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Spring Ahead: Ambiguity is Gone!
By Scott Speh

I farmed out my review of the Whitney Biennial to my friend Pedro Velez' site - go to FGA and click on the April 3, 2002 link. Pedro runs the FGA website out of Chicago. FGA stands for Fucking Good Art and consists of all kinds of critical, curatorial and artistic practice with a variety of collaborators. Pedro is a passionate and generous advocate for his fellow artists and is continually frustrated by, well, everything. My favorite thing about Pedro is that he's angry - even angrier than me! I accepted a job offer in Chicago and people like Pedro might make it worthwhile to move to the city of big shoulders. Pedro is fed up with the city though. I'm trying to convince him that we could pool our angry energies together and rule that damn town!

So Chicago. Why Chicago? Well, I was offered a full-time job (I currently work part-time) and with a full-time job comes a full-time salary. I can delude myself by listing all the great things about Chicago and all the things I could accomplish there and all the friends and family I have there but it really comes down to money. Here comes a big DUH statement: New York is fucking expensive. In Chicago I’ll make 13 grand more than I do here plus I’ll pay $220 less in rent. I ain’t very good at math but even I can calculate the benefits. Of course Chicago isn’t cool. Well it’s very cool if we’re talking temperature but we ain’t. I’m gonna miss saying, “I’m from New York” with a sneer. I’m very superficial that way. I’m also going to miss the art. Well maybe not the actual art (most of it stinks) but the amount of it. Each month there’s scores of super crappy new shows that I can rip to shreds. The Chicago is scene is small - much too small for a city of that size and the non-blue-chip galleries seem to show the same 20 people over and over again, or worse, the latest hotshots from SAIC. Talk about shooting fish in a barrel. I think the smallness of the scene could be a benefit only in that it’ll be easier to get noticed. I anticipate opening an artist-run space when I get there. Just what Chicago needs, another artist-run space! Except that I will actually court collectors and show artists from outside the city. I love the energy of these “uncomfortable spaces” in Chicago and I love the DIY ‘tude. What I don’t love is the insular nature of the scene. Last month when in Chicago I went to openings three nights in a row and saw the same exact people at each show. And I don’t like the half-baked conceptual art and/or the undercooked painting coming out of a lot of these spaces. Good god, what am I saying? Already burning bridges before I arrive. I am an idiot. But hey, criticism makes us stronger if only to make us reinforce our positions. And if it’s any solace, Pierogi excepted, the Williamsburg galleries, who have a Chicago-DIY-flava, mostly suck, The Windy City's independent spaces are much better. I really, really, really want to stay in NYC but my fantasy life here is quickly morphing into reality. Gots to pay the bills, think about retirement and 401Ks and student loans and hey, I could probably afford a studio wherever I move. I could actually make art again.


So enough about me. Below we talk about architecture, art in Chicago, Chelsea and Soho, and the mind-blowing Andrew W.K. Plus a new feature and a plea from ShitBeGone Inc.

The Failure of Architecture

I was in Chicago last month for work and stayed in a charming, if ridiculous bed and breakfast in Wicker Park. The photos in this stupid little photo essay were all taken from the b&b's block. I'm sure this is a huge problem in many emerging (read: gentrifying) neighborhoods across the country, but I've seen it's especially acute in Chicago. Developers pay no respect to existing architecture, the neighborhood or resident’s concerns. Cheap, semi-hip, semi-modern cubes plopped over a bulldozed vintage residential structure. Will you yuppies stand up and demand better architecture?

The Failure of Modernism. The Failure of Post-Modernism. The Failure of Late-Market Capitalism

Pia Fries at CRG Gallery, Chelsea
I mentioned her stuff in my coverage of the Armory Show. She cleaves huge clumps of paint on top of one another on spare white canvases. Her colors don’t really mix and that’s the exciting part of this work, aside from wondering how these inches thick chunks of paint stay adhered to the canvas. One chunk of paint may have 5, 6, 9 colors swirling inside it and the individual colors retain their integrity. There is no mud here. What’s different here than in the Armory is that she’s screenprinted or ink-jet printed photos of paint or icing or similar stuff as to maybe compare representational surfaces with the real deal. It’s not real visual compelling nor are her compositions: they kind of tango haphazardly around the edges of the canvas. But the physicality of the paint is the real star.

Jack Featherly at Team, Chelsea
Finally, a non-video show at Team and it’s pretty damn good. Featherly makes super-slick (not in technique but surface) colorful paintings that one can “get” in a few seconds, seemingly. They look good in glance or the Noland way of understanding a painting in an instant. But stand in front of them for longer than I usually stand in front of a painting and you’ll be rewarded. I dug his figure/ground relationship as linear elements slipped from the foreground to background and how stenciled shapes reveal painterliness underneath, creating more spatial tension. These seemingly simple formal elements give the paintings just enough visual oomph to push them out of carpet design realm, a realm that I found Carl Ostendarp’s paintings resting in at Dee Glasoe earlier this year. I was at IKEA the day before I saw the Ostendarp show and I swear the rugs at IKEA had more interesting designs (and surfaces) than his did. Featherly’s stuff is dumb, slick, handsome and quirky. Love the signatures too!

Melissa Pokorny at Bodybuilder & Sportsman, Chicago, West Loop
Charming use of building materials - siding, fencing, roofing etc. - in a non-linear narrative vein that elicits comparisons to Jessica Stockholder and Rachel Harrison.

Su-en Wong at Deitch Projects, Soho
Deitch loves the naked girlies, what with another piece of shit Beecroft down the street. Good thing this show isn’t a piece of shit. It’s naughty, funny, colorful, and damning all at the same time. This a pervy show: Su-en presents herself in all sorts of states of undress, plus one work she’s wearing a girl scouts uniform. It’s “barely legal/geisha girl” web surfers wet dream. But is Su-en damning the viewer? Scolding us for peeking, for fantasizing and fetishsizing all kinds of sexual myths. It’s hard to tell - the titles seem funny - Perky Peach, Mellow Yellow/American Cheese, Bunny Nose Pink etc - and the color is exuberant and the figures (all self-portraits) seem to have a knowing cheekiness. Is this hard-core feminism, post-feminism, pro-sex feminism or none of the above? Part of the success of her project is this ambiguity, that and that everyone loves naked girls and lurid colors!

Redux at Standard, Chicago, Wicker Park
A decent group with some funny art-insider photos from Jo Del Pesco, who evidently works as an art handler/preparator at the Walker Museum in Minneapolis: a Joseph Beuys felt suit and a Bruce Nauman all crated up - makes these giant's works look inert and ineffectual and funny too. Plus a wicked cool Jay Heikes text piece and some other stuff.

Monique Meloche Gallery, Chicago, West Loop
I didn’t catch the name of the artist but this was by far the worst show in Chicago. A stupid-ass video game type thing projected to dominate the space and a bunch of hipsters fronting like they’re at Galapagos or something. Ugly, obnoxious waste of time.

Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago
Totally pleasant experience at the MCA: a handsome, if wispy Gary Simmons show; that Mies in America show that the Whitney had last summer looks better and is more appropriate here; The new 12x12 room shows off emerging Chicago artists - this month Nick Brown had some evocative, Tuttlesque silhouettes cut-out from bedsheets that were hampered by some overly mawkish wall text - sometimes we don’t need to know what inspired the artist; a groovy show from the permanent collection on sex featuring a nice Barney photo, Mike Kelley and Paul McCarthy’s bizarre Fresh Acconci, a sexy Mel Ramos and a truly unsettling video by Jeanne Dunning where she gives herself an intense toe-job. Eww; and another nice grouping of perm collection stuff called People See Painting about photography’s influence on painting and vice-versa, particularly liked a Judy Ledgerwood painting.

Gaylen Gerber and Stephen Prina at the Art Institute of Chicago
This installation was underwhelming. Sure Gerber’s gray canvas (Gray canvas you say! Shocking!) was handsome but Prina’s text looked like a bad trade booth display.

Paper Products at the Evanston Art Center, Evanston, IL
A modest and handsome show up north - you see the artists here don’t just paint on paper, but they make art out of paper! Neat huh! Mark Murphy’s glues processed food containers to puzzle pieces and then jumbles them back together - pretty cool. Lora Lode had my favorite piece - she sanded all the imagery and color off cereal boxes and then lined a bunch of them up on long shelves. Also handsome collage and/or weaving type things from Michelle Grabner and Carrie Gundersdorf. My one quibble with this artist-curated show is that it reflects the curator’s, Dan Devening, own artistic sensibilities (modest, post-ab-ex abstraction) too much. This is a problem with a lot of artist-curated shows. Don’t artists who adopt this dual role have any other interests beyond the own aesthetics?

Vedanta Gallery, Chicago, West Loop

One more thing ‘bout Chicago art - there were 3 kick-ass sculptures in the side room at Vedanta. I didn’t get the artist’s name as I was being whisked out, sorry. The room contained a radiator made out of laminated, carved plywood, a giant smoke alarm and concrete curbs cast from the curbs in his neighborhood. They were ridiculously high. A nice example of de-contextualization.


POP time!

CD Blitz -

Dashboard Confessional - The Places You Have Come to Fear Most- Band is blowing up huge right now - two sold out shows at Irving Plaza last week, seemingly popular with only indie rock teenage girls. The press portrays them as everything that’s wrong with emo, pointing mostly to their painful, heart-wrenching lyrics. But if throw away the “emo” label and listen in a larger music history vein, you can hear the Blues, especially in the “that bitch done me wrong” variant, except that songwriter and DC mastermind doesn’t debase himself with such coarse language. He debases himself with incredible vulnerability. And huge melodies, churning acoustic guitars and shouting about “her.” I find it cathartic. Most times in art, such emotional nakedness is embarrassing and cringe-worthy, but it’s palatable in rock. Angst is best served with a loud guitar.

Starsailor - Love is Here - One great song (“Good Souls”) surround by middling brit-pop. Not another Radiohead-lite band, but a Travis-lite band. Y’all need to rock a little harder next time.

Radiohead - I might be wrong (Live Recordings) - Takes me back to that perfect evening in Chicago last summer where I saw Radiohead put on the best arena rock show ever. Sublime selections from their last two studio-trick laden records, here made organic and human and warm and rocking on stage.

Andrew W.K. - I Get Wet - Simply, jaw-droppingly, head-scratchingly, fist-pumpingly AWESOME. And not in that over-used way of saying “awesome, dude.” More like the dictionary definition: Awesome: 1. Expressive of awe (awe: 1. the power to inspire dread. 2. wondering reverence tinged with fear inspired by the sublime) 2. Better than usual: Extraordinary. I’ll say. Stoopid simple heavy metal songs pumped up with cheesy euro-goth keyboards played at triple speed. The sound is just huge and ridiculous. But the song titles, that’s where the fun comes: I get wet, Fun Night, She is Beautiful and get ready for this: Party Hard, Party til you Puke and the monstrous It’s Time to Party. Dude - it’s a polarizing album - got that whole love/hate duality. But it’ll creep up on you. My roommate Jeremy visibly blanched upon first hearing. Now, he plays it daily. Life-affirming party music that I believe has the power to save the world.

Next issue I’ll dissect Neil Young’s “Are You Passionate,” Drive-By Trucker’s “Southern Rock Opera,” and N.E.R.D.’s “In Search of…” which so far sound like winners.


This is a new feature on Hot Commodities. You send me a top 5 list of anything and I’ll try to outdo it. Today’s list comes from Paul Kuzma of Chicago, Illinois. Paul works for an advertising firm and grew up in the same Chicago suburb where the motion picture "Lucas" was filmed, which is all-too evident in his list below.

Paul Kuzma's Top 5 All-Time Karaoke Songs

Number 5. The Cure - Just Like Heaven - Candy coated pop, with a dark, British twist. Sing-along factor is very high and it’s a way to work in your high school angst while still looking cute to the boys in the bar.

Number 4. I Did It My Way - Frank Sinatra - Ooooohh, this is a four-beer number. A little bit cocky, a little bit tough, and still with that sensitive Frank, lounge singer vibe. Plus, you don't have to sound like Frank to pull it off. Give it the Sid Vicious twist and the leather crowd will love you as much as the yuppies.

Number 3. Tie - Thunder Road or Born to Run - The Boss -- So what if you don't know all the lyrics, just nail the opening line and you're an instant hero from there to the end. The boss mumbles half the lines anyway so just keep pointing the microphone at the crowd and don't stop jumping until it's over. Two beautiful odes to everyone who ever wanted a motorcycle but never got one.

Number 2. The Replacements - Waitress in the Sky -- Often overlooked, possibly the best sing-along song of my youth. Irrepressible, loving homage to the Flight Attendant in all of us. Of course, most Karaoke bars won't ever of heard of the Replacements, so you can just settle for REMs tongue twisting, fast-talking, lip locking, speed-talking, "It's the End of the World as I Know It" and everyone will feel fine. Fine.

Number 1. Journey - Don't Stop Believing -- You'll bring the house down with this pop ballad anthem from Jersey's number one export. Who cares if you can't hit the Steve Perry high notes, the storytelling alone, the themes of lost love, and hopeless optimism, will have the whole bar singing back up for you. Make sure to have a loose cigarette as a prop and toss your hair back to signal the chord changes.

Scott Speh's All-Time Karaoke Songs:

There's a theme here: Sad, lonely and feeling that “that bitch done me wrong.”

5) Nookie - Limp Bizkit - This is song about pain, not misogyny. "She put my tender/heart in a blender." Unfortunately it's the only way a mook knows how to express pain - to lash out and say something stupid like "I did it for the nookie." And yet it feels so good. Emo it aint.

4) Jack and Diane - John Cougar - Wistful longing for romances done past. Handclaps are neat too.

3) Blister in the Sun - Violent Femmes - easily the high point in Ethan Hawke's career as his band careens into this nasty little ditty in "Reality Bites." Why can't I get just one fuck, indeed!

2) I Will Survive - Gloria Gaynor - Way too obvious for anyone's list but way too fucking satisfying to leave off a list with this theme.

1) Time For Me to Fly - REO Speedwagon - ultimate kiss-off song. Good to have the crowd help in the two-part harmony in the chorus. Really fun to sing at going-away parties, especially if you're the one leaving. Think of Homer saying "So long Stinktown" when he takes the job with the international terrorist.

Send me your list


And now a plea from ShitBeGone Inc., the world’s best toilet paper:

Dear ShitBegone Revolutionary:

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As an entry point into this process, I have placed a CUSTOMER SURVEY at http://shitbegone.com/survey.html. Whether you have bought ShitBegone yourself, received it as a gift, or just visited ShitBegone.com in the past, I would love to have your input. Your answers will directly affect the next generation of ShitBegone products and services.

If you have let friends know about the ShitBegone revolution, please forward them this link so that they too can give valuable feedback on their perceptions of ShitBegone.


One big reason for the survey is that I am nearing the bottom of my initial ShitBegone inventory. This "Mark I" product, manufactured in the quantity of 12.5 tons in October 2000 by Green Bay Converting Inc. of Green Bay, Wisconsin, is a quilted 2-ply, 420 sheet, single roll pack product. Your survey responses will guide me as I place manufacturing orders for new "Mark II" ShitBegone in the coming weeks. When it comes to toilet paper, what's most important to you? Price? Softness? Recycled content? Convenience of buying? Fill out the survey and let me know.


With the new inventory will also come a new distribution system, with fully modernized contract warehouses operating on both East and West coasts. Increased distribution efficiency and a switch to UPS shipping will allow me to announce improved service, more delivery options, and lower prices in the months ahead.


I am currently looking for an experienced freelance Web developer or development firm in the Boston area to help design the next-generation ShitBegone.com. Experience is a must, and should encompass all aspects of Web and e-commerce development, including graphic design, html, integrated order-processing and payment, java, cgi/perl, and site management. I would also welcome your suggestions for interactive and informational features that you would like to see added to ShitBeGone.com. If you know someone with the experience, creativity and professionalism it will take to build the new ShitBegone.com, please let him or her know!


ShitBegone.com . has experienced a sustained 20-fold increase in Web traffic over the last month thanks to late February link on http://memepool.com. In one week alone we recorded over 50,000 unique visitors. Orders are also up dramatically, but not as dramatically as I would like. Random Web visitors clearly love ShitBegone.com-- but experience shows that word of mouth is the key to creating new ShitBegone customers. If you've used ShitBegone, let someone know about it today! Only you, as a daily ShitBegone user, know that ShitBegone is not a "gag"-- it's a real product, a good value, and a "Revolutionary" everyday solution to your wiping needs.


I'll look forward to announcing more good news as the ShitBegone expansion develops over the coming months. But if there's one thing that I myself hate, it's junk mail. I never sell or give away addresses, and I will do my best to always keep ShitBegone mailings like this to one per month. If you'd prefer not to receive ShitBegone news at all, just drop me a note with "Unsubscribe" in the title and I will take you off the mailing list. And if you got this as a forward and want to make sure you DO get mailings, be sure to drop me a note as well!

Finally, I'd like to take a moment and give you all a "ripple" [applause] for your participation in the ShitBegone Revolution. If you have any questions or concerns about ShitBegone, feel free to let me know!

Jed Ela


“I know it’s hurts to say goodbye, but it’s time for me to fly, eye-eee-eye”


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Early Spring 2002
Lots o'Art: Richter, the Armory Show + tons o' gallery shows: Neo-Grunge art, Paul Henry Ramirez, Type A and more on J-HOVA.

Valentine's Day 2002
Way too much info on my TV watching habits, plus Danielle Tegeder, Brad Tucker and art in Boston and much, much more...

Best of 2001
Moulin Rouge, Mulholland Drive, Missy Elliot, Jay-Z, James Ensor, Wayne Thiebaud, Radiohead, System of a Down redux

Thanksgiving from Hawaii
Serra, Pardo, Katz, Coen Brothers all suck. Grabner, Sienna, Prekop, Jay-Z all rock

Early Fall 2001
The Onion, Rodney Graham, Jim Lambie, Larry King, Music Movie Sundays, sucking up to Jerry Saltz and stuff...

Early Fall 2001
Skinny actresses, Fall Previews, Hair metal (again), and some other crap...

Late-Summer 2001
Chicago Art, Radiohead, Tony Kornheiser, another David E. Kelley rip and more...

Summer 2001
Wane Thiebaud, Printmaking, movies, more summer shows and more...

Summer 2001
Summer Shows, Paul McCarthy, Me, My Sister and more...

Spring 2001
James Ensor, Ennui, Journey, New Art Examiner and more...

Late Winter 2001
Dawson's Creek, Jessica Stockholder, David Salle, Albums of the Year and more...

Early Winter 2000
riffs on rock-Roll Singles, the West Wing, Bernard Frieze and more...

Fall 2000
The dirt on Damien Hirst, Jibangus, Cable TV and more...

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