Chicago’s reputation as a city with a wealth of alternative exhibition venues is longstanding. During the past 10 years it has cultivated a huge variety of repurposed storefronts, industrial properties and live-in apartment spaces as a means of sidestepping the commercial imperative of conventional private galleries. Venues open and close frequently, often following the familiar trajectory east towards New York. But for those who decide to stay, Chicago remains a firm base for testing ambitious, experimental programming with minimal overheads and far less risk.
Founded in September 2013 by Matthew Steinbrecher and Olivia Coran, Nightclub is a space that uses the context of a combined apartment/gallery in order to facilitate a consistently ambitious and astutely considered curatorial programme. Their first show featured a careful selection of photographs and a reading of new poems by Kevin Killian, alongside drawings by Chicago based cartoonist Edie Fake. Since then they have facilitated a variety of solo and group exhibitions alongside readings, listening parties and a one off production residency with the artist Gordon Hall.
Nightclub’s current show ‘Pusilli’ features work by New York based artists Jared Madere and Bradley Kronz. It is a spartan presentation in which Madere and Kronz seem adamant on preserving the blunt autonomy of the objects and materials that they use. A press release is intentionally avoided, as are titles. Refreshingly, the works exist in lieu of an overtly prescribed system of referencing and in doing so, strive to create meaning through their own sparse materiality.
Jared Madere fills the central space of the room with a clear plastic sheet scattered with faux plastic flowers and clumps of consciously placed crumbling dirt; crudely hand shaped as stylised skulls with finger-poked eye sockets. Their production is determined by an exchange of instructions and a brief list of materials between the artist and the gallery. In this case ‘mud’, despite its ambiguous status as a sculptural material, is removed from a nearby construction site and therefore specific to the context of the exhibition. Importantly, Madere’s agency is ceded, as the fabrication of the work becomes a delineated collaborative process. Madere has used similar material configurations in other works. In a show at Interstate Projects in New York (organised by another Chicago artist run space Queer Thoughts) Madere used Suzuki motorcycle fairing and cherry blossoms. Within the installation at Nightclub, the flowers are chosen by the gallery and they are not real.
The two wall-based works by Bradley Kronz continue the desperate tone provided by Madere. A torn paper frame, partially blackened, is attached to the wall by a bent steel wire. It precariously encloses two photographic images in an awkward adolescent shrine. On the adjacent wall, Kronz places an outmoded Polaroid frame. Nine windows reserved for individual, square format photographs are flooded by a grainy, underexposed image. The sliced bottom central frame reveals a gap-toothed grinning child, staring through the murky image. In both works the gesture is snide. A mocking one liner; not quite funny enough and pronounced through the nonchalant pose of restrained production value.
Despite noble attempts to avoid overt referencing, the works of both artists share a quietly macabre aesthetic that feels intentionally dated; filtered through outmoded technologies and 90s horror film clichés. Together, the delivery of their work is blunt and somewhat adolescent, yet subtly emotive and highly disturbing.