Los Angeles Times

As Surrealism came to America

Time was when everybody interested in modern and contemporary art knew Surrealism was the movement that had major impact on painting and sculpture in Chicago. But the first manifesto of Surrealism appeared nearly 80 years ago, and it has been more than 30 years since local art was dominated by the Surrealist impulse; so the time is probably right for an exhibition to introduce a new generation to the influence.

The Thomas McCormick Gallery has mounted an ambitious show of some 70 pieces to indicate how Surrealism was practiced across America. It is more instructive than again celebrating the towering figures of European Surrealism. With a few exceptions — William Baziotes, Joseph Cornell, Arshille Gorky, John Graham, Matta — the artists will be little-known to viewers.

McCormick represents American Surrealism in all its guises, following strands into the work of such Chicago artists as Ellen Lanyon, June Leaf and Seymour Rosofsky. This pattern is not as clear as it sounds; study materials prepared by the gallery help considerably.

Those in search of masterpieces should be forewarned: Here are paintings, drawings, collages, prints, photographs and sculpture mainly by followers, not initiators. Still, many are fascinating and, without question, convey the ethos of a movement that today is more popular than any other from the 20th Century.

At McCormick, 835 W. Washington Blvd., 312-266-6800, through April 28.

Figures began appearing in Michiko Itatani's abstract paintings in 1984, and since then they always have been present — until now. So the artist's recent paintings at the Fassbender Gallery are something of a return to the kind of work she did almost 20 years ago, though with significant modifications and extensions.

Itatani's interest in representational art still is present, in the form of occasional landscape elements and illusionistic space. These passages, set among flat abstract patterns and Itatani's characteristic overlapping grids, have echoes of Hudson River School painting and the mysticism of Lithuanian modernist Mikalojus Ciurlionis.

Such sources of inspiration may suggest the kind of synthesis Itatani has attempted, for each of the 11 paintings brings together outer and inner landscapes within a framework of cool abstraction, giving overall the sense of a theme with variations. The look of the work is very spare, as much because of a limited range of color as by Itatani's use of very few forms. But the artist also consistently interrupts her placid surfaces by appending small canvases that fracture motifs or introduce new patterns.

How one responds to this meticulous work will in large measure depend on whether "cosmic" images that resemble outer space still can strike a viewer with the imaginative force they had a century ago.

At Fassbender, 835 W. Washington St., 312-266-4302, through April 28.

The power of spectacle is so seductive to contemporary artists that even an artist as cerebral as Jean-Marc Bustamante has surrendered a bit to it. The photographic prints that made up his exhibition at the Renaissance Society several years ago now have become huge — as is the fashion — and address viewers quite differently from orthodox photographs.

Although their format is not as pronouncedly horizontal as a movie screen in a theater, the spectacle of movies still lies behind them, though Bustamante's methods are typically slippery and restrained.

The nine images are as unsensational as can be. All are landscapes in which picturesque elements such as mountains and water are gently dominated by the commonplace: a construction site, cemetery, backyard.

Color here has the same deadpan quality as the images, and neither gives easy gratification.

It has become customary to discuss such work in abstract theoretical terms that complicate rather than clarify.

However, this time that language can be avoided simply by glancing at the catalog for the show when it was in Lucerne, Switzerland. There one finds a narrative that loosely links the pictures. It's partly an essay, partly a fantasy, but mostly a text that suggests a story treatment for a film, fitfully bringing to the surface the sense of surrendering to spectacle that's submerged in the pictures.

At Young, 933 W. Washington Blvd., 312-455-0100, through April 28.

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