CHICAGO — Confessions of an arts writer: my background is in theater design. Window Dressing, an exhibition by Diane Simpson currently on display at MCA Chicago, sent a thrill right to the secret place where I keep theater design in my heart. Theater sets exist at the precarious intersection of art and architecture, functionality and decoration, real and imagined space, historical re-creation and revision; in these works, Diane Simpson channels all of these tensions into a series of elegant and meticulous tableaus that take the form of set design’s younger sister: window design.
While a theater set carves out a pocket in time and space for a narrative to unfold, window design must go further, providing a character as well. It has to suggest a world both easily identified and intriguing enough to draw the attention of passersby on the street. In place of the stereotypical mannequin, the stars of Simpson’s show are outsized and highly stylized garment constructions — bowler hat, apron, pinafore — rendered in wood and plastic mesh. These are posed against mat board and paper backdrops — but to see such a simple list of materials belies the incredible care and balance that Simpson has wrought through pattern, line, and motif.