Stranger Things Exhibit: It May Be Art, But Otherwise What Is It?

Jun 20, 2017 / by Ted Cox / DNA Info

LINCOLN PARK β€” It may be art, but that said, what exactly is it?

That’s the question a new exhibit called “Stranger Things” asks when it goes on display Wednesday at the DePaul Art Museum, 935 W. Fullerton Ave.

The common denominator among the 14 pieces in the exhibit is that each “embraces its weirdness,” said Julie Rodrigues Widholm, director and chief curator of the museum. “That’s why I used the title from pop culture. These are ‘stranger things,’ just sort of weird little things.”

The key is to come to terms with the idea that “it’s OK not to know what you’re looking at,” she said.

“I like art that makes me scratch my head and say, ‘Hey, what’s going on here?’ That’s the work I find kind of interesting, because it’s its own thing,” she said.

Widholm took the DePaul museum leadership post midway through 2015 after years at the Museum of Contemporary Art, and the exhibit grows out of her settling in and getting to know the 3,500 pieces the museum has in its permanent collection, as well as a number obtained in the last couple of years. “We’ve had so many great recent acquisitions since I’ve arrived,” she said, including an untitled work by Richard Rezac that is sort of the poster child for “Stranger Things.”

“The colors make it strange,” Widholm said of the piece, in which an egg form hangs from a smooth, toaster-shaped cream figure with a red horizontal bar between them. “It’s also really seductive. It’s handmade, it’s handcrafted … but it’s odd.”

“I like art that makes me scratch my head and say, ‘Hey, what’s going on here?’” Julie Rodrigues Widholm said.

What exactly is it? Many people find that uncertainty uncomfortable, but Widholm urged visitors to try to float in it as one would in learning to swim.

“The artists were consciously trying to avoid any specific representation. That, for me, a lot of times, is the challenge and crux of viewing art,” Widholm said. “How do we become comfortable with not knowing what we’re looking at?

“I’m kind of encouraging viewers to really sit in that space of being uncomfortable for a little bit and in a way metaphorically embracing that that we don’t know.”

Included in the exhibit are a few of the 114 works by 59 Chicago-based artists the museum recently picked up from the collection of Chuck Thurow, former director of the Hyde Park Art Center. “He was such a passionate supporter of Chicago-based artists,” Widholm said. Jim Lutes’ “Pucker Sucker” will be on display.

But a couple don’t belong to the museum, including a sculpture by Sterling Lawrence that Widholm was able to borrow from a private collector.

“It just haunted me,” Widholm said, when she saw it recently as part of another exhibit. She described it as a sheet of aluminum “with this rubbery protrusion coming out of it that’s based on sort of like an elbow.”

There’s a two-way street, Widholm added, between the artist and the viewer in work that’s “hovering between abstraction and figuration.” She said it called for “a generosity and trusting the artist” on the part of the viewer, but trusting the viewer to make something of it is also the intention of the artist.

“It’s sort of an offering to us to meet it halfway and come to it with our own experiences, our own understanding, our own references,” Widholm said.

The exhibit opens Wednesday at the museum and runs through Aug. 6. Admission is free, and hours are 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Fridays and noon-5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.

Widholm will conduct a curator’s tour of the exhibit at 12:30 p.m. July 13. That too is free, although registration is requested. Just don’t expect her to say what precisely the pieces mean, or even what they are.