LINCOLN PARK – More than 60 paintings and drawings showing local artist Michiko Itatani’s efforts to understand the universe are now on display at Wrightwood 659.

The exhibition “Michiko Itatani: Celestial Scene” features dozens of Itatani’s signature oversized paintings juxtaposed with his writing paper-sized drawings. It is on display until December 17 at Wrightwood 659, 659 W. Wrightwood Ave.

Alphawood Foundation Chicago presents the exhibit through Alphawood Exhibitions. Tickets cost $15 and are available online.

Itatani is professor emeritus at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she has taught for 40 years. She was born and raised in Japan, where she discovered her fascination with the patterns and structures of science, learned traditional brush painting and wrote poetry.

Itatani’s work is known for tackling the mysteries of science and the cosmos and associating these images with cultural symbols. Some works may combine baroque bookcases and rockets or grand pianos with Japanese teahouses, illustrating Itatani’s sense of wonder and admiration for the world.

“You see in Michiko’s work a thirst for understanding human life in relation to the cosmos,” said Ashley Janke, associate curator at Wrightwood 659 and curator of the exhibition. “In pursuing this broad open inquiry as a visual artist, she found ways to condense and express human experience in coded terms and visual systems of her own design.”

Credit: Supplied/Michiko Itatani
Painting “Codebreaker” by Michiko Itatani in oil on canvas.

Exhibits begin in Wrightwood’s entrance atrium with “Still Life (2022)” from Itatani’s “Astroarchaeologist” series, which was his own take on the still life genre. The painting is large, bright and quirky, depicting scientific objects such as globes, a miniature James Webb telescope, a laptop computer, a rocket and a toy alien spaceship in front of a traditional bookcase.

The painting is one of 12 recent works featured in the exhibition and an example of Itatani’s oversized paintings, which often measure 7 feet by 8 feet or more.

From there, the exhibit goes upstairs and is divided into three sections, according to Wrightwood 659.

The first section is installed in the main gallery on the third floor and highlights the artist’s fascination with the juxtaposition of scientific and cultural artifacts to create a dreamy feel.

In the first section, visitors will find “Cosmic Wanderlust (2011)” and “Astroarchaeologist (2022)”. Both are large, brightly colored paintings with bold blues, golds, and oranges. They depict architectural spaces filled with appliances, glowing chandeliers, and tiny glowing orbital rings.

The second section is also on the third floor and brings together macro- and micro-symbols of the universe and atoms in dreamlike settings that distort the dimensions of space.

Visitors will find a group of gray monochrome paintings depicting moving celestial shapes and stars. In “Codebreaker (2020),” guests will find planets, rings, spheres, and glowing lights swirling around an energy-filled solar expanse.

The third section, on the fourth floor, features Itatani’s more abstract work, including paintings of geometric shapes of woven lines, polyhedrons, and rings of floating orbs.

“Personal Codes (2019)”, a grayscale painting, features a huge band of near-blacks where a polyhedron seems to spring from a dark sphere. It is engraved with delicate hatched lines and the background features distant stars and planets the size of pinheads.

Credit: Facebook/Wrightwood 659
Wrightwood 659, 659 W. Wrightwood Ave.

When guests return to the main gallery, they will see “Cosmic Wanderlust (2012)”, which depicts a hallway lined with colorful, distorted globes and winding, stylized trees. It’s painted in a spectrum of gray, and the only color is a crown of golden orbs that rain down black and white dots on the image.

Also running at Wrightwood 659 is ‘Early Homosexuals: Global Representations of a New Identity’, an exhibit that explores early understandings of homosexual desire, and ‘We Shall Defy’, which tells the story of the famed photographer. and Bangladeshi activist Shahidul Alam, who was jailed for 107 days after criticizing his government.

Wrightwood 659 is a private, collection-free exhibition space dedicated to socially engaged art and architecture. It opened in 2018 and hosts public exhibitions during its fall/winter and spring/summer seasons.

Wrightwood 659 is open from noon to 7 p.m. Friday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday.

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