Magazine article Artforum International

Maddie Reyna: Julius Caesar

Magazine article Artforum International

Maddie Reyna: Julius Caesar

Article excerpt

Maddie Reyna is emerging as a dutiful acolyte of the British Conceptual artist Stephen Willats. "Jamaica Sweethearts," Reyna's recent pop-up installation at Julius Caesar, a prominent Chicago artist-run project space, examined art's social agency in an apparent endeavor to demonstrate Willats's cool polemics. Indeed, the show could have been pulled from the pages of Artwork as Social Model, Willats's 2012 manual for artists "looking to find a meaningful relationship with contemporary society, and intervening to transform norms and conventions, to provide a new vision of a possible future."

Reyna built a crude foamcore environment into Caesar's small white cube (located in a dingy Garfield Park studio building), literalizing the "glass ceiling" effect while drawing on a range of stereotypes: teenage-girl aesthetics, alternative art spaces, contemporary abstraction, and thrift culture. Each heavy-handed reference was handled with impertinent disregard, in an effort to exert pressure, as Willats advocates, on the processes of production, distribution, and consumption that maintain art's status quo.

Reyna's distinct visual vocabulary differs from Willats's didactic graphic lexicon; her slapdash gallery-in-a-gallery tableau had feminist overtones and an unaffecting appropriated style that took material disinterest to a new level. Her methodology, however, resonates with the British artist's brand of participation and collaboration. The installation brazenly reflected a critical divestment of the authorship of studio production and public display--a position that Willats claims is "relevant to an emerging culture founded on networks of exchange, fluidity, transience, and mutuality." The exhibition also implicated Reyna's hand in the management and ever-evolving philosophy of Julius Caesar. She and a few others have recently taken the reins from the gallery's previous overseers; thus, "Jamaica Sweethearts" could be interpreted as a visual mission statement for the future of the gallery--a credo that holds art to be more dependent on personal relationships than it is on the economy of objects.

Reyna crafted an improvised dropped ceiling from warped white foamcore that was cantilevered from the gallery walls at approximately six feet above the dirty concrete floor, effectively transforming the space into an uncomfortably low, dark hideout. …

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