CHICAGO — Advertisements permeate public landscapes with billboards, signs and different forms of mass media. “Idol Structures,” an exhibition of sculpture and photography by Chicago artist Matt Siber opens Sept. 10 at the DePaul Art Museum. This new body of work emphasizes the physical structures that are meant to stay invisible and passive while helping to relay the image, text, or graphic to the consumer.
“The artist is interested in the physical structures by which marketing and branding are used to communicate to an audience,” said Gregory Harris, curator of the exhibition. “His work takes a critical look at methods of disseminating advertising and other forms of public messaging in an urban environment.”
The sculptures and photographs featured in the exhibition are designed to make you more aware of your environment as you go about your daily life, according to Harris.
“There is this very quiet and contemplative experience you will have in the presence of this artwork. The work is very subtle and delicate, and kind of subdued,” said Harris. “In many ways the artwork itself is the exact opposite of what the subject matter is based on. You have this very intense and physical encounter with familiar, but very strange and unusual objects.”
Siber, who teaches advanced digital imaging at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, has been working on this type of artwork since he was a graduate student.
“The ‘Idol Structures’ project looks to omit or obscure the messages that are being advertised by drawing the aesthetic attention to the underpinnings of the system that holds them there,” said Siber.
“The title of the show plays off the idea of our relationship to consumerism, where some people treat these brands as idols,” Siber said. “Then at the same time, the artwork, which is free of messages, turns into these large glowing structures that can potentially be idolized.”
The exhibition includes a series of photographs taken at different angles to showcase the structures of corporate billboards or local gas station signs without exposing the advertisements. There also are 3-D sculptures to give museum visitors the experience of looking at these structures up close.
“There is this push and pull between 2-D and 3-D throughout the whole exhibition,” said Harris.
“By looking at the structures you can guess the brand being promoted, but the angles of the photos and sculptures are so extreme it may take you a while to realize what you are looking at,” Harris said. “You are drawn to the support structure, rather than the message itself.”
This artwork will make the viewer aware of what has been hidden in plain sight, according to Siber.
“We are so used to being inundated by advertising that we are not paying attention to the actual physical structure relaying the message to us as we go about our daily lives,” said Siber.
“My work is something that you encounter everyday, but from a specific and unique angle,” said Siber. “When people look at my artwork, I want them to think and decide for themselves whether or not they should be critical of these structures that occupy our public spaces.”
The sculptures are modeled after the photographs by using fine craftsmanship to reconstruct the signs out of wood and florescent tubes. Some of the sculptures are almost to scale, with the largest one measuring 14 feet tall.
“Matt takes this utilitarian object that is meant to sit there and deliver some kind of paid message and he removes that message and makes that structure beautiful and elegant,” said Harris.
Siber’s work draws from a movement in photography call the “New Topographics,” which began in the late 1960s, that gives a critical look at the impact humans have made on landscapes.
According to Harris, the artwork also draws from aspect of Minimalism, a movement that gained prominence in the 1960s and 1970s; the sculptures are very simple, elegant and made from industrial materials and wood.
“The work is very stripped down, geometric and the materials Matt uses are hallmarks of Minimalism. But what distinguishes his work from that of the Minimalists is that his work is representational and refers to an object that does exist in the real world,” said Harris.
“The museum is committed to exhibiting and supporting local artists. We like to help draw attention to the great artwork that is happening right here in Chicago,” said Harris.
“I think the vision of an institution like the DePaul Art Museum to highlight regional artists is an important service. The museum is a magnet for art in the Midwest and it attracts a great variety of works,” said Siber.
To accompany the exhibition there will be a publication featuring essays from Harris and David Raskin, a professor of art history, theory and criticism at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, which gives additional insight into minimalism, Siber’s photographs and sculptures.
“It will reproduce a lot of work in the show in an interesting and exciting way,” said Harris.
“Idol Structures” is supported by a grant from the David C. and Sarajean Ruttenberg Arts Foundation. More about Matt Siber at http://siberart.com/projects/structures.
The DePaul Art Museum will also be opening “The Andy Archetype,” an exhibition of works from the museum’s permanent collection by Andy Warhol and others. It examines how Warhol’s distinctive approach to image making has become as pervasive and recognizable as his celebrity and commercial subjects, according to Harris. “The Andy Archetype” is curated by Amy Kellenberger, a graduate of DePaul’s History of Art and Architecture program.
The DePaul Art Museum at 935 W. Fullerton, just east of the CTA’s Fullerton ‘L’ stop, is open Wednesdays and Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Fridays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 5 p.m. It is closed Mondays and Tuesdays. For more information, call 773-325-7506 or visit http://museums.depaul.edu.