O’Connor Art Gallery innovates at Dominican University
"Pushing Paper" is the O'Connor's latest avant-garde show.
It’s a shame the O’Connor Art Gallery is “mere steps beyond being CTA-friendly,” as director Jessica Cochran laments in an e-mail. Located at Dominican University in River Forest, the gallery’s spent the past few years showing work by edgy locals including Heidi Norton, Heather Mekkelson and Mark Booth as well as established outsiders such as English artist John Stezaker.
“I think artists appreciate…being given room to experiment,” Cochran explains when asked how a small suburban venue wins over so many artists with international reputations. The SAIC alum, who’s also served as curator of exhibitions and programs at Columbia College’s Center for Book and Paper Arts since June 2010, admits her budget is limited. When Maria Gaspar, whom TOC identified as one of “Chicago’s next art stars” in our 2010 Fall Preview, had a show at the O’Connor Art Gallery with Helen Maurene Cooper last year, Cochran told her, “I don’t have a lot of resources to offer you. We don’t do a catalog. But if you can use this as an opportunity to push your practice in a different direction and take a risk…this is a great venue to do that.” Gaspar responded with a surprisingly understated installation that took even Cochran “out of my comfort zone,” the gallery director recalls.
Dominican University is more accessible to Chicagoans than it seems—just a 15-minute walk from the No. 90 bus, down a tranquil, residential stretch of Division Street. The O’Connor Art Gallery’s current group show, “Pushing Paper,” presents a typical mix of emerging and midcareer artists.
The medium of paper is all that links disparate works including artists’ books, Michael Velliquette’s dazzling cut-paper sculptures, Susan Giles’s multimedia musings on architecture, and an animation. The latter piece, SAIC professor James Trainor’s LEAFY LEAFY JUNGLE (2005), is a highlight of the show: a stop-motion film of layered paper ripped by unseen hands. Curls of paper tear across the screen, exposing new bright colors and generating vaguely organic forms.
Cochran, who became the O’Connor Art Gallery’s director in 2007—the first who isn’t a Dominican faculty member—emphasizes film, video and installation to complement the university’s art curriculum. “I try to curate exhibitions with the students in mind,” she says. Unlike Loyola University Museum of Art, which makes illuminating “spiritual questions” part of its mission, the O’Connor Art Gallery’s programming does not need to reflect religious concerns. According to Cochran, Catholic-affiliated Dominican gives her “complete free rein.”
“Pushing Paper” contains a few unsettling works. Kate McQuillen’s fiery installation Conventional Weapon (2011) refers to the infamous “shoe bomber.” Regan Golden’s sliced-up photographs (pictured) reflect the devastation that development brought to their Massachusetts landscapes. But the show primarily expands our notions of what its medium—and Chicagoland’s unsung exhibition spaces—can do.
hosts “Pushing Paper” through February 26.