Take away the subtle idiosyncrasies of Cat Chow’s work, and you could slip it unnoticed into an early-1970s survey of Minimalist art. Chow—an artist and fashion designer who studied costume design at Northwestern—has created five works of fastidious geometric precision, but each one is laced with wit and humor—literally.
Chow’s sculpture Mother, which looks like the steel exoskeleton of five intersecting Rubik’s cubes, is emblematic of her ironic use of materials. Viewers have learned to associate steel with male Minimalist artists such as Richard Serra, but here it has a bizarre lining of crocheted horsehair: the medium of an eccentric fashionista. Chow’s experiences in fashion (as well as in a theater prop shop) are also evident in Ceremony, comprising five pairs of wall-mounted circular “sleeves” made of brass chain mail. The artist links each big chain-mail loop through another, forming a larger chain that only functions as a visual pun: No one could wear these closed-off sleeves, and the medieval soldiers Chow’s chain mail brings to mind wouldn’t have relied on a soft material like brass for protection.
Chow’s plaque-like glass sculpture Listed (which leans against a wall) also has a refreshing levity: The five columns of frosted numbers adorning it seem to be a secret code until viewers realize that most of the numbers begin with 312, 773 or 212: the area codes where the artist lives and works.
Such personal touches add so much to Chow’s labor-intensive, austere sculptures that they make one wonder: What would the show look like with the artist “speaking loudly” in her own voice, instead of a less stuffy version of Minimalism?