CHICAGO — Abraham Cruzvillegas brings 11 new works to the modernist ground floor galleries at the Arts Club of Chicago. With his current exhibition, The Ballad of Etc., the artist has gathered refuse and debris from Chicago and his ancestral home in Michoacán, in western Mexico, to construct a set of highly contingent sculptures whose elements are tethered with thin ropes and twine to the gallery’s walls and ceiling.
The works reflect the hands and eye of their maker, as Cruzvillegas has chosen various objects discarded for their “uselessness” (e.g., a chair with a busted leg, a hat rack with broken pegs) and repurposed them to make new work. These items are positioned in relationship to one another, sometimes with pulleys and counterweights keeping them in place, their juxtapositions articulated in some cases by nylon crocheted into gossamer cone-like forms, suggesting they might be easily undone, collapsed, or ruined.
In addition, many of the constructions include modestly scaled pieces of wood lacquered in a traditional “maque” technique, delineating intersecting and concentric circles of the artist’s design. Several of the sculptures are anchored by potted plants, such as cacti indigenous to the land that straddles Mexico and the US; milkweed, the only plant on which the migratory Monarch butterfly lays its eggs; and switchgrass, native to Illinois and common throughout the prairies of North America.
The contrast between these works and the galleries in which they currently reside creates a sense of discomfort, and this too is important. Cruzvillegas’s provisional “autoconstrucciones” abut the shine and precision of a hard-edged Modernist space (the steel stairs that lead up to the Arts Club’s private spaces were designed by Mies van der Rohe). By making material the vulnerabilities of contemporary relationships between Chicago and Michoacán, tracing a physical (in)balance between geographies with the plants that traverse the edges of these nation states, Cruzvillegas’s forms embody the precariousness and hope, if not the danger, of contemporary notions of borders, and the forces at work that make them porous or impenetrable.