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Art & Art History

Skew: The Unruly Grid

Monday, October 16, 1995–Thursday, November 30, 1995

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Artists: Polly Apfelbaum, Michael Banicki, Rochelle Feinstein, Robert Guillot, Paul Kass, Judy Lomberg, Claudia Matzko, Matthew McCaslin, Patrick McGee, Rebecca Morris, Lisa Norton, Mark Ottens, Carla Preiss, Richard Rezac, Ross Rudel, Claude Simard, Linda Stark, David Szafranski, Pam Wilson, and Robin Winters

Skew: The Unruly Grid, curated by Susan Sensemann, includes works by twenty artists from New York, Chicago, Dallas, and Los Angeles. Each artist is engaged in a shifting or reframing of the grid-based geometric formats prevalent in twentieth-century art movements such as Constructivism, Minimalism, Op or Psychedelic Painting, Suprematism, and systematic abstraction. Without aiming at sublimity or nostalgia, these artists conflate syntactical abstraction with commentary that ranges from domestic to social, material to metaphorical. Their paintings skew the geometric grid or use the recurring motif of the grid with a divergent yet coherent set of variations. Bauhausian architecture and design, the mod and psychedelic styles of the sixties and seventies, and the Pattern and Decoration Movement offer order within a structural framework. The cool and reductive rhetoric of Neo-Geo works of the eighties modifies the materiality of painting and further assumes a linguistic hierarchy that neutralizes and/or alters the experiences of making and looking at contemporary art.

The recurring motif of the grid is present through recapitulation, allusion, and parody, and is handled in a variety of ways: relatively orderly, crazily warped, unruly, bent out of shape, subverted, dissolved, arbitrary, organized, logical, methodical, exacting, or finite. The grid is used by some artists because of the neutrality and structure it offers and the way in which the repeated gesture forms an armature that pulls the viewer toward a work. The grid is also used to examine how inconsequential, individual units can together amass unexpected effects. Some artists view the grid as fixed and controlled, while others see it as active and changing. 

Some of the artists mock the iconic achievements of modernist work, while reveling in the visual delight that this art can deploy. These artists deflate modernist pretension by equating avant-gardism and kitsch, therefore giving their works a sarcastic edge. They poke fun at formalism’s doctrinaire approach to questions of aesthetic quality. Other artists clearly regard modernism with affection, paying homage to canonical works. These artists want the viewer to look back at the rejuvenating aesthetic possibilities of their art. Their work is not really a matter of appropriation but of allusion.

The artists presented in this exhibition are historically conscientious, yet the works relate to the politics of meaning in a manner that reflects the specific concerns of the present. The grid is handled with great formal and visual acumen, encouraging a slow and prolonged response from the viewer; this sustained attention gradually reveals the formal play operating among simple shapes.


Polly Apfelbaum

Crushed velvet and dye, 56 x 122 in.

Michael Banicki

Rochelle Feinstein

Mother and Child, 1994
Oil, fabric, rubber, and xerox on linen, 62 x 62 in. and 42 x 42 in.

Robert Guillot

Potato Wall, 1995
Plaster and paint, 7 x 7 x 2 in.

Paul Kass

New Bundles, 1993
Wood and newspaper, 9 x 9 x 3 in.

Judy Lomberg

, 1994
Mixed media on linen, 50 x 62 in.

Claudia Matzko

Untitled, 1991
Silk and dried flowers, 17 x 17 in.

Matthew McCaslin

Electric Weave, 1995
Box outlets and electrical cord, 96 x 62 in.

Patrick McGee

Cube Set, 1995
Rubber and steel, each 18 x 18 x 18 in.

Rebecca Morris

Strange Fruit,
Stickers on canvas, 5 x 5 in.

Lisa Norton

Transition Duct, 1993
Mirrored steel, 18 x 13 x 13 in.

Mark Ottens

Higgledy-Piggledy, 1995
46 x 38 in.

Carla Preiss

Twins, 1995
MDF and polyester laminate, each 20 x 17 in.

Richard Rezac

Pair, 1992
Cast bronze, 16 x 23 x 16 1/2 in.

Ross Rudel

Untitled #145, 1994–95
Stained wood, string, and steel pins, 15 1/2 x 15 1/2 x 9 1/2 in.

Claude Simard

Fair and Square, 1993
Birch plywood and coke bottles, 46 x 46 x 24 in.

Linda Stark

Black Cross, 1992
Oil on canvas, 12 x 12 x 2 in.

David Szafranski

Made in Taiwan, 1995
Plastic tape measures, 24 x 24 in.

Pam Wilson

Spine, 1995
Oil on linen, 5 ft 1 in. x 21 in.

Robin Winters

Red and Green Guys,
Gouache on card, 60 parts; each 5 1/2 x 6 1/2 in., overall 39 1/2 x 56 in.


Skew: The Unruly Grid

Curated by Susan Sensemann

Gallery 400
Chicago, Illinois
October 16–November 30, 1995

Opening Reception: Wednesday, October 19, 1995, 4–7pm


Postcard: Skew: The Unruly Grid


Camper, Fred. “Unlocking the Grid.” Chicago Reader, Nov. 17, 1995, pp. 31–33.


Susan Sensemann is an artist, educator, curator, and arts administrator who has lived and worked in Chicago since 1979. She is Professor Emerita at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Sensemann has focused on a variety of subjects, including gothicism, feminism, eroticism, the baroque, and psychology. She has built a long career of art in many forms, such as photography, drawing, sculpture, and primarily painting. Her photographs and paintings have been exhibited nationally and internationally, and are held in numerous private, public, and university collections. She is also a community arts advocate, working for many years on a mentorship program for emerging artists. This experience led her to develop an international exchange program with artists throughout the world, including Germany, China, and Finland. The recipient of numerous awards and fellowships throughout her career, Sensemann has earned the Illinois Arts Council Visual Arts Fellowship, the Silver Circle Award from UIC, grants to fund international programs, and various other honors.


Skew: The Unruly Grid is made possible by the School of Art and Design, the College of Architecture and the Arts, and supported in part by a grant from the Illinois Arts Council, a state agency.