Anthony Adcock is known for his mastery of trompe l’oeil painting, employing the traditional methods and materials of this fine art to create the illusion of something else entirely. So adept is Adcock at this faux-alchemy that it is easy to glance at one of his oil paintings and dismiss it as a dirty piece of plywood hung on the wall in some kind of conceptual gesture of deskilling. The artist has said that there is indeed a connection to the found object in his work, though he obviously works in a mode that is a diametric opposite of the ready-made: painstakingly wrought realism. Something that Adcock embraces from the practice of the ready-made, however, is the re-evaluation of the familiar and of our expectations. The majority of the pieces in his exhibition, “Work in Progress,” prompt a line of questioning that begins with “what is this?” and “why am I looking at it?”
This line of questioning, however, rarely leads to a simple answer here. One of the ways in which Adcock keeps viewers from coming to a resolution is by thoroughly resisting categorization through his consistent presentation of dichotomies. A viewer expends more effort than usual (for an Adcock painting) figuring out what is a painted illusion, and what is actual texture and grit in works like Untitled, (Buren’s Glove, Buren’s Board); here, painted “plywood,” patinaed “metal” and precisely rendered caution stripes are mingled with the actual, bare copper of the painting’s substrate and a worn-out work glove. Subpart G, an oil-on-aluminum approximation of a caution-striped, construction site “flag” hangs high on the wall --Adcock’s reference to Daniel Buren, a pillar of so many conceptual art curricula. Parsing the meaning of Subpart G sends one’s thoughts bouncing between the conceptual and the functional, high art and the vernacular. Even the mood in Adcock’s pieces can be hard to define. As one opens the lid to Crate 2, a wall-mounted box built from clean, fresh pine lumber, the words “YOU DIED,” painted on the crate’s back panels, fill one’s vision. There is an absurd flippancy to the explicitness of the words, like an end screen in a video game, though the undertones are serious, seeing as how dangerous structural ironwork --the artist’s other career-- can be.
The dichotomy of the serious and the absurd saturates Adcock’s short film that shares the exhibition’s title. Presented as a mockumentary, Work in Progress (the film) complicates one’s understanding of the artist’s practice in some ways, and further clarifies it in others. The satire here centers on the artist’s real and constructed persona: that of an artist who is also a union construction worker. Adcock dials up the assumptions that come to mind of the macho, white, cis male, blue collar Chicago artist. The actor who plays Adcock in the film cites Jimmy Hoffa as his godfather, talks about teaching himself to paint on hardhats at his father’s jobsite, describes his “callused” worker’s hands, and in a close-up sequence, hammers nonsensically at nails randomly placed in a piece of wood. Characters including a gallerist, an academic, art handlers, and a collector (played by none other than Chicago’s famously blue collar artist, Tony Fitzpatrick), round out Adcock’s send-up of the art world. Presented with all this absurdity, who the artist really is and how he feels about his various labors are made so much murkier. But the film also solidifies his intentions: to lead a viewer to questions. Adcock doesn’t give you the answers, though. He wants you to work for that.
Artist & Art Critic, 2022