There’s a trend practiced by some of Chicago’s established and regarded sculptors that, while not new, resurges every few years like a scheduled comet passing overhead, illuminating the heaps of unsorted recyclables that calls itself “contemporary sculpture,” for a brief flashing reminder that we can trust our eyes, not just our minds. In short, formalist tendencies persist. City of grime and grit and gut this is not. This city was built on beauty, so it’s no surprise that spirituality or mysticism or whatever unnamable eternal thing creeps in from time to time.
Christine Tarkowski (born 1967), Susan Giles (born 1967), and Richard Rezac (born 1952) all stoke a formalist eroticism, as their sculptures pierce right through to the core of perceptual understanding, without having to busy the mind. There’s an ease of access partly provided by familiar materials—cherry wood, polished and rustic cast metals, cardboard and tape—but each also favors architectonic forms: Giles plays with minarets and crenellations, Tarkowski breaks and re-circuits parking-garage ramps and the geodesic dome, and Rezac’s sculptures evoke knobs, nooks and floorboards. There’s a logic to each construction but the direct response is pleasure.
There’s nothing wrong with pleasure. Visual pleasure isn’t holding anybody back from the political and socially dynamic “strategies” and “tactics” ruling today’s sculpture. In fact, Tarkowski might claim a critique of organized religion and Giles the built environment, but Rezac seems totally satisfied with surfaces alone. These philosophies or whatever are extra credit. I’m satisfied solely with surfaces sometimes, too. Take John McCracken, whose wall-leaning sculpture planks and minimalist ziggurats were actually devices, the artist later confessed, made to communicate with aliens, in preparation for the landing. Whatever. You can’t key in to this extra-dimension, which must lay dormant, I guess, until the aliens connect. So, too, do Tarkowski, Rezac and Giles’ objects seem animated by a hiding spirit, puffed into existence, clamped, screwed and glued.
Rezac, Giles and Tarkowski are not new to the scene, each having been schooled here or teaching here, or both, with numerous solo exhibitions at Chicago-area galleries and institutions. But they are not desert islanders. Tarkowski looks to the Pantheon by way of Sheboygan, Rezac traveled to Rome to observe Baroque architecture for one year, and Giles hits on something timeless. What’s old is new again, ancient and eternal. They haven’t lost touch, but beg for it.
Published in Newcity (February 8, 2010)