“Framed” would be noteworthy even if every piece in the show sucked. The majority of the nearly 140 works on display cost less than $100, and nothing is more than $400, a fraction of the lowest prices at most local gallery shows. Yet the participating artists—almost all of whom are Chicagoans—include accomplished professionals, such as Juan Angel Chavez, Mike Genovese and Chris Silva.
Fortunately, the artists in “Framed” pack startling images and ideas into the small wooden frames that give the show its title. (The frames range from 4" x 6" to 11" x 15"; curator Peter Kepha asked the 50-plus artists to create new works for the show or submit existing ones that fit the frames.) Jon Lowenstein’s Slain Lawyer’s Assistant, Guatemala City (2008)—a close-up photograph of a young man lying on an office floor in a pool of blood—intimately conveys the terrifying violence plaguing Guatemala. Violence also overshadows Maria Gaspar’s watercolor of a nude woman brandishing a spear as she stands next to a prone horse. But her work’s abstraction, soft color palette and fine paper yield a different effect on the viewer, suggesting a mythic event.
The other drawings, paintings, collages and photographs in “Framed” tend to be less serious—though several are very strange. Erik DeBat (“RISK”), Blutt and Revise cmw contribute enigmatic works influenced by their street art. Elisa “Pooper” Harkins illustrates a girl’s transformation into a cat. Arielle Bielak puts masks on the subjects of her photographs, which enables her to depict God and the devil sharing a bowl of Lucky Charms. Oscar Arriola photographs a lost-cat flyer, which he strips of any poignancy by replacing the pet’s image with his own cartoon of a grinning feline. And Alta Buden creates a glam portrait with different shades of green glitter. Their fun materials, low-tech techniques and informal subject matter reflect a refreshing spontaneity and willingness to experiment. Maybe nothing here represents great art—but how often can you see (much less buy) really good art for $25?