Tom Torluemke at the Hyde Park Art Center | Art review
Torluemke's HPAC installation refers to WPA murals.
Tom Torluemke’s installation refers directly to the style and symbolism of Depression-era Works Progress Administration murals: those panoramas of urban and rural American landscapes that show hard-working people tilling the land, forging steel and generally furthering civilization. (They still adorn public buildings across the U.S.: There’s a great example in the post office at Irving Park Road and Southport Avenue.)
Even if we no longer share the beliefs espoused by the WPA murals, their bright optimism still offers an emotional connection. Despite Torluemke’s technical skill, “Fearsome Fable—Tolerable Truth” feels banal in comparison.
The Indiana-based artist covers all four walls of an HPAC gallery in double-sided panels, more than 6' high. One side depicts brightly painted forests, ocean, mountains, farmland and an American city populated by stylized figures going happily about their daily lives. When visitors rotate the paintings, they show the same landscapes devoid of life and vegetation, and choking in garbage.
The murals’ 1930s-style utopianism is further contradicted by the plywood sculptures occupying the floor and hanging from the ceiling: human figures and animals contorted in pain, or limp and dead, all painted black as if they have been incinerated or suffocated by an oil spill.
Torluemke sets up a contrast between the idea of progress and the threat of environmental destruction, but it’s difficult to see why the artist chose to parody the WPA style to make this obvious point.