THE INDEPENDENT VOICE OF THE VISUAL ARTS
On an uncommonly warm evening in September, a crowd gathered at the Carroll Avenue outpost of the Richard Gray Gallery for an opening that marked the unofficial start of the Chicago art season. David Hockney arrived fashionably late to his most recent show, dressed in his usual dapper uniform of checked jacket, colorful tie, driver’s cap and ever-present cigarette.
Inside, he made his way through the throng of people slowly, amiably stopping to pose for pictures and allow a few words from each of the admirers who crowded around him as he headed for the bar.
The chatter amongst some gallery-goers that evening was full of eager speculation regarding the news that Hockney’s Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) is set to become the most expensive work by a living artist ever sold at auction when it reaches the block at Christie’s in November. Yet work of a wholly different nature filled the walls around them.
“Time and More, Space and More...” presents, simultaneously, the artist’s recent video works and photographic drawings. The former works take the lead, as one is confronted upon entry to the main gallery with four nine-channel monitors that surround the viewer. They offer up the same view down a bucolic stretch of road in Yorkshire, England, each depicting a different season.
The power of The Four Seasons, Woldgate Woods, 2010-2011, lies in its concurrent manipulation of time and perspective, providing viewers as it does with the challenge of keeping up with what amounts to be the passing of a representational year, an impossible task as the seasons carry on around the body simultaneously. To carefully take it in, one must literally turn one’s back to another screen.
The use of repetition of location and space within this work pose an equal challenge, at once compelling the viewer to focus on details and ground themselves in a quickly developed familiarity while maintaining a pace that renders the task nearly impossible.
In the primary gallery space hang Hockney’s recent large-scale photographic drawings. True to form for the artist, each of these monumental multi-sheet works on paper, mounted on Dibond, has the lower corners blunted. There is a current of uncanniness that runs through the series, which depicts Hockney’s California studio.
David Hockney, Seven Trollies, Six and a Half Stools, Six Portraits, Eleven Paintings, and Two Curtains 2018. Photographic drawing printed on 7 sheets of paper (109 1/2 x 42 3/4" each), mounted on 7 sheets of Dibond. Edition of 12 109 1/2 x 299 1/4" overall. © David Hockney. Photo by Richard Schmidt.
The curious, almost voyeuristic, perspective they inhabit is compounded by their more surreal touches and meticulously-rendered details, such as the electrical outlets of Pictures in an Exhibition that are directly at odds with the obviously manipulated figures that occupy the image’s center. These works hover in the vague space between rendered depiction and reality; they compel the viewer to ground themselves in the familiarity of space, only to have it elude them through the inclusion of unfathomable elements, like the numerals that rest easily on the utility carts of Focus Moving and their empty counterparts in Seven Trollies, Six and a Half Stools, Six Portraits, Eleven Paintings, and Two Curtains.
The treatment of figures within these works bears an opaqueness typical of Hockney; the static postures and neutral expressions call to mind the subjects of his early paintings. Indeed, the works on view in “Time and More, Space and More…” could only be those of a prominent, late-career artist. To indulge in the luxury of disorientation is a privilege earned only through a life-long practice, as are the patient meditations on the passage of time and the simultaneously introspective and retrospective use of the artist’s own studio as subject.
David Hockney, Inside It Opens Up As Well, 2018. Photographic drawing printed on 7 sheets of paper (109 1/2 x 42 3/4” each), mounted on 7 sheets of Dibond, Edition of 12, 109 1/2 x 299 1/4” overall. © David Hockney. Photo by Richard Schmidt.
This is underscored further by the works that bookend the exhibition. Upon entry to the building itself—a 5,000 square foot, bowstring-trussed industrial structure, renovated by Wheeler Kearns Architects in 2017 and transformed into an ancillary space known as the Gray Warehouse (rumored to soon be the exclusive home of the gallery in Chicago)—one is greeted with Hockney’s iPad-rendered self-portraits, numbered I-IV, before having the chance to enter the gallery space proper. As one leaves the gallery on the opposite end of the space, they encounter the final photographic drawing, In the Studio, December, 2017. It is considerably smaller than its counterparts in the exhibition, measuring a mere 32”x 90” to the others’ monumental scale at an average of 8’x24’. It hangs by itself on the northern wall. This is the only other work on view in the exhibition that contains an image of Hockney.
Here, the artist stands static, his arms slack at his sides. Lacking the dynamics of expression that overwhelm the self-portraits at the entrance, he is surrounded by more than a dozen works in his studio with a distant look fixed on his face. A fitting image on which to end the show.
David Hockney, Focus Moving, 2018. Photographic drawing printed on 2 sheets of paper (67 x 42 7/8" each), mounted on 2 sheets of Dibond.
Edition of 25, 67 x 85 3/4" overall (hexagonal) © David Hockney. Photo by Richard Schmidt.
“Time and More, Space and More...” offers gallery-goers the opportunity to reflect not just on Hockney’s major contributions to the contemporary cultural canon, but on the subtleties of his skillful manipulation of perspective and, indeed, viewership in these twilight years of his career.
Gray Warehouse is located at 2044 West Carroll Avenue. The current Hockney exhibit runs through November 21, 2018. The gallery is open from Wednesday to Saturday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Bianca Bova is a Chicago-based curator and art critic. She has worked with national and international contemporary art organizations including Sitelab, Gunder Exhibitions, and EXPO Chicago.
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