Review: Elana Gutmann at Perimeter Gallery

by Robin Dluzen

Elana Gutmann at Perimeter Gallery

Perimeter Gallery is hosting “Synaesthesia,” a solo exhibition of new works by international artist, Elana Gutmann, who has long been represented by the River North gallery. An intuitive practice if there ever was one, Gutmann’s paintings and works on paper are capable of linking a range of different subject matter effortlessly through palettes that can differ just as much.

Gutmann’s statement explains that in her works, “relationships occur over a period of hours, days and months. They manifest in a ‘story’ — a visual tale.” And it is certainly true that the works in this exhibition benefit from, or even depend on, time given on the viewer’s part. In a room full of paintings which are contingent upon subtlety, rendered with washy techniques in a light hand, it is an easy pitfall for a viewer to merely survey the mid-size paintings and prints from afar. Though semblance among the works is evident, the cohesiveness is certainly a strength when one considers the contents of the paintings. Some are clearly landscapes, with depth and space (like La Colline), and others are references to nature; still others engage the figure, while some illustrate intangible, ephemeral experience (as in The Veil Through).

Elana Gutmann at Perimeter Gallery

Though Gutmann’s are abstractions in a formal, material sense, for the viewer they have concrete, truly representational interpretation. The title of the flesh-toned work, The Tip of Your Tongue, says it all; the forms in this oil painting on canvas are instantly received as being of the body, but upon further investigation, they really are not recognizable parts of the human figure. Instantly perceived as sensually feminine through the curve of the form and the rosy-ness of palette, we know a lot about what’s depicted in the painting, without really being able to articulate exactly what it is. The forms and spaces in Gutmann’s works are something, but one often can’t quite put a finger on it.

Even when the works are not prints, the overall flatness, the tactile-less-ness of the painting surface enhances what the artist refers to as “part memory, part fantasy.” These are truly illusions; they never even broach the true spaces, volumes or textures of what they are portraying. Though representation is apparent, the paintings are absolutely unreal.

Elana Gutmann at Perimeter Gallery

And if one can use what Gutmann constructs on the main floor of the gallery as a lens, the smaller group exhibition in the basement space can too be considered as abstractions of something specific, on the tip of your tongue; this exhibition of the works of several of the gallery’s artists continue the conversations between representation and ambiguity. A large installation of cast bronze works by Neil Goodman occupies one wall, and continues onto the floor. These shapes inspired by industrial aesthetics are sometimes geometric, sometimes structural, and sometimes much more organic. All roughly the same size, the sculptures on the wall are almost shorthand language, like hieroglyphs, indicative of some kind of social, human communicative construction. When they are on the floor, they rather reference notions of artifacts, of which the meanings have yet to be uncovered. If Gutmann’s paintings and works on paper are memories with logical pieces missing, Goodman’s sculptures are seemingly whole puzzles that have yet to be assembled.

Elana Gutmann’s “Synaethesia” is on display April 23 through May 28, 2010 at Perimeter Gallery, 210 West Superior Street, Chicago.