Originally Published in New City
Like any number of shows that offer viewers a representative slice of trends in contemporary art, “New American Paintings: Midwest Edition” at the Elmhurst Art Museum strikes a conciliatory balance between abstraction, representation and their respective hybrids while including a few “genre challenging” works that are fun, but categorically not painting. The effect is a show that, while occasionally meandering for lack of focus, has a little something for everyone.
Among the forty-plus works on view, standouts include a series of thickly brushed, psychologically charged portraits by Ricardo Manuel Diaz and “January,” a playful winter landscape of impressive imaginative and expressive freedom by Minneapolis painter Sophia Heymans. In an exhibition where much of the representation is thoroughly mediated by lens-based imagery (photo-infused pictures by both David Holmes and Heidi Draley McFall are effectively simulacra of simulacra) works by Diaz and Heymans resound with humanity.
Colorful, hard-edged abstractions by Cheonae Kim, Rachel Hellmann and Mark Pease also fare well. Hung in close proximity, each highlights the difference in the other, revealing the significant visual diversity possible within a seemingly narrow category. Related works by Linda King Ferguson chart intriguing passage through the murky terrain where painting and sculpture meet. Her slate-hued “Equivalences” employ the ‘provisional’ language of painted, cut and folded surfaces in provocatively precise, decidedly un-casual ways.
Ostensibly selected via an anonymous jurying process, “New American Paintings: Midwest Edition” nonetheless includes a veritable who’s who of gallery-repped Chicago artists. While I wouldn’t suggest that these artists are undeserving of additional exposure, their work’s presence in the show inevitably feels like a consecration of the previously anointed. Disconcerting, but not a deal-breaker, “NAP: Midwest Edition” includes enough lesser-known regional artists to captivate even those intimately familiar with the local scene.