In the March 2000 issue of Artforum Chicago's Valerie Cassel, one of the curators of the Whitney Biennial, is asked, "If you were to put together a biennial in Chicago, how it would be different from the Whitney's?" Now there's a question for you. Not the part about the differences, but the concept of a Chicago Biennial. Of course, it is a hypothetical question.
Luckily, there are cities in the US which have what it takes to indeed put together a show of this kind. As Chicago artists we can only hope to be included in someone else's program.
There are six artists from Chicago included in this year's show. From what I understand, this is more than ever before. A breakthrough in some minds. For the purposes of this review, I will note the work from Chicago.
On to the show.
The largest Windy city contribution (physically, at least) came from Kay Rosen. She is responsible for the huge front face of the Whitney building itself. Juggling her own personal typographical style and the necessary signage of announcing the show, she blends the two thoughtfully. A nice four story welcome, which is visible from blocks away when walking up to the museum.
With the multiplicity of video work, the work of Chicago artist Inigo Manglano-Ovalle was worth its inclusion. (If you aren't going to be in New York to see the show, the same piece is on display at our MCA right now.) In Le Baiser (The Kiss) the artist has stripped away confusion and clutter, and exhibits a trend in modern art that has been whispering in my ear lately: bring together a combination of seemingly incongruous images, each very unassuming, put em together, and project as big as you can.
The site of the video is the Mies van der Rohe's Farnsworth House in nearby Plano, Illinois. The piece alternates between two vantage points. One is a tight frame of the artist, headphones on, bobbing his head, standing behind his equipment. Electronic music is playing. The other is a view into the house, from outside. The area is similar to a back deck, and we see a man washing floor-to-ceiling windows. Through these windows we see Ovalle, with the same expression, still bobbing his head.
What has changed is the sound. We no longer hear the music, but the sounds of the outside -- birds and the squeaking of the window washer. Every few minutes the view switches. Back and forth, the video continues. There is a tranquillity that surrounds the situation. Or is it boredom?
At the other end of the video work is Doug Aitken's Electric Earth. More and more, drum and bass appears to be the musical accompaniment to modern art-video. Here, it works brilliantly. Projection screens cover all the walls of his space, and create small doorways when used to section off three separate "rooms."
The video appears to unfold laterally, room by room, as though you could walk along with it as it moved from one end of the space to the other. The video follows the artist for a "day," from morning to falling asleep in front of a TV at the end of the night. We follow him outside on the sidewalk, through parking lots, and everywhere in-between. Electric Earth is lit almost entirely with existing public neon and fluorescent lights. These light sources give each of the scenes an eerie glow, adding colors to the room and the viewers. The piece is a fast paced fifteen minutes and I found myself smiling in wonderment the whole time.
Columbia College faculty member Dawoud Bey was represented with his familiar color portraits of teenagers, two large color triptychs and one diptych. Bey was a surprise to see, but certainly worth his wall space.
Other photos of note were by Chris Verene. In this series, he takes a jab at amateur photographers, and the sleazy "boudoir" penchant that all male photographers harbor. This almost has a Calvin-Klein-in-the-basement feel; the photographs are styled as middle aged white guys with bald spots and sweat stains.
Each Verene photograph is "behind the scenes" at one of these boudoir shoots in progress. Scantily clad, cheaply posed women appear in each, but they serve as background to the photographers. This isn't intended to demean the women, instead their blurry figures are meant to focus the viewers attention on the anxious photographer. One has his pinkie sticking out as he focuses, making the whole thing even more hilarious.
Local man M.W. Burns is represented nicely by his piece Conveyor. It is placed at the entrance to the third floor galleries, so all visitors were washed in his audio outpouring as they came in. He has PA speakers mounted to the wall.
These speakers all amplify the same sentence, however, there must be a couple independent tape loops because their timing was constantly shifting. I'm sure he manipulated the tapes further, but it was beyond my recognition. Conveyor is meant to represent the constant chatter one's hearing filters out when in a gallery situation. Personally, I liked how the noise began to sound like boiling water.
Lisa Yuskavage presented a series of three paintings which are so suggestive and well painted they made every guy feel awkward looking at them. Maybe that is part of the intent with these well endowed, curvy, apparently adolescent little girls.
Since I am an artist, and understand such things, ahem, I went ahead and looked as much as I wanted. One in particular, Day, was done in the most arousing shades of yellow impossible to describe. Especially when hung at the right height, Day places two excellently rendered breasts jusssssst right for closer brushwork examination. Ahem.
Continuing with the sexually suggestive work, of which there was plenty, are two porno needlepoint pieces by Ghada Amer. Leaving much to her viewers imagination, Amer has only given us silhouettes of figures and scenes. Virtually a line drawing, with colored thread, no fill, of sexually explicit situations. These scenes are then laid on top of one another (so to speak), rotated a little, and abstracted just a hair.
I felt these were one-liners, with any interest being attributed to the porno aspect. However, it was fun to figure out the orientation of all the lines, and then smiling at your fellow viewers as you suddenly figured out that it wasn't a foot you had been looking at. Ahem!
Tucked in a corner, was the doorway into the viewing room for Rapture, by Shirin Neshat. Again dealing with the male-female issues of her home, this video has a familiar essence. I will always sit down for an entire Neshat video, but I was a little disappointed with this one. The opening is very Neshat; isolating male and female roles, slow paced, and the same haunting music that has been in every piece I've seen.
This music has words that I absolutely do not understand -- but somehow know exactly what they are saying. My concern came in the reaction to her "characters." In the past, the people in her films were identity-less, yet clearly represented an idea, a social situation. Here, however, these characters become "actors," and I feel that I am watching a little bit of an Iranian soap opera.
In Rapture, we see a woman and a man who are trying to break with a strict tradition of social separation between the sexes, motivated by mutual attraction. Slowly, Rapture becomes a love story, against the odds. What feels new in this video is being able to intuitively, and clearly, understand what Neshat is showing us.
In previous work, I watched things I had never seen before. Here, I felt a familiarity when I looked into the eyes of the lead male character and saw his longing for the woman.
An artist which I normally don't particularly go for, Sarah Sze, has a vibrant piece included. The change of opinion stems from the piece's thoughtful placement next to one of the Whitney's weird little trapezoidal windows.
Her construction is quite big and complex, and looks to be spiraling into the gallery window from somewhere outside of the building. A more poetic critic might say that the madness of NYC was bursting into the space through the window. Sze builds her sculptures from piles of everyday materials -- these can be plastic, metal, an aquarium, desk lights, model train railing, small battery operated fans, and various collectible types of figurines. The results look like they borrow a little from Tinguely's Meta-Matic constructions, both in its precarious arrangement and in that many of the individual pieces do function.
The piece's height was well over my head and spread out on the floor many feet. Compared to her work at the MCA last year, which was painfully static, this Whitney installation is excellent in demonstrating the power of being aware of placement.
Lastly, this year the Whitney made a big deal about their "Internet Art" gallery. The physical space at the show dedicated to this new genre was a large dark room. Inside was one projection screen, and one chair at a computer. There was no explanation of what to do or how to do it. This may have asked too much of the show's viewers -- to stand there and watch as someone else browsed the web. Even a bench or two would have helped. The "Internet Art" discussion is just beginning, and I find myself frowning on it. There is too much equipment necessary to even have a look at it, let alone know how to dig into it. For now, I will just let you poke around and leave it at that. See this [link] for yourself.
So this Biennial, my first, was nice, and young, with some old (Coplans: enough with your hairy ass! Yes it is gross, congratulations for overcoming it), a bunch of T&A, funny jokes, and more. Having been questioned for its mixed bag approach, the show is a success in its attention to detail, placement, and overall encouragement of art of all kinds. In total, there are over 200 works, with twenty one artists from outside the U.S. represented. If you planning on seeing the Biennial expect to stay awhile.
I always listen to God when She talks to me in my dreams.
"Allegra," She spoke to me one night recently, "take a look at the Whitney's Web site. I am concerned. A Museum site should be accessible to all My people, not just to the elite few who have just bought new computers, and who upgrade compulsively."
"Yes, Ma'm, I'm listening," I answered.
"Museums are the last temples of Truth and Beauty," She continued, "and the source for Inspiration and Wisdom. I get really concerned that their perchant for cutting-edge technology has deprived a large percentage of My people from Inspiration and Wisdom."
"Of course," I answered obediently, fearing She might call for another crusade.
"I want you to look at this Web site with a stick and a whip, and clean out the Money Mongers and Gear Heads from My temple grounds," She concluded, "and report back to me."
The [page] for the Whitney came up in four "frames" at a sans-serif font in a size way too small to be read, guided by Cascading Style Sheets. Yet the text occupied only one quarter of my screen. The surrounding menus came up in low contrast colors as image files, with the usual mouse-overs.
"They hired Experts, Your Highness," I concluded at the end of my report to Her the following night.
"Frames? Style Sheets?" She thundered, and then continued in a more moderate voice, "It grieves me when they hire lame Experts who have no sense whatsoever of the requirements and screen settings of My viewers."
"I will Smite their Server," She continued, now receding to some Olympian mountain top in my dreamscape, preparing for Drastic Intervention, "I will strike their T-1 line with My bolts of Lightning."
"Wait, please, your Holiness," I pleaded, "perhaps I should change Browsers and look again."
"Well, OK," She consented, "do that, and report back to me."
I started with the Opera Browser, and two clicks disconnected the style sheet fonts and enlarged their size, although the text on the secondary frames just dipped out of sight. Just as well, cause I can't really read yellow texts on pink backgrounds.
As promised I also opened up an MS Explorer browser. It took 17 seconds to load. Opera was much faster, but most people would be using Explorer or Netscape. Same problem, but now there were images... It was, in fact, not the same page.
The page I was on said, "Whitney Biennial Exhibition." In fact, these words were the only clickable link on the page, but lo, it was a hot-link to the same frame, so nothing changed as I clicked on it. My only other choice on this page was to e-mail the Whitney in case I "had questions about the status of [my] submission."
At that point I started up a Netscape browser. That took 21 seconds to load. At least the Netscape browser ignored their link colors, although I was stuck with type so small that I had to squint.
I felt it my duty to also start a Lynx text-only browser. The site was absolutely weird with Lynx. Just an endless collection of "blank" gifs -- about as usable as a pot without handles. Nothing I could grab, just endless frame sets. So much for downward compatibility.
It didn't look good for the Whitney, but I dutifully reported back the following night.
"Content, Allegra," She answered patiently, "you have to address content. What good are My prophetesses unless they address content?"
As ordered I clicked on something the next day, picking "Introduction by Maxwell Anderson" as a likely topic. Netscape threw up an independent page, in fact, three of them, and then immediately backgrounded them.
I tried Explorer, which also opened a blank page which mostly remained blank, until Maxwell Anderson's head slowly appeared in the box. At that point I got, "This program has performed an illegal operation." So much for Explorer.
By this time the Netscape browser had filled one backgrounded page with "Click here to get the plug-in." But I wasn't gonna get the plug-in; it was not in my job description as a Prophetess.
There was additionally a notice on the second page (I suppose it was Maxwell Anderson speaking) which went, "If you have problems with..." I really didn't know what to do -- since I did seem to have problems -- but the rest of the text was off the edge of the frame, and the frame wouldn't resize.
The third backgrounded Whitney page read, "Want to lose weight and save money?" Yes, sure, maybe I'll click on this.
Stuck as I was between the Whitney Temple of Doom and God's Hammer, I tried the next link in desperation, "Director's Statement on Hans Haacke." Another independent page opened. But never mind, I didn't want to read 7000 words about Hans Haacke by placing my nose to the monitor's surface.
"I didn't want to read 7000 words about Hans Haacke," I told Her the next night while I tried to hide behind my pillow, "I'm only human,"
"That's been the problem all along," She replied with an uncommon calm, "Your race tries so hard to be clever. I have to constantly intervene, stop the advancing tide of idiocy, and hand the propagation of true Faith and Truth over to others. I removed My Original People to Babylon, I destroyed the Temple in what you call 60, I burned down the Library at Alexandria, I overran the Roman Empire, and on and on like that throughout all of what you call Time. And what do I get? The Whitney Web, with no more wits than a medieval Illuminator."
"I will overload their web site," She grumbled, musing out loud on possibilities, "or misdirect their packets. Packets are easy after I made what you call Quarks."
"No wait, I have a better idea." She brightened up. "I'll inspire more plug-ins, maybe something called God's Lightning or something called Flash. Soon there will be total confusion of tongues -- servers and clients will no longer converse. This has served me well before."
Relieved of my prophetic duties, I thanked Her for the Upcoming Divine Intervention. It was good, and I rested for the next two days.
Readers who wonder what kind of clunker puter Allegra was running may note it to be a dual Pentium box with 256 Megs of RAM, and an ATI Mach64 video on an AGP bus. The screen was set at 1024 x 768. The browsers were Explorer 4.72, Netscape 4.72, Opera 3.62 (Win98), and Lynx 2.8.2 (Unix). She should probably upgrade, huh?
At the Whitney Biennial 2000 exhibition, there are several installation rooms, but only one whose entrance is marked by a curtain and a security guard.
Behind the curtain, one finds a mostly dark, black-painted room with dramatic spotlights illuminating three of the four main elements. This is Sanitation, an installation by Hans Haacke.
The first spotlight rests on three American flags of different sizes stacked centrally (á la Jasper Johns) on the wall opposite the entrance, the smallest not securely attached and falling off the wall. Flanking this Great American Symbol, the gothic-font white lettering of six quotes taken from Rudolph Giulliani, Pat Buchannan, Pat Robertson, and Jesse Helms glows bright on the dark wall. These dramatic and inflammatory quotes, as you expect, depict conservative sentiments concerning good sense, civilization, excrement, and money, specifically the taxpayers' money allotted to the funding of art.
Shining up helplessly from the floor near the entrance lies a gold framed fragment of the First Amendment. It is transcribed over a collage of newspaper articles detailing the political stink made over the Brooklyn Museum of Art's 1999 show Sensation.
The First Amendment is menaced by the encroachment of twelve large plastic garbage cans which issue forth the sounds of marching boots, and hunker in the dark between the spot-lit text of the wall and the framed fragment of the Constitution.
Haacke is all too obvious in offering this room as a warning of the endangerment of First Amendment rights resulting from governmental and political incursions into the realm of art. At best, Sanitation is a one-liner, and the punch line is not very witty or enlightening.
"You may have heard of this piece before even entering the museum," suggests Maxwell Anderson, the director of the Whitney, in the show's audio guide (available through the Whitney's web site).
Even before the exhibition opened, the Whitney and Haacke were catching flack from critics and media commentators for mounting an installation so blatantly critical of public figures intimately involved in recent clashes over culture and its funding. Some detractors have gone so far as to claim Haacke makes flippant reference to Nazism, trivializing the memory and trauma of the Holocaust by using the sound of marching boots and a font similar to the one favored by the Third Reich.
The Whitney has defended Haacke, insisting the artist meant no disrespect. Indeed, Haacke's intent was to use signifiers of a regime known for violently enforcing cultural homogeneity to accuse the public figures quoted of similar motivations. In a gesture of self-heroicization Anderson officially defended the Whitney's decision to include Haacke's piece in the 2000 Biennial as the fulfillment of its role to foster an open exchange of ideas, no matter how controversial.
In spite of all this maneuvering, Sanitation never truly attain controversy nor does it lend anything new to the cultural debate, if you could call it a debate at all. Haacke does not "expose systems of power" in this piece as the museum's description of Haacke's work would like to claim. No effort is made to deconstruct deeper issues of power, publicity, and political hubris swirling around the Sensation show.
Haacke's bald, too-easily-read editorializing re-presents already public statements through such a hackneyed use of liberal symbols of America and Tyranny as to descend into near self-parody. His lack of subtlety leaves no room for the viewer to come to any self-formulated conclusions or discovery. As the author of this work, Haacke unfortunately posits himself in the same dictatorial role of moral steward as do Giuliani, Buchanan, Robertson, and Helms. The installation's design is as monolithic and reactionary an expression of bile as was Giulliani's politically motivated attempts to revoke the Brooklyn Museum's funding.
Haacke may think his artistically discursive efforts and First Amendment championing place him on a moral high ground, but good politics do not necessarily make good art.
Hans Haacke's piece Sanitation at the Whitney Biennial was a letdown. Haacke actually made Mayor Giuliani look like the smarter idiot of the two. Haacke's piece was made in response to Mayor Giuliani's lawsuit against the Brooklyn Museum over their Sensation exhibition.
As you may recall, NYC Mayor Giuliani wanted to stop the federal funding to the museum for their exhibition of offensive work -- Chris Offili's painting of the Virgin Mary, which had elephant dung shellacked onto it. He felt that it wasn't the type of thing that tax money should go for.
Elephant shit or not, the image of the Virgin was also surrounded by cut-outs of female genitalia from porno magazines -- little flying cracks of various description. With Sanitation, Haacke said he was defending our 1st Amendment's right of free expression, which he felt the Mayor was blocking.
What you may not know is that the Sensation show was a scam from the start. The pieces were from a private collection, and the exhibition was a vehicle to increase their value. The collector is an Englishman named Charles Saatchi, and he has said as much in interviews concerning the shows aim.
Having work come from private collections is not uncommon in large exhibitions, however, this entire show was from Saatchi's personal collection. The ensuing media circus was intended by Saatchi and the curators of Sensation. Was this to increase the public interest and understanding of modern art, and the progress achieved by artists? That is for you to decide.
These curators also preempted New York's City Hall by filing an injunction against any injunction that they might file after the show opened. An injunction before the show even opened? Was this thinking ahead or setting the kindling?
In relation to the Anti-Christian arguments used against the curator of the Brooklyn, here is a little history on him: He himself is Jewish, and has a reputation of including anti-Christian work in shows he has curated before. To benefit the masses? All involved agree that an Anti-Semitic, racist, or misogynist pieces of similar flavor would have been quickly rejected from the show.
I see Sensation as an embarrassment that has set us back twenty years, especially in the view of the society around us. Of all things to start an argument over! But there again, it wasn't a real argument, it was a media scam. Can we create an exhibit, that is worthy of this kind of media attention, based on exceptional artwork? Even if someone did, now it would be deadened by the aftertaste of the Sensation show. Haacke should have directed his fire at the curator of the Brooklyn or at Arts figureheads for not breaking down the situation before it became such an ordeal.
Saatchi and the Brooklyn almost cost us the first amendment, not Giuliani. The artwork wasn't offensive, the scam behind it was.
It's Not So Bad
You know what, I really don't think the School of the Art Institute's MFA show is that bad. Why is everyone saying it's so bad? Is it the overabundance of personal identity politics which fail to move from personal to public? Or is it the preponderance of unmediated nostalgia -- revealed in white lacy things, hand-knit gloves, family photos, and old family films? Or perhaps it is the neo-conceptual work which, despite its seductive colors and sheen, fails to bring any new ideas to the table? Is it the photos of armpits masquerading as little-girl bushes? Is it the computer manipulated photo of a woman titled "I am your fiction?" (C'mon girls, let's stop being victims!)
Well okay, I guess I can understand the negative reactions to the show. But it's just not fair to dismiss all of these artists in one fell swoop!
Because showing your work in this exhibition is a no-win situation. It's nearly impossible to stand out in a group of over one hundred bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, newly-degreed artists. Even if you're exceptionally talented, and have something extremely compelling to say, it's easy to get drowned out by hordes of less talented, less interesting voices.
Which brings up an interesting question: how the hell did there get to be so many artists? Obviously somebody hasn't done a good enough job discouraging them (probably because somebody wants their tuition money). But somebody definitely needs to do some discouraging, because who has the time to look at all of this art? If you were to give each artist in this show a mere 5 minutes of your time, you would be there for 8 hours!
It's easy to see why an MFA doesn't count for much these days: there are too many artists! Too many MFA's! The prospects are grim! Even the best and the brightest can't expect to get any kind of professional job, let alone a teaching position. Even talented artists can't expect a successful career in the art world. So, since most of these graduates will probably end up as web designers, maybe we should just grant them this one moment of artistic recognition.
Because the show really isn't so bad. To tell you the truth, I do remember a few pieces in the show that were actually quite good. When I say "good," please understand that it's contextual. Like I said before, it's hard to stand out in a crowd. Conceivably, some of the artists I skipped over here may have caught my attention in a smaller show. And vice-versa. Maybe. Here I played the Sesame Street game of "Which of these things is not like the others, which if these things is not quite the same?"
Frank D. Robinson made some nice "negro," "god," and "slave" heads, "bad hair" and "ghetto" heads. If he would just drop the Mr. Imagination paint brush and bottle cap references, I could really start getting into his work. Because it is loud and colorful, over-the-top and obsessive. Admittedly, I'll start cringing whenever an artist references Basquiat (obnoxious ghetto-style graffiti turned artful and nice), but Robinson avoids this trap. Although his work flirts with an outsider art-style, and a Basquiat art-style, it isn't like these. It stays tough and strange and in-your-face.
Mara Pelecis exhibits some large, lovely white fiberglass cocoons. I could happily do without her photo series "A Nap with Oma" -- black and white photos of the artist (I presume) sleeping with her grandmother (I assume). Or maybe it is just the combination of the photos with the cocoons that remind me, well, of the movie "Cocoon." But the cocoons on their own are poetic: not in a sickly sweet way, but in an mysterious, understated way. Lit from the inside by slowly pulsing, fluorescent lights, they look up at you from comfy beds of fragrant evergreen branches. I don't get it, but I like it.
Christopher Sorg constructed a multi-tiered garden, complete with mulch, charcoal, little plants, and a watering mechanism. When I saw it, there were lots of little plants struggling to stay alive. Some plants were pretty near to dead. I don't know if the failure of this project is intentional, but it works nicely as a metaphor.
My favorite piece -- and yes I do have a favorite -- is a project called "You Are Not Alone" by Joel Alpern. This project includes a video of a regular-looking guy (presumably the artist) giving a straight talk about how it feels to graduate with an MFA. He talks straight to the camera about the trials and tribulations of pursuing a career as an artist. But he admits that a lot of his friends who aren't artists have difficulties too.
He talks about his day job as a carpenter, and how he doesn't want to be a carpenter for the rest of his life. But he admits to the near impossibility of making money off of the kind of artwork he makes (usually given away for free, or performance based). He talks about his desire to become a college teacher, and how other people see his artmaking as a hobby. Overall, he seems realistic; mildly frustrated but guardedly optimistic. His project turns an impossible exhibition situation into an asset by using the situation as subject.
If you'd like to talk with Joel about "the uncertainty of the road ahead," he has scheduled conversation times for May 10 - 13, 1 - 4 pm, May 17, 11 am -2 pm, and May 18, 5 - 8 pm on the second floor of Gallery 2.
As usual, the Caca art critics talked at Art Chicago 2000, presenting the works of six Chicago artists in slides. I went, I listened, and I was informed.
It struck me, though, that perhaps I didn't want to be informed. I wanted to be enlightened. Maybe it is my personal need to want to enlightened, to want an artwork to suddenly fill me with an awareness of what it is, to suddenly light up my own efforts at art making.
The critics presented descriptions, explications, interpretations, and anecdotes. This is all well and fine, but it is secondary to what I really need, which is a revelation. Often during these talks my mind meanders while the critics talk and talk, and I just concentrate on the images, looking for something more.
This is not always possible. For one thing, it seems the critics are not aware, as artists are, that presentation is everything. So to run into blurry slides, slides taken at the wrong exposure, and slides which do not clearly reveal their subject, is a detriment to the epiphany I seek. So, too, with a voice too far removed from a microphone (Michael Bulka), for suddenly I need to concentrate on listening, and the slide images fade away while I try to listen.
Art criticism is about anything except art. Art criticism is essayism taken to an extreme, using an art object to deflect ideas about society, about culture, about relationships. And certainly these six critics did so -- talking about all sorts of surrounding interpretations except the topic of art and art making -- with James Yood's presentation of Gaylen Gerber as an exception. Yood actually addressed the nature of Gerber's critique of presentation.
But most just talked interpretively -- Corey Postilglione's personal readings on Max King Cap, Claire Wolf Krantz's reflections on what the artist Joyce Neimanas said about her own work, Fred Camper's droning descriptiveness of Tom Czarnopys's work.
I remember the graduate level final critiques of the School of the Art Institute, attended en mass by faculty and students. The faculty's personal sparring and academic posturing aside, I witnessed only a steadfast concentration on topics of art and artmaking to the total exclusion of personal issues or pain revealed in student work which at times screamed to be addressed. "Blue comes forward" in its use and placement, while an abused childhood receded beyond discussion.
I felt, at the time, that perhaps the faculty needed this academic distancing to balance the continuous exposure to the personal issues presented by students. Now I am not so sure. I see the critics do the same thing, but in a different manner, ornamenting work with societal and cultural readings at the neglect of both the personal content and the art-making issues.
Perhaps the critics are avoiding personal readings for the same reasons my faculty did. With the exception of talking about what the artist may have been thinking, it is dangerous territory to address feelings -- you will reveal too much about an artist, you are liable for gross misreadings, and the burden of a psychological approach to art work can take its toll on your own psyche.
But I no longer need to have the nominal subject revealed. If something strikes me as a clear reading of the personal issues of the artist, I either get it or it doesn't matter. I'm older, and an adult perspective helps.
And I certainly don't need the descriptive readings of work -- dimensions and materials, the experience of the artist as a young person, the questionable influences of others, and the unlikely precedent of others in art historiocity. Nor do I want the obvious cliches about social issues, academic matters, or any of the revelations which, once verbalized, are so obvious -- not from the work, but in general -- that certainly we don't need a visual presentation to remind us.
It strikes me today that the only thing which still matters is the relationship of a piece to my own art making. What I would like is a discussion which addresses again the art making issues, the turn to the radical, the twist of concepts, the basis in vision.
If this cannot be done, and it seems not, then what I want is a slide presentation which stands alone. What I want is a clear pleasant voice in a foreign language which allows me to concentrate on the visual, not the verbal. What I want are revealing anecdotes, but no conclusions. What I want is to reach conclusions myself. I have a mind, I have feelings, I have a visual cortex.
The curatorial intent of this exhibit was straightforward, cohesive, and convincing. This was primarily a performance based art exhibit. Specific behavior patterns were encouraged among the audience, and the audience engaged in all of these behaviors.
People were happy to be in a situation where drinking was not only possible, but encouraged. People tasted the beers, there was some drunken interaction, and there was even some dancing. The curators were good hosts. They kept an eye on everyone to ensure that everyone was tasting beer like they were supposed to, and that no fights were breaking out.
The beer was mid-range to low-range in quality. This exhibit was challenging and subversive because there were no microbrews or imports. I am happy that cheap American beer finally got its chance to be in the spotlight. The beer was really well lit. The lighting was very dramatic and compelling, and directed the people towards the beer. Everyone always knew where the beer was.
The beer was well-installed. It was piled inside of rubber trash cans and covered with plenty of ice. The ice framed the cans of beer and kept them cold. The trash cans were a subdued, medium-gray color with black handles. They worked well as containers for the beer and the ice. I sat on a trash can because I was tired, and I squished the rim. I'm sorry about that, because the elegant minimalism of the cans was something I truly appreciated.
There were large beer signs posted elegantly behind the trash cans on a clean white wall. The signs were also very well lit. Each sign corresponded perfectly with the contents of the can in front of it. You always knew the kinds of beer you could choose from by referring to the signs above the cans.
Most of the signs had spaces for prices, but there were no prices because the beer was free. Without prices, the signs looked like good conceptual art. I wanted to buy the Coors sign, but there was no price list. Lots of people admired the signs as art, and drank the beers like they were supposed to. The result was a complex beer tasting experience, which encouraged beer-sign-as-art viewing, and a lot of art world networking.
The one problem with this show was the bathroom -- there was only one. The line was consistently 15 people long or more. Someone let me cut in front of them, but in retrospect, that was rude of me. Men explained to me that they were pissing in the alley. This "piss in the alley" action fit in nicely with the subversive feel of the show.
I liked the Coors sign best because of its dominant expanse of white. The Coors beer was a unique presence in a crowd of similar-tasting beers. It was more earthy and complex than the others, but I didn't like it.
The Budweiser sign was the most predictable. It was didactic and over-designed -- it left no space for personal projection. I didn't like the Budweiser beer much either.
The Black Label sign was assertive and high-class. The consensus among the audience was that Black Label was the most sophisticated beer in the group.
The Hamms sign was a big hit with the men in the audience. I heard a lot of 'fishing-pole = dick' comments. There was a lot of talk about masturbation There was some confusion over whether the skunk was really a black-and-white bear or whether the bear was really a skunk without a tail. The Hamms beer was my favorite beer, but it's always been my favorite beer.
Overall, I think this was a fine exhibit, and I hope to see this work again.
Temporary Services' Drawn Out show is anything but drawn out. It is instead quick witted, meticulous, and thrives on the voluminous and repetitive nature of the pieces chosen for inclusion.
As a relatively new alternative space in Chicago, Temp Services' motivation behind their gallery practice comes as a refreshing change to the static environment too often seen in similar venues. Their idea of creating temporary, take home, interactive, collaborative works has developed nicely over the last year with the curatorial efforts of Marc Fischer and Brett Bloom's Drawn Out show thoroughly utilizing the gallery's current motivations.
Rich Mackin's letters to various corporations spewing his concerns about inappropriate advertising campaigns and shady ingredient choices within the consumer marketplace are passed and sometimes responded to by several before their eventual art morph. The concept of collaboration sneaks unknowingly into the corporate offices of Hellman's Mayonnaise for example, who's workers have no frame of reference in which to access the letter before them. This particular letter describes the souls of billions of chicks who have lost their lives to further expand the waistline of America, probably haunting the "Hell Mans" plant as I write this review.
Shy Girl's work addresses contemporary society's choices and the language we choose to express those choices. The work is displayed on the window of the Temp Services space, giving the viewer lofty choices to check off, written on self-adhesive nametags, the kind used most often at work-related events and conferences. The questions range from the profound to the superfluous; Eye or I, Fat or Phat. The only downfall to this work, which I believe is intended for instantaneous reaction, is its failure to invite the viewer to respond.
Christopher Ritter's installation of 500 or so doodles by bored convention goers on Stouffer Resort and Hotel and Renaissance Chicago hotels' message pads, gives us, as voyeuristic viewers, an in-depth look into the minds of corporate america. It's truly much more information than we'd ever like or need to know.
Spanning the four year period the artist worked at this establishment, the arena of boredom becomes encapsulated by specific trends. The work is arranged categorically; we gaze upon portraits, the english alphabet, floral arranging, sexual innuendo, profound and inane questions and answers, pure ornamentation, and much more. The sheer mass of this collaborative work, displayed cleverly, invites interaction. It is hard to resist the impulse to treat each 3 13/16" x 6 13/16" drawing as a player in the game of success, wanting to freely associate individual works, creating your own unique rules. Many had information on both sides, suggesting limitless game-playing possibilities. It was obvious however, that Ritter's placement was intentional, unwillingly coercing you to keep your hands to yourself.
The subtle, engaging quality of this work stems from the nameless participants' contributions. What the conventioneers assume temporary and disposable, creates an everlasting impact. The gallery should charge for field trips from corporate convention planners, bringing awareness to the potential power of the blue ballpoint pen. (possibly a new "secret order"?)
Also included in this show are works by the Ancient Order guy', Dr. Bronner's soaps (a deceptive way to spread the good word), as well as Krista Peel and Tim Donahue. The show runs through May 13. Definitely worth skipping lunch for.
This work has such an identifiable flavor. Either they completely ignore human nature/common sense, or I have had the misfortune of knowing the only irresponsible artists in the world. The concept is to acquire a plot of land and leave it open to everyone and anyone to come and do with it what they will. In the name of art. Very noble. However, it would never work. Certainly not in the US at any rate. Does it have to work in order for the project to be valid? Yes. Plain and simple. I am tired of theory and theoretical possibilities. Theory without practice is useless.
Upon reading a few of the numerous booklets and whatnots from the show, I notice the rhetorical blah blah that I have come to know and hate from work like this. The explanation quickly turns to fiction and escalates to the level of "Supreme Concept" which is far beyond the grasp of mere "Art" -- not to mention the worm farms. Now those are a breakthrough! I love Temp Services, their spaces, non-spaces, audio/phone line pieces, and the rest of it, but I did not groove with this show. As an aside, N55 were the group that occupied the Tough space during the Bicycle Thieves invasion.
We are looking for writers interested addressing any issues in the arts, -- painting, sculpture, print making, ceramics, film, video, sound, technology, drawing, performance, photography, art gossip, writing, music, design, etc.
We are most enchanted with small events happening throughout Chicago or large scale events which are extraordinary. We also encourage reviews from out of town. If you include images, please obtain a copyright release. Gravy can provide a form for you. Submissions via email "include" are preferred.