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January 2003
By Scott Speh

Hola amigos, sorry I ain't rapped at lately. (© Jim Anchower)

So, yeah, it's been awhile. Uh, I've been busy. Working, travelling for work, lecturing, lecturing for work, opening a gallery, travelling for work. And I had all my applications stripped off my laptop, which technically belongs to SAIC. They had to install some work-related apps on it. Why all my other shit had to be stripped, I do not know. This means I didn't have the tools to update Hot Commodities from the road. Which meant I went out and drank too much instead of diligently writing for you in my hotel room. Which means I've gained about 10 pounds this season. Can I put those 10 pounds on my expense account?

Anyway, I have a gift for you: my end of the year lists! What, you don't like lists? What are you, un-American? Some kind of hippie communist? Everyone loves lists. But first I will fill you in on some new thirst quenching beverages, a little rock and roll philosophy and some brief art observations.


Vanilla Coke: Surprisingly good! The hint of Vanilla cuts the lighter fluid throat burn of Classic Coke with a subtle smoothness.
Jack Daniel's Hard Cola: Garbage! The amount of sugar, combined with the acidity of the cola and the booze, will dissolve your teeth on contact. I defy anyone to drink more than one. I can't imagine the hangovers this shit will give ya.
Michelob Ultra: Underwhelming! Savvy marketing, those Michelob folks are courting the low-carb Atkins diet freaks (Give up carbs - what about pastry? Seriously, WHAT ABOUT PASTRY? No pie, cake, cinnamon rolls, donuts, fucking donuts! How can you give up donuts? Wanna lose weight? Exercise you dope!) Anyway, this lite beer is supposedly the first low-carb beer with just 2.9 grams of carbs per bottle. Except that Miller Lite has only 3.1 grams per bottle and costs a dollar-fifty less per sixer. This I learned (save for the price comparison) on table tent in a bar, ostensibly advertising Michelob Ultra, comparing the carb content in a variety of alcoholic beverages. Now that ain't savvy marketing.
Dr. Pepper Red Fusion: Wack! Marketed as an extreme alternative to Mountain Dew for urban youth, except there's a big problem - it's got no taste!
Diet Coke with Lemon: Puckering! Slightly antiseptic taste, but better than the poison death flavor of regular Diet Coke.
Vanilla Diet Coke: We have a winner! Easily the best diet soda ever; the vanilla flavor rides high above the aforementioned poison death rattle of DC. And Diet Cherry Coke is pretty decent too.

I recently emailed a friend with the subject heading "A Sad Day in Rock" with the message that Run-DMC DJ Jam Master Jay was tragically gunned down in Queens last night. Pedro's reply:
"Dude, you scared me! DMC ain't rock n roll...live on rock n roll...the real one bro"
Well, Pedro, that's bullshit. In my book, rock and roll is of all popular music, from Britney to Metallica to Neil Young to Jay-Z to Night Ranger to Faith Hill.

It all rocks, it's all rock.

This enables me to enjoy any type of song without regard to any political implications. I DON'T listen to anything "ironically" -- if I like a song, I like a song, regardless who performed it. I can enjoy "Sister Christian" or Celine Dion's "It's all Coming Back to Me" as much as I enjoy "War Pigs" or "Fight the Power." I hate the fascist policies of indie rock and punk purism and I ain't down with "keepin' it real," knowhutimsayin.

And R.I.P. Joe Strummer. And Robin Crosby, too.


In Its Place
Rebecca Reeves, Molly Carter, Rebecca Rothfus
Ukranian Institute of Modern Art
Ukrainian Village, Chicago
If Rebecca Reeves' work is any window into her personality, then she is a germ-obsessed control freak. Two tiny dioramas of living spaces present nondescript furniture in banal décor that are unremarkable until you notice each item rests within careful notches carved into the floorboards. These permanent feng-shui sculptures are titled "Everything in its right place." Two his-and-hers embroidered bath towels encased in clear acrylic plastic seemed trite on a first look: who really needs the one-note gender issues found bath towel embroidery art anymore? Except after seeing her elegant hair shield, which protects flowing locks from the dirty heathens on the subway, the entombed towels were more about germaphobia that gender politics.

Rena Leinberger
Gallery 400, University of Illinois-Chicago
West Loop, Chicago
Gallery 400's series "Art on the Edge in Chicago" purports to show the edgiest, non-commercial fair in Chicago. Except that it's all installation art, all the time. What is so edgy or uncommercial about installation? And hasn't installation art become an academic style that academic spaces are to eager to show to prove their progressive chops? Don't installation artists show in galleries? I think I just saw a Thomas Hirschorn show at Barbara Gladstone in Chelsea, which kicked the ass of every one of Gallery 400's dry offerings. Take Shane Huffman for instance. His installation looked like every other poetic, pretentious, overly precious installation ever made. Pretty…maybe; edgy…excuse me; innovative...uh, sure. But Rena Leinberger's installation was charming. Or maybe I liked it because I liked it. You know, that dreaded "taste" thing. Anyway Leinberger's work does fall right into my wheelhouse of construction materials, replication and minimalism. Her idea of intervening with the gallery has been done to death, but so has portrait painting, so whatever. She cast and replicated doorknobs, light switches, exhaust grates, columns, heating ducts and other mundane architectural details and re-presented them alongside the originals. My tastes would've like a more straightforward simulacra as Leinberger "arts" it up by slyly and playfully composing with these elements. You find little clumps of door knobs populating a wall, extruded cast grates sanded down to just a whisper of form, an extra column or two in the center of the space so that its hard to tell which one is load-bearing and which is fake. My favorite parts are the faceplates on the west wall. The galleries original face plates have been painted over so many times that they look like a child sculpted them out of play-doh so it's damn near impossible to discern the real from the fake. One nit-pick, aside from the utter redundancy (hello Rachel Whiteread, Steven Pippin, Rita McBride, Daniel Buren, Mel Bochner and about a 1000 others) of the project, is the top 1/8 of the wall and the ceiling. In a game that makes the viewer "reconsider" their surroundings, more attention should've been paid to the entirety of the space.

Here and Now
Chicago Cultural Center
The Loop, Chicago
I'm not a fan of big group shows, nor am I fan of a lot of these artists but I have to say I'm glad this show took place. Taking snapshots of a scene is important and I hope the organizers of Here and Now make this an annual event or at least a biennial show. If PS 1 can do "Greater New York" why not "Here and Now"? Evidently this show looks light years better than a similarly themed show on young Bay Area artists, which was on view recently at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. I suggest rotating the curators - bring a mix of insiders like they have now and outsiders or grad students. Mix it up. Reduce the number of artists and give them more space - let them show more than one or two pieces. Highlights here include John Neff's sublime photo and sweaty video, Stan Shellabarger's endurance, Kirsten Stoltman's ennui and I actually liked Joe Baldwin's flower painting (I'm like, totally not a fan). And I hate those stupid cowboy and indian paintings. What is interesting about those things?

Monique Meloche
West Loop, Chicago
This guy is ripping off motifs made popular in Paul Henry Ramirez paintings. Stealing in art isn't all that bad but the work has to be good, or at least interesting. These uber-slick, vacuous abstractions have all the charm of hotel art. They'd be best put to use as backdrops for a cop show, something like Miami Vice. But not Miami Vice, because Michael Mann projects at the very least have solid visual style. Dzine's work could maybe hang in the bad guy drug dealers pad in some shit-ass show like FOX's Fastlane, starring Ralph Bellamy and Tiffani Amber-Theissen.

Petty Potshots from NYC
Inka Essenhigh @ 303 Gallery: Essenhigh seems to be channeling the not-dead-yet spirit of Ralph Steadman in her much less slick than usual paintings. I don't mean slick in facility but in surface. She's made the switch from enamel to oil and from flatness to space and perspective. It's a bad move. Her imagery looks derivative of illustrators like Steadman and Steven Brodner and of anime. It's less idiosyncratic and less, well, weird.
Delia Brown @ D'Amelio Terras: Brown gets all pastoral, a desperate move from a desperately shallow LA artist
Mike Kelley @ Metro Pictures: Kelley's work continues to say, "I hate you people. Go die."
George Condo @ Luhring Augustine: He seems a little desperate too, as if he's looking over his shoulder at John Currin, worried that his gig as the "strange figurative painter" might be up.
Karen Davie @ Mary Boone: Pure, dumb decoration but gloriously, sexily queasy, dumb decoration.
Thomas Hirschorn @ Barbara Gladstone: The king of political installation art drops a bomb in his NYC gallery debut. It's about reading, self-determination, time, geopolitics, cruddiness, history, raging hormones and nothing less than life and death. I loved the fake sticks of dynamite whose fuses lead to books. Knowledge is power, bro!
Matthew Ritchie @ Andrea Rosen: Better than his last show, but his brand of constructed reality in these slick paintings looks a little soulless and less quirky with successive show.
Neil Farber @ Clementine: One of my favorite artists, a fellow traveler of Marcel Dzama in the Royal Art Lodge out of Canada, I love his winsome ink and watercolor drawings populated with Draculas, poison, Furbies, intestines, animals and shelving (I love shelving). He put up 100 simple, direct drawings done in a New Yorker cartoon style of single frame, often with text. Farber has a deliciously dark worldview in these at-first-glance playful drawings. In my fave, 2 kids die, got to hell and then get on famously with the devil, in another claims "It's scary to be a Dracula."

Here ya go:


This year, I decided to reverse my lists, go in ascending order. Why? I couldn't decide on the number one single until I actually typed it. Three were in the running, rattling around my brain like rabid, caged dogs. I often find myself, knee-jerkily, decrying the lack of good songs on the radio. Yet at the end of the year, I find a bunch of gems to write about. One of my problems with radio, especially here in Chicago is that you rarely hear any music. Ever try to listen to the radio between 4-10pm? All commercials, all the time.

18. Relative Ways -- …and You Will Know Us by the Tail of Dead: Take a little early '90's shoegazer guitar drama, mix in a dose of Sonic Youth noise, dab with emo vocals, and top off with Blink-182 pop smarts and you'll cook up the most infectious single on college radio this year.
17. Rainy Dayz - Mary J. Blige with Ja Rule: We are sick of Ja Rule's sensitive thug collaborations with every R&B diva alive, but this one is the real deal.
16. You're Missing - Bruce Springsteen: This simple power of documenting loss is devastating.
15. Sweetness - Jimmy Eat World: A blast of positivity in the mire of depressing rock radio. A perfect summer rock song to roll down the windows, drive real fast and sing at the top of your lungs, who cares who sees you.
14. By the Way - Red Hot Chili Peppers: Probably the perfect Chili Peppers song, expertly balancing their rock/funk crunch with Anthony's new found crooning skills. I actually like the melodic passages more than the big rock noise. Plus the lyrics make absolutely no sense, which is fun.
13. Oh - Sleater-Kinney: Hand-claps and Motown sounds brought to you by ex-riot grrls from the Pacific Northwest. Will wonders never cease?
12. Get Free - The Vines: A blatant Nirvana rip-off, but so what. It ripped the roof off and what young man can't honestly relate to this line: She never loved me, she never loved me, she never loved me, why should anyone?
11. No more drama - Mary J. Blige: MJB's saying the pain is gone, ain't it sweet. And she fucking means it, like no one else means it on the radio. She killed this song at the Grammys. Killed!
10. I Get Wet - Andrew WK: With so many masterpieces off this gem, it was hard to pick one. The curious title could mean a lot of things (don't go there) but I think it means he'll go the distance, take the risk: he'll drench himself for you. Yes, you.
9. Rock Star - NERD: The heaviest song without a guitar this year, or any year.
8. Cleaning out my closet - Eminem: So he apologizes to his mom in the chorus and then tells her she will never see Hallie again, Hallie won't be at her funeral. This Eminem guy is complicated.
7. Hey ma - Cam'ron: So if it were only this easy: Just go up to a girl, ask her if she drinks and smokes. If she does, then you'll be knocking boots later. Seriously, the song goes something like this: "I drink. I drink. I smoke. Me too. We good."
6. Complicated - Avril Lavigne: With one cheesy, banal line in this hit single, Lavigne touched a nerve: "Why'd ya have to go a make things so complicated?" Kinda says it all…
5. Do You Realize?? - The Flaming Lips: This song is only about the complete breadth of human experience. Warm, moving, forward thinking and real.
4. You Know You're Right - Nirvana: Every time this came on the radio, I'd think "This is the best song on the radio" and it's not even a great Nirvana song. Yet it didn't make my top three. Still, it was the best song on rock radio, which ain't hard with all the Creed, Disturbed, Nickleback, and Korn crap out there.
3. Hot in Herre - Nelly: For the longest time I thought this would be number one, but then Missy and Eminem dropped their bombs. But it was the perfect summer song. And I did want to take off all my clothes. Luckily for all of you, I didn't. Well, there was that one time, but we won't get into that.
2. Work It - Missy Elliot: The weirdest song on the radio was ever-so-nearly the best song on radio this year. What's with the backward vocal, the old-school "Hey Ladies" at the very end, the shaving my coocha line? Missy makes the craziest shit rock.
1. Lose Yourself -- Eminem: Despite its utter ubiquity on every radio format (driving through Ohio between Columbus and Dayton one night in October, I heard it on 6 different radio stations. And B96, you can stop playing this song now. Seriously.), this tightly coiled ball of determination was undeniable. And it's got a positive message too! Maybe Dick Cheney can "lose himself in the moment" when he's bombing Iraq.

The worst in pop: While "Sk8ter Boi" by Avril Lavigne drives me insane, J-Lo's "Little Jennie from the Block" gets my blood boiling. What a fraudulent piece of shit! "No matter the rocks that I got, I'm still li'l Jennie from the block" Puh-lease. How many personal assistants do you employ? When's the last time you rode the subway? Bought a torta from the bodega on the corner? Been flipped off by a cabbie? J-lo - you're a fraud. Yes, Ima hater and I don't care. And Clear Channel. They suck. Big time.

The Best Radio Station: Once and forever, 97X, Bam!, the Future of Rock and Roll! http://woxy.com/

This year, it's all about sincerity.

20. Cee-Lo -- Cee-Lo and His Perfect Imperfections: What a riveting voice, it alternately swells like an angel and growls like a junkyard dog! Cee-Lo's disc is messy, oft incomprehensible, and too long but like the title, it is a perfect imperfection.
19. Dashboard Confessional -- The Places You Fear the Most: This album hasn't worn well over the course of the year, but the first three songs are perfect depression music. Sad songs really do say so much.
18. Paul Westerberg-- Mono and Stereo: Not quite a return to Replacements glory, but those are some serious heights to scale. Nonetheless, a raw and gritty slab of depth and emotion, this last bastard of rock and roll keeps it real.
17. Missy Elliot -- Under Construction: Missy and Timbaland are the most inventive sonic architects working in the mainstream. While quite as pop savvy as say, the Neptunes, their bubbles, scrapes, robotic beats, old school shout-outs are fresh and funky. No one looks to the future without forgetting the past better than Missy. Plus she gets damn dirty. Not sleazy like L'il Kim or Christina, but celebratory while reveling in the raunch.
16. Mary J. Blige -- No More Drama: No one does it better. This r&b diva is the real deal and puts Ashanti, Monica, Brandy and of course Britney and Christina to major shame.
15. N.E.R.D. -- In Search of…: The dirtiest slab of funk/rock/hip-hop you'll hear in awhile. Jam-packed with ludicrous scenarios, ideas and lotharios. With this disc and their utter ubiquity over the airwaves, NERD made pop radio almost listenable this year.
14. The Donna's - Spend the Night: Some folks actually moan about the Donna's move to a major label, but it was smart. They need the big rock, super slick sound major label dollars provide. Every Donnas record sounds pretty much the same, but here the big rock production takes typical Donnas songs about drinking and fucking out of a Ramones punk rock vibe and into hair metal territory. They sound like Ratt in their glory days. And yes, that's a good thing. There's no heavy metal cover a la Judas Priest or Motley Crue and that's a minor disappointment.
13. Eminem -- The Eminem Show: Fascinating and perverse, listening to Em is like watching a train wreck. Plus he's got the maddest skills, better than Nas, better than Jay-Z, he's the most gifted formal wordsmith dropping rhymes today, but…this is the last album that Em can legitimately mine his persona. Let's see a larger worldview bro.
12. Queens of the Stone Age -- Songs for the Deaf: Crunky and crazed, passionate and would be perfect with some more menacing heavy metal leads.
11. Sleater-Kinney -- One Beat: These literate babes from the Pacific Northwest continue to get it done
10. Foo Fighters -- One By One: The Foos set the gold standard for melodic hard rock. Grohl writes perfect hard pop songs in his sleep.
9. Drive by Truckers -- Southern Rock Opera: An encyclopedic sojourn through southern culture, heard through the majestic rock music of Lynyrd Skynyrd and their lead singer's complicated relationship with Neil Young and the South's tortured relationship with George Wallace, Bear Bryant, racism, love and hate. Great southern-tinged, backyard flavored indie-hard rock songs too!
8. Wilco -- Yankee Hotel Foxtrot: I initially thought this disc was good but over-rated. After repeated listens, I admit that Wilco churned out a masterpiece. Most of the press focuses on the legal wrangling and while that is interesting back-story, the music is the star. Alternately mournful and celebratory, Jeff Tweedy and his gang turn the studio out like the Beatles in their prime and use technology and experimentation to achieve higher levels of emotional resonance. This ain't higher on my list coz the rest of these acts just killed this year.
7. Tenacious D - pure humor in rock rarely works but wow, the D gets it done. How? By rocking your fucking socks off! At first listen this sounded over-produced. What many others and I loved about the D was their acoustic metal vibe but the big rock sounds fits perfectly in their loving parody/homage of Seventies hard rock. "Fuck Her Gently" is the best hard rock love song since Nirvana's "Love Buzz" some twelve years ago.
6. The Hives -- Veni Vidi Vicious: Yes this was released two years ago but no one heard until this year and it ripped the roof off the rock world. Theirs' was the best live TV performance this year at the MTV music video awards. In an insulting garage rock medley, MTV had the Hives and Vines play back to back. After the Hives shredded, lead singer Howlin Pelle Almquist yelled "We're the Hives. You can turn off your TV now." Take that you little Aussie bastards!
5. Bruce Springsteen -- The Rising: You probably don't like the Boss. You are probably a communist and you hate America. Some hacks have criticized Bruce for not explicitly attacking the powers that be or for cashing in on tragedy. They're all haters. This album tackles the grand themes of love, loss and human connections that he's been mining for 20 years. The Rising is a deeply moving document that will endure. Yes it was born out of the 9-11 tragedies but the raw emotion in songs like "You're Missing" will haunt and comfort anyone who's lost a loved one. I'll say it again, sad songs really do say so much. And as far as the media blitz, well how else is the Boss gonna sell records? It's not like MTV or active rock radio or top 40 radio will play his stuff anymore.
4. Beck -- Sea Change: Another deeply melancholy album. Beck takes down his freak flag and fingers the wounds of a failed relationship. It takes a couple of listens to get into it, but it's a damn affecting and moving album. The sound is subtle electro-folk, as if Nigel Godrich produced a Gordon Lightfoot album. And sad songs….you know the rest.
3. The Flaming Lips -- Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots: If George Martin had produced Kid A instead of Nigel Godrich, it might've sounded something like this. The Lips take the Radiohead's dystopian future of alienated androids and warm it up. Hope, soul, love and resolve are all possibilities in this lush sound cycle. We can beat the robots. We can learn to love again.
2. Har Mar Superstar -- You Can Feel Me: Har Mar wants to have sex with you. Right now. Behind that desk. Come over here. Let's do it. Baby, you know you want it. I'm Har Mar, the fucking greatest! Har Mar, a chubby, balding, white, hirsute chunk of pure fuck, channels Barry White, Prince, Humpty Hump, Beastie Boys, Sly Stone, R. Kelly and oddly Eminem in a seeming over-the-top parody of lover-man soul. But it ain't no parody. He truly wants to fuck you. He's my new hero. Can't feel him? You can feel him.
1. Andrew WK -- I Get Wet: Raw power. Pure fun. No fucking irony. Bang your head. Scream your lungs out. Drink. Fuck. Fight. Party. 'Nuff said.

6. Storytelling - Todd Solondez is a dishonest, manipulative, lying fraud whose movies provoke, anger and yet, entertain.
5. Lovely & Amazing -A narcissistic mom, her two adult daughters and her adopted young daughter are caught in a self-perpetuating cycle of self-loathing in this sad/funny little gem.
4. Gangs of New York -- A big, bloody mess of a film that would actually benefit from another hour (even though it last 3 hours) that engrosses and enthralls. I would give the lead actor Oscar to Daniel Day-Lewis, even though he'll probably be nominated for a supporting actor gig. His accent is uncanny.
3. Far From Heaven - A near perfect film full of pathos and tragedy, with pitch perfect performances from Julianne Moore, America's best actress, Dennis Quaid and Dennis Haysbert.
2. Punch Drunk Love - A strange, often nonsensical love story - I mean really, why would Emily Watson fall for Adam Sandler? -- that still mesmerizes.
1. Y Tu Mama Tambien - An intelligent, genuinely sexy teen sex movie that is alternately about all of contemporary Mexico and grinning (and fucking) in the face of death.

Rock Shows
5. High on Fire (Double Door, Chicago) - Completely ruptured my eardrums. These loud, sweaty longhairs worship Satan, smoke dope and blow minds.
4. NoahJohn (The Annex, Madison) - Previewed their new album, which adds big doses of gentle avant-garde noise a la Yo La Tengo to its pastoral roots rock vibe. Carl Johns' playfulness carried these somber songs until the encore that tore the roof off with old favorites.
3. Tormentula (The Inferno, Madison) - So the demonic Frau in the mighty Tormentula went out and got themselves a boy guitarist. While some may despair that they aren't three metal babes anymore, this move will take them out of any novelty bin that haters want to stash them in. Why? Cause this dude is a total rock star. Tormentula's sloppy, drunken shows at the late, lamented O'Cayz Corral are the stuff of legend, but now they are a tight, mean, gut-punching machine. When the new axeman launches a solo, he steps up to the plate, almost literally: he walks into the spotlight and just shreds. I hope they can escape Madison because they are ready for the big time.
2. Sonic Youth (Metro, Chicago) - What an utter joy, seeing these legends play in the tiny confines of the Midwest's best rock club. SY stuck to mostly their new killer disc and tunes from Sister and they delivered the goods with a passion that bands half their age can rarely muster. A rock babe in front of me pogo-ed and teetered along to every song, screaming as if she was watching the Beatles in 1965. Some dork in front of her asked her to stop bumping into him. I yelled, "Hey, this is ROCK AND ROLL, brother, go upstairs with the other record store clerks."
1. Andrew WK (Summerfest, Milwaukee) - Under the stars, on Milwaukee's gleaming lakefront, in a perfect 75 degree summer night, AWK came to party. And party hard, he did. And so did we. We pumped our fists, banged our heads, and chanted along with every one of AWK frothy pop metal masterpieces. My god, I've had few better nights.

Honorable mention: Friends (NBC), The West Wing (NBC), Fox NFL Sunday (FOX), Six Feet Under (HBO), Malcolm in the Middle (FOX), King of the Hill (FOX)
10. Scrubs (NBC)- This show is delightful and charming with just enough cynicism to wash it all down. In the big picture, it's average. In the world of TV, it's like Shakespeare. This is what most entertainment should aspire to, a pleasant half-hour of mirth and merriment. Unfortunately we are surrounded by such dreck that an average show like this makes the top ten.
9. That '70's Show (FOX)- This show is much like Scrubs, a pleasant half hour of supposed 70 anachronisms but the actors are just so damn lovable that I'll welcome them into my home every Tuesday.
8. South Park (Comedy Central)- These mutherfuckers are still dropping some mad science.
7. The Daily Show (Comedy Central)- Jon Stewart's winning affability can cut through all the bullshit without sounding too supercilious.
6. Sex and The City (HBO)- Most intellectuals find this show to be so much fluff, but I enjoy indulging in its indulgements of the high life in NYC. This year often hit melancholic notes as Carrie struggled to make sense of her aging, Miranda coped poorly with single motherhood, Amanda let down her guard to fall for a snake and Charlotte fell for a bald guy with a hairy back. Oy vey! And, dream on!
5. 24 (FOX)-- 24 is still gripping! Gripping I tell you! And Kiefer is dreamalicious
4. The Simpsons (FOX)- Will always be in my top ten.
3. PTI (ESPN)-- It's funny, irreverent but with smarts (quite unlike FX's insipid "The Damn Sports Show"), and it tackles issues that have resonance outside the sports world. The timed format keeps it zipping along and the jocular banter between hosts and long-time friends Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon is addictive. PTI is the best sports show on TV ever!
2. The Sopranos (HBO)- Many so-called fans of the Sopranos bitched and moaned about the lack of wacking people but I guess they don't understand narrative, character development and dramatic tension.
1. Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO)- Larry David is an evil, evil man but goddamn is he funny. This could be the best sitcom ever. And there are no punchlines, just one painful misunderstanding after another. Larry is my Caucasian.

The worst in TV and Radio:

Sean Salisbury
The utter ubiquity of Sean Salisbury on ESPN's many products: Not only do we have to endure his blandness and simplistic pronouncements on Sportcenter's Monday Evening Quarterback, countless point-counterpoint and pretender/contender segments but also he sits in on the Dan Patrick radio show for three hours each day. While I like Patrick despite his unctuous name-dropping star-fucking wannabe persona and have a soft spot for that "friggin genius" Rob Dibble, I find the show nearly unlistenable due to Salisbury's frequent interruptions and obvious repackaging of Dan's opinions. I especially hate when he says shit like "(so-and-so) really showed me something yesterday." Well Sean, just who the fuck are you? Who anointed you the expert in all things kosher on the football field? Doesn't the all-sports network have someone, anyone else that can blather on about football? Too much Salisbury steak makes me nauseous. In fact, most of ESPN's white ex-jocks are bland, boring robots: enough with the Trev Alberts, Jay Bilas and Kirk Herbstreits of the world.
Dawson's Creek
Would someone please tell me why I watch this show? It used to be a fun guilty pleasure, now it's just stupid. Jen's turned into a spineless jellyfish, Joey is a joyless harpie, Audrey's all incomprehensible and annoying, Pacey is a stockbroker - whatever! And Dawson is the world's most prescient production assistant. Good gawd I hope this is the last season. I'm only hanging on to see it to the end. Just like you did for 90210, remember? Yes you do.
Chunky Soup Commercials
Those Chunky soup commercials now feature NFL stars actual moms, rather than actresses. Would someone please tell them the correct phrase is "We want to make sure people are eating well" not "eating good." Regular readers of this column know I'm no grammarian, but still.
Star Wars Commercials
The worst line in any commercial this year: "Yoda man!" from the Star Wars DVD of Attack of the Clones. What the hell?!
Wrangler Jeans Commercials
And those Wrangler commercials using the Creedance Clearwater Revival song "Fortunate Son" are highly unfortunate. "Fortunate Son" is only the most biting class warfare song ever, puh-lease. I can't believe Fogerty would allow this song to be used for selling jeans. At this point in late market capitalism I know it's pointless to complain about ads using great songs…yes it was disconcerting for the Who to sell anti-establishment songs like "Won't Get Fooled Again" for car commercials and the Joplin/Mercedes Benz song was wack and Zeppelin, who have NEVER licensed a song before, not even for movies, rented out "Rock and Roll," probably the most underrated overheard song in the rock cannon, to Cadillac, all of all things. Led Zep even turned down Scorcese to use their music in the movies and Scorcese is the most adept appropriator of pop music in Hollywood. But I did find those Sony ads using Marvin Gaye songs wistful, the Nick Drake VW spots are poignant and I can accept that Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash could use Taco Bell's cash…. but Wrangler completely misrepresents the intent of CCR's "Fortunate Son." The commercial uses this phrase "Some folks were born, made to wear the flag" while showing fresh-faced white people lounging in Wranglers. Two bars later the actual song goes like this:
It ain't me, it ain't me, I ain't no senator's son, son.
It ain't me, it ain't me; I ain't no fortunate one, no,

You see that song is about rich kids avoiding the Vietnam War not wrapping oneself in the flag. Um, ouch.

10 (tie). Tim Hawkinson at Ace (HC13) - One of the few artists to go huge and not lose it.
10 (tie). Ben Stone at Suitable (HC16) - Chicago's best sculptor
9. Oskar Kokoshka at Neue Gallerie (HC15) - Sublime collection of psychological portraits of the Viennese elite in a sublime museum.
8. Demonclownmonkey at Artist Space (HC15) - Funhouse group show with my favorite video of the year - Karen Leo's "Himrod Now" featuring a head-to-toe cable knit Bruce Willis Costume, plus a great installation by David Altmejd, who also had a good gallery debut at Ten-In-One in November, and weird paintings by Scott Grodesky. Matthew Ritchie engineered a rare fresh and funky group show.
7. Realm of the Lair at Joymore Gallery, East Humboldt Park, Chicago
The best damn art show I've seen in a long time! Who knew all this sword and sorcerer stuff was in the ether? You'da thunk that curators Siebren Versteeg and Ben Stone commissioned a lot of this work, but noooo. All these artists were doing all this Dungeons and Dragons, Wizards and Warlocks, battle-ax and moat and castle work independently. Not only do the individual works rock (or shall I say, slay) but also it all looks good together. I liked the Versteeg and Stone's installation touches - faux torches illuminating the dimly lit gallery, Flintstone-esque faux rocks completing the cave-like shit-ass simulacra, and a bunch of burn-outs playing D&D (excuse me, Stone, Versteeg, and random artist pals) on Saturdays during the run of the show. Highlights included Neil Whitacre hilarious and oddly poignant photos of winter woodland battles between animal pelt clad warriors (or cavemen) and ice nymphs, Scott & Tyson Reeder with Dave Deany's grand wizards fronting like the Beastie Boys on a cable access show, Melissa Oresky's flattened Lee Bontecou compositions that pulsate like 3-D renderings of the Void, Chris Kehr's toy castle, Frank Pollard's amazing sci-fi, Mad Max sculptures that could pass for toys in a post-apocalyptic world, and a killer Geoffrey Todd Smith pastel drawing of a quadra-headed dragon confronting a conquistador with the title "Yeah, but do you have four cocks?" I wrote a longer review for Bridge's website (http://www.bridgemagazine.org)
6. Arturo Herrea at Brent Sikkema (HC15) - A ton of work and it all looked killer.
5. Ellsworth Kelly at the Drawing Center (HC15) - Scribbles, doodles and scraps never looked so elegant.
4. Gerhard Richter at MOMA (HC13) - An itinerant inventor of painted forms and a surprisingly influential artist. I played spot the trend: Bernard Frieze, Albert Oehlen, Struth, Ruff and Gursky all owe him royalties.
2 (tie). John Neff at Suitable - John Neff shocked the world at this late fall show at Chicago's premier independent space. Well, he shocked Chicago. Ok, he shocked the 30 people who care about art in Chicago. How? Neff showed meticulously crafted and conceived collages, a radical departure from his photos, videos and installations he's showed the past 5 years. Neff's calls these works collages or "papers on work" but they are really paintings. Fluid, fecal browns are splashed amidst lurid pinks. Pencils, pop cans, images of cloisters are combined with screenprints of skulls, crossbones and candles on top of aluminum in what seems to be ruminations of death, love and the need for space and time to think, ponder and create. Sex and bodily fluids might also be referenced. Neff provided a key to deciphering the symbols used, which could've used a key to decipher it as well. But a straightforward listing of this-means-that and that-means-this would've negated the pleasures into divining what these treasures mean. These works will reward with long and concentrated viewing.
2 (tie). Pedro Velez at TBA and the Bronx River Art Center (HC15): In the summer of Pedro's discontent (he's moving away folks. Yes, you finally drove him off), Velez delivers two greatest hits albums: At BRAC you'd find Heavy Metal Mix Tapes, Cute Girls and a bonus cut: a kick-ass new work: Untitled Jewish Sculpture, a post-minimalist wedge cobbled together of found, shitty blue polystyrene topped off with a large signed photo of Milton Berle. At TBA, we saw Cute Girls, Heavy Metal Mix Tapes, the Program updated, bunches of curated fliers and postcards, curated refrigerators and another bonus track: Untitled Socialist Sculpture featuring the sign of Velez' beloved laundromat, which was replaced by a Starbucks this fall. Chicago, you will miss him. If he throws another going-away party, he should sing you all REO Speedwagon's classic kiss-off song, "It's Time for me to Fly" -
I've been around for you/ I've been up and down for you/ But I just can't get no relief/ I swallowed my pride for you/ I lived and lied for you/ But you still make me feel like a thief/ You've got me stealing your love away/ Cause you never give it/ Peeling the years away/ So we can't relive them/ I make you laugh/ You make me cry/ I think it's time for me to fly.

You won't have Pedro Velez to kick around anymore.
1. Tom Sachs at Bohen Foundation - I'm not a big fan of Tom Sach's bad boy antics but this show blew me away. I saw it twice on successive days and stayed about an hour each time. Here's the physical lowdown: Sachs built a 1/25th scale city, based on the size of toy electric cars. Tracks for these cars wind throughout the space and the installation. Every Tuesday through he run of the show, Sachs and his cronies will stage races. Buildings in the main installation include a replication of a LeCorbusier housing development (one nit-pick: it seems that every 45-year-old male artist is interested in modernist architecture. And surveillance. It's boring. Get over it.) a McDonalds, a ghetto streetscape - replete with sniper's hideout, and in the basement, another race track. He built a number of human scaled stations - a grunge simulacrum of a McDonalds kitchen, a working bar, a working toilet replete with surveillance cameras, DJ's decks and a Eames chairs replicated out of foamcore. Oh yeah, everything was meticulously, if grungily built from styrofoam. In the basement you could watch instructional how-to videos explaining the usage of the McDonalds stand, or how the buildings were constructed or most hilariously, short narrative videos of the toy cars circumnavigating the constructed cityscape set to hardcore rap soundtracks. The whole project is teeming with ideas. I could go on and on making connections and elucidating each of these concepts, but instead I'll just list every idea I thought I saw in the piece. The project is up for awhile so you can go see for yourself. The Bohen Foundation is on 13th Street in New York City, where Chelsea turns into the meatpacking district. Here are the ideas, have fun: abject architecture, dj culture, fast food nation, toys, surveillance, liquor, work, guy stuff, garages, parking ramps, grunge, construction, orange stripes, destruction, snipers, organization, instruction, simulacra, pot, low tech, high tech, guns, fire, gangsta rap, stuff, verisimilitude, the ghetto, the street, time, toil, process, piss, class, scale, electronics, trash, sarcasm, forthrightness, high, low, suburbia, cleanliness, order, plumbing, tools, bodily functions, glue, calibration, chads, modernism, replication, science and warning.

I must expose the power structure behind my rankings so Marc Fisher won't have a hissy-fit. This is the last time I can write about Pedro Velez, Stan Shellabarger, Kirsten Stoltmann, John Neff and 11 other artists. Why? I've started a gallery. Kind of. I introduced the project at the Stray Show:
and I'll be showing the first ever exhibit devoted exclusively to Pedro Velez' painting in my apartment February through May, 2003. You'll be able to see this work by appointment only. Information is forthcoming.

Here's the skinny on my gallery thing:


WESTERN EXHIBITIONS, founded in 2002 by Scott Speh, is a portable gallery centered in Chicago representing 15 artists from across the nation:

Dan Attoe's (Iowa City) daily paintings seem to arrive straight from the id, combining cartoonish figures and winsome text with casually sophisticated lush surfaces.

Tina Carrol's (Baltimore) biomorphic sculptures twist into surprisingly emotive abstractions.

Nicholas Frank (Milwaukee) is multi-media artist who takes things out of context.

Paul Fuchs (Madison) makes PLUDD (weird videos, drawings, paintings, and writing). He is currently interested in beasts and geometric animals and humanoids. His favorite color is orange.

Joel Gaydos (Baltimore) is an award-winning gardener whose drawings are populated by anthropomorphic beings and sensuous botanicals.

Adriane Herman (Portland, Maine) works collaboratively within SLOP Brand Art, makes collage paintings, prints, and digital (and often edible) multiples, exploring the social role of food and its complicity in cultural homogenization.

Jibangus (Madison) is a creative productions group whose one-minute short movies combine comedy, tragedy and crude special effects in a mind-blowing attempt to navigate the human condition. Jibangus is currently at work on a full-length horror film, The Yungling.

John Neff's (Chicago) multi-media work uses formal, self-reflexive structures to present social, personal and art historical narratives. His precisely conceived and realized works are dense, but do not forfeit visual beauty.

Miranda Patau applies her study of classification systems and her deep appreciation for all things gloomy to sculptures paintings and videos in San Francisco.

Stan Shellabarger's (Chicago) metaphor-laden endurance performances and installations address grand themes of love, pain and work with simple, repetitive gestures.

Kirsten Stoltmann's (Chicago) sincere, emotional work (in the form of videos, photos and drawings) stems from a mutual aversion and attraction to constructed realities of contemporary life filtered through TV, movies, liquor, boys and pop music.

Christian Uhl's (Brooklyn) design-oriented work focuses on abstraction within spatial and material constructs

Aaron Van Dyke investigates the nature and vast possibilities of photography in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Pedro Velez (Chicago) makes "painstakingly slipshod" sculptures and paintings and explores the possibilities of curating as an art form.

Mark Wagner (Brooklyn) is a conceptual artist working within the traditionally craft-oriented world of artist's books. He also makes assemblages, collages and writes short stories.

For more information on these artists and WESTERN EXHIBITIONS, contact
me at sspeh@artic.edu

Have a super new year! Love Scott.


“There's no time for feeling inferior, standing in front of my mirror”


Respond to this blather


Summer 2002
Premium malt beverages, rock and roll, movies, Chicago art, art criticism rules
A last gasp of art in NYC: grab a beer, this column is long --
Spring 2002
My big move to the city of Big Shoulders, Jack Featherly, Su-en Wong, Andrew WK, Lists, ShitBeGone and tons more....
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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