A quirky artist opens his collection

There’s a dead elf on a white block, half a chair bursting from the wall, and an abandoned purse sitting on the floor. You sigh in relief when you realize is made out of tape.

These and many other items are set out amidst walls covered with poems that, upon close examination, have been scrawled in pencil.

Such are the perils and joys of an art exhibit based not on work of particular sculptors and artists, but rather on the intensely personal whims of a single collector.

Friday December 1st marked the opening of “Poetry: Literal, Visual, and Otherwise” at the Monique Meloche gallery in the West Loop. The pieces on display are from curator and artist Jason Pickleman’s private collection. None are for sale.

Pickleman, a man of tiny stature, on the opening night wore Kamik rubber boots and a suit coat held together by a safety pin. All the works on display are items that he has collected over the last 20 years--art that Pickleman felt an uncontrollable need to acquire. There is a certain pathos and sentimentality that seems to be a reoccurring theme in his purchases, he said.

“It’s an inventory of those compulsive moments of buying and strangely there seems to be a thread,” Pickleman added.

Some of the poems sketched onto the wall were written by notables like e.e. cummings and Mark Strand; others are by unknown authors.

When Pickleman sees a poem that he feels speaks to him, he cuts it out or makes a photocopy of it. The five poems on display have been reappopriated from this collection of poems by sketching them onto the wall.

Paired with paintings and sculpture, Pickleman says, they pose questions: is a poem visual art? And can a painting be read?

The sculptures, photographs, and various other media on display to be read include many non-traditional pieces. One such work on display was a composition notebook filled from front to back with thousands of iterations of artist Stan Shellabarger’s signature.

“It’s okay, you can flip through the book if you like,” Jason Pickleman told guests at the gallery.

The signatures are all the same size and nearly identical. Interest lies in minute details, such as the way the pen’s ink fades in certain sections and the way the heavily inscribed pages feel on the fingertips.

Pickleman explains that Stan Shellabarger took months to complete the book, bringing it with him everywhere and writing a few pages here and there. Shellabarger has completed several other such endurance projects. During one, he walked repeatedly across a wooden bridge wearing sandpaper on his shoes until traces of his steps appeared.

Also on display was a wind-up toy heart created by author David Sedaris. The glossy wooden sculpture whirls when its spring is released, creating the illusion of a heart literally spinning out of control.

Pickleman acquired the toy when Sedaris was still teaching and secretly writing books that are now household names. The collector visited Sedaris at his home and chose from ten of the wooden hearts, each a different color and style.

“It was like choosing a puppy,” Pickleman said.

Leaving the gallery’s main room and climbing a set of stairs, visitors come face to face with a number of blown up New Yorker cartoons in an installation entitled, “The Listeners.”

However, without the presence of a speaker the characters are intended to leave a certain silent void. Pickleman explains that this portion of the gallery is the opposite of the poetry and the spoken section; that “The Listeners” is intended to challenge the viewer to say something intelligent.

“Poetry: Literal Visual and Otherwise” offers a stimulating and thoughtful experience to the art appreciator who wants to go beyond looking at framed work on a wall. In addition, the exhibit is likely to leave visitors questioning their own collections—the things they impulsively need to make their own, and what those items say about the collector.

Pickleman is currently at work on an installation at the city’s Montrose Brown Line station. Pickleman said he’ll use 800 square feet of wall space to display a poem of his in large stainless steel lettering

Time: December 1-22, 2006

Place: Monique Meloche gallery, 118 North Peoria