Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Gladys Nilsson at U.I.M.A.

It’s not just that Gladys Nilsson is a female artist, but also that she presents a distinctly, if quirky, modern woman’s world. Which is presumably why the Illinois Committee of the National Museum of Women in the Arts has partnered with the Ukrainian Institute of Modern to give her this 40-year retrospective, pulling in paintings from area museums and collectors, as well as her own collection. And it’s hard to say just how her large, cartoonish watercolors have changed in all that time. There’s a few pieces from the sixties that share her husband’s (Jim Nutt) vision of an ominous, unhappy world. But mostly, she’s been consistently upbeat – with a colorful, cheerful, goofy clutter and a large, central female figure who seems triumphant to be just her own buoyant, dumpy, rubber-armed self. This is the happy, high energy world of children’s book illustration, except that the playful characters and primal colors of Nilsson’s paintings have escaped the confines of thin, simple narratives, and run riot from painting to painting, each busy corner demanding attention, and making an entire gallery of it as overwhelming as a trip to a child care center. But for relief, one can always wander over to the adjoining room through which rotates the museum’s permanent collection of Ukrainian as well as non-Ukrainian modern artists, as they echo the grim problems of the 20th Century, mostly caused by males.

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