Eyes bigger than your gallery

"Of Boldness and Subtlety" at Hap Gallery

I have seen some wonderful art at Hap Gallery, and have come close to writing a review of any number of exhibits, but have always resisted. Even now, as I am move forward with this essay, it is with some reservation, for while more often than not there is work worth serious consideration in any given Hap exhibit, there can be an overall unevenness to the shows that pulls me up short. So it is with the current exhibit, “Of Boldness and Subtlety,” but I’ve stayed quiet long enough.

Hap is a small space in the Pearl (916 NW Flanders), and as such, must take care to edit installations so that the individual pieces can either breathe, or, if in close proximity to each other, create a seamless dialogue. Granted, some curatorial decisions, whether salon-like or out of contrariness, will disregard such a strategy, which is all well and good in this multifarious world in which we find ourselves. Even so, one should expect some curatorial consideration and resolve to be evident.

This is the second exhibit at Hap curated by gallery artist Gabrielle Garland. Her first effort brought Scott Wolniak and Jeremy Coleman Smith to town this last September. The strength of that show rested not only with the work on display but also with the artists’ ability to collaborate in the space. However, even then the work came close to overwhelming the narrow gallery. With “Of Boldness and Subtlety,” the space is not the issue, for there was no crowding. Still, there was definitely a problem with too much work—or maybe just too many artists (there are six)—in the show.

Stacie Johnson, Female and Male (2014)/Hap Gallery

Stacie Johnson, Female and Male (2014)/Hap Gallery

Not that the exhibit fails entirely. No, Alice Tippit’s and Stacie Johnson’s smaller paintings along the east wall all have a strong graphic sensibility that work well together. Tippit’s work echoes design elements from early and mid-twentieth century, and I thought I detected a nod to Richard Tuttle in at least one piece by Johnson. And Johnson’s work may be the most rewarding of all the pieces in the show: each piece demonstrates a discernable conversation the painter is having via her medium. At any rate, the artists complement each other quite nicely.

Michael Hunter’s three 40” x 30” crayon-on-canvas pieces hung on the opposite, west wall stand in stark contrast. An arrangement of what looks to be tropical vegetation is nearly identical from panel to panel, with the only difference being the manner each is colored in. Looking somewhat like fabric for cabana lounges, Hunter’s art is a sure crowd-pleaser. I was told these are scaled-down versions of the works originally intended for the show, and I wonder if larger pieces would have more effectively demonstrated an insider’s exercise in kitch-for-the-sake-of-irony. Perhaps then that comedic sense might have related back to a couple of Tippit’s pieces. Maybe.

Two other artists have work in the front part of the gallery as well. Jason Benson’s small, untitled, tubular sculpture is mounted to the front side of the east wall. In addition, You Ni Chae’s “A Garden,” a painting done mostly in blues, was situated on the back wall closest to Hunter’s pieces. Benson’s sculpture seemed forlorn and isolated, almost an afterthought, which was suitable to the message contained within.

You Ni Chae, The Blue Cat (2014)/Hap Gallery

You Ni Chae, The Blue Cat (2014)/Hap Gallery

Chae’s single painting is a substantial departure from the other 2D work in the room, and inasmuch, I began to think that perhaps this show was not supposed to have an overriding theme at all. As it turns out, Chae had three more pieces in the back room, all of which had stronger linear components that under the right circumstances might play well with Tipit and Johnson, so I backed off a bit from my idea of the thematic free-for-all. Plus, Joel Dean’s small mechanical sculpture “Earthling (empty stomach challenge),” across from those paintings and placed in vitrine, served to pull Benson’s piece back into the exhibit.

Still, I so wanted something more substantial to unite this exhibit. I returned to the title, “Of Boldness and Subtlety.” A case for such a theme could be made, especially by juxtaposing Stacie Johnson’s hard-edged geometrics (and painterly touchpoints within) with Chae’s more amorphous painting style. Ask Tippit’s work to act as a go-between and you have a solid exhibit. Yet, as the group stood, I remained unconvinced.

Alice Tippit, Correction (2013)/Hap Gallery

Alice Tippit, Correction (2013)/Hap Gallery

Or, as is sometimes the case, I missed some key feature that clearly pulls the show together. I turned to the support materials for answers. Garland’s Curator’s Statement seemed to concentrate on the artists’ use of “big, splashy color” and the “‘blocky’ proportion of the elements,” which didn’t help, for those tendencies were not universal. (Never mind the sculptors or their sculpture are not mentioned at all in the statement.)

In the gallery’s PR, we find out that all of the artists, the curator included, graduated from art schools in Chicago in the last ten years. Here may lie the connective tissue, for while all have since moved on, I cannot rid myself of the thought that the real purpose of this show is to highlight a few of Garland’s favorite artists—perhaps her friends—and not much else.

Hap Gallery is a mere 14 months old, so they may be forgiven missteps in their early stride, especially since I am grateful for the surprises they manage to bring to an often staid Pearl District. The same may be said for this curator early in her endeavors. Several of the artists chosen for this exhibit show merit. What gets her into trouble may be overreach (for whatever reason), a common pitfall one may not recognize as an issue until after commitments have been made.

Given that both the gallery and curator are relatively new at the game, I am not surprised at this outcome. And I’ve seen worse by veterans. There’s more good than so-so in this show, so let’s call it growing pains and move on to better days.


Read more by Patrick Collier

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