by Brian Droitcour
August 8, 2011
Deb Sokolows Notes on Denver International Airport and the New World Order, 2011, has the makings of a paperback thriller youd buy at an airport: a shadowy cabal of powerful men, a blue-collar crackpot who claimed to know their secret and died strangely, and an anonymous journalist who comes out of nowhere to supply the protagonist with a file of classified memos. The protagonist is Sokolow. But in her tellingwritten alongside diagrams, blueprints, photographs, and news clippings that are printed or taped on sheets of cheap copy papershe becomes you. The use of the second-person pronoun evades the diaristic while sharing doubt with more immediacy.
In Sokolows work, the affect of uncertainty doesnt stop at conspiracy theories about the New World Order and their meeting place under the Denver International Airport. A question about the tons of dirt removed from the airport at night expands to wonder about the secrecy of anything done under cover of darkness. Halfway through the parabola of panels, you travel to Denver to see what you can observe for yourself. But theres no evidence besides suspicious activity. As you poke around, you are trailed by a truck, and by a Dairy Queen employee who roams an airport without a Dairy Queen. The last panel shows four chambers connected by a square of corridors, white against a black field. One chamber is black but smeared with correction fluid. Is this supposed to be part of the airport? The imagined bunker? Youre only certain that its an enlargement of an image from the first panel. But the close-up shows nothing new.
About half of the text was penciled in after the pictures were hung, and there are signs of second-guessing: words obscured by graphite squares, awkward enjambments. Any seasoned viewer knows that rough-edged spontaneity in works on paper implies intimacy, honesty, confession, or sometimes testament. And here its certainly a contrast to the televised flashiness that often spreads conspiracy theory. But Sokolow refreshes these clichés by circulating them among truth and secrecy on a global scale. Do you trust an artwork by Deb Sokolow more than a television show hosted by Jesse Ventura? Are her methods any less manipulative? Does she want to convince you of anything other than doubt?
Production Site MCA Chicago
Art in America
By Janet Oh
May 25, 2010
Production Site: The Artist's Studio Inside-Out reflects on the singularly tense position between projection and the real (that of both audience and artist) occupied by the artist's studio. The exhibition at the MCA Chicago includes the works of 13 artists and coincides with Studio Chicago, a year of programming spanning the city.
The exhibition begins with a select timeline of artists' renderings of the studio, in which the space appears as a metonymic portrait or self-portrait. A Rembrandt featuring the artist in his studio and a Stephen Shore photograph of Andy Warhol seated in The Factory, in particular, highlight the schism between authentic and personified portrayal that hinges on the myth of the artist.
A walk-through of this exhibition compares to a marathon of studio visits, as nearly every artist occupies one full room, which gives each installation a theatrical quality while playing down formal comparison. Justin Cooper adds a layer to this staged feeling by exploring the studio as a map and an index of the artist's brain. His video, Studio Visit (2007), addresses the anxiety associated with a visit from an outsider such as curator or critic. Shot to assume the perspective of an unseen creature attempting to draw a still life, the frantic and frustrated tone of the video culminates in an outburst of destructive havoc. Cooper's creature wheezes and pants, while the viewer considers the point at which both artwork and studio might be best socialized.
For his seven-channel video projection MAPPING THE STUDIO II with color shift, flip, flop & flip/flop (Fat Chance John Cage) All Action Edit (2001), Bruce Nauman left a video camera to record his absented studio at night. Little occurs, although occasionally a mouse, cat, or moth crosses the frame. The artist's belongings lie abandoned, glowing under steady infrared light. The screens gradually change color and the screens flip at uncoordinated time intervals, forcefully comparing the studio visit with surveillance such that the viewer must ask him or herself what they are looking for, exactly.
Deb Sokolow frames her treatment of her Chicago studio building as "the paranoid narrator" in You Tell People You're Working Really Hard On Things These Days (2010). In floor plans and written descriptions, she's depicted the police discovery of a methamphetamine laboratory, and sketched Richard Serra as a mobster. During the exhibition's run, Sokolow updates the drawing with events in her building, transposing studio to exhibition site. Paranoia, it seems, is no obstacle.
In three video works by William Kentridge, the artist alchemizes artistic procedure to cinematic technique. The seven-part live-action and animated suite, 7 Fragments for George Méliès (2003), sees the artist filming himself drawing in his studio. The edited footage plays forwards and backwards, breaking from a linear depiction of production. Kentridge tears up a self-portrait, which reverses into a mending gesture, and never has the anxiety of production seemed more like play.
Production Site: The Artists Studio Inside-Out
By Claudine Ise
Production Site highlights the studio as a place of work, as well as a compelling aesthetic subject in itself. The selected visual history of the artists studioinstalled on a wall directly outside the exhibition galleries, as an initial point of referenceincludes a variety of iconic images: Jackson Pollock throwing his body into an action painting; Lee Bontecou in her New York studio, blowtorch in hand; Andy Warhol seated alone in his cavernous Factory. Theres even a film still of Julianne Moore as an avant-garde feminist artist from The Big Lebowski (1998).
This ancillary display reminds viewers that long-standing misperceptions about the nature of artists studios are inevitably linked to the clichés surrounding artists themselves. Perplexingly, however, it is also one of the few points in the exhibition where practitioners actually manifest an embodied presence. Mostly, they appear as trace elements: the whirling dervish of anxiety in Justin Coopers video Studio Visit, 2007; the hot white blob of infrared light shutting the studio door at night (Bruce Nauman, Mapping the Studio II, 2002); the covert operative who comes in to expand and edit her paintings sprawling narrative only on Mondays, when the museum is closed (Deb Sokolow, You Tell People Youre Working Really Hard on Things These Days, 2010).
There are several memorable exceptions. Nikhil Chopras two-day gallery performance offered a brief but potent instance of an artist responding directly, if theatrically, to his immediate environment, while William Kentridges magnificent multichannel animationa meditation on the mediums place in the history of cinematic trickerydraws viewers into a space that feels authentically magic, despite all evidence to the contrary. Its like walking into a waking dream.
A look inside the artist's studio
By Lori Waxman
May 07, 2010
Not much is happening in Bruce Nauman's studio. Hours go by. An insect flits. A mouse darts. A cat follows. Everywhere are scraps of this or that, a piece of furniture, a blank wall, a doorway.
Nauman has been thinking about what happens in the studio for a long time, since he first got one in the 1960s. Then as now, the end result of that thinking is an agonizing and witty bit of videotaped navel-gazing, a peek at that which confronts any artist upon opening the studio door: What am I going to do now?
If you're a conceptual artist, it might not look like much of anything at least that's what Nauman seems to be suggesting in his six-screen, six-hour installation, which forms part of the Museum of Contemporary Art's smart, sprawling exhibition, "Production Site: The Artist's Studio Inside-Out."
Yes, conceptual artists maintain studios just like painters and sculptors and draftsmen. In fact, as the MCA's exhibition demonstrates, sometimes it's those more traditional artists whose studios function in less-than traditional ways. Take the two creators who treat the museum itself as a space for making art: the work presented by both Nikhil Chopra and Deb Sokolow can best be described as drawing. And yet there it is, happening live in the museum itself.
Chopra's two-day performance began with a mesmerizing turn in which the slight, Indian-born artist played Yog Raj Chitrakar, a fictional Victorian character in a loincloth who spent many trancelike hours covering the gallery's walls with evocative whirlwinds of charcoal. Visitors' shoes picked up the black dust that covered the floor, tracking it throughout the museum to make a secondary, temporary (and perhaps unintentional) picture.
Sokolow's charmingly paranoid mural-scale drawing diagrams various conspiratorial tales about the goings on in and around her studio building. According to the artist, these include but are not limited to a meth lab, suspicious Russians in room 501, and the "situation" in the parking lot across the street. On most days, Sokolow's piece hangs like any other, and says a lot about what the artist is doing in her studio when she's supposed to be "working" on art (she's spying on the neighbors). Once a week, however, Sokolow does what you are not supposed to do in a museum: she climbs up a scaffold and touches up her work, adding to this narrative, changing that one, starting another one entirely.
It's worth noting and applauding the fact that Sokolow, a local artist, has been given pride of place in the museum's atrium. The MCA has not been known for recognizing Chicago talent far beyond its 12 x 12 shows, but "Production Site" includes Sokolow plus John Neff, Justin Cooper, former Chicagoan Amanda Ross Ho and Kerry James Marshall. No surprise on the latter, perhaps, but a welcome change overall, and one the MCA will hopefully repeat.
Ross Ho offers a particularly literal take on the idea of the artist's studio, presenting the actual walls of her Los Angeles workspace as the work itself. This might sound dull, but it is only if you lack the imagination and willingness to follow the subtle clues Ross Ho has left behind.
A Notorious B.I.G. poster, a wee balloon sculpture, a Chinese New Year mask, mismatched jewelry, paint drips and more suggest a diversity of work come and gone. Admittedly, this envisioning process is substantially easier for viewers already familiar with her work, but it might just be more fun for others.
Peter Fischli and David Weiss seem to have done something similar to Ross Ho, transporting not the walls but the messy contents of their studio into the gallery. But look again (or read the materials list and then look again) and discover that their project has nothing literal about it. Instead it is a confoundingly realist recreation of a studio from carved and painted polyurethane a fake studio for a fake artist, presumably made in some kind of real studio by real artists, about whom we learn little.
The very opposite is the case with Andrea Zittel, who installs wood furniture, felted organizers and other designs from the desert home-cum-studio in which she makes and tests her customized goods. Through her products, slogans and a documentary, Zittel promotes a lifestyle as ostensibly simplified, empowered and handmade as her own though in its insistence on limits and its focus on material objects, her program often seems more fascistic than liberating.
Plenty of other artists in the show focus on the studio as subject, including Rodney Graham, Ryan Gander and Tacita Dean. None of them, however, seem to be taking as much playful pleasure as William Kentridge does in his own workspace, where he animates the universe in charcoal, spilled coffee, ants and sugar. Kentridge's witty, self-reflective twist is to film himself in the midst of that universe, bumbling amicably amid flying sheets of paper and pictures of himself. The result is a portrait of the artist in the studio, a studio at once traditional and contemporary, a studio that shares with the viewer much of the wonder it contains. Would that all artists' studios and artists produced such generous, captivating meditations on the world.
Review: Second StoriesArtists Making Do & Fixing Up/Zolla Lieberman Gallery
by Abraham Ritchie
Disaster, whether natural or human-made, is at the heart of the large group exhibition Second Stories. Curators Brian Gillham and Rachel Kalom bring together artists working in a variety of media that generally reflect Americas newfound frugality, hence oil on canvas takes a backseat to work made from materials such as cardboard, packing tape and found objects. Taking satirical aim at luxuries and commodities (including art), Vijay Panikers ceramics update wine and cheese parties for the current recession: a tube of easy cheese and a box of wine. Were not giving up these luxuries; were just giving up good taste.
Deb Sokolows work panders to fear-mongering. Her CIA Failed Assassination Attempt #3 recounts one of the CIAs unsuccessful attempts at assassinating Fidel Castro by paying $150,000 to an agent of the Mob to arrange the hit. She humorously concludes, The CIA shouldve gotten their money back on this one. Sokolow combines obvious cover-ups, effacing and slightly menacing dark shapes to convey both what we dont know and the little we do about what the CIA exactly does or has done.
Though some of the work on view in Second Stories is passable, the art brought together reflects our current uncertainty, but as Paniker indicates, were not really that worried.
Gallery winners from Sokolow, Harrison
by Lauren Viera
May 29, 2009
We warned you about local artist Deb Sokolow in 2008 as part of On the Town's "Ones to watch" roundup. If you haven't yet sought her out, here's another bee in your bonnet.
The artist's latest diagrammatic wonder, "The way in which things operate," signifies the debut of the Spertus Museum's new Ground Level Projects series (launched last month), for which four artists were commissioned to create works that will eventually live in the museum's growing contemporary collection. Before the new additions make their way to the Spertus Institute's top-floor museum, they're displayed for a spell in the ground-floor lobby.
Though Ground Level Projects is an awkward exhibition space -- the revolving door traffic and security desk provide constant interruption -- Sokolow's work is so absorbing, distractions are moot. "The way in which things operate" keeps in line with the 2004 Art Institute graduate's signature style: large scale, unpolished graphite-and-ink illustrated flowcharts detailing and dissecting mysterious predicaments, which may or may not be figments of the paranoid protagonist's imagination.
Like all of Sokolow's works, "The way in which things operate" starts out simple: "You" (the artist's recurring character) have a "problem." The culprit? A phantom Venn diagram.
Stay with me: As Sokolow so eloquently illustrates, "This 3-circled thing starts showing up in your dreams at night," until the protagonist succumbs to sleepless nights eating salami sandwiches over back-issues of Cat Fancy. Believable, non? The mystery follows Sokolow's shaky block lettering from her Division Street apartment building downtown to Manny's Deli for conversations with Robert De Niro about corned-beef sandwiches. Along the way, there's a stop at -- where else? -- the Spertus Museum.
Sokolow's pieces are less art than two-dimensional storytelling, and yet they're aesthetically fascinating -- eraser marks, correction fluid and all. Here's hoping "The way in which things operate" resides on a big wall in the museum once it graduates from ground level.
Deb Sokolow, "The way in which things operate" at Spertus Museum, 610 S. Michigan Ave., 312-322-1700, spertus.edu. Through July 19.
By Jaime Calder
February 15, 2010
This month, Chicagoans will have the opportunity to decide for themselves when Production Site: The Artists Studio Inside-Out, an ambitious exhibition featuring work from a variety of artists, opens at the Museum of Contemporary Art. The works that comprise Production Site include photos, video, multi-day performances, sprawling installations and life-sized reproductions of artists studios, establishing these spaces in real time while simultaneously capitalizing on the sensationalism and mysticism associated with these workrooms.
My first understanding of artists studios was based not on visits to actual spaces, but on what I gleaned from films like Scorseses New York Stories, says MCA curator Dominic Molon. A crossroad of experimentation and parties blown to mythic proportions by media and imaginationsome artists have appropriated this wild image of socializing and partying, but for many the studio is a place of business.
A mix of both new and existing works, Production Site invokes the studio space, paradoxically staging developmental spaces within the confines of the museum. Art star and Chicago resident Deb Sokolow, famed for her humorously sprawling story lines and incorporation of local topics, has been commissioned to create a large-scale floor plan of her studio detailing semi-factual activity within the space and surrounding neighborhood. This evolving installation, stationed on the MCAs front lobby wall, will begin this month and continue developing throughout the duration of the show.
Other Chicago artists represented in Production Site include John Neff, MacArthur genius grant recipient Kerry James Marshall and former Chicagoan Amanda Ross-Ho, who cut up the walls of her old studio to use them as not only sculptural material, but also as a collage of her previous works, pictorially documenting her past creations through the remnants and splatters on her former spaces walls.
Equally exciting but drastically different is the two-day performance of Indian artist Nikhil Chopra, who will take on the characters of various artists and draftsmen from the 19th century, creating a living gallery space while audiences watch. Chopras elaborate transformations incorporate any number of costumes and props, all of which will be left within the space following his performances conclusion, creating a tangible record of his presence.
In a time when cell phones and laptops are taking the place of these essential spaces, Molon hopes Production Site will offer audiences a layered, realistic understanding of what studios actually are and how they function in a pragmatic way. Pragmatic? Well, maybe. Quixotic? Definitely. Between multi-channel video projections and photographic light-boxes, the realism of the studio is muddled as it is transformed into its own artistic entity. The end result, however, is phenomenal and grand in size. If, as one London journalist said, the studio is truly a reflection of an artist, then Production Site will surely take audiences through the looking glass.
Review: Deb Sokolow/Spertus Museum
by Jaime Calder
Imagine you are being haunted in your dreams. The ghost is probably one of your relativesspecifically, one of your older, male, Jewish relativesand he is trying to tell you something you dont entirely understand.
Thus begins the meandering story of Deb Sokolows new work, The ways in which things operate, the first of a series of Ground Level Projects at the Spertus Museum. Sokolow, whose family keeps their archives at the Spertus Asher Library, combines her personal history with Chicagos Jewish history though a hand-written, hand-drawn storyboard bursting with tangents, half-truths and occasional drawings of Robert De Niro. Spanning the walls of the Spertus street-level vestibule, the piece incorporates the museum in both the telling of the story and how the reader experiences it, guiding them by way of thinly inked arrows through the museums permanent collections, their hallways, and even down the elevators as it spins a half-true, half-farcical tale of family, life and loss in the Windy City.
Told in second person, this garrulous mural propels itself forward through the simple supposition that there is something from the past will change your life today. Sokolows ability to ensnare readers in her narrative is remarkable, drawing them in by the traced sketches and penciled commentary. The foundation of our past is an intoxicating subject for both Jews and Gentiles, and Sokolow successfully carries her audience through to the end of her storyan end that, at the time of this writing, has not yet been revealed.
Kemper mystery exhibit is a you-dunit
Kansas City Star
by Alice Thorson
Chicago artist Deb Sokolow describes her elaborate wall drawing at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art as one big cliché of a mystery detective story.
But Sokolows story, titled You Are One Step Closer to Learning the Truth, is far more ambitious than your average whodunit. For starters, it covers all four walls of the museums meeting room.
Threaded with social commentary, existential angst, wry reflections on human behavior and a playful sense of the absurd, her energetic outpouring of hand-painted images and hand-printed texts offers a grand psycho-romp through American culture with Kansas City as a staging area and the reader as protagonist.
You are about to read a story, states the opening line of text. You are the main character. That character is a hapless detective who receives a note from a woman named Mrs. Vincheslaus requesting help in finding her missing husband.
Dr. Vincheslaus is a hermetic chemist in the process of inventing a special KC-style barbecue sauce with youth-enhancing results.
A bit of detection, involving the requisite questions about his appearance and possible enemies (as well as his favorite foods and colors), yields the conclusion that the doctor has managed to find the mythic fountain of youth and that to find him, the detective must find the fountain.
Nothing about this story is straightforward.
For one thing, Sokolow constantly appends the main narrative with little tongue-in-cheek asides from the detectives kvetching alter-ego.
Youre in control of the story, the artist informs the reader at the outset.
And then the little alter ego weighs in: Wouldnt it be nice to be in control of something just once?
But who are you? the artist continues.
Sometimes youre not really sure who you are, the inner voice observes with a hint of smugness.
The texts are enlivened throughout by visual accompaniments, including a bar graph assessing detective skills ranging from The Best in the Field to As Good as Columbo. An illustration of the spooky-looking exterior of the Vincheslaus house is followed by a Clue-style diagram of the interior.
Moving from one wall to the next, Sokolow cleverly incorporates the meeting rooms utilitarian features a surveillance camera, a pair of emergency doors into the story.
Shortly after the narrative gets going, it splits, inspired by the popular Choose Your Own Adventure series of childrens books that offer readers optional story lines.
In Sokolows tale, the story divides when the reader/detective must decide whether the fountain of youth is more likely to be found in Portland, Ore., or Kansas City.
Much of the fun of the story derives from its inclusion of familiar Kansas City locales, including the Raphael Hotel, Halls department store and Oklahoma Joes.
The worlds of pop culture and celebrity surface through appearances by Robert De Niro cast in the role of a suspicious character who crops up at various points in the story and David Copperfield, whom the narrative exposes as a fraud.
At one point, the detective considers what Ted Koppel, Oliver Stone and Nancy Drew would do in his situation.
Things get manic in all three lines of investigation. The Koppel-style inquiry leads to an encounter with a famous food critic. He believes that Dr. Vincheslaus is adding kooky chemicals to food that give people cancer, but worse, make the food taste bad.
The Oliver Stone story line takes a delightfully gory turn that explains Why Kansas City barbecue sauce tastes so good.
Alternative endings include an adventure in Kansas Citys Subtropolis caves with a reference to the museums recent acquisition of a 2006 painting of the site by Lisa Sanditz.
Through all these twists and turns, the narrators paranoia is a source of great amusement. Yet considered as a parallel reality to our own, the storys not so funny.
In a media-saturated world where the lines between truth and fiction are often blurred, a little paranoia may be a sign of sanity.
Miranda July meets Mark Lombardi
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
By Mary Louise Schumacher
Like the Choose Your Own Adventure children's books, Deb Sokolow's installation at Inova, "The Trouble with People You Don't Know," puts us into the role of the protagonist and invites us to make choices that determine how a plot unfolds.
Instead of turning pages, though, we follow arrows around the room. We walk ahead, turn a corner or linger in order to make choices in this story about the internal workplace dramas of a giant bookstore chain where we are a self-conscious staffer with a love of art books and Nancy Drew.
Will we fill out the application for the better paying, $22,000-a-year job? Will we go home and practice re-shelving books? Will we out our colleague who has just got to be dealing meth? Will we indulge our curiosity about the history of epidemics?
Setting the pace and direction of the story, driven by text and fashioned from basic "office" materials, like notebook paper and cardboard, is a bit like slipping down one of the Internet's many rabbit holes or like a spontaneous unfolding of the imagination. Except, we are not so in control.
The odd, fictional inner voice that drives the piece is Chicago-based Sokolow's creation. The uninhibited, paranoia-infused, sometimes obsessive and precise self-talk we're given, on loan, is a strange cross between performance artist-filmmaker Miranda July and the late, brilliant, conspiracy theorist-artist Mark Lombardi.
Inner arguments, printed out carefully in black and red pencil, become convincingly our own because they're open to interpretation. That they're also suggestive of an odd and distracted mind is something we put up with because the journey is so entertaining, because we want to know what'll happen next.
As we experience this fictional inner voice in tandem with our own, reacting to it, the artwork maps out something about our own habits of mind, about our distractedness, about our entertainment appetites and about how we navigate the layers of media, information and experience that are part of our lives.
Sokolow's piece is part of a larger exhibit of drawings curated by Nicholas Frank. Outside of the Milwaukee Art Museum, Frank does what few other curators do here: He explores a larger art world trend, namely large-scale drawing, through a specific strain within it, in this case drawings with a narrative aspect.
Deb Sokolow's "The Trouble with People You Don't Know" is on view at Inova, 2155 N. Prospect Ave., through March 14. Other artists in the show include Dominic McGill, Robyn O'Neil, Claire Pentecost and Amy Ruffo.
by Aisha Motlani
No wonder paranoids flourish, says Nicholas Frank in his curatorial statement for The Flight of Fake Tears, a new exhibit at Inova/Kenilworth Gallery. He describes the void, the blank page, the unaccountable matter ingrained in our very existence, as the seat of a primal anxiety. Whether its through a tantalizing series of what-ifs or a feverish web of conspiracies, the work of at least two of the artists in the exhibit examines the means by which we repel the paralyzing uncertainty underlying human endeavor.
In The Trouble With People You Dont Know, Deb Sokolow constructs an imaginary persona whose decisions the viewer has the power to direct. Pinned to the wall are a series of hastily scribbled drawings and notes, resembling an obsessive crime investigators cache of maps and photos, and outlining the range of possibilities open to this fictional character.
We read the pros and cons of each, commentary riddled with irony and selfdoubt, as we grope along the walls to divine the outcome of our choices. Dominic McGills Orchestra of Fear consists of a tent inscribed with livid headlines, epithets and irreverent caricatures. They look like the obsessive scrawlings of a madman, a media harlot and a keen social critic all rolled into one. Most unsettling is its air of disrepute. It resembles the kind of ominous abode that fairy-tale protagonists are cautioned to avoid but to which theyre irresistibly drawn. Theres even a drawing of a wolf in sheeps clothingor rather scouts clothingto strengthen this impression.
Yet Sokolow and McGill both place a curious distance between themselves and the persona around whom their work revolves. Its not Sokolows thoughts were sharing in her piece, but those of a stranger racked by doubts and hopes which are no less crippling for being rather ordinary. The tent McGill constructs belongs not to him but to an imaginary recluse dwelling on the social periphery, out of sight but not out of mind.
Any creative act proposes a direct challenge to infernal and terrifying blankness. That aside, its still difficult to ascertain exactly how the work of Amy Ruffo and Robyn ONeil corresponds with this idea of pictorial paranoia .
Ruffo s spare-looking drawings, with the almost sacred significance they place on the precise weight and quality of pencil lines, and ONeils painfully detailed landscapes are self-contained pieces that seem utterly removed from McGill and Sokolows fretful meanderings. Perhaps the inclusion of Claire Pentecosts work, which somewhat straddles both approaches, is an attempt to lend coherence to the exhibit. She draws on the walls of her studio, then photographs her work. The drawings represent a spontaneous act, mapping out an inner landscape that morphs and evolves. The camera lens arrests the evolution of the work and more importantly introduces an analytical distance between the artist and her creation. We dont see the result of the creative act itself, but see visual evidence of it. Like Sokolow and McGill, Pentecosts effort represents a self-conscious attempt by the artist to stand back from her work and view it through the dispassionate gaze of a stranger.
Chicago Magazine, April 2007
By Joanna Topor Mackenzie
We polled gallerists and experts to find out which rising art stars we should be collecting now...
A few years ago, Deb Sokolow dumped her boyfriend for Rocky Balboa. "Rocky began to take the place of my own love story, because it was so much better," says Sokolow, 32. The result was a nine-foot-long, text-heavy, idiosyncratic cartoon that featured Sokolow herself as an alternative love interest for the boxer. Since then she has also dumped an unfulfilling sculpture-based studio practice and pursued her unique form of large-format diagramming-meets-storytelling. Sokolow's stories are almost always told by a paranoid narrator who is fascinated by the nefarious goings-on in the world. Subjects ripped from the headlines and whimsical themes like a pirate invasion of Chicago (Someone Tell Mayor Daley the Pirates Are Coming, now in the collection of the MCA) pepper her larger-than-life charts. Recent Hollywood interest in her work has fueled her exploration of the overlap between actors and the characters they play. "There's this sort of confusion about who celebrities really are, and I love that."
The Windy Apple
Artnet, Jan. 2007
by Abraham Orden
At 40000, which founder Britton Bertran recently moved to the citys West Loop gallery district, the artist Deb Sokolow -- another Chicagoan -- has installed a sprawling text and image piece titled Secrets and Lies and More Lies. Cute and nothing else, this work is a choose-your-own-adventure-style narrative that wraps around the gallery walls. The tale of intrigue takes place at the Winchester Mystery House in California, and the story unfolds in a style that is a blend of New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast and novelist Thomas Pynchon circa The Crying of Lot 49.
As a work of art, Secrets is remarkable in its total lack of pretension. The modest materials -- cheap paper, pencil, pen and acrylic paint -- connote a sort of planned obsolescence, a willingness to decompose, to not stand the test of time. Likewise the narrative form, which is often addressed to "you," making the reader the hero of the tale, seems to speak person-to-person, making the reader forget he or she is part of the public and thus eliminating the distance which that knowledge engenders.
Partially because of this quality, and partially because the piece falls short in certain regards (the story it tells is in no way unconventional), the work seems undeveloped or like a prototype that may or may not ever make it to the assembly line. This order of experience seems to be less and less available to todays gallery-goer, so get it while you can.
Portrait of the Artist: Deb Sokolow
New City, Dec. 19, 2006
by Jason Foumberg
Deb Sokolow, a 32-year-old artist from California who lives and works in Chicago, combines text and image in storyboards that unfold left to right through space. These diagrams chart both a narrator's inner-dialogue and external events that encompass both personal and political fictions. Sokolow began experimenting with flow-charts during her studies in The School of the Art Institute of Chicago's progressive Fiber and Material Studies program. Since graduating in 2004, she has gained widespread attention in many of Chicago's alternative and institutional art venues. Sokolow's art, like a serial pulp novella, has a definite appeal; Chicago viewers just can't seem to get enough. Her exhibition history includes the coveted 12x12 emerging-artist showcase at the MCA and a performance in a Marshall Field's window display.
Bred from her parents' library of political history and popular espionage novels, Sokolow's art is a tangle of myth and reality. Her current work at Gallery 40000, titled "Secrets and Lies and More Lies," presents Sokolow's experience of a ghost sighting at the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California. The plot unfolds to include a possible terrorist scheme told through trifling details about the narrator. This narrator in Sokolow's drama--who is a consistent character in all her projects--is a bored and disaffected corporate-world peon who is officially in charge of ordering office supplies and unofficially in charge of guarding those supplies from theft. Such paranoiac tendencies breed further anxieties about the world at large. The narrator's voice is a reflection of insecurities about mediocrity, manifesting itself as a schizoid internal dialogue, an excessive use of correction fluid, the inequities of local politics, even a spooky house.
The narrator is only called "You," as in you, the viewer. "You" daydream yourself out of the city of cubicles and into a labyrinthine story of secret operations. The monotony and alienation of office life is transcended through a narrative that results in investigations into the bureaucracy of social relations in the information age. Fantasy spawns truth; whether personal truths or capital "T" Truth--both are the compound result of the humor and the horror of self-consciousness.
On paper, MCA show is a smash
The Chicago Sun-Times, July 13, 2006
by Kevin Nance
Sun-Times art and architecture critic
Equally obsessive and absorbing, if with a decidedly lighter touch, is Deb Sokolow's "Someone Tell Mayor Daley, the Pirates Are Coming," which was seen last year at MCA as part of the museum's increasingly invaluable 12 x 12 series featuring younger local artists. This nervy piece, another super-wide scroll (this one marked up in ink, graphite and corrective fluid), is a high-concept hoot -- the first work of art to make me laugh out loud since Aernout Mik's "Refraction" video at MCA last year.
Sokolow's elaborate story line is that of a conspiracy theorist convinced that a band of pirates is coming to infiltrate and eventually plunder the Windy City. We're not talking about corporate raiders here; we're talking about the real thing, bloodthirsty vulgarians with eyepatches, peg legs and scraggly beards. (Think Johnny Depp.) They're digging tunnels, infiltrating the power structure, setting up meth labs (meth labs?), all in preparation for the day they appear in their warships on Lake Michigan.
What would Ted Koppel do? So the narrator wonders, before finally deciding to warn Mayor Daley -- but wait! What treasure is it, really, that the pirates are after? What if the first Mayor Daley secretly buried it on Northerly Island? What if his son tried to recover it by shutting down Meigs Field, guiding the backhoes by marking the spot with a giant X? What if . . .?
The answers can be found only at 220 E. Chicago.
Putting post-9/11 fear on the map: Sokolow's dark vision at the MCA
The Chicago Tribune, August 19, 2005
By Alan G. Artner
Tribune art critic
Deb Sokolow's immense new drawing at the Museum of Contemporary Art has the title "Someone Tell Mayor Daley, the Pirates are Coming," and not least because the artist staged a live-action version in a store window on State Street, there is the temptation to take it as James M. Barrie-like whimsy.
But the piece, which crosses various diagrams with a treasure map, is a good deal darker than that, thanks to its central character, a sleepless paranoiac whom Sokolow gives a soliloquy that nicely establishes a tone of post-9/11 hysteria.
The character's stream of consciousness unfolds on a single bluish sheet that covers parts of three walls in a gallery. Sokolow prints in various colors, illustrating aspects of the narrative while driving viewers along with dotted lines and arrows. An apparent street person sets everything in motion by screaming something that the narrator fantastically embellishes into an open-ended saga of old and new Chicago.
The wonder of it is less the quality of Sokolow's drawing than her effectiveness in creating a character and sustaining tension. Just like horror films transform fears that are already in the culture, so does this piece take our uneasiness about terrorism and recast it in the terms of a children's storybook that retains a very real urban anxiety.
For much of the last century narrative art was ridiculed. Literature and theater were supposed to tell stories better. Sokolow challenges that, and takes us along with her.
Pirates invade Chicago
The Chicago Tribune, July 28, 2005
By Charles Storch
"Someone Tell Mayor Daley, the Pirates are Coming."
As if Hizzoner didn't know.
Actually, it's not a cry about subpoena-carrying feds or GOP bounty hunters at City Hall's door but the title of a new work to be unveiled Aug. 5 at the Museum of Contemporary Art.
Chicago artist Deb Sokolow, 31, said Wednesday that she hasn't finished the piece--a 48-foot, fantastical map of the city. She said it will include the text of a paranoid narrator certain that invading pirates will plunder a mayoral treasure--buried not in, say, the Procurement Services Department or Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, but at the former Meigs Field.
Sokolow's aware of the heat on City Hall these days but said: "I definitely have no intention of disparaging the mayor. This is a comical work of fiction. I hope he gets a laugh out of it."
Review of Early Adopters, curated by Adelheid Mers at The 3Arts Club
The Chicago Tribune, October 21, 2005
By Alan G. Artner
Tribune art critic
Deb Sokolow's narrative drawings about a critic who disappears has the widest appeal. As she did in a recent show at the Museum of Contemporary Art, she tells (and illustrates) a story with the apparent innocence of children's books and old-time movie serials. This plays more engagingly than anything else on view, yet it's decidedly personal, not merely crowd-pleasing.