I profiled Ali Bailey last year on the occasion of his solo debut in Chicago at Golden Gallery, an exhibition titled “You are Young” (the piece appeared in New City; you can read it here). Bailey is definitely what I’d consider to be ‘a comer.’ (Isn’t that a terrible word to apply to artists? It has such unfortunate equine associations). His works sold well at last year’s Next Fair at Art Chicago – no small feat in an extreme down market – and he’s already busted out with his second Chicago solo show, at Andrew Rafacz: a startling new body of work that he thinks is his most complicated to date. I agree. Bailey’s sculptures have changed a lot since his first exhibition, and I wanted to talk to him in greater depth about the progression from that last body of work to this one. Sadly for Chicago, Bailey’s next big move is a geographic one: he’ll be setting up digs in Los Angeles soon because his wife, artist and curator Kristen Van Deventer, will be attending graduate school there. I am very grateful to Ali for taking the time to provide such well-considered answers to my often clumsy and inordinately detailed questions. His show continues through May 8th at Andrew Rafacz Gallery.
CI: The most obvious shift or change that’s apparent in your new body of work at Andrew Rafacz is that it is much more abstract than the group of sculptures shown at the “You Are Young” show at Golden last year. That earlier work drew upon recognizable and sometimes even iconic imagery: a basketball and a baseball, an ice cream cone, a tree stump covered in gum and graffiti. Your latest work still gives me the feeling that there are exterior referents at play but now they seem more art historical and less pop-cultural. For example, I saw in your use of the grey felt material in the piece East Meets West / Worked Out a little Beuys joke, I loved how it’s slung over a sculpture that looks like a looming, abstracted version of a Stairmaster or some other type of exercise equipment that quickly becomes ‘useless’ and soon comes to function primarily as a clothes hanger. Can you tell me a little bit about this shift between the two bodies of work — what have you been thinking about lately that’s caused this move towards less immediately recognizable forms?
AB: You’re right about there being a distinct move toward a more abstract language, both in terms of subject and form and in a way, this shift is a direct result of problems that I’ve created for myself. For me, the last body of work operated in two different ways and that was very important. On one level it was about objecthood in a broad sense, making (and the presence of the hand), and a kind of tension resulting from a push-pull dynamic between inherent contradictions in the work and a kind of Gober-esque uncanny. The other prominent characteristic of the work was a pop-cultural critique and I suppose that this is where you could talk about the poetic content and the more accessible qualities the works had. In these ways I think the work was successful. The thing that really didn’t work and this is what I’ve been battling with recently, is being able to convey a distancing or a kind of knowing-naivety or to set up a dialogue that talks about authenticity. In my mind, it was clear that what I was presenting was not authentic in any sense nor was it really concerned with being ‘truthful’ – I was trying to examine certain narrative tropes but instead ended up giving people an easy out – they often never got further than the narrative or the overt poetic strand of the idea. Read more
Many, though certainly not all, Chicago gallery exhibitions are geared towards openings; often, attending the opening reception of an exhibition is the easiest and most practical way to see a show because the gallery’s subsequent public viewing hours are either infrequent or by appointment only. I dislike seeing works of art during openings because the presence of crowds of people make it very difficult for me to quiet my mind and my body in the manner that many artworks demand (this is especially true if I plan to write about the work later). Because of this, I’m always dashing around trying to make sure I’ve seen all the exhibitions on my list during the last weeks of their run. Here are a couple of shows I’ve seen recently that will close after this weekend. They’re at galleries with standard Tu-Sat viewing hours, and well-worth the effort to check out, if you haven’t already.
Greg Stimac at Andrew Rafacz Gallery (last day open is Saturday, March 13th). Walking into the gallery, you might at first assume that Stimac’s photographs are of a starry night sky, or some kind of close-up shot of dandelion fluff scattering in the wind. Nope. They’re bugs splattered at full speed against Stimac’s car windshield, each inkjet print a record of a particular road trip undertaken by the artist (as Karstun Lund has pointed out in his press release text for the show). My own take on the images veers in a slightly different direction; I like to think of them as a form of battlefield photography. The torn limbs and smashed wings of each dive-bombing bug is reproduced in astonishingly delicate detail. We’re able to focus our attention on the individuality of each dead or dying creature but, inevitably, that attention is quickly revoked, overwhelmed by the chaotic vision of mass carnage.