By AARON GETTINGER
“The Ground Floor,” the fifth biennial of new work from graduate students at Chicago’s art schools, including the University of Chicago, opened Sept. 4 at the Hyde Park Art Center, 5020 S. Cornell Dr. The show fills the Center’s entire lower level and includes films — Columbia College Chicago student Kat Liu’s video pieces on the sexualization of Asian women — for the first time.
Allison Peters Quinn, the Center’s director of exhibition and residency programs, said several of this exhibition’s artists display a timely commitment to political concerns about society as well as the connections to tradition and family.
“We don’t see abstraction for pure abstraction,” she said. The one artist whose work is within that genre, Madeline Finley at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC), painted abstract works inspired by her father’s work as a draftsman, creating blueprints for buildings, in a way to connect with her memories of him, said Peters Quinn.
Twenty artists are included this year, each with one to seven works. They were nominated by Chicago area faculty and curators and considered for inclusion by a committee, this year headed by photographer and MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Dawoud Bey, who lives in Hyde Park. Peters Quinn said many came to Chicago because of the city’s reputation for experimentation in art and activism.
Peters Quinn also spoke about Northwestern University student Kandis Friesen’s work, a big installation of black textile art with Russian Mennonite script upon it, an allusion to that culture’s nomadic history, and SAIC student Ashley Freeby’s floor installation of hand-painted gravel set in the dimensions of the street where Michael Brown was killed by police in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014.
Roni Packer, an Israeli artist who studied at the University of Illinois at Chicago, discussed her installation “Yellow Nomenclature,” a series of both-sides, body-sized paintings with geometric collage features incorporated from older paintings that explored the color yellow, in which she is working to find order in its vibrant palette. She described it as a meditation on the contemporary Middle East, from its politics to its weather to “the way our bodies feel in different kinds of environments” to paintings and how we interact with them.
“I think it’s both cohesive but also super-messy,” said Packer, adding that her personality is like that, too, as she moves between Tel Aviv and all it represents — including its radiant weather — and Chicago. She said she expects nothing from the viewer except their generous time with the work.
“The Ground Floor” closes on Nov. 11. The biennial’s catalog will be released next month.