Cool and Collected: Summer at Kavi Gupta

Theaster Gates, Love Seat, cement, wood, fabric and glass, 2011, courtesy of Kavi Gupta Chicago | Berlin

Outmoded by street festivals, public music events, movies in the parks, and trips to the beach, Chicago’s summertime visual art scene is a desert of options. Dominated by loosely-themed group shows and limited gallery hours, art spaces choose to focus on scheduling studio visits and re-strategizing programming, all but closing their doors to the public.

Kavi Gupta is arguably no exception, but the lure of the gallery artists in their simply and straightforwardly-titled group show, Summer, up through September 3, was enough to draw my interest. Stepping out of the 104 degree, 100% humid exuberance of a Chicago August, into the stark, air-conditioned quiet of the gallery space, the works in this show reflect a shared, and for me mutual, sense of wildness contained.

Theaster Gates‘s sculptural pieces, uniform stacks of plates entombed in box-shaped cement, yearn to be unpacked, freed from their confinement. While Loveseat, the tattered, decripit, side-view of a sofa also encased in cement speaks more to times past, loss, decay, and eventual interment, but with a nod toward the savage process of decomposition controlled.

Antonia Gurkovska Untitled (AG12) oil, acrylic, enamel paint, staples on canvas, 2011, courtesy of Kavi Gupta Chicago | Berlin

A large painting, Untitled, by Antonia Gurkovska unexpectedly reveals itself. Upon approach, pastel pours give way to vague art historically familiar figures undulating on a background of meticulous rows of staples. Something about it is both primitive and prim in a juxtaposition that evokes a feeling of being let in on a secret–whispers devious yet restrained.

Curtis Mann, Night Sky, chemically altered chromogenic development print, 2011, courtesy of Kavi Gupta Chicago | Berlin

Curtis Mann reliably delivers with his Night Sky, a mural grid of chemically treated photos, as, moving up off the horizon line, stars become tiny explosions, become splatters of light. It is spectacular and disturbing in its dazzling and subsequent collapsing of the image.

Nathaniel Donnett, Treason in the Land of Melanosites, mixed media, 2011, courtesy of Kavi Gupta Chicago | Berlin

And finally, Nathaniel Donnett‘s collage-drawing, a boy, his head enigmatically composed of a black trash bag, carrying a giant, obviously burdensome chess piece. I don’t quite have it all figured out, but the title, Treason in the Land of Melanosites, makes a nod to skin pigmentation somehow gone awry, the child’s t-shirt references Tutenkhamen and (Michael?) Jackson, among others, with a prominent gold necklace stating “King” hanging around the chess piece’s de-facto neck. I struggle to put together pieces of a puzzle that isn’t yet complete, but one thing’s sure: wherever this kid is going with the strain of his gamepiece, it feels strangely hopeful. Donnett’s work will be featured in a solo show at Kavi Gupta in September, an opportunity to pick up more clues from this sphinx.

And with that, I head back out into the heat.