4.8 / Review

From Chicago: Memory Palaces

By Randall Miller January 28, 2013

Chicago is a city identified by monumental institutions, infrastructures, and cultural mores: da Bears, da Bulls, da Cubs, the Wilson (formerly Sears) Tower, deep-dish pizza, punishing winters, crooked politicians, the 'L,' the Magnificent Mile, the blues, the South Side, and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986). It’s a place defined by signifiers so iconic that they often cast a shadow over the more marginal aspects of Chicago’s history and culture. Edie Fake’s exhibition Memory Palaces, at Thomas Robertello Gallery, offers a refreshing viewpoint on the city by paying homage to Chicago’s alternative history; the works highlight the bars, venues, and independent publishing houses from the city’s LGBT community and its punk heyday.

Fake’s fifteen works on paper have a jewel-like intensity. Their rich color schemes and intricate patterning are reminiscent of arabesque and Moroccan tile designs, Art Deco architectural flourishes, and Byzantine mosaics, as well as American “Home Sweet Home” needlepoint craftwork. While most of the images coalesce into depictions of buildings and storefronts loosely based on actual Chicago buildings, they are largely indistinguishable from small-town, Americana-style architecture, which arrived prior to the invasion of midcentury modern design.

Fake’s buildings provide a pictorial body for real-world organizations that once offered the services and
entertainment foundational to Chicago’s LGBT-community culture. Fake represents these storefronts in a rectilinear
design that is hard and stark against the works’ black backgrounds, emphasizing both color and shape. The image
of a red brick building in Blazing Star (all works 2012) evokes a small-town sheriff's office somewhere in middle America, its blue window and white door completing the American color scheme. Blazing Star was also the name of a


Edie Fake. Blazing Star, 2012; ball-point pen, ink, and gouache on paper; 17 x 14 in. Courtesy of the Artist and Thomas Robertello Gallery, Chicago.


Edie Fake. Killer Dyke, 2012; ball-point pen, ink, and gouache on paper; 17 x 14 in. Courtesy of the Artist and Thomas Robertello Gallery, Chicago.

newsletter published in the mid-seventies by a Chicago-based lesbian liberation organization. Fake’s Blazing Star combines the history of the organization with the authority of an iconic storefront motif to reimagine the newsletter Blazing Star as a type of national institution—as American as apple pie—rather than as the radical social outlier it once was.

The Newberry Theater, Killer Dyke, The Snake Pit, and Nightgowns have a similar, prototypical small-town architectural familiarity. These titles refer to a gay porn theater, another mid-seventies radical newspaper, a now defunct gay bar, and a queer art space that existed in the early 2000s, respectively. The references again build a foundation of imagined normativity and acceptability around places, groups, and publications that were unsuccessful in gaining footholds as institutions or social infrastructures. The solid, squared, and almost masculine architecture that Fake uses to embody these spaces is paradoxical, contrasting with the ephemeral nature of the foundational organization of each. Fake’s buildings float on bands of diamond-shaped patterning that could be read as imaginary sidewalks or as placeholders for the foundations of a yet to be realized institutional permanence.

Other works in Memory Palaces do not depict their subjects with such specificity but tend more toward abstract patterns that constitute an invented architecture. Windows, doors, and steps are suggested in the radiating design scheme of Gateway (for Mark Aguhar) (Palace Door calloutqueen). Fake’s Gateway series comprises monuments to deceased friends, like pictorial mausoleums meant to house the memories of the dead. The ornate patterning in pieces like Gateway (for Flo McGarrell) and Gateway (for Dara Greenwald) exalts their subjects in lavish reliquaries composed entirely with ball-point pen, ink, gouache, and paper. Together these works open a window onto Chicago’s alternative history, and the elegance, control, and visual poetry with which Fake renders them is a triumph in itself.


Memory Palaces is on view at Thomas Robertello Gallery, in Chicago, through February 16, 2013.

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