“Chicago’s Twelve” | Art review
Garfield Park Conservatory hosts an exhibition of sustainable art.
As an exhibition space, the Garfield Park Conservatory presents unique possibilities and challenges. Lush with palms, ferns and rare tropical flowers, the Chicago institution provides an inspiring backdrop for artwork. It’s no accident that Dale Chihuly’s yellow glass lily pads, created for the Aroid House lagoon, match the goldfish—yet the conservatory was designed for the majestic flora to take center stage.
For “Chicago’s Twelve,” curated by Sergio Gomez, a dozen local artists present works incorporating reused and salvaged materials. Made of everything from traffic cones to dead trees to baling wire, these pieces work within the greenhouses with varying degrees of success. Aside from a few bold statements—like Mary Ellen Croteau’s vibrant Endless Columns (2012)—the objects that more subtly announce their presence have greater impact. Suspended from the Fern Room ceiling, Vivian Visser’s cocoon-like rice-paper sculptures, Forthcoming (2012), are camouflaged against the sky, but, once discovered, create an appealing sense of mystery. Unlike the Chihuly lily pads on permanent display, Yva Neal’s Floating Egg (pictured, 2012), a sculpture covered in moss and tiny tillandsia (air plants), appears to be a natural feature of the Fern Room pond. On further inspection, its unnaturally bulbous features make it seem like an artifact from another planet.
Meanwhile, sculpted figures by Alfonso “Piloto” Nieves—such as Harmonia (2012), a nymph-like creature with branches for hair and a violin for a body—are too much of a hodgepodge, too close to the realm of folksy garden art to fit the stately venue. It’s easy for ecologically minded art to come off this way. Luckily, there’s enough quiet, abstract beauty in “Chicago’s Twelve” to counterbalance the more obtrusive works.