CHICAGO — Chicago-based artists Karolina Gnatowski and Betsy Odom, who create works of art using techniques of weaving, leather tooling, woodcarving and airbrushing, will be featured in solo exhibitions this winter at DePaul Art Museum.
“Karolina Gnatowski: Some Kind of Duty” and “Betsy Odom: Butchcraft” will include works that range in size from small pieces created from bits of string or wood, to a full-length, fully-playable badminton net made by Gnatowski, who goes by kg, with rackets made by Odom. Museum guests will be encouraged to pick up a racket and play a game of badminton in the galleries.
“Betsy Odom’s exhibition addresses sports and LGBTQ identity, while kg’s badminton net merges art and sports in a participatory installation,” said Julie Rodrigues Widholm, director and chief curator of the museum.
Odom and kg are among a growing list of Chicago artists who have created exhibitions for DePaul Art Museum, said Widholm.
“It's part of DePaul's mission to be part of the fabric of the city, so by extension it's a mission we have at DePaul Art Museum to provide space for Chicago-based artists to show their work and receive more visibility,” said Widholm.
The exhibitions open Jan. 17 and run through March 31 at the museum on DePaul’s Lincoln Park Campus.
‘Karolina Gnatowski: Some Kind of Duty’
The exhibition will feature nearly 50 pieces created by kg within the last year.
“My work is biographical, in the weavings I'm telling my story, my family's story, talking about Jim Morrison’s mythology,” said kg. “I travel often and I want those stories to be part of the work, so I purchase materials on the road. I usually pick up materials that match the music I’m listening to on the road. For this show, it was The Doors’ last album ‘LA Woman.’ The cover is maroon and yellow so I bought many of those color fibers.
“Spinning yarn requires you to run your fingers over every inch of the line, and I am invested in that very intimate relationship with my materials. While I spin, which takes hours of sitting at the spinning wheel, I watch TV or movies. I respond to the emotional content in whatever I am viewing while I spin. For example, I spun the yarn for ‘Stronger Than Dirt’ while watching a horror movie, so the line has a lot of very thin tensioned moments. In the piece ‘Just This Once,’ I spun the line sitting in an open field at midnight. I was away from my dog and wanted to spin line in his absence, so I did this in the absence of any light too,” kg said.
One of kg’s favorite pieces in the exhibition is “It Will Be Like This From Now On,” which is 8.75 inches by 7.5 inches and makes subtle Chicago references. It’s made of wool and underwear from Target that have lake effect snow printed on them and features two booties that would be worn by dogs during winter to protect their paws.
“The colorways and materials are meant to represent Lake Michigan in the winter, and the weaving houses two dog shoes that my Chihuahua has to wear to survive the city in the cold. For me, when winter settles in I forget that spring and summer will come back, it’s like winter will be like this forever. I think of that as a Chicago way of feeling,” they said.
Another memorable 8.75 inch by 7.5 inch piece is called “Why Is My Name Jim Morrison,” that brings reflections of family and pop culture for kg.
“We are devoting almost the whole museum to kg, which is significant to provide for an emerging artist, but allows for some ambitiously scaled work to be made,” said Widholm. “Their work with tapestries, textiles and random objects offers a real technical aspect which to me is as equally fascinating as the personal and pop culture references that range from growing up as a Polish immigrant, to an obsession with the musician Jim Morrison, to the loss of their father.”
A Polish immigrant, kg moved to Chicago and graduated from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago with a degree in fiber and material studies. The city has played an important role in kg’s work, making this solo exhibition at DePaul Art Museum all the more special.
“It took 11 years of living in Chicago to get my weaving to where it is, to build up the practice, and now I get to share it with the city that made the work possible,” said kg.
“Karolina Gnatowski: Some Kind of Duty,” curated by Widholm, is accompanied by a full-color exhibition catalog, published by DePaul Art Museum and distributed by University of Chicago Press. Texts include an interview between kg and Widholm; an essay by K.L.H. Wells, assistant professor of art history at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee; and kg’s poetry.
‘Betsy Odom: Butchcraft’
Using leather tooling, woodcarving and airbrushing, Odom handcrafted catcher’s mitts, soccer cleats, sandals, batting helmets and life jackets for her first solo Chicago museum exhibition.
The works of art will be arranged as if for sale at a thrift store, which invites consideration of the objects’ utilitarian functions, while questioning meaning and value as fine arts, crafts and sports intersect, said Odom.
“My practice centers around what I think of as ‘butch craft,’ where you choose intense or excessive techniques in suggestive materials, especially those associated with masculinity, like wood carving and leather tooling,” she said. “I remake objects as a way to queer moments in culture.
“I’m interested in mimicking the experience of shopping at an antique mall or flea market, where the objects on display are quite disparate, connected only by their sense of a lost history. The quantity of work is important — I hope that the viewers will experience the state of ‘I like that’ ‘I don’t like this,’ personalizing the relationship to the work while at the same time raising the question of why one may prefer one thing over another. This aspect of ‘tastes’ relates directly to the queer encoding that takes place in much of the work, where a piece might speak more or differently to a queer viewer,” she added.
Among some of the artist’s favorite pieces on display will be a margarita glass, life vest and soccer cleat in addition to the rackets that will go with kg’s badminton net.
“Collaborating together has been working nicely — she and I care about different aspects of the piece,” said Odom. “I think we’re coming from the same weird place aesthetically although there are distinct differences in our conceptual apparatuses. The rackets sort of represent that — kg has more direction over the palette and texture, I for the physicality of the objects themselves.”
Many of the objects Odom created are a reference to stereotypes about lesbian culture’s affinity for action sports, Birkenstock sandals and handkerchiefs.
“I am especially interested in sporting goods: women’s sport is fascinating to me. It is still relatively rare to experience women’s physicality,” Odom added.
Widholm and Mia Lopez, the museum’s assistant curator, curated the exhibition together.
“We believe our winter exhibitions will provide opportunities for museum guests to explore some key topics including craft techniques in contemporary art, queerness, sports, pop culture, personal relationships, mourning and more,” said Widholm.
DePaul Art Museum is located at 935 W. Fullerton Ave. Hours are 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday, and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. The museum is closed Monday and Tuesday. Admission is free. Additional information at http://artmuseum.depaul.edu or 773-325-7506.
Julie Rodrigues Widholm