Jesus Lopez

at Mind & Sol Gallery, through October 14

Richard Hunt

at Worthington Gallery, through October 31

Holograms are gimmicky. There are exceptions, but most holographic art that I’ve seen has been dominated by the almost hypnotic illusions of depth and movement. And for many of us, a mere optical trick is not “art.”

Instead of running away from this issue, Jesus Lopez in his 16 recent holograms on view at Mind & Sol embraces it. Most are politically incorrect photographic images of nude women, though Lopez seems to allude to eroticism rather than try to create pornography. Lowering or raising your eye level makes some bodies radiate all the colors of the rainbow, while moving from side to side makes others change position. All hover before your eyes more real than dream or fantasy images yet clearly not touchable.

Lopez’s pairing of subject matter and technique is clever and appropriate. These holograms don’t offer themselves as trompe l’oeil illusions or as three-dimensional substitute objects but as mental images, evoking the realm of dreams, of memory, even of masturbation fantasies. As one walks from side to side, the seated woman in The Muse rotates ever so slightly, her head appearing to tilt to face the viewer. The woman in Hot! Hot! sits with her legs apart, the area between them in shadow; as one moves to the left, her legs spread a bit wider and her face becomes blurred, almost invisible, recalling the pornographic crotch shot. But since her genitals are still in shadow, the image has none of the solidity of a centerfold: wispy, almost transparent, these figures hang suspended in space and, if one moves too far, disappear.

Lopez, 42, a Chicago resident, was born and raised in Mexico City, where he was a professional photographer. “When I was maybe 17,” he told me, “I shot my first picture with a naked girl, and I said, ‘Oh! Oh! This is it!'” Long interested in holography, he was able to learn the technique only when he came here in 1991 to attend the School of the Art Institute.

Some of his art-school training can perhaps be seen in two images that reflect the cubist idea that no single view of a subject is complete. In Flash Girl, a relatively static image of a woman is juxtaposed with an image of the same woman whose head moves when the viewer does. Sensual Virtual Reality superimposes 88 different film frames of the same woman–for his source images Lopez films his models in 16-millimeter–producing multiple views of parts of a woman’s body. But what’s effective about Sensual Virtual Reality is the way these multiple images combine without the harsh collisions of a cubist painting, blending together with preternatural smoothness.

Most of Lopez’s holograms are 8 by 10 inches; some are smaller, and a few are 12 by 16. Candy for Your Eyes uses its larger size powerfully, if disturbingly. A woman is seated in profile, eyes closed and head resting on a raised knee. Step slowly to the right, and her body seems to rotate toward you. A bit more to the right, and one eye opens and looks out. Walk a step further, and just as the viewing angle becomes steep enough that the entire hologram is about to vanish, her eye closes again. This little narrative of viewer frustration, unfolding in a few footsteps, nicely expresses the impossibility of grasping any fantasy image. Nurture it and it will grow on you; ask too much of it and it promptly disappears.

Though Lopez’s work is intriguing, it also left me dissatisfied: his elusive images are more like slices of life than works of art. Pieces that are this purely perceptual rarely succeed fully because the best art depends upon formal relations that are almost intellectual–akin to thought itself. The same depth effects that make Lopez’s women seem so present also result in images that are beyond the artist’s control, and so beyond form. Escaping photography’s limiting flatness, Lopez also abandons the possibility of articulating complex relations between light and shade, foreground and background–between competing forms. Works that do have such formal complexity can break through boundaries in a different way–refusing to sit well-behaved in their frames or on their pedestals, intruding on the viewer’s senses and mind.

Sculptor Richard Hunt is that rare artist who can create unconventional effects with conventional materials. His best works produce continual surprise by setting up a visual pattern and then violating it, changing it, or juxtaposing it with another pattern. The viewer who’s attuned to one part of a sculpture must transform his perceptions as he moves on to another part–a process that enables the work to escape its physical limits without the literalizing methods of holography.

One of Chicago’s best-known artists–he was born here in 1935 and is still a resident–Hunt attended public schools on the south side. In 1955, while he was a School of the Art Institute student, two sculptures by Julio Gonzalez first opened him, he said later, to “the expressive potential of direct metal sculpture.” Soon he added welding equipment to his studio in the basement of his father’s barbershop. He made many of his early works primarily out of found metal objects and scrap, and he still uses these occasionally. Hunt has created public sculptures in Chicago and elsewhere, as well as smaller pieces like the 30 or so recent works now on view at Worthington, which are among his finest: often richly detailed, they produce an inch-by-inch intensity that’s more difficult to achieve on a larger scale.

For example, Hunt creates a complex relationship between the base and body of a six-foot-tall silver-colored untitled sculpture of welded stainless steel. The base begins as a triangle made up of metal sheets with parallel ridges forming a grille of horizontal lines (these plates, Hunt told me, were once part of a dairy plant’s milk-cooling machine). Near the top, two edges seem to peel away to reveal additional faces of similar material, two with ridges and one with tiny metal buds–an almost humorous disruption of the parallel lines. The sculpture that this base supports is made of polished silver surfaces that erupt into jagged edges and acute angles, the reflective surfaces contrasting with the almost violently colliding shapes. Yet most of these surfaces form nearly horizontal planes, echoing the base’s neat parallel ridges. At its top the work transforms itself again: two large, petallike pieces jut out, one pointing upward and the other to the side, an organic bloom growing from a junk heap.

Except that it isn’t a junk heap, it’s an elegantly balanced combination of ordered repetition and unpredictability, the jagged masses clustering about one another, clashing, rubbing, sprouting. There’s just enough formal organization to hold the eye-popping shifts of form together. Most dramatic are the places where the metal appears to have been ripped apart, a shearing tear revealing darkness within. These tears profoundly disrupt the heavy masses, suggesting emptiness where there might have been solidity, darkness within the bright reflected light.

The goal of modern sculpture, Julio Gonzalez wrote, is “to draw in space,” which he explained as making “an harmonious work, of a fine and perfectly balanced whole…by the marriage of material and space, by the union of real forms with imagined forms.” In most of Hunt’s sculptures the masses do suggest lines and planes that develop dynamic relationships with one another and with the space around, but the result is rarely a static or “harmonious” image; the parts of Hunt’s work splay out in all directions, producing a clanging but resonant symphony of dissonance.

This is true even of apparently unified pieces like the small cast bronze Arc Held Tangents. Together its three metal arcs enclose the space at its center. But because one arc is mounted horizontally, another vertically, and the third at an angle, and because the space is only loosely bounded–the arcs are just an inch or so wide–the borders of the space are fuzzy rather than sharp, more imagined than actual. This center, surrounded by three differently oriented arcs, represents the collision of different dynamics, and the fact that the tip of each arc points in a different direction only completes the “thought”: our mental image of this space is alive with different directions and possibilities.

Even a less abstract piece, based on natural forms, has its discords. The large welded-bronze Staff of Life II rises from a smooth rectangular base that divides into branches that divide again, becoming a forest of curved and twisted surfaces, many pointing upward as they top out in leaf or petal shapes. Hunt, much attracted to biology in his youth, wrote in his early 20s that some of his work “derives from an observation of the formal and spatial contents of organic and machine structure,” and that he hopes it exhibits “an organic presence of life.” But the feel of this piece is not altogether benign; some of its petals seem more like claws, and the densely clustered shapes suggest an entrapping thicket as much as a nicely ordered bouquet.

Many people–among them regular art viewers and not a few artists–have never accepted abstract art. “What does it say to me?” is the common question. The connection between Staff of Life II and Hunt’s more abstract pieces provides one answer: forms that seem to grow plantlike out of each other are linked to daily life. But abstract forms also serve, in Hunt’s work, as metaphors for different ways of seeing, different kinds of thinking, and different states of being. The ambiguous central space in Arc Held Tangents creates uncertainty by suggesting colliding concepts, evoking contradictions that can blur perception and even identity.

“One of the things about sculpture is that it’s got to respect gravity,” Hunt remarks of his precariously balanced Skydive. “If you want something that’s up in the air, you’ve got to hold it up there somehow.” His problem as a sculptor–“How do you position something in space that’s dynamic?”–might be translated by the viewer into reflections on weight and motion, tension and stress, falling and soaring.

In the seven-foot-high bronze-and-steel Standards, Hunt adds rips to his characteristic meld of soaring musical curves and formal collisions to create a work at once unified and rather terrifyingly divided. Here he’s mounted atop a columnar base sheets of metal one-eighth to one-quarter inch thick, welded together and sometimes cut with a torch–one piece near the bottom seems to have been sheared in half, with part rising to support the rest of the sculpture and the other part curving downward as if peeling away. The edges are marked with small metal globules whose jaggedness accentuates the feeling of a tear; Hunt says they’re the residue of cutting with a torch, which he often removes but here did not. Since the separated edges mirror each other’s lines, there’s a certain formal unity; yet these same rips suggest that the sculpture is falling apart. The complex mental image created by the work’s diverse forms suggests both growth and decay, unity and destruction–states not exactly unknown to nature, or to human experience.