Joy of Flighty: Rebecca Shore at Corbett vs Dempsey
Now here is a piece of art with a burlesque sensibility: Rebecca Shore's 20, whose Cambridge blue undercarriage, gartered in a lascivious claret, is thrust out to the viewer in come-hither sharp angles with a celerity that implies confidence and a bit of coquettish teasing rather than desperation—note that this brazen display of usually subdued dimensions will not be readily apparent if one comes up off the stairs into Corbett vs Dempsey running along the wall whisker-bound like a house mouse; abstract art favors the brave—and invites the viewer up its ascending staircase—a second set of stairs!—into an exhibition comprised of familiar motifs and vibes and colors and sensations predominantly sans any mimetic analog, which, yes, abstract art is meant to do, albeit not always so adroitly. – B. David Zarley, Chicago Contributor
Let's run through those amorphous associations real quick, those things which Shore's (NAP #41) two sets of abstract works (there are really three series here, two of which are abstract while the third, which will be parsed separately, is more representational) echo: Mesoamerican design motifs, Cretan labyrinths, late 70's/early 80's Japanese and American video game sprite design, collapsing stars, team sports uniform and logo design—this one is immensely important, giving the show its name and the majority of the pieces their singular characteristic—and first edition hardcover John Updike Rabbit novels, all of which come together, far more gracefully under Shore's aegis than your reviewer's, into some inherently approachable, pleasingly intricate, and eye-shaking works which both hum like fluorescent tubes and shimmer like DXM-induced snake skin tessellation in a dark room.
The Daedalean innards, radiating outwards—physically radiating, it seems, if one looks for more than a few moments—as her shapes redshift towards the edges of the canvas are enthralling, in a hypnotist's sense; the drop shadows, which loft each off the page, as if they were reaching for anything but their bleached existence and we are witnessing them frozen forever, thrumming away at mid-grasp, cause the works to be arresting. One cannot help but feel that boundaries are being flirted with, fine art made with winks and nudges locked in those palpitating constructs.
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There is a scene right in the very quiet beginning of Deliverance—Dickey's novel; your reviewer hasn't seen the movie—wherein our narrator, graphic designer (how apt!) Ed Gentry, is dangerously enraptured by the map he and his future casualties unfurl on their bar table.
“It was certainly not much, from the standpoint of design,” Gentry explains. “The high ground, in tan and an even paler tone of brown, meandered in and out of various shades and shapes of green, and there was nothing to call you or stop you on one place or the other.”
Still, locked within the lines was the very essence of the place, this savage, atavistic milieu rendered, almost comically, in neutral tones and neutered lines. “Yet the eye could not leave the whole; there was a harmony of some kind,” Gentry says. “Maybe, I thought, it's because this tries to show what exists.” This, of course, is the real trick of it, abstract art hewed to the bone and domesticated.
While Shore's works are certainly not whipsawed by a blasé color palette and, for the most part, the terrible burden of being, they do show what exists, which in this case seems to be the naturally abstract ideal of dimensional boundaries and our bizarre associations with space. Although Gentry's map and Shore's abstract sets both seek to express depth of field—particularly elevation—they approach the problem in two completely different ways. The map uses line and color, in the topographic sense; Shore, ironically, applies a much more realistic approach in service of a far more recondite end.
In applying drop shadows, the old war horse of the baseball uniform and PowerPoint designer, one of the simplest and first discovered visual deistic tricks—look what I have done! it's alive! springing forth from its planate prison, coming for you!—Shore lofts her works into some sort of catholic space wherein the embrace of camp and high culture elicits far greater response than either could on their own; drop shadows without beautiful shapes and masterful composition would be doodles at worst, design at best, beautiful shapes and masterful composition flat and staid without drop shadows.
Whereas Gentry's map inspires equal parts awe and dread—the vast emptiness of it, the stark rise—Shore's paintings feel light figuratively and literally (literally in the, ahem, figurative sense), her three dimensional yearnings the aspirational ideal of exploration; nowhere is this feeling better captured than in the hovering puzzles pieces of 04, Tomcat and custard and seemingly weightless, which seem perfectly content to lazily rise toward empyrean.
So important are the shadows, and the extra layer of kinetic energy attributed to them, to the piece's total reception, one does not even stop to consider how perilously close to Op art, with all of the political and taxonomical connotations, it comes; there is nothing gimmicky about Shore's foray into the third dimension, perhaps due to her tacit commitment to it in the first place. The drop shadows simply add depth, in every sense of the word.
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And what of that third set? Completely different from the hot buzzing ancient space civilization sigils and topographic cays of the two more abstracted suites, Shore's jewelry and clothing inspired pieces tack slightly towards the representational. Intricate in their lines and subdued in their movements, these pieces evoke a sort of fin de siècle esthetic, from fashion, Aestheticism, and Art Nouveau to sadomasochism and William Morris.
Scattered amongst their paroxysmal and prismatic cousins, these works hide within them human forms, the tiny expressions by which we help to further delineate ourselves from our peers blown up and exaggerated, pieces now comprising a whole. These works are fantastic, too, if not a bit disruptive; consider yourself treated to two exhibitions, one quite a bit larger than the other, and render the clash anesthetized.
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This is a Damascene showing, Barely Committed to Three Dimensions, capable of of converting the abstract agnostic—you know the kind, rolling eyes at Rothko, spitting at their feet in a vicious pantomime of Pollock—into true believers, light and motion shaking scales and pre-conceived conceptions.
What Shore shows exists is pulchritude and approachability in equal parts, that an exhibition need not be pedantic or frightening or shocking or political to be captivating; perfect and perfectly fun aspiration will do just fine, too.
B. David Zarley is a freelance journalist, essayist, and book/music/art critic based in Chicago. You can find him on Twitter (@BDavidZarley) and at bdavidzarley.com.