Flesh And Bones

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The Ivan Albright exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago is suffocatingly beautiful.

This Chicago painter, who worked between the Wars into the 1980s, was noticed in a military hospital when he was asked to illustrate a procedure. From that point, he worked as an artist for the military and later trained along with his identical twin at The Art Institute of Chicago. He rejected his father’s “pretty” impressionist approach in favor of decadently decaying depictions.

So much of this exhibit exists within the worlds of the living and the dead — his subjects hold madly, desperately to living while their bodies, and even environments, betray them. The monk concedes that he cannot look any more spiritual. The young mother embodies the costs of bearing children. Even Dorian Gray’s desire for control causes him to careen, as the color contrasts suggest, out of control. 

The last item is a depiction of an electric lineman, which Albright painted for a trade magazine cover. Coming after so many decaying depictions, it seemed quite realistic and accurate, but it had been criticized by magazine readers, which led the publishers to print a photograph-like cover as an apologetic response.

His style is called magical realism, but magical realism, I thought, had more potential for hope. This fascinating exhibit elicits, like a car wreck, an obsessive dread.

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