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Ground Floor at the Hyde Park Art Center

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By ALISON REILLY

Every two years, the Hyde Park Art Center surveys the pulse of contemporary art produced by students graduating from Chicago’s top MFA programs. The result is an expansive exhibition that finds its way into every inch of the first floor of the Art Center. The show features an impressive roster of 22 artists from Columbia College Chicago (CCC), Northwestern University (NU), the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC), the University of Chicago (UC), and the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). Here are a few highlights:

 

Angela Lopez (NU 2015)

Lining the wall of the main hallway on the first floor of the Hyde Park Art Center are 50 watercolor paintings by Angela Lopez, which form a singular work titled Dip Hands In. The conceit is simple: in each composition Lopez freeze-frames a pair of hands as they immerse into an unknown black liquid. But the quality of the line and the texture of paint create a powerful portrait of severed hands as they transform under the pressure of repeated stains.

 

Gulsah Mursaloglu (SAIC 2015)

In Gulsah Mursaloglu’s installation titled Ubiquitous Notes for a Fellow Traveler, three turquoise columns reach up to the ceiling of the main gallery. From a distance, the columns appear to be made of oversized turquoise beads fed onto a vertical rod. However, the installation lays bare the device: ice cube trays stacked underneath a wooden table were used as molds for casting toothpaste. The material resists any sense of permanence and will slowly turn from bright turquoise to a faded green throughout the course of the exhibition. Despite their fragility, the turquoise lines ground the installation, designating a space for Mursaloglu within the crowded gallery. Other parts of Mursaloglu’s installation highlight the slow passage of time. Barnacle-like structures made from precisely placed sunflower seeds emerge from the corners of the shelf to suggest the continuation of growth. The artist restricts herself to everyday materials: toothpaste, graphite, sunflower seeds, red yarn, and water placed in cups of varying heights. With her found media, Mursaloglu imbeds the process of creation within the presentation of the work.

 

Jeff Prokash (SAIC 2015)

Jeff Prokash, a meticulous and measured sculptor, presents an impressive installation of his ongoing series Objects for a Production in Eleven Acts. Various objects, including concrete slumps, foam rectangles and moving blankets, are carefully placed on five metal industrial shelves. In other iterations, Prokash has worked on a horizontal plane, laying the objects out for careful inspection. At the Hyde Park Art Center, the sculptor works vertically, forcing viewers to crane their heads to see what’s on the highest shelf. Prokash’s collection of found and made objects provokes questions of conservation methods, storage practices, and public accessibility while drawing upon the various histories of his sourced objects. For instance in Stasi Files, a series of photographs in an adjacent hallway, Prokash visited Berlin to document the archives of the former German Democratic Republic’s State Security Service.

 

Orkideh Torabi (SAIC 2016)

Hung in a large grid, Orkideh Torabi’s series of cartoonish characters offer slight smiles, over-the-shoulder eyebrow raises and muted stares. For Torabi, the portraits, many of which are set against tiled backdrops, aim to mock Iranian men who dominate her country’s patriarchy. But within this context, the anonymous set form a troupe of outlaws, a band of jokers unwittingly as ridiculous as a commedia dell’arte performance. Torabi’s staining technique and loose handling produces soft washes of color with a faded, yet striking color palette.

 

Yael Ben-Simon (SAIC 2015)

Yael Ben-Simon’s acrylic and oil paintings simultaneously conjure digital and physical worlds. In I can change, seemingly digital fabric fragments billow across the two-dimensional canvas. Beneath the bright pink and black patterns are yet more layers: an off white tattered sheet appears to stretch across a textured, multicolored background. The composition alludes to a world beyond the canvas; the painting itself seems to be a small part of a larger whole.  

 

Ground Floor: A Biennial Exhibition of New Art from Chicago is on display at the Hyde Park Art Center until November 6, 2016. For more information visit: hydeparkart.org

Top image: Gulsah Mursaloglu, Ubiquitous Notes for a Fellow Traveler, 2016, toothpaste, sunflower seeds, brass bells, and mixed media, dimensions variable. Photo: Jared Powell