Reading into Subtext: Between the lines at Logsdon 1909

untitled (Philip High)

On Friday, April 9, the sound of leather soles hitting the pavement and the booming DJ set at the Chicago Art Department created the pleasurable din that fills Halsted Street during Pilsen’s Second Fridays gallery crawl. While patrons sipped white wine out of plastic cups in some of the neighborhood’s trendier art spaces, a gallery a little further down the block offered viewers a more intimate aesthetic experience. The Logsdon 1909 Gallery’s current exhibition, “Subtext,” features intriguing mixed-media pieces by Lucinda Alston Chapman and Philip High. In addition to the art itself, the nature of the gallery plays a crucial role in shaping and enhancing the viewing experience. Logsdon 1909 doubles as an exhibition space and a personal residence: a real-world example of what it means to live and breathe art.

Lucinda Alston Chapman’s work is mostly three-dimensional and always many-faceted; her intricate sculptures display both technical brilliance and an intellectual bent. She seems to occupy an artistic niche that owes as much to avant-garde architecture as it does to traditional methods of carpentry. Much of her work is composed of wooden rings implanted into and extending out from books that have been cut diagonally and repurposed. A particularly striking example of these formal elements is “MANsion,” an unidentified tome that has been dissected and adorned with playing cards and gold foil. The underlying motif of the piece (its “subtext,” if you will) is the degradation of conventional measures of value. The destroyed book seems to be an indictment on the canonical nature of intellectualism, while the cards and gold foil are overt allusions to luxury, leisure and the power of chance. The title suggests a feminist outlook, although that particular element does not overwhelm the piece as an aesthetic whole. This is art, not politics.

Chapman’s work is not limited to sculpture. “Subtext” features some of her acrylic paintings, which are reminiscent of both impressionist landscapes and pixelated computer art. In “Summer Rain,” her tightly packed clusters of color form a pleasing gradient that has a distinctly calming effect. Indeed, Chapman’s paintings exist in a universe apart from the compositional bustle of her three-dimensional pieces. In her paintings, Chapman favors serenity over technical complexity.

Philip High’s work, although radically different from Chapman’s contributions to the show, provides an interesting complement. High seems to reject the sharp edges and clean lines that make Chapman’s sculpture so distinctive. Instead, his layered, multimedia canvases embrace a roughness of composition and content that makes “Subtext” such an interesting exhibition. For example, his “Structure 2071-E8B632X5A” bristles with a grimy urbanity that is fundamentally different from the other pieces in the show. This particular tableau features coarsely rendered geometrical objects and graffiti-like scrawling overlaid on multiple layers of paste and paper. Linear figures add a human element to what is otherwise an abstract and impersonal work. The sense of alienation evoked by High’s canvases, when presented alongside Chapman’s warmer works, paints a stark and disturbing image of 21st century life.

Logsdon 1909’s intimate exhibition space is essential to the overall success of “Subtext”; gallery-goers were intrigued by the opportunity to explore a gallery that doubles as living quarters. Ultimately, however, the quaint nature of the exhibition space was a secondary aspect of the whole viewing experience. Whether the patrons were appreciating the complexities of one of Chapman’s glorious constructions or getting lost in the thick layers of Philip High’s enigmatic collages, it was clear that Friday’s opening was all about the art.
Logsdon 1909, 1909 S. Halsted St. Through May 8. Saturday noon-5pm, or by appointment. (312)666-8966. logsdon1909.com