Apr 24th 2021

Ben Foch: Hood Ornament

@ M. LeBlanc

3514 W Fullerton Ave, Chicago, IL 60647

Opening Saturday, April 24th, from 12PM - 6PM

On view through Saturday, June 5th

M. LeBlanc is proud to present Ben Foch’s exhibition Hood Ornament, on view April 24th through June 5th 2021. The gallery will be open Saturday the 24th and Sunday the 25th from 12noon to 6pm to inaugurate the exhibition.

Informed by the aesthetics of advertising, automobiles, and industrial design, Foch’s new exhibition Hood Ornament brings together discrete subjects – found hood ornaments, Pink Panther, Chester Cheetah, Newport cigarettes, and the paisley-patterned bandana. In terms both personal and writ in culture-at-large, Foch explores how the socio-economic aims of design and marketing condition class, behavior, desire, and ultimately our definitions of belonging and identity.

Foch’s titular body of work consists of three monochromes, each topped with a single hood ornament. The works are a multivalent gesture, relating modern art’s history of the monochrome and the automotive art of the 60’s/70’s with the practice of stealing hood ornaments from luxury sedans, a popular hobby among teens during Foch’s youth. At stake with these references is a question of how cultural capital is accumulated and by what means is access to these cultural signs permitted or denied. Expertly painted through numerous fine layers of marine-grade old world enamel, Foch’s technique speaks to a history of finishes seated in the nautical age, the golden age of painting, and carried through unto the automobile of today.

In one particular work, Cougar Hood Ornament Brown with Racing Stripes (UPS website) (2021), the hood ornament from a mid-70’s Mercury Cougar sits atop twin vertical racing stripes dividing an expanse of brown. The origin of this particular brown is not without significant gravity. Throughout the exhibition, Foch returns to using variations of the well-known UPS brown, a color used throughout the global logistic firm’s website, trucks, and uniforms, and whose creation stems from one of Chicago’s most renowned industrial magnates, George Pullman. The color, known dually as Pullman Brown, was originally used on the Pullman company’s famous rail cars that dominated transportation for nearly a century. Easily hiding accumulations of prairie dirt and therefore requiring less frequent labor for cleaning, Pullman reduced his cost of wages for the hundreds of already pittance-paid African-American employees he hired. For Foch, the conceptual anchor is the epitome of an aesthetic and labor paradox, because it is this early corporate labor that proved integral to the emergence of the city’s African-American middle class.

Foch’s hard-edge, illustrative approach renders paintings that are as much objects as they are pictorial surfaces. This is evident in works like Pink Panther #1 and Chester Cheetah Simultaneously Ascending and Descending an Escalator in M.C. Escher’s Relativity (both 2021). Formatted to the scale of smartphone backgrounds, each presents painting as a social condition – a digital mise-en-scène – activated or invested with meaning – only through the viewer’s participation. As mascots for this experience, Foch draws on Pink Panther, the globally famous sleuthing cat from the U.K., and his cool comedic American foil, Chester Cheetah. Painting Pink Panther disguised Chester, Foch uses the contrast to satirically frame contemporary marketing, social media participation, and code-switching.

Foch’s many conceptual gambits overlay a metaphysical armature that is the source of inquiries into being and self-identification. This is most present in his series of bandana paintings. Painted in the color of money, the UPS brown, and the colors of precious metals, Foch chooses to paint the traditional American bandana seen throughout the states. A now-ubiquitous pattern defined by its paisley festoon, Foch’s traces the Persian form through the West’s aesthetic colonization of the greater world and toward the bandana’s contemporary use as an identity marker. The worldly flexibility of the form appeals to Foch who focuses its use on not solely being a sign, but in contradiction, as a meditative form aimed at the transcendence of subjectivity and the deepening one’s sense of being.

Masks required, limited occupancy, all are welcome.

Full press release on mleblancchicago.com.

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