F ing Good Art
Number Two
September 2000

Pedro's short observations on Summer Shows

The Suburban -- Joseph Grigely

Condescending political conceptualism, great material for lectures or documentaries but extremely boring in an art context.

Libidinal at TBA

Oh my god! What a mess of a show. Too bad for Jeremy Boyle and all the other artists in the show. This proves that just because someone asks you to be in a show you don't have to say yes.

Sound Video Film at Donald Young

Excellent and exciting. A great installation design with enough room for everyone. John Neff's ode to 2001 proves that HAL has more charisma than r2d2 - Pop existentialism at its best. Weakest work was Josian McElheny's experimental film of excesses (the rats were enough) and Helen Mirra's exercise in boredom. And of course Kirsten Stoltmann still rules.

Franz West at the Ren

Franz is great, the "meat" collages were great , and the sculptures were great and the chairs were great and the idea is great but is the same old thing all over again and again.

Curtis Whaley

What better place than suburbia to have a couple of cocktails in summer. With an elaborate tiki theme bar and Scott Speh as the easy going bartender The Suburban acomplished what Law Office thrives for; social interaction amidst the art happening and awareness of it all before, in and after the show.

And the Oscar goes to:

It works! Tony Tasset's Cherry tree at the Art Institute works! People at the museum call it a "sculpture". Kay Rosen's text based "floor - roof" installation. At the MCA ; Arturo Herrera's felt pieces and the great Tom Friedman. Also, Zolla/Lieberman's efforts with young artists.

Bulka's short-term memory

Obsession at the MCA

There is rhetoric about Tom Friedman challenging our assumptions about the nature of materials and of the mundane and whatnot, but, really, we're just fascinated by his extreme attention to detail. Only in art is this impressive; it isn't any more than a competent file clerk, code writer or pharmacist does every working day. Or for that matter, as the artist/installers did, who earned a temp-work paycheck for the installation of the Sol Le Witt show. That said, given the hype, I was disappointed in the Halloween-display-window quality of Friedman's splattered body. And if he really is all that, why did he have to leave town before the MCA took him seriously? And, had the Le Witt show been installed more coherently, it would have be easier to track his development from painter, to psuedo-geometrician to super-graphics designer. It all seems to amuse the tourists, though, and that's what counts.


It is a beautiful new space; you can't help but wonder what the fancy sign alone cost. Valet parking? As for the art - it sure is a beautiful space. The work is better than coyote-quality, barely; maybe Artemesian. Priorities, anyone? It's not really the art that stinks, just the rotting meat on the street.

Flat Iron

I feel a little bad for the foreign coyote-participants, who probably don't know what they're getting into. Matei Bejenaru's project of documenting his long frequent exploratory walks is worthy of better attention than he'll get once fellow exhibitors and tourists begin to swarm.

Sol LeWitt's "Autobiography"

Girl Meets Boy

She's invited up to his apartment for the first time. As he politely holds the door open for her, he gives the usual disclaimer, "It's not usually such a mess." She starts to wander around when she notices that she's being followed. "It's really disgusting," he says, shutting the bedroom and study doors and guiding her back into the front room, "I'd prefer if you didn't look around." Limits are set; barriers are established. She can go into the front room, but not into the side rooms. The kitchen is okay, as long as she doesn't look at the sink. She can use the bathroom, but she can't open the medicine cabinet.

He points for her to sit down in a chair, and then he begins an elaborate game of show and tell. He brings her some books, then some family photos to see. He hands her the strange salt-and-pepper shakers he found while thrifting, and he shows her postcards from his trip to Europe. He brings her more beer, then he brings her more books.

While he's showing her his books, what she's really noticing are all of the empty beer bottles, the pile of pizza boxes, and the job application letter, lying, half-finished, on the floor. What she's doing is wondering about what's hidden in the bedroom, and what's lurking in the study. What she's trying to do is read between the lines, discover the stinky, muddy layer of stuff that lies beneath and behind what he considers to be clean, interesting, and presentable.


But is it actually possible to uncover the truth about someone just by looking at the stuff they surround themselves with? Stuff acts as a mask or a buffer: an index of how we want to be seen or how we wish to protect ourselves. Rarely does our "stuff" act as an index to our unmediated "self." What we discard is often more telling than what we choose to keep. Nevertheless, our stuff forms our exoskeleton: an accumulation that serves to define and defend us.

Within the mass of stuff we surround ourselves with, photographs in particular exert a powerful force as sentimental objects and also as (seemingly) objective records of our existence in the world. A photograph is taken as a truth, as real proof that something existed or that something happened. In his "Autobiography," Sol LeWitt exploits both the idea of photograph as objective record and the idea of stuff as objective proof. Photographs and stuff act as a record and an assurance of the duration and quality of our existence in the world.

LeWitt's art operates in a world of systematic execution and careful control. To argue that any of his work is emotionally driven is, basically, blasphemy. But like the boy closing his bedroom door before you can look in, LeWitt's objective front is actually a set of limits, boundaries, and patterns that are subjectively derived and emotionally driven. The persistent question behind "Autobiography" is whether it's possible for a "self" to objectively, clinically, and unemotionally present its own history. The black and white photograph presents itself as the perfect medium for this pseudo-scientific project. The lack of color acts to neutralize any over-sentimental content. Black and white images slip more easily into pure language than their colored counterparts, and diverse levels of content are more easily leveled. The medium of photography in general presents itself as an objective eye, documenting and recording the world without the complication of personal gesture. This apparent objectivity is undermined when we realize that there's always the subjective eye behind the objective eye, and what is concealed is as important as what is revealed. The closed door is as important, if not more important, than the open room.

Revealing/Concealing Self

LeWitt presents us with many clues to discovering his true "self." The subtext of his project is "seek and you will find." But in the end, like a gentle trickster, LeWitt eludes us: his "self" always slips out of the frame. The real meaning of this piece comes with the realization that the "self" which ostensibly holds these photos together, has no real existence outside of the piece. Although LeWitt is the driving force behind this project, his most important role is describing a lack through his absence.

LeWitt's photographs both invite and resist interpretation, just as the objects they depict invite and resist sentimentality. His photographs are multiple, tiny windows into his world, but they remain always and only windows. We can see through them, but only into a severely limited field. We cannot project ourselves into these tiny slivers of a world; our desire to participate is always frustrated.

The Frustration of the Voyeur

What exactly do we hope to see in a project called "Autobiography?" The heart and soul, the fears and failures, the inner hopes and dreams of Sol LeWitt? Like the girl ignoring the books and looking at the beer bottles instead, we want LeWitt to show us all his juicy, messy "Enquirer" details; not his chairs, not his pots and pans. We want to see the love notes hidden at the bottom of his sock drawer, we want to see his broken whiskey glass after a night of heavy drinking. We want to see piles of dirty laundry, and we want to hear desperate messages on his answering machine. We want the vulnerable boy behind the big famous artist.

We want it, but we're not getting it.

As voyeurs, we nurture a secret addiction to the unknown or concealed, and a recurring boredom with the known or revealed. Because of this insatiable craving, we will paradoxically never achieve the intimacy we think we desire. Once intimacy is achieved, it is thwarted by our lack of interest. But LeWitt is onto our game. He knows we really don't want to know what we think we want to know.


Hiding somewhere near the middle of LeWitt's series, is a photograph of a handwritten note. The note says:

. . . many friends are grateful to you . . . respect, and love you as a person and as an artist, and who are sad because you are sad. Whatever the cause of sadness, surely the above is not something to be sad about. Criticism is not everything if it is anything at all.

'a critic'

The name the letter is written to is concealed by a small photograph. We can guess it's to LeWitt but we cannot know. The strategic revealing and concealing occurring in this photo and throughout this project runs parallel to the revealing and concealing that happens in photography in general. The myth of the objective record falls apart alongside the myth of the centering "self." In the end, there is no truth in the photographic means, just as there is no "self" to be documented truthfully. What LeWitt has given us in his "Autobiography" is a carefully directed documentation of a deliberate emptying of self.

-- Cindy Loehr

Advice to Artists

Things to do while you're depressed.

There's art, and then there's art.

Lest it seem that there is a prejudice against the sincere, hardworking, creative individuals who show at Coyote, the girl co-ops, a lot of successful but rarely-reviewed commercial spaces and major museums : they're not bad, just different. For a lot of us, art is in our heads. The work we are interested in and write about is challenging, confusing, difficult. If it is merely beautiful, expressive, well-crafted and earnest it can still be good, but better discussed by connoisseurs than critics. Some painters are like heritage seed collectors and Civil War re-enactors - it's good to have little bits of history handy.

-- bulka

Chicago On-line Reference Points

Our Recommendations - picks and pans

Karl Erickson is a great improvement to ArtNet's Chicago coverage. He recently posted a list of five favorite artists. Here's another kind of list of five, from Pedro.

Bulka bought the hype

Shows I plan to see opening night:


CACA Newsletter 1998-99

When the collected membership of the Chicago Art Critics Association couldn't manage an issue of the Newsletter for the May events around ArtExpo, I knew there was trouble. Now that there is no interest in an issue for the beginning of the season, I reluctantly have to admit that the publication is dead.

Too bad. It was a good thing for the few issues it lasted. As a participant and principal advocate, I am reluctant to sing too many praises but the opportunity to read known critics expressing themselves informally and on topics outside of their usual purview will be missed. More than for what it was, I mourn for what it could have been.

CACA is still nominally alive, sponsoring occasional public and private discussions; with rumours of a more decorous new name and a volume of serious writing; it is only its most playful, visible manifestation that is gone.

If we define "amateur" as being more interested in art than in career, the art-word void is filled by several ambitious, difficult to find amateur publications - the infrequent glossy mags, like Cake Walk and TenbyTen, and Adam Mikos's lively, low-production-value Gravy. It is still a shame that what passes for the professional critical force in Chicago wasn't able to be a more active participant on the scene.

-- bulka

SMALL PRINT: Assembled and distributed as a service to you, by a collection of artist/critic/curators including: Michael Bulka, Cindy Loehr, and Pedro Velez.

URL of this page: http://spaces.org/archive/fga/fga2.htm