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Deb Sokolow: Schematics, Surveillance, Murder

February 21 – April 2, 2017

University Gallieries of Illionis State University 

Deb Sokolow’s text-based drawings and collages are based on purposeful research and humorous conjecture about cultural icons and everyday people, mysterious moments and alternate histories, distant places and nearby spaces. Her drawings typically consist of multiple sheets of paper filled with blocky graphite lettering, Xeroxed photographic images, sketchy architectural renderings, and painted geometric shapes reminiscent of Minimalism. New works are prompted by something she has personally observed, such as the replacement of windows on the building across the street from her studio, or some far-fetched thing she has read about, such as the momentary “disappearance” of the Statue of Liberty by illusionist David Copperfield in 1983, or the fantastical San Jose, California, mansion built by heiress Sarah Winchester in a reported effort to appease angry ghosts. Rather than supplying linear narratives, Sokolow writes inventive storylines that incorporate the voice of a suspicious narrator who interjects with questions, suggestions and opinions. In The New York Times , Ken Johnson writes, “The eccentrically forensic style of Ms. Sokolow’s zany project reflects her effort to comprehend the facts and rumors, as if she herself were a justifiably paranoid character in a Thomas Pynchon novel.”

The four multipanel drawings included in this exhibition, ranging from six to twenty-seven feet wide, were made between 2012 and 2016. Each includes a reference to the art world cast in a strange or outright criminal context. Individually, these works: fantasize that an artist residency is a brainwashing station for an international ring of art thieves; speculate about the occupants of her studio building and the development of a cult in her neighborhood; touch upon an unfortunate entanglement between an artist and the CIA; and imagine a scenario in which the CIA planned to use a sculpture to assassinate a foreign leader. The exhibition’s title is derived from Sokolow’s 88-inch-wide drawing entitled A Case Study in Schematics, Surveillance and Murder , concerning the 1964 murder of abstract painter Mary Pinchot Meyer, a mistress of President John F. Kennedy and ex-wife of a CIA agent. Sokolow’s diversion from the sordid facts interweaves brief accounts of orgone boxes, painted rocks containing “bugs” planted by a CIA Counterintelligence chief, and painters in the Washington Color School, illustrated with an imaginary architectural plan of Ms. Pinchot Meyer’s house. Sokolow’s investigations are particularly salient given our current climate of fake news, conspiracy theories, and “alternative facts.”

Deb Sokolow, CIA Failed Assassination Attempt on Mr. Fidel Castro #12 (Mr. Donald Judd),  2016.