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Ground Floor at the Hyde Park Art Center

Image of the exhibition Ground Floor provided by the Hyde Park Art Center. Courtesy of Tom Van Eynde.

Ground Floor, the biennial group exhibition which occupies the entire 10,000-square-foot first floor of the Hyde Park Art Center, showcases 11 recent MFA graduates from The School of the Art Institute, Columbia College, University of Chicago, Northwestern and UIC. The Center is refreshingly open to experimental curation, an ideal platform for emerging artists. Yet despite the show’s open criteria and abundance of work, Ground Floor offers surprisingly complementary coordination. While themes and subject matter are diverse, the show’s general aesthetic — marked by subdued colors and an intentional dinge — flirts with an ambience of nostalgia and decay.

Sculptures by Rachel Niffenegger. Photo by Tempestt Hazel.

Visitors are greeted in the main gallery by Shane Ward’s “Somewhere In a Dark Corner # 3,” an enormous black-clothed table furnished with charred, broken glasses, serving ware, and flowers — the ghostly post-apocalyptic remains of a fancy dinner party. Meanwhile ripped shrouds hang from Rachel Niffenegger’s sculptures, which inhabit their own corner. The pieces appear to be handled with spattered tie-dye, but obscured portraiture in the cloth and earthy colors reminiscent of dirty bandages add a twinge of the ominous.

In another nook, Andrew Thomas Lopez’s photographs capture the hazy uncertainty of childhood. Plastic dinosaurs roam ragged window sills and a small boy in his underwear listlessly crouches on old carpet. The largest photograph, “Sabas,” lights the child with a saintly reverence, crusted saliva and all. Lopez’s images, in effective opposition with Ward and Niffenegger’s foreboding pieces, seem to function as mnemonics unlocking a bleary past.

Hints of nostalgia trail into the vestibule which houses Eric May’s flashy “Hot Mix: An Exploration of South Side Foodways.” Clustered, hand-painted neon signs, like those seen in small grocery stores, sport inflammatory slogans such as “White Flight,” a reminder of the South Side’s segregated history. Outside the exhibit, May himself is present, operating a food truck called “E-Dogz Center for the Preservation and Advancement of Street Food,” in an effort to celebrate South Side culinary traditions and cultivate community engagement.

Photographs by Andrew Thomas Lopez. Image by Tempestt Hazel.

A group exhibition like Ground Floor — where artists are selected from professor recommendations rather than for thematic unity — risks being scattered and haphazard. But the Center has carefully choreographed the varied practices into a show that is cohesive and darkly immersive. One can easily feel the collective projection of a sort of disillusioned zeitgeist, grasping for the murky memories of the past, and warily wandering into what’s to come.

Ground Floor will be on display at the Hyde Park Art Center, 5020 South Cornell Ave. through November 11th.

Image of the exhibition Ground Floor provided by the Hyde Park Art Center. Courtesy of Tom Van Eynde.



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