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Exhibition explores notions of labor and effort through the work of nine Chicago-based artists
Exhibition view The works: Artist in and from Chicago, 2015. Mixed media. Photo: Courtesy of CAB.

BRUSSELS.- The CAB announces its new exhibition ‘The Works: Artists in and from Chicago’, curated by Dieter Roelstraete and Abigail Winograd, which explores notions of labor and effort through the work of nine Chicago-based artists. Chicago can hardly be thought of as a “soft” city when compared to its coastal counterparts; as the poet Carl Sandburg wrote, it is a “city of big shoulders”, a distinctly blue-collar metropolis, a heartland of the working man and woman. If for this reason alone, Chicago is a fitting setting to explore art’s relationship to work, labor and effort.

The Works presents a variety of Chicagoan approaches to this discourse: Marissa Lee Benedict & David Rueter, Theaster Gates, and Dan Peterman contextualize their multidisciplinary practices within a wider scope of research and activism, reflecting first and foremost on artistic production as a vehicle for ecological and social reflection. Other artists in the exhibition explore art-making and its inextricably ties to daily life, as in Michelle Grabner’s paper weavings, or Tony Lewis’ site-specific wall text – made specifically for this exhibition – based on selections from the classic Life’s Little Instruction Book, a compendium of advice. Lewis also presents a large-format, site-specific drawing made at a nearby basketball court for this exhibition, further tying his work to the bond between art and everyday life.

Matthew Metzger and Geof Oppenheimer investigate the connection between art-making, the body, and labor: Metzger’s new series of photorealist paintings of antique machete blades, examines the shoulder – not the head – as a corporeal epicenter of labor and abstraction. Oppenheimer, meanwhile, explores binaries of white collar and blue collar work in his “Embarrassing Statue”. Here, Brooks Brothers slacks, an emblem of the American white collar worker, pool around the ankles of a slick marble and steel sculpture, cumbersomely (and phallically) weighed down by a heavy leaf blower.

Finally, Zachary Cahill and William Pope L.’s multifarious, often confounding text-based paintings probe the intersections of language, consumerism, and social discourse. For this exhibition, Cahill produced a new painting installed on the ceiling of the CAB's space, while Pope L. exhibits a video, and a painting from a recent series that confronts meaning and language utilizing uncanny, socially-charged phrases (Gold people hang their children from their servants).

Ultimately, what binds the artists included in The Works are their interests in hybridized notions of artistic agency. By integrating teaching, community leadership, multidisciplinary research, and writing into their practices, they challenge the boundaries of art production as a purely studio-based pursuit. In this way, a uniquely Chicagoan approach emerges; one that is hands-on, sincere, and deeply invested in the intersections of art and life. Furthermore, as a city with a profound industrial history whose identity continues to evolve through its shifting relationship to labor and capital, Brussels provides an apt European context for this unique portrait of Chicago and its artists.

The Works is curated by Dieter Roelstraete and Abigail Winograd in collaboration with Eléonore de Sadeleer. Dieter Roelstraete, formerly Manilow Senior Curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, is currently a member of the curatorial team of Documenta 14. Abigail Winograd is a writer, curator, and Ph.D. candidate based in Chicago. Eléonore de Sadeleer is the director of the CAB.

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