Peter Otto
"The Lodger"
March 7 - April 9, 2010
Devening Projects + Editions,
3039 West Carroll Avenue
Chicago, IL 60612
(312) 420-4720

Support: Cultural Services in the USA / Consulate General of the Netherlands and Materiaalfonds, Amsterdam.

First draft, April 5, 2010, in Newcity,

Images posted, with comments, March 8, 2010, at Sharkforum,

Feed taken, March 8, 2010, ArtSlant New York,

Second draft, December 16, 2010, at this location.

See also: Peter Otto interviewed in Bad at Sports Episode 240,

- Paul Germanos