Collection Spotlight

Michael Banicki (American b. 1956). Berry Plant Rating / Planet Rating, 1987. Acrylic and graphite on paper (8.5 x 11 in.) NIU Art Museum Collection 1987.10. Gift of the artist.Berry Plant Rating / Planet Rating, 1987.
Michael Banicki (American b. 1956)

Categories and rankings: two things that make up the subject of Michael Banicki’s major body of work in his “rating” paintings reveal the artist’s personal evaluations of common ordinary objects. Banicki’s drawings and paintings resemble informational graphs or charts but record his personal, subjective judgments of categorical lists that range from berry plants, mosses, farm tractors, German cities, fowl, to chart topping musicians.

In the Museum’s piece for example Banicki rates berry plants and planets in the same work. It illuminates a relationship between the individual subjects listed on the two axes of the grid with an extremely simple comparative rubric of “+”, “-“, or “=” and records his individual assessments and decisions. But the viewer, however; without the criteria used to make the ratings is left to struggle with Banicki’s simple rankings alone. The viewer can draw references to other such subjective informational data systems or appraisals as well as their own personal process of preference making. His paintings reveal complex hierarchies, some banal – some based on sophisticated style, taste, or knowledge.

Banicki’s limited palette choice or monochromatic use of color in Berry Plant Rating / Planet Rating creates a muted composition of repetitive values that seen from a distance obscures the true informative nature of the work. The simple compositions of repetitive marks on a grid are rhythmic and reminiscent of modernist Piet Mondrian’s non-objective paintings or minimalist Agnes Martin’s compositions. One must get close to Banicki’s work to understand the complex narrative of comparison relayed in the meticulous visual message of the color-coded marks. Once drawn in, the viewer realizes the vast amount of information conveyed through the deceivingly simplistic grid.

Banicki, who lives and works in Chicago, is an NIU alumnus who graduated with a BFA in 1981.

Image: Michael Banicki (American b. 1956). Berry Plant Rating / Planet Rating, 1987. Acrylic and graphite on paper (8.5 x 11 in.) NIU Art Museum Collection 1987.10. Gift of the artist.

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