Amy Casey’s “Expansion” exhibition at Zg Gallery explores the many facets of city life.
Urban scenes began infiltrating Amy Casey’s paintings around 2003, when she moved closer to downtown Cleveland. Her paintings have progressed over time, she recalls, from small city narratives to manipulations of the city itself. “I think I also take a bit of delight in making impossible cities and taking things to extremes that urban planners can’t get away with.”
And thus enters her “Expansion” exhibition at Zg Gallery in Chicago. The playful representation in 20 some paintings on show pulls visitors in. A cluster of buildings are bundled together and supported by a net of suspended brick roads in “Woven.” Or take “Right Time,” where over a dozen houses are placed in individual roped nets, floating amidst a dark background. But the broader relevance of the city theme and commendable number of details pique visitors’ interests, prompting them to stay.
“Expansion” resonates loudly with audiences today. The painting “Burden” visually suggests the current dichotomy between urban and suburban life. A small group of houses stacked in a triangular shape supports an unsteady mass of buildings. The imagery hints at suburbia’s strength and the possible decline of cities. It’s a relevant juxtaposition since “the planet as a whole is fast becoming suburban,” claims a December 2014 article in The Economist. The article goes on to explain that space and privacy become more desirable as people amass more wealth. That said, Casey’s approach is laudable for getting visitors to consider the fate of cities.
One of the joys of the show is discovering the details in each painting; visitors are rewarded for careful study. Chicagoans appreciate “Converge,” which incorporates a number of iconic structures: the Art Institute of Chicago, John Hancock Center and Wrigley Building, among a host of others. In other paintings a building’s architecture or a small hanging sign help identify landmarks, many of which hail from Cleveland, Provincetown, Chicago, New York and San Francisco, the artist says.
Despite the detail revealed, much is omitted. It’s an effective strategy, though, that works to the show’s benefit. The paintings provide enough information to spark intrigue, but questions brew in visitors’ minds, keeping them engaged. Who occupies these cities? Although most of the buildings and houses appear occupied — lights are on, windows are intact and structures are portrayed in good condition — viewers can tell little of the inhabitants. Even the show’s title is ambiguous, raising the question: what aspect of city or suburban life is expanding?
Without certain contextual information, viewers are liberated to create their own narratives, which is part of the fun. The paintings heavy with roads and transportation infrastructure imply how connected cities are today. Curiously, they are depicted in pristine condition and without an influx of cars, trucks or trains. Perhaps empty roads are a nod to the self-driving cars of the near future, and how barren streets may be since “self-driving vehicles could, in short, reduce urban vehicle numbers by as much as 90%,” according to an August 2015 article in The Economist.
Each painting offers different viewpoints and explores facets of city life, often in unusual terms. And that appears to be the point. Visitors take pleasure in the creative representations of cities, and appreciate the thoughtful underpinnings of contemporary topics, which together make “Expansion” a delight.
“Expansion” is on show at Zg Gallery through October 31.