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Three Artists in 'the Middle of Something' at The Suburban

Feb. 28, 2017
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The Suburban is not in the suburbs. It is the name of two galleries, one in Walker’s Point and the other in Riverwest. They spring from an exhibition space run by Michelle Grabner and Brad Killam in Oak Park, Ill., but relocated to Milwaukee.

I arrived on a snowy morning to see the current show. On the sidewalk was a folded dollar bill, caught in icy slush. There were also two more waiting to be picked up by someone who would maybe feel it was a lucky day. 

Killam arrived, and we entered the small, focused gallery currently showing work by three artists. On the floor is an installation by Nicholas Frank made up of three torn pages from a book. The pages, numbered 194, 197 and 199, imply you’re walking into the middle of something. It is part of an ongoing project weaving between reality and fiction, wrought on the printed page. This juncture between categories joins the three artists as they each stand in the penumbra of in-between spaces.

Gretchen Bender is represented by an imposing square metal wall-mounted sculpture. The surface is worn and scabbed at the edges, and in the middle is a slim strip of film with the names of movies from the 1980s like 9 1/2 Weeks and Brewster’s Millions. The metal is imposing; the film is fragile. Its austerity is a nod to the stern directives of minimalism, while the films point to the blockbuster mainstream—bobbing between cultural references. 

Allen Ruppersberg presents posters that echo lithographic carnival posters. In glowing bright colors, black block letters proclaim “EVERYTHING IS OVER” and “WHAT SHOULD I DO?” like existential crises played out in postmodernist pop art advertisements.

Killam explains these works as being like art and non-art. They defy easy categorization or interpretation. As I look back at Frank’s pages lying on the floor, I think of those dollar bills lying in the snow. They can be overlooked or put underfoot; their value is a matter of perception. We continually measure things with our attention—even art or non-art.

Gretchen Bender, Nicholas Frank, Allen Ruppersberg continues through March 4 at The Suburban, 723 S. Fifth St. Gallery hours are by appointment. For further information, please visit thesuburban.org.

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