Ten For Ten

Inconspicuously sandwiched between a nail salon and a dry cleaning plant, DOVA Temporary is a long, lean, spare space with nothing but a reception desk, white walls, and currently, a selection of ten years worth of work by University of Chicago MFA alumni. 2010: A Selection from a Decade of Painting at the Department of Visual Arts is the first exhibition of the small gallery’s fall season. Appropriately, there are ten pieces in all, although not all paintings come from different years. Aside from the University of Chicago affiliation, the only other common thread binding these works together is that they are all paintings.The collection is incredibly eclectic, working to, as the Department of Visual Arts puts it, “extend our understanding of the practice of painting: from inventive interpretations of the medium itself, to complex representation, from both the imagined and everyday life, to rich conceptual strategies.” In viewing these different pieces juxtaposed against each other, one sees that each artist has reinterpreted the medium to challenge the viewers’ assumptions of painting. Two pieces in particular, one by Valerie Snobeck and the other by Jenny Roberts, were striking for having been painted on what seemed to be transparency and vellum, respectively.

The collection is incredibly eclectic, working to, as the Department of Visual Arts puts it, “extend our understanding of the practice of painting: from inventive interpretations of the medium itself, to complex representation, from both the imagined and everyday life, to rich conceptual strategies.” In viewing these different pieces juxtaposed against each other, one sees that each artist has reinterpreted the medium to challenge the viewers’ assumptions of painting. Two pieces in particular, one by Valerie Snobeck and the other by Jenny Roberts, were striking for having been painted on what seemed to be transparency and vellum, respectively.

The paintings certainly illustrate the wide range of ideas that can be produced using only one medium. Several pieces could be classified as thoroughly abstract, while another called to mind the invocation of everyday life as art. Brian McNearney’s piece, Bog, was a gruesome and physically enormous portrait of the preserved human beings from the Iron Age found in peat bogs in Ireland, referencing P.V. Glob’s book, The Bog People. A similarly “realistic” technique in Dawn Brennan’s Oglagldon yields pink futuristic, chard-like protrusions set against a landscape of beautiful mountains. Benjamin King’s piece, on the other hand, sought to challenge the line between real landscape and pure abstraction.

The gallery attendants, themselves graduate students, were helpful in speculating with me about the details of these pieces. As I examined each piece, I particularly appreciated the discussions that followed. With modern art, one attendant explained, there is no structure, no “right” thing to look for. The hard thing here is to resist the art-class impulse to explain what you see or even fully understand it.

Unfortunately, DOVA didn’t provide information on the media used, and some of the pieces appeared without titles. I was handed the same press release that can be found on the website with a short blurb about the exhibition and the names of the artists with the instruction, “clockwise from left when entering gallery.” This was disappointing, as some pieces seem to be comprised of interesting materials and mixed media.

The exhibition was lovely and thought-provoking, but one attendant noted, “Only two or three people come into the gallery per shift… I wish we could keep the door open.” Hopefully, the gallery opening will bring more viewers; nonetheless the current exhibition is certainly worthwhile and deserves a visit.