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Tobey Albright and Nicole Mauser invite us to scrutinize their personal art collections at this provocative Carthage College exhibition.

Sandwiched between Milwaukee and Chicago, the H. F. Johnson Gallery of Art at Carthage College consistently draws artistic talent from both cities.

Two young Chicago artists, Tobey Albright and Nicole Mauser, are featured in the gallery’s latest exhibition, a two-person show provocatively titled “Privates.”

Privates

Artworks being installed; photo by Nicole Mauser

The conceit of the show is that the gallery acts as a viewing room, making public an aspect of the artistic practice that is normally considered private. At the beginning of the exhibition’s run, Albright and Mauser brought objects (nearly 200, by my count) from their personal collections to the gallery, numbering the objects and arranging them along walls and tables.

The concept is interesting enough on its own, but it’s made more appealing by the playful approach that the artists have adopted. They’ve been returning to the gallery week after week, removing some of the objects on display and adding others, so that the display – much like a discerning collector’s – is constantly growing, shrinking, changing.

And while some of the objects on view are straightforward art objects – paintings or drawings made by friends, photographs they’ve found while traveling – many aren’t. During a recent visit I spotted a coloring book, a DVD case emblazoned with the title My Dearest Gore Vidal and a loveseat padded with foam noodles. By including quotidian objects alongside more rarefied ones, the artists seem to be asking us what separates, say, a baseball fan’s card collection from an art aficionado’s stash or expensive artworks.

Privates

Photo by Tobey Albright

In an essay accompanying the exhibition, writer Jeff M. Ward raises further questions: “Does adding a family heirloom or pop culture artifact change either the meaning of the art or the ‘not-quite-art’ things? Do attachments of sentiment or fandom transfer to art objects?”

Neither the artists nor the viewing public can answer these questions, of course. But they can delight in their ambiguity, in the experience of stepping into a university art gallery and seeing a smattering of Post-it notes and a classic Matisse composition rendered in imitation bologna displayed alongside deftly detailed paintings and photographs. That’s the real power of the exhibition. It’s conceptually interesting but also viscerally compelling.


Go See It: “Privates” will remain on view through November 2. Stop by Monday-Friday, noon-5 p.m.; Thursday evenings 6-8 p.m.; or Saturday 1-4 p.m.

And on October 28, at 1 p.m., the artists will speak about their art broadly and the exhibition more specifically. Admission is free.

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