Chicago Reader Review by Fred Camper

April 7, 2005

Boundary Breaker April 07, 2005

Nicole Gordon is a self-described good suburban Jewish girl whose sweetly colored paintings and installations at Peter Miller disturbingly reflect on cultural displacement. Her goal is to cut through viewers’ complacency using her work’s studied prettiness. “In the very protected suburbs I grew up in,” Gordon says, “you hold yourself in your own little world and pretend that things around you aren’t really happening. I want to draw people in with my atmospheric colors and decorative surfaces.” Harvest is based on a painting by Pieter Brueghel the Elder, The Harvesters, but Gordon has her workers collecting land mines rather than harvesting hay. The composition is nicely balanced, the colors almost soothing, yet some of the peasants resting in the foreground have missing limbs, and fires burn in the background.

Three of the 13 pieces here are even more provocative, partly because Gordon takes her imagery into the gallery space. Airs and Graces centers around a painting of elegant women in 18th-century dress apparently dining at a table outdoors. Oddly, there are construction barriers in the foreground, one of which continues onto a panel protruding beyond the picture’s edge, and on the floor in front of the painting sits a construction barrier Gordon made, papier-mache stones, and tufts of grass that look like those in the painting’s foreground. The three-dimensionality gives the imagery an unsettling mix of realism and fantasy, as Gordon recasts a toys-come-to-life fable. Though her ladies are copied from an 18th-century tapestry, they’re holding margarita glasses, and the construction barriers relocate the scene to the suburban present.