The Stuff Dreams Are Made Of | Art Review | Chicago Reader

The Stuff Dreams Are Made Of 

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Alexandra Loewe

When Through 10/27

Where Flatfile, 217 N. Carpenter

Info 312-491-1190

Contemporary conceptual art too often follows a formula in which the artist presents works in a variety of media that float around some topic but make no real statement. Alexandra Loewe's mixed-media show at Flatfile, "While Dreaming," doesn't present a cogent view of dreams, but she adds an exciting spatial-performative element: it's as if her imagined body were filling the gallery. The walls are covered with highly personal works--including Sleeping Outfits, a display of Loewe's pajamas and nighties--that surround 13 shoe boxes containing miniature beds, while beside them are framed texts chronicling her dreams. The linens on the tiny beds (and in the nearby photos of beds she's slept in) are slightly disheveled, adding to her implied physical presence just as the texts bring in her unconscious.

"Dance is very important to the things I do," says Loewe, a French native who lives in Paris. "It's the expression of our inner thoughts and inner language through gesture." Recorded Dreams, a group of large drawings, reflects her interest in graphology, the study of another gestural language: "The way you write reflects your state of mind." Using a finger dipped in paint she creates calligraphic marks that echo Chinese and other languages using rapid motions, she says, like the expressive movements of dance. She thinks of the marks as the "testimony" of her dreams: "The abstraction reflects the dreams I can't remember in words but that are still present somehow within me." The most rewarding works here, all titled Dream Tracks, are the most detailed and artful, their mix of specificity and obscurity conveying the feeling of dreams. Collaged fragments of figures, animals, and objects and drawn black patches, lines, and clusters of dots snake across the paper dynamically. Often the figures' faces or upper torsos are missing. In one, an exotic bird hovers over what she calls a "winged tricycle." In another, two guns aimed at each other are attached to long "arms" made of clustered dots and other abstract shapes.

Elizabeth Shreve

When Through 10/28

Where Carl Hammer, 740 N. Wells

Info 312-266-8512

Elizabeth Shreve's bright, appealing, cluttered paintings at Carl Hammer evoke the nurturing domesticity she missed in the chaotic home of her youth. All but one show a different nude surrounded by objects and often text. In The Psychological Beneath, clothes, shoes, pastries, flowers, and stars orbit a blonde standing on a green sphere. In Home Life, a woman floating against a blue sky is encircled mostly by sweets but also by shoes, handbags, and birds. Shreve, who has both an MFA and a psychology PhD and who's worked as a therapist, sees her art as conjuring universal psychological experiences. "My show is me talking to viewers in simple ways about the things that I think are helpful in life and the things that torment us." The beauty in her paintings is meant to provide comfort while her texts ("She is wondering what is in her heart") directly address the viewer, though "not in a way that's authoritative," she says.

Shreve acknowledges that the obsessive quality in her collections of household objects is tied to her upbringing. She believes her father, who was ill through most of her childhood, was traumatized by fighting in both world wars: though he'd been a successful lawyer before World War II, "his promise was never fulfilled." Her mother supported the family, but Shreve describes her as bizarre: "She once came up and told us kids that all three of our dogs were dead, just to terrify us. You couldn't believe the things she said." They lived in an 18-room house in Detroit where "nobody was in charge." Shreve renders the objects in her work lovingly "because there was no way to treasure my home. It was chaotic, filled with garbage. My parents were just insufficient to the task of life." The careful arrangements of household things in her work reflect her feelings about what homes should be: "Silverware and food are among what makes the world predictable and kind." Today she lives in a "protective environment" she's created for herself. Now, she says, "when I slice a zucchini, it makes me happy."

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