Lives and Works in Berlin

Lives and Works in Berlin | Chicago’s Big Youth in Berlin


"Big Youth II," installation view, Jonathan Gardner + Betsy Odom, courtesy Bourourina Gallery.

For the past few weeks, Berlin has been a whirring art world engine as Gallery Weekend and the Berlin Biennale, usually held separately, finally coincided like two awkward studio-mates reluctantly sharing a bathroom.  This collision in turn created a week-long art gauntlet for those people alternately hungry for pretty and political things.  The Biennale itself, a meandering but well-intentioned glimpse into art-as-social-activism and social-activism-as-art is hilariously contrasted by the gestures towards marketability made by Berlin galleries during their annual art-selling bender.

“Big Youth II” at Bourouina Gallery is an incredibly handsome and salable show, and the work included exudes a homespun hand-verkehr nostalgia when contrasted with the cool photography of its Mitte neighbors Carlier & Gebauer (Paul Graham).  “Big Youth” (semicolon: the transcontinental artsplosion blown all the way from the Windy City!) aims to export Chicago’s emerging (?) artists to an international audience.

*I don’t live in Chicago (unlike many Art21 readers) and so I’ll recuse myself from evaluating the “emerging” category in this case.

There seems to be a diluted strain of Chicago Imagism among the artists (a relationship noted in the press release) including an interest in quirky figuration, absurd bodily structures and brightly colored/patterned backgrounds.  Todd Chilton shows tiny optical paintings built using a thick impasto and cleverly situated near the entrance.  Nearby, Jonathan Gardner’s well-rendered trompe l’oeil paintings of cartoon drawings seem like a 2nd or 3rd generation Jim Nutt; reserved and removed portrayals of his wacky predecessor.

Lilli Carré, (whose comics are really great), exhibits two short animated films.  Both are somewhat subdued explorations of characters in space, and recall the sweet innocence and jerky movements of pre-WWII animation.  “What Hits the Moon,” about a woman’s conspiratorial understanding with the moon, is plaintively funny and deceptively naiive.

"Big Youth II" installation view, Lilli Carré, courtesy Bourourina Gallery.

In the back room, Rachel Niffenegger displays a suite of tie-dyed memento moris that straddle the line between psychedelic and skeletal, revealing a larger preoccupation in “Big Youth,” with fecundity and the macabre.  On the back wall Isak Applin exhibits sweet Fauvist-ish interiors with a slightly sinister undertone despite a painterly lightness.  Next to them, Alex Chitty pairs mysterious large-scale photographs with an odd wooden sculpture in patterned casing.

Alex Chitty, "Clutch," 2011, courtesy of the artist.

The sculpture, called “Clutch,” is compelling in it’s textural “otherness.”  It has a cumbersome quality not unlike Betsy Odom’s sculptures, which are equally anthropomorphic and overtly sexual.  Odom garnishes her pieces with tube socks, hair, and a cast shuttlecock, among other things.  Like much of the work in “Big Youth II,” Odom’s sculptures have a certain alluring or seductive quality.  Yes Chicago, you’re a handsome one.