Putting together a retrospective of an artist’s work is always a challenging task, particularly when an artist such as Martin Hurtig (b. 1929) has enjoyed a long career that has spanned a few decades. And Corey Postiglione, the curator for Martin Hurtig: A Retrospective meets that challenge by putting together an impressive exhibition that is currently on display at the Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art (UIMA).
In this exhibition, there are 21 works that demonstrates Hurtig’s visual prowess as an abstract artist, covering about 40 years of his career — from the early ’60s through the late ’90s.
Hurtig studied at the Institute of Design (often referred to as the New Bauhaus) at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago, where he received his bachelor of science degree in 1952. In 1955, he studied at the Atelier 17 in Paris, and in 1957, he received a master’s degree, also from the Institute of Design in Chicago.
Hurtig has presented his art in numerous exhibitions nationally as well internationally. He also received numerous commissions for his sculptural murals, including the Waukegan Public Library, Waukegan, Illinois; the National Republic Bank, Chicago; and a stained-glass window and wall mural at the Union Church of Lake Bluff, Illinois.
In this exhibition, one can find in many of Hurtig’s works, a sense of movement — an almost dance-like quality as colors seem to merge and separate, and with his gestural brush strokes, he creates a rhythmic quality as well.
In some of his other works, rather than a grace-like quality, he creates a tumultuous movement as colors and brush strokes seem to fight, almost colliding with one another for dominance on the canvas. These works seem to tell us to buckle up because life is one chaotic ride, at best.
There is also a bleakness to some of his work such as Untitled Black and White. In this painting, the textures and gestural quality of his white brushstrokes against a stark black background seem to tell the story of our struggle for self-expression and freedom against conforming to social standards.
There are also a few works where he uses strong geometric shapes while merging primitive religious symbols with corporate design logos.
Besides his paintings, also on display are two of his sculptures (one made of plexiglass and the other of aluminum) that reflect on elements of nature. In these sculptures, he demonstrates a sense of visual power, elegance, as well as conceptual inventiveness.
The 21 works in this exhibition give one a good overview of how Hurtig was not only a master at making conceptual art, but making it visually compelling at the same time.
The curator, Corey Postiglione, sums up Hurtig’s contribution as an artist when he states, “Over the years, he has maintained a certain personal aesthetic position that runs through his entire oeuvre — a point of view based on two central concepts that he has adhered to for more than four decades: his unflagging commitment to abstraction, and his need to speak visually in a non-regional voice. Art, for Hurtig, is its own domain, to be appreciated on its own terms, in its own language of the visual. His work from the very beginning of his career embraced an art that operated from a formality based in the conceptual.”
Martin Hurtig: A Retrospective runs through May 27, 2018. The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art (UIMA) is located at 2320 W. Chicago Ave. Gallery hours are Wednesday through Sunday 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. Closed Monday and Tuesday. Admission: Suggested donation is $5. For more info, you can call UIMA at 773-227-5522 or visit their website.