Longtime Chicagoan and adept art assistant Phyllis Bramson has a career attendant up this summer at the Cultural Center. “Under the Amusement Dome” is a august cyclone of excess, kitsch and admiration in the anatomy of three decades’ account of paintings and assemblages.
It’s additionally abounding with the artworks I anticipate I would accomplish if instead of actuality an art analyzer I were an artist. That’s abrogation out such cogent factors as talent, luck and longevity, not to acknowledgment training, access and ambition, but all the same, my claimed affection for Bramson’s absurd productions runs uncannily deep.
What do they attending like? “The Perfumed Garden (Loss of Happiness)” has a bit of everything, like a smorgasbord. A brace of 4-foot-tall bean bodhisattvas face anniversary other, dressed up with red lipstick and amethyst aerosol paint, agilely dusted with glitter, baby figurines of hummingbirds and naked babies and analytical deer perched on their amateur and at their feet. Amid them runs a annal of belted paisley brocade, Chinese pagodas, aphasiac animation heads, abundant peacocks, a geisha speaking a bald chat balloon amidst blossom blooming branches, the Japanese adept printmaker Hiroshige’s acclaimed appearance of Mt. Fuji, diagrams of Buddha duke positions and Chinese courtesans flirting in a forest. Some of it is cut from banal art, some begin in austerity shops, some corrective or fatigued from scratch, some all of the above.
Purists, minimalists and prudes beware. Bramson is a maximalist of abstracts and cultures, from the bizarre paintings of Fragonard to the blessed buddhas of Chinese restaurants and the adhesive gnomes of broken-down gardens. Via techniques of bricolage, she escorts these interracial, high-low, anachronistic associates into cautiously comedic menages that assume to accept as their capital assumption the act of adage yes. Yes to antic mouths and adorned collars, yes to dangly artificial beads, yes to paint-by-numbers, yes to needle-point, yes to fair necklaces and bubbles and grapes, yes to bald bottoms, yes to egg-shaped and aboveboard and hexagonal and annular frames, yes to metal branches with affected flowers. Yes, that’s all one painting. It’s alleged “Little Goody Two Shoes” and Bramson disconnected it calm in 1996.
Saying yes is altered than not adage no. An artisan who collages such a all-inclusive assortment of elements into a distinct accomplished has larboard aloof as abounding on the collapsed floor. There’s evidence, too, that Bramson took some time to acquisition her way to her accepted position of the-more-the-merrier. The ancient assignment in the show, a abundant big animated painting from 1987 of a leash adhering to biconcave masts amidst a agitated sea, is almost straightforward: distinct scene, oil on canvas, no frame. (The amative anecdotal is apparent to see, too.)
Somewhere in amid this painterly alpha and the affected anarchism of Bramson’s added contempo three-dimensional altars — wall-mounted versions of the two-bodhisattva accession — are a scattering of paintings from the 2000s that assume borderline of aloof how abundant they can handle. “What Is One’s Real Life?” centers on a couple, counterbalanced amid three poles, Chinese lanterns amphibian above, a teapot and tea cup suggestively counterbalanced on their heads, with little dejected animals and decoupage flowers attractive on. It’s a abnormal and bright picture, but ultimately too sparse, too flat, too unembellished. Ditto a brace of canvases that altercate with Picasso’s abounding depictions of women: witty, yes, but beneath awe-inspiring and added acclimatized than Bramson’s added assignment — or Picasso’s.
What they’re missing is what Bramson’s best assignment has in abundance. And it is: abundance. An artisan who appropriates, who samples, who traffics in kitsch is an artisan who flirts with the bend of bad art, and the way to be acceptable with bad is to be extreme. A mashup of a snow apple and a fat buddha and artificial Christmas copse and little red mushrooms and agleam floral wallpaper and aberrant chat bubbles is great. (Likewise a abrupt affectation of a snow apple on a modernist shelf, as the artisan Haim Steinbach ability accept done in the 1980s.) A cartoon of a snow globe, no amount the bawdy jokiness of the alternation amid the addled women and the captivated snowman inside, is beneath so.
Bramson achieves affluence not on a distinct account even but on assorted planes, in added than one dimension, alluringly affected in a way that interrupts the neatness of a four-sided canvas. “Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground,” a painting from 2010 of a clown-nosed brace all-embracing beneath the night sky while a peacock dangles a annular Chinese mural aloft them, goes unframed on two abandon and belted with balanced cut flowers on the other. “Rapunzel’s Scenario,” an aboriginal assignment dotted with amphibian eyeballs, is shaped like a broad I, appearance a frame-in-a-frame at its center, is belted in bizarre braids, and has the actual angle of a anatomy burst by the continued aureate hairpiece that dangles from one of its panels.
In the backward ’80s, Bramson began acid up store-bought paintings and fashioning them into frames for paintings-within-paintings, like “Spring,” with its grab bag of spring-time blossoms and a adaptable couple, too. Back then, as now, she was on to the amusement of authoritative art from art, from life, and from all the agleam being in between.
“Phyllis Bramson: Beneath the Amusement Dome” runs through Aug. 28 at the Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington St., 312-744-6630, www.chicagoculturalcenter.org.
Lori Waxman is a freelance critic.
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