The Midwest Art Quarterly


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Issues

Volume I
   No.1
   No. 2
   No. 3
   No. 4
Volume II
   No. 1




Reviews


April 18, 2024
St. Louis, MO



Pulitzer Arts Foundation
Delcy Morelos: Interwoven
March 8, 2024–August 4, 2024

Earthly Weaving is a garden path of spice-infused, dirt-covered chain link fences. The closest local analog is Sol LeWitt’s Intricate Wall at Laumeier Sculpture Park, whose compact unnavigability suggests, by comparison, that Weaving’s openness is more of an invitation to adventurism (or entertainment) than an artistic necessity. Likewise, the rest of the work is competent but unchallenging. Some leaning canvases fail to develop their lack of pictorial oomph into sufficiently sculptural effects. A singly-folded, flatly displayed textile, however, stands out. It is Morelos’s only three-dimensional form that seems to be in any sort of productive tension with the techniques that created it.

—Troy Sherman



April 15, 2024
St. Louis, MO



Pulitzer Arts Foundation
On Earth
March 8, 2024–August 4, 2024

Two of these five films—Rivane Neuenschwander’s Quarta Feira de Cinzas/Epilogue and Ana Mendieta’s Alma, Silueta en Fuego—struck me as purely rote. Works of their monotonous and symbolically simplistic stripe just wouldn’t cut it anywhere outside of a Contemporary museum. Jeffrey Gibson’s To Feel Myself Beloved on the Earth has its moments but mostly lives up to its terrible title. Sky Hopinka’s Mnemonics of Shape and Reason does not live up to its terrible title: it contends beautifully with the primal sensual pleasures produced by filmed motion synced with sound. Ali Cherri’s inclusion, a traditional short documentary, also deserves to be seen.

—Sam Jennings



April 12, 2024
Omaha, NE



Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts
Neo-Custodians: Woven Narratives of Heritage, Cultural Memory, and Belonging
December 9, 2023–April 14, 2024

Curator Nneoma Ilogu’s Neo-Custodians is among the best shows ever held at Bemis, matched only by Risa Puleo’s Monarchs (2018). It features global heavy-hitters like El Anatsui and Yinka Shonibare, as well as regional artists like Layo Bright and Celeste Butler. The works, inspired by West African and African Diasporic weaving traditions, have one throughline: texture. Though stylistically diverse, all are generally muted in color. A video by Enam Gbewonyo, Under the Skin of a Guild, is particularly captivating. It memorializes the Zong Massacre of 1781, wherein 130 kidnapped Africans were thrown overboard a slave ship. The video’s sound and Gbewonyo’s movements are gut-wrenching and make one feel physical revulsion at these horrors.

—Jonathan Orozco



April 4, 2024
Omaha, NE



UNO Art Gallery (University of Nebraska, Omaha)
Juried Student Art Exhibition
March 8, 2024-April 5, 2024

This show's standout piece is Hayden Johnston's triptych, The Weight of Womanhood. It presents a striking set of ambiguities: in the first panel, is the mother supporting her child during an acrobatic move, or restraining a tantrum? The second panel evokes the incessant chaos of motherhood with its scattered toys and contradictory thoughts. The third seems at first to be full of calm, but I wonder if the woman's head is full of thoughts as disorderly as the previous two panels. The triptych invites an array of speculative interpretations: the title, for instance, encourages us to contemplate how the roles of "woman" and "mother" contrast and overlap. The exhibition contains several other fine works. Perhaps the most technically accomplished is Allie Piersanti's pencil drawing, Strawberry Jello.

—William Collen



April 1, 2024
St. Louis, MO



One Metropolitan Square
Lincoln Frederick Perry, Urban Odyssey, 7-panel mural, 1987.

Ensconced inside of downtown St. Louis’ ur-Postmodern corporate tower, Metropolitan Square, Perry’s set of murals seems unfortunately neglected in civic consciousness. Urban Odyssey offers an immersive update to Homer’s epic poem, through which any of the building’s (male, white, bearded) office-dwellers can imagine his daily commute as an exotic journey skirting death itself. The mural-cycle may first seem like a tasteless relic. Yet Perry’s desire to connect the potentially alien, ahistorical mass of Metropolitan Square to the local built environment offers a steady, subtle critique of a 1980s corporate culture that regarded place as fungible.

—Michael R. Allen



March 28, 2024
St. Louis, MO



Monaco
Sage Mend: Tender Growl
March 1, 2024–March 31, 2024

In lifting her motifs from some of the greatest artworks ever, Mend set herself up for failure. But standing your ground against the monstrous enormity of art’s whole history despite the unavoidable fact that old masterpieces will hand you your ass is the whole fucking point of being an artist. Mend is an artist. The best thing her tapestries do is interrupt their black surfaces with all these errant shocks of white thread. These seem to be updates to her medieval models’ profusions of floral ornament (millefleurs). The effect is that her scenes convey a motion, despite their flatness, that’s almost cinematic.

—Troy Sherman



March 21, 2024
St. Louis, MO



Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum
The Body in Pieces
February 16, 2024–April 15, 2024

The Kemper’s presentation of artists who responded to the modern world’s complexity through fragmentary figuration is, like the museum itself, small but filled with quality work. Besides two representative pieces from the master of piecemeal bodies (Picasso), there are refreshingly uncharacteristic works from modern luminaries (Miro’s early Portrait of Josep F. Ràfols, Klee’s Timid Ones Together). The standout is Edward John Stevens’ Arrival of the Village Princess. It’s a beautiful mess, pen-thin oil paint lines giving it the texture of a recovered wooden tableau. A plume of newspaper-print smoke below a blazing Black Hole Sun anchors it in fractured modernity.

—Ben Zeno



March 19, 2024
Omaha, NE



Fred Simon Gallery
Yun Shin: Studying and Transcribing
February 9, 2024–April 3, 2024

When we think of abstract expressionism, we often think first of the splattered gestures of Pollock or the tormented figures of de Kooning. But let’s not forget that precise and exact repetition can also be expressive. Yun Shin’s meticulous grids of lines and dots are an expression of calm, order, and perfectionism just as well as Pollock’s drips express frenetic energy and abandon.

—William Collen



March 16, 2024
St. Louis, MO



Saint Louis University Museum of Art
Legacy
March 1, 2024–May 6, 2024

From SLUMA, another bizarrely curated and conceived exhibition of mostly fundamentally sound work, with a handful of fucking bangers that make the show worth a visit. Everything was gifted by some guy named Merwin, who seems to have been the type of sorta-rich rich dude who’s sorta got taste so he builds up a hodge-podge collection of middling large-edition prints by famous artists in their late career. The bangers: a playful, palpable Rauschenberg that’s shaped weird; two crazy modular James Siena prints; a seizure of a Corot etching that might be a masterpiece.

—Troy Sherman



March 13, 2024
Omaha, NE



Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts
Paolo Arao: Reverberations
December 9, 2023–April 14, 2024

Arao’s exhibition is easy to like, especially if you’re into Bauhaus patterns or hard-edge painting. ​​Though his textiles intend monumentality, they feel intimate—almost physically small—as a result of their quilt-like construction. They behave like wallpaper, lying as flat as sewn fabric can lie to cover the gallery’s walls. As planes of color the work is successful, but it appears hung and even constructed poorly, which makes me wonder: what about this work demanded that it be made of fabric? Would it have been stronger had it simply been painted on the walls? Pleasing at first glance, Arao’s textiles have an awkwardness introduced by their warping that hinders extensive engagement with color.

—Jonathan Orozco



March 11, 2024
St. Louis, MO



Kemper Art Museum
Santiago Sierra: 52 Canvases Exposed to Mexico City’s Air
February 23, 2024–July 29, 2024

Sierra is a master at making the impossibility of art’s autonomy into his art’s autonomous form. That is, he turns art’s imbrication with life into properly aesthetic effects. In this recent piece, he’s arranged into a gradient grid canvases that have been decorated by a megacity’s pollution. The grid has a minimalist’s precision, while the aleatory dots and slashes across its canvases contribute undercutting visual complexity. Of itself, there’s a pleasantness to the ensemble. This pleasantness becomes a frisson when one recalls that it was an artist’s unscrupulous collaboration with literally killing social forms that brought the piece about.

—Troy Sherman



March 9, 2024
St. Louis, MO



Gallery 3840
Rialda Mustić: Waking State
March 1, 2024–April 1, 2024

Mustić’s show might’ve had a curator; there are too many things for not a lot of gallery. Even the worst of it, though, is brimming with a creativeness that’s not super common, while the best is working towards some very good stuff. If there’s a line through the show, it’s Mustić’s tendency to lock some messy substrate into place with an erratic but hard and linear system over the top of it. This is how ceramic relates to fabric in several sculptures, and how figure relates to ground in the paintings. Controlling this relationship would benefit the work.

—Troy Sherman



March 6, 2024
Omaha, NE



The Union for Contemporary Art
Leslie Diuguid: Meet me at the fence ok bye
February 10, 2024–March 9, 2024

Printmaker Leslie Duiguid’s solo exhibition has hits and misses. One wall features mostly prints made of textiles. These attempts are not that visually engaging; they feel flat and utilize colors that aren’t especially harmonious or thought-out. The other wall’s more abstracted works are strong, especially a set of handprints accompanied by an auxiliary piece letting us know that they came from the artist’s hands when she was three. Exploiting the universal emotional directness of manual impressions—as artists from the Cueva de las Manos painters to Betye Saar have done—these works are the show’s most conceptually compelling.

—Jonathan Orozco



March 5, 2024
St. Louis, MO



Saint Louis Art Museum
Francisco Zurbarán, St. Francis Contemplating a Skull, oil on canvas, c1635.

Zurbarán’s painting feels more liminal than the declarative work I’d expect from an altarpiece. It’s solemn, insular, geometric — St. Francis as Hamlet, but the skull is cradled facing inward, rather than held aloft. We can hardly see its sockets; it’s more sphere than skeleton. The saint’s eyes are even less visible. He is a monument with starched folds. We see almost none of his skin: firm hands, an oddly gleaming thumb, bulbous toes. These toes undercut the effect of St. Francis as Imposing Triangle. His stance is no power pose, but staggered, uncertain. Fitting for a man contemplating death.

—Ben Zeno



February 29, 2024
St. Louis, MO



Saint Louis Art Museum
Wangechi Mutu: My Cave Call
January 12, 2024–March 31, 2024

Mutu's video isn't quite kitsch, but it panders. It's a Bosch spinoff—three long takes represent heaven, earth, and hell—with a child's voiceover providing apocalypticism and woo-woo earthy stuff by turns. Compositionally each shot is nice if unexceptional, full and precise such that the work of looking seems to have been done for you. (Corny CGI wisps have a similarly facilitative effect.) When “fine artists” make films, the gallery context apologizes for stuff that would never fly in a theater. This is how Mutu’s gotten away with a work that, whether structurally or visually, develops nothing from its perfectly attractive substrate.

—Troy Sherman



February 20, 2024
St. Louis, MO



The Luminary
Moving Stories in the Making: An Exhibition of Migration Narratives
February 3, 2024–March 30, 2024

It bears repeating (and repeating) that art's relationship with changing the world is far more complex than political Contemporary Art would make us believe. If artworks have changing power, it's only through being artistically good. Luckily, one of the seven pieces here (as art, if not as politics) rules. Another works pretty well. Best is Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya's Of Soil and Sky, a tall red tapestry-and-vessels installation that gives unclouded (if literal) expression to the joys of cultural belonging and the difficulties in attaining it. Second is a set of painted wood shapes by Mee Jey, well-made and -installed but a bit pretty.

—Troy Sherman



February 15, 2024
St. Louis, MO



Bellefontaine Cemetery
Louis Sullivan, Wainwright Tomb, 1892.

Sullivan might be the greatest American artist. The Wainwright Tomb is among the greatest things he did. It's almost squat with its sphinx-arms digging out into earth from its grounded cubic gut, but also airy, a dome atop a song of tan smooth swathes. Its inside is a play of planes that set off soaring curves; it's hardly real how flat the floor feels, how huge the dome's negative space. The carved exterior ornament and the tiles inside are exact and unbridled in equal measure. Seldom did Sullivan use color to such an effect as within this perfect structure.

—Troy Sherman



February 12, 2024
St. Louis, MO



Parapet/Real Humans
David Muenzer: Henge
December 14, 2023–February 9, 2024

Note: MAQ discloses a potential conflict of interest; the author of this review is a friend of and collaborator with Parapet’s gallerist.

Muenzer's show was about a half-dozen small vaginal ceramics hung all around and illuminated from behind like light fixtures. The installation's conception felt correct, especially the idea not to hide any electrical cords, which made the earthy-ness of the individual artworks seem a bit less highfalutin than it could've. But no one piece really held its own except maybe the crumbly porcelains, and the show as a whole was pretty easy to "get." This might've been because ceramics are too immemorial to be convincingly conceptual with, or because execution-wise it was all just a little cute.

—Troy Sherman



February 6, 2024
St. Louis, MO



Monaco
Will Driscoll: Memory Palace
January 19, 2024–February 10, 2024

Will Driscoll has an intuition for color — specifically foreground and background relations — and uses it not merely to stage the quotidian, but to formalize the informal aesthetic coincidences that occur to aesthetically open minds. In one photo, a plane rolls by in the distance, and a dreamy haze of sunset ochres and oranges is manifest. In another, a play of brown liquid ejaculates into the atmosphere against a background of sky-blue, referencing the art history of fountains à la Bruce Nauman. We are keen to discern in these works the colorful sublimity of life that waits for us in things.

—Bret Schneider

                                                                                                                                           

January 30, 2024
St. Louis, MO



Saint Louis Art Museum
Aso Oke: Prestige Cloth from Nigeria
September 29, 2023–March 10, 2024

From the Saint Louis Art Museum’s permanent collection comes a loose group of examples of a form of Yoruba textile work called Aso Oke (pronounced “ah-shō ōkay”). The exhibition is initially circumspect about what exactly constitutes the three important types of material within the tradition (sanyan, raw silk; alaari, silk dyed magenta; and etu, indigo). Once the viewer is pointed away from some merely interesting examples of these materials and towards a trio of male garbs representing each type, then the show works. Though the exhibition suffers because we are merely told about the process these remarkable craftspeople undertake — rather than being shown any detailed examples of it — it’s hard not to be briefly dazzled by the results.

—Sam Jennings

                                                                                                     

January 26, 2024
St. Louis, MO




Saint Louis Art Museum
Ellsworth Kelly
October 20, 2023–April 7, 2024

Ellsworth Kelly was a good, not a great, painter. His line, when it’s on, is immaculate, but despite his reputation and the point of the paintings, I’m not convinced he was quite the consummate colorist. (Spectrum II, SLAM’s huge 13-paneled rainbow-y painting from 1967 which I’ve never really understood, is case in point that his color is often more conceived than it is achieved.) Several floral line drawings from as early as the 1950s — which are light, poised, and very beautiful — clarify that if Kelly was anything, he was a master draftsman. A large blue-on-red Rothko-ish painting steals the show.

—Troy Sherman