Chicago Art Review

Caleb Weintraub @ Peter Miller Gallery by Steve Ruiz
September 30, 2009, 6:56 pm
Filed under: Chicago, Reviews

Remember this psychotic painting at the Hyde Park Art Center‘s Signs of the Apocalypse/Rapture show by Caleb Weintraub? It was the one with the kids with axes and the owl costumes and crushed space and the one which, when I wrote about that show, I complimented as the show’s “only piece to actually disturb me.” There was something feverish about that painting, small as it was; what the hell was going on? For some expansion and explanation, Weintraub’s work is up for review this month, and with a large exhibition (selling like fire) in the West Loop’s Peter Miller Gallery, we might find some answers.

Caleb Weintraub @ Peter Miller Gallery

Caleb Weintraub @ Peter Miller Gallery

Like a few other artists showing around town, Weintraub is working in a representational, illustrative, and narrative mode. Also like a few other artists, he’s working in a sorta post-apocalyptic, sorta surreal setting. While his images don’t describe events within a specific storyline, they do come out of a specific circumstance: some how or other, the children have taken over and, with a little of the supernatural afoot, are reinventing humanity and culture with blind idiosyncrasies and campfire voodoo. The artists statement lays it all down, but suffice to say that we have extremely literal illustrations referencing from a consistent, designed and imagined world.

Caleb Weintraub, Beard Contest

Caleb Weintraub, Battle of the Beards

If all that sounds negative, it might be. It is disarming to see a show with such direct, unabashedly contrived content, regardless of paintings quality. Weintraub is an excellent painter, and these images contain some very skilled pooling impasto (sort of ala Adam Scott) along with more traditional brushwork and spraying and more. Standing before a larger painting like Battle of the Beards orThe unlikely resurrection of General Burnside on account of his estimable whiskers, picking out the variety of techniques can a pursuit in itself. There are some paintings where the pallete suffers, is either overwhelmed or underwhelmed and seldom balanced, but they all fall squarely in the class of cool stuff to look at. From what I can gather, they’re his best paintings yet.

Caleb Weintraub, Things that may or may not go on in the dark, in the night

Caleb Weintraub, Things that may or may not go on in the dark, in the night

However, we’re still looking at pictures of children in forests with weird shit going on, which is an exhausted setting bordering on pop surrealist trope. It’s possible that the dynamic way that the paint has been used is the only thing separating Caleb Weintraub from your run of the mill Juxtapoze Magazine, Mark Ryden, middle brow bullshit, because boil off the backstory and the content is pretty much the same. The question that Sunday Games and Souveniers poses is really whether all that really matters, and whether making grungy, curiously painted pop surrealist art will bring it into the more serious contemporary art conversation that Ryden et al aren’t a part of. It certainly looks smarter.

Caleb Weintraub, Situation Room

Caleb Weintraub, Situation Room

I would say maybe. Weintraub’s work dances the issue’s razor so delicately that I can’t find an imbalance either way, and it wouldn’t be my place to push him one way or the other. I can say that my experience of viewing the show including a serious doubt at the imagery and content of the work, along with a dynamic pleasure of observing the way Weintraub works.

Caleb Weintraub, While wandering, we just came upon it there, like it had sprouted up out of the ground and we knew we would never see anything the same way again

Caleb Weintraub, While wandering, we just came upon it there, like it had sprouted up out of the ground and we knew we would never see anything the same way again

While I liked Caleb’s apparently absurd, mysterious imagery in the Hyde Park exhibition, I ultimately don’t care about his narrative, am not moved by the pictured drama, and connect with the work only when the paintings are good enough as paintings to make me forget them as illustrations. Thankfully that isn’t a rare event at Sunday Games and Souvenirs either. It’s not a perfect show, but there’s certainly plenty here to like.

I give it a:


Caleb Weintraub’s Sunday Games and Souvenirs runs September 11th, 2009 through October 17th, 2009 @ Peter Miller Gallery, 118 N. Peoria.

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