A Glimpse of Smoke, nearby

By Grace Deveney

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Walking through Smoke, nearby, you pass by borrowed SIM cards (still active) . . . half pairs of contact lenses . . . an earring . . . a single guitar string. Each forms part of an incomplete story: the SIM cards are unable to receive calls without a cell phone; the earring and contacts need a mate to be complete; the guitar string, while still able to produce sound, cannot fulfill its true purpose without a hollow body and additional strings. Everything is in flux. Then you come to two paintings—one depicting flowers and the other stripes—mounted on metal rails, and placed facing in opposite directions. They are seemingly straightforward, until you look at their labels.

Titled Portrait of a Woman Unknown and Portrait of a Man Unknown, the works represent Chicagoans, whose clothing patterns—from a floral dress and a striped shirt—are meticulously replicated in paint. As part of the work, the man and woman occasionally visit their “portrait” in the gallery while wearing their respective outfits. For Tania Pérez Córdova, the artworks consist of not only the painting and rails, but also the people who own the fabric, both in the gallery and out in the world. The paintings are not simply works that hang in the MCA. They have a life beyond the museum’s walls, as the anonymous man and woman go about their days wearing the clothes. The artist stipulated one final condition for the work: when they no longer want the clothes, they must do their best to unite the garments with the paintings. This gesture binds the representation and the real article together, forever extending the narrative created by the work of art.

The photographs featured here were taken on a recent day, when the woman and man stopped by the museum. See the exhibition, and try to catch these anonymous participants in the act of completing the work, before it closes on Sunday, August 20!