Documenting Pizza Huts and cerebral palsy | Art Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Documenting Pizza Huts and cerebral palsy 

'Stranger Than Family' offers a case study in, well, the strangeness of family

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"Nicks Idea," 2010. Nothing strange about death looming over a child dressed in skeleton pajamas.

"Nicks Idea," 2010. Nothing strange about death looming over a child dressed in skeleton pajamas.

"Stranger Than Family" is a great name for an art show. It has that hint of a question, What is stranger than family? The answer is, Not much. All happy families are not alike, and closeness breeds weirdness. Photographer Matthew Avignone was born in South Korea, adopted by a white couple (delivered "not by a stork," he says, "but by a Boeing 747"), and grew up in Peotone and Bourbonnais. Three of his siblings are also Korean, and the fourth is from India.

The show brings together 20 photographs that Avignone has taken of his family since 2010, including striking portraits and spontaneous shots of everyday suburban life. He documents the familiar weirdness of wide streets and plasticky houses, Pizza Huts and grilling on the patio. His multiracial family isn't placed in ironic counterpoint to the cultural whiteness of the surroundings. They're of a piece with it.

"Stranger Than Family" also features historical ephemera such as passports, adoption forms, and an exceedingly strange letter Avignone's father, Mike, wrote to his colleagues at work, in which he explains the cascading decisions to adopt the first kid, then the next ("we decided to go for another Korean baby"), and the next. One has cerebral palsy, another has spina bifida. The curious coworkers, the relentless kid collecting—it's pretty strange. Maybe the Avignones aren't quite of a piece with their surroundings after all.


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