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Early Fall: A day late, many dollas short (sorry Vince)
September 2003
By Scott Speh

OK, so it's been awhile. I have a bunch of excuses but excuses and a dollar fitty might get you a cup of coffee these days. I've been, like, busy, okay? First, there's always the job, the dreaded job. Since we last spoke, I traveled intensively through the great state of Iowa for two weeks, then Green Bay for a week, an unconscionably boring week in South Bend and then two weeks my home state of Ohio. Extra-curricular activities outside of the job included many weddings, installing Pedro Velez' show in my house, the Stray Show in May, my last ever art show in the Twin Cities, shortly thereafter, the gripping season finale of 24, American Idol, my little sister's graduation, the Dan Attoe show in a temporary Western Exhibitions loft space in Chicago's near south side. Whew! Thought I wasn't going to list my excuses. Whatever. And another thing...it's harder to write this column. In NYC, I could see hundreds of shows in a week and be downright mean in my assesments. Hell, I didn't know any of these artists or dealers personally. Here in Chicago, I can see maybe a dozen shows a month and I know most of these folks and it's hard, you know, to be mean to my friends. Call me a sell-out and I'll agree. But I gotta live here. So this column probably isn't as interesting as it was maybe 18 months ago. But whatever, it's free.

I've seen a lot shows between January and now (editor's note -- "now" meaning then. I wrote most of this in July, therefore late summer and early fall shows are unfortunately NOT included. They might be soon. For now see my Top Ten at the Other Group). Don't know how in-depth I'll go into each of them, but we'll start with a relatively lengthy examination of Sterling Ruby's show at 1R this spring and devolve from there.

Free Association Always Ends Up With Pelvic Mirroring
1R Gallery,
West Loop, Chicago

So Sterling Ruby's solo show at 1R Gallery in Chicago is best described as CHEEKY! I mean this in all the best connotations. It's fresh (both that it looks new and is kind of brash) and has kind of an F-you feel, yet avoiding direct antagonism.

I'm not quite sure what any of this work is really about but damn it looks good. The large prints have a freshness and verve of imagery that transcends, for me anyway, any specific didacticism. The press release and descriptions of Ruby's work use a lot of theoretical sounding words and rhetoric, which is fine if you're into that sort of thing. I found this on 1R's website - "Ruby is expanding the domain of the readymade to the dimension of time, drawing ties through temporal as well as spatial parameters." I don't want to sound too anti-intellectual (sorry Lane Relyea, count me in with Saltz, Schejdal etal, I respond to art from the gut. You can have your "rigor") but I have no idea what that means.

So I'll avoid that mumbo-jumbo in favor of the visceral visual pleasure that these prints provide. They're collages, sometimes born out of photo documentation of previous sculptures. These images, a crude plaster pelvis, a tree stump, are juxtaposed with subtle icky texture, like the reticulated skin of day-old soup and overlaid with evocative, semi-provocative text. The text is scrawled in a style that splits the difference between crude spraypaint and children's finger-paint. Yes, I'm aware is probably made with Photoshop's spray can with, 75% transparency, but it looks so good I'll ignore the relative simplicity of the technique.

My favorite might have been the color photo of tree trunks that looks like a blown up snapshot, complete with the harshness of the flash. A creepy texture, much like the reticulated soup skin mentioned above seeps in from the top corner and the phrase "I SEE THROUGH YOU" is scrawled across the image. The whole thing has this Blair Witch vibe and I like that I can see through the text (remember the transparency) that is announcing that it can see through me. Then there's this other photo of what looks like ape or some animal form peering from behind a blurry tree trunk. Some random ceiling or floor tile is collaged in the middle of the image. The text here, scribbled on the right half of the image, is a more antagonistic: "DISSEMINATE, YOU FUCK." Two prints paired with one another have an iconic feel and could be appropriated for a gay pride float: one is a rumpled bed positioned in the lower quarter of the image atop circular rainbow bands of color, the other featured similar circular rainbow, this time with a tree trunk sculpted into a chair occupying the center of the rainbow target.

The title of the show is "Free Association always ends up with pelvic mirroring." Again, I have no idea what that means. Maybe it's some phrase I'm unfamiliar with - if so, I apologize for my ignorance. I hope Ruby came up with himself. It's a strange phrase. I know what the words mean individually. Perhaps, probably (or like, duh) it's about sex. Commingling of the species leads to the joining of the hips, maybe. Or in Footloose terms, dancing is the vertical expression of the desire to get horizontal. That phrase ain't the only sexual reference. Both videos address sex, among other things. Just to right upon gallery entrance is a beat-up red pedestal with two holes in it. It's a replication of a wall in a storage area of some mega-retail store, like the kind you worked at during high school if you were a middle class suburbanite like me. Atop this shitty pedestal, rests a monitor. The wall, which the pedestal replicates, is the protagonist in the video. It plays surveillance of two employees stashing stolen product through two holes in said wall. The tape is looped so we see a female employee continually, in slow motion, jamming her arms through the holes. If you're into fisting, you'll be into this video. And the soundtrack is appropriately spooky.

The other video across the gallery shows two hands trying to stuff a squeaky, phallic dog toy into a crude, vaguely pelvic shaped ceramic sculpture. The toy keeps squeaking and it only grudgingly, with a ton of effort, enters the orifices of the sculpture. If you like unlubricated anal sex, here's the art video for you!

This is a creepy, disturbing, handsome, professional and satisfying show, which if shown in New York or L.A., might have propelled Ruby into stardom. But it was shown in Chicago and nobody outside of Chicago cares what happens here. And few who are here care as well. Good thing he's moving to L.A.

Gallery 312
West Loop, Chicago
This show engendered a wealth of commentary on the Chicago art scene list serve, The Other Group, concerning a lot of hoo-hah about authorship and authenticity. I liked this show because there was a lot to look at. That's it.

Ukranian Institute of Modern Art
Ukrainian Village, Chicago
There was also a lot to look at in this show of endless, modest drawings, that were almost always unframed and thumbtacked to the wall. This seems to be a major, major trend of younger and/or emerging artists these days - the modest, funky, post-minimal drawing. This is fine. A lot of these drawings were damn good - especially Paul Nudd's fecal, intestinal worms and sexy nipples. But grouping all these drawings together does not necessarily make for strength in numbers. It just makes them all look a little trendy or faddish. I'm curious. Is this return to drawing a genuine, pure activity, or a marketplace decision? I mean marketplace in two ways - 1) these modestly scaled works are modestly priced and therefore easier to sell or 2) lots of artists today can't afford big studios, or even studios at all (unless they are trustafarians) nor can they afford expensive materials so they are turning to more economical means of production. Not that I think this is a bad thing. I'm just curious as to the whys of the surge in modest, funky works on paper.

Julia Friedman Gallery
West Loop, Chicago
See, here's another drawing show. This one is a little different (not for better or worse, just different) in that a majority of these artists do drawings as their primary mode of expression and some these works were ambitiously scaled and constructed. I love Jon Parot's mountains of cocaine. His spiky white peaks on brightly hued construction paper, often peppered with evocative song lyrics hearken back to those halcyon days of the late seventies and early eighties, where everyone from Fleetwood Mac to your mom were doing canyonloads of drugs. Oh, to romanticize those drug-addled days. Not that I condone that or anything. I hate smoking but love, for example, how David Lynch romanticizes, even eroticizes smoking in his films, especially Wild at Heart. I just finished reading a biography of Neil Young and it was shocking and just plain thrilling to read about the copious amounts of drugs rockers did in the Seventies. They did all the drugs so we don't have to. Sam Gordon also showed some wonderfully trippy drawings that take stable geometric structures and mazes and then freaks them with gold leaf, marbelizing and tie-dying. He fosters a powerful tension between abstraction and representation, between straight-laced and stoned.

Red Fever Green Fields
Franklin Arts Works
A recreation in cardboard, metal foil, styrofoam and vinyl of a scene a farming village under attack from Apocalypse Now that reinforces its artificiality (not that it needed much help seeming artificial considering the materials) by constructing the element as if they were to be used as props for a stage production. The whole artifice thing doesn't interest me as much as, duh, the construction (frequent readers know I'm a sucker for these materials) materials used along with one of my favorite movies. Understated yet it commanded the space and though the artist used such prosaic material and the source imagery is so violent, the installation was exceedingly elegant.

Suitable Gallery
Humboldt Park, Chicago
Julia Friedman Gallery
West Loop, Chicago
Fischer explores a most benign subject matter - curbs, highways, streetscapes - the grassy knolls in median strips, the green space articulated by roadways that now passes for most of landscape we urbanites actually see days. She redeems this humble imagery with obsessively delicate ball-point pen, graphite and silverpoint mark-making and exact, perfectly abstract compositions.

Gahlberg Gallery, College of DuPage
Glen Ellyn, IL
MN Gallery
Bridgeport, Chicago
Scott elegantly transformed an awkward gallery space in the lobby of the College of Dupage art building for an installation of trippy video work. The first video, speeded up real time documentation of a rotting banana, was exceedingly sad seeing this once ripe and vital banana succumbing to the ravages of time. In the kaliedescopic office aerobics projection, Wolniak sits at a desk in an unremarkable cubicle and performs simple stretches and exercises. At the end of the set of exercises, the piece loops and splits into four and then it repeats again, with the screen splitting another 4 fold, so that eventually the image is increasingly smaller and the video becomes a pulsating grid-like abstraction.

At MN, he built a small, shoddily constructed rectangular pool in the center of the gallery. Atop of two fairly pathetic fountains Wolniak placed plastic picnic drinking cups, cut and splayed to look like flowers. They spun around haphzardly and mined a territory somewhere between everyday epiphany and simple trash. His video in this show was mind-bending. He placed a video camera on the back of his bike, rode around Division and Western Streets and played the video in reverse. It took a long time for my beer-addled brain to figure it out. And I'm really not sure if I have.

Thomas McCormick Gallery
West Loop, Chicago
OK, contemporary this was not. Neither was it cutting edge. And the work by some of these modern masters was decidedly minor. But the work was handsome and serious and I'm a bit of a sucker for AbEx. The Olitsky was pretty hot, as was the Morris Louis. Jim Dine's work sucked, but what's new?

Gallery 734
Madison, WI

The funny is back in UW's printmaking department. Despite UW's reactionary graduate school printmaking curriculum, current grads are still continuing the Wisconsin tradition of the ha-ha in printmedia. There were some hilarious and poignant prints in this show but since I neglected to take notes, I forget who made what and even what they looked like. But the best part of the show was the card, which features a key to the show. Little icons dressed up the title labels and this card helps you decipher the code. The symbols helped the viewer more fully understand each work. Here's some of symbols found on the card: irrational fear of the outside world; found text used in a mocking way; done entirely in front of the TV; artist hiding from professors; obsessive mark-making; imagined animal pals; and long, lonely nights spent in the Humanities Building.

Planting Eden
TBA Exhibition Space
River North, Chicago

More construction materials - will I ever get tired of this stuff. Sauter's show was a subtle riot. He carved out chunks of the drywall to create sculptures in the gallery. I love the brashness of this act -"ok, wanna give me show? Then let me tear up your walls."

Law Office
Wicker Park, Chicago

Leave it to Law Office to provide the best experience during the exhausting Art Chicago/ Stray Show weekend. They turned their modest apartment in Wicker Park into a swanky café. The Law Officers dressed as professional waiters - black pants, crisp white shirt and tie tucked into their shirt four buttins down, plus aprons. Vince looked esepcially hot. The joint looked classy down to white linen tablecloths adorning each table and Davis/Langlois paintings of pancakes on the wall. To remind you this was a Law Office event, they served the maple syrup of out whiskey bottles. And the food rocked - banana walnut pancakes, fruit salad, turkey sausage and mimosas. Should they tire of this art thing, perhaps they'll opt for a breakfast business.

Suitable Gallery / the Riviera
Humboldt Park / Uptown

The first jarring thing about Vince's show is its title: You're Still Under 30. What?! No I'm not. Who is this addressed to? Me? Any and every viewer? Vince? And is that supposed to be a good thing. Like, well, at least you're still under 30 dude. I used to bemoan my age. Ok, I still like to whine about being on the wrong side of 30. But it ain't so bad. You get needed perspective and self-awareness as you get older. You learn to care less about fads and trends. You start to figure out what's important. Although Vince may still be under 30, this shows seems to say he's starting to figure out what's important. This is a profound and moving show, tinged, no, not tinged, immersed in sadness and death but it's hopeful and full of love.

The Flaming Lips are full of love. They practically bursted with good vibes at the Riviera. Their current direction is perhaps the opposite of Vince's. They start with love and hope but tinge it with sadness. Actually they use a self-awareness of one's own mortality as a motivator, to do good things, to tell people you love them, to defend your honor and family. This was the most transcendant experience I've ever had at a rock show. Full of low-fi FX and good cheer, the Lips took the stage backed up by dozens of dancers, dressed in bunny costumes or as Santa Claus, even Jesus Christ. Two separate gaggles of plushies populated the sides of the stage and manned high powered flashlight which they beamed into the rafter in pulstaing motions. Lead singer Wayne Coyne every so often tossed handfuls of glitter into the audience. The backing videos either featured half-naked women performing karate or clips of late-night talk show hosts introducing the band. My favorite clip was from the classic episode of Beverly Hills 90210 when the Lips played at the Brandon and Kelly and Dylan and Steve and Brenda and Donna's prom. Yay! Wayne Coyne's feel-good schtick could get tired and cheesy real fast if he wasn't so damn committed to it. He celebrated Flaming Lips fans as being the happiest crowd in rock, praising us for actually dancing and smiling during the music. And the smiling was infectious. You'd have to have a hard heart to not enjoy this show.

At Suitable, Vince presented two objects: a headstone and a 1978 El Camino. (I apologize -- this is unfinished, as of 9/19/03. I hope to finish it, someday)............


Dog Height / Nirvana Paintings
Gallery X, SAIC
Downtown Chicago
So there's these brightly colored sculptures of cartoony dogs, made of papier-mâché, standing in the gallery looking at paintings that are hung at, yes, dog height. So there's where one half of the title of the show comes from. These small paintings are portraits of cartoony dogs, wearing t-shirts emblazoned with lyrics from Nirvana songs. The walls are painted a play-doh-y brown and Nirvana music blares out of a ratty jukebox. The paintings are pretty much cartoons themselves. The sides are painted yellow and thick black lines replicate woodgrain. It's a hilarious mish-mash, the strained, angst ridden, pissed off lyrics of Mr. Cobain, with the deadpan cartoon dog portraits, viewed by silly cardboard dog sculptures. Judging from Wenzels shittly drawn comics in SAIC's student newspaper, one wouldn't be out of line wondering if he could pull of this kind of bull-jive. But he does and he does it with craftsmanship, heaven fucking forbid. I mean, it looks good, it looks right. All the elements in this alternate dog-universe come together in perfect, unsettling, hilarious harmony.

Kill Yr Idols
West Loop, Chicago
Totally sweet (as in, this weed is sweeeet, dude!) show full of heroin chic and icy-hot rock star and icons. Big drawings, stacked on top of one another, dominated the right corner of the space. They start with a black and white laser print of imagery that might be a video capture from a rock and roll video and are then scribbled on with black ink, tempera and erased with bleach. Images of the Velvet Underground, Joy Division and the Cult mingled with cars, motorcycles and song lyrics and icons like Val Kilmer and Twin Peak's Laura Palmer. A little like Jon Parot's work, these drawings might be nostalgic for the sex-drugs-and-rock-and-roll days this Gen X-er could've only read about. Jay also has this great video that works on a ton of different levels. Level one is straightforward - it's one long, yellow candle aflame, set just right of middle on a brown ground. Could be setting a romantic mood, or a memento mori or a harbinger of a hippie dream. Level two is if you are a contemporary art aficionado as you should instantly recognize this as a video re-representation of a Gerhard Richter painting. Level three is for rock and roll fans that recognize this image as the album cover for Sonic Youth's iconic album, Daydream Nation (also the title of the piece). I love that this work can function as an in-joke with a number of constituencies while also retaining power of the image itself.

Chuck Jones, Renee Gory, E.C. Brown
Pilsen, Chicago
This is a killer of a grungy little show. And it's not really all that little. Chuck's work dominated the upper gallery. Tons of multi-sized paintings, mostly circular in shape on wooden panels that were priced by size. Reasonable prices too! I bought a medium sized one for $60. Most paintings are fairly described as amateurish, but it's a delightful, spiteful and sometimes frightful degree of amateur. Cheap house paint, puff paint, and glitter dominated - some works featured a strange horned blobby creature that could be the Devil's slug, others were purely decorative abstraction, mostly patterns and grids in glitter paint. Most paintings featured text that was alternately conversational, stupid and/or antagonistic. And only a few were as defiantly political as Chuck's signature work. Sure, he had a grid of presidential posters with that Devil's slug graffitied over their faces but the few overtly political text works were actually kind a funny, like the one that said " Say Nuh to Wahr." They mostly concerned themselves with rock and roll of the classic variant with phrases like "For those about to rock, Thanks!" and the one I bought "Hey, remember that song by Bad Company, "Feel like Makin' Love" I love that song! It's super fucking awesome." Hey I DO remember that and it IS super fucking awesome. I feel like making love too!

New York City Report
I went to the big apple in March and saw some stuff. This isn't really a report because I didn't take any notes. Oh well. But here are some shows that caught my eye and maybe some observations.
Dave Mueller at Murray Guy: Big funny blown-up re-representations of email correspondence with Matthew Higgs, plus his signature re-creations of exhibition cards.
Doug Wada at Elizabeth Dee: Photo-real depictions of dumpster, vents and grates on bright white backgrounds. Straightforward and straight-laced but pretty damn funny subject matter.
Maureen Gallace at 303: She's a painter's painter. Super-lush little landscapes that easily and sexily slip into abstraction. The palate is perhaps a tad too tasteful but I'd still be ecstatic to own one.
Donald Moffet at Marianne Boesky: A great idea poorly executed - there's been a lot of talk about video replicating painting and Moffets idea is to project video directly onto canvas. The shots are mostly still - sections of Central Park that are prime cruising hotspots. But he painted the canvas with shimmery golds or silvers that seriously diluted the visibilty of the projected video. And the slightly chunky surface didn't do much to conjoin both painting and video concerns.
Peter Rudolph at Derek Eller: Weird scratchings in india ink covered canvases of alien figues, tetrahedronic figures, evil clowns, forests and galaxies.
The Armory Show highlights: the dramatic return of cocks and vaginas in Sue William's paintings, James Hyde's return to funky deconstructed abstractions, the Stars Wars scroll drawing at some Japanese gallery that I was too stupid to write down either the artist or the gallery name, Royal Art Lodge kids at Richard Heller, otherwise I was uninspired and frankly, a little rushed so you don't get the exhaustive report that I did last year.

You like drinks, yes? I've tried two with surprising results. I'm giving both Bacardi's O3 and Sprite's Remix the thumbs up. In fact they taste quite similar - slightly fizzy carbonating with subtle fruit hints. Remix has more berry accents and is quite refreshing. I wish they made a diet version. Too much full-strength Sprite make me queasy and my teeth chattery. O3 is much like Remix except that it's orangier and has booze in it. So it'll get you where you want to be going. Maybe in February these drinks won't taste so sweet but on a hot summer day, maybe down by the lake, these two quaffs should do down easy.

Log onto Chicagoart.net. Most all of galleries use this service to announce their opening and events and viewers like yourself can sign up for FREE to learn what's going on in Chi-town's art scene. You can get messages from all member galleries or you can tailor your account to get notices from just the spaces you dig. On Thursday, you'll receive a digest of all the events of the upcoming weekend. It's quite a deal and keeps you in the loop. Thus you'll have even less excuses to miss shows. They aren't friendliest folks, at least to me anyway. But hey, they run quite a nice and helpful service.

Readers who were alarmed by the copious amounts of TV that I consume should be allayed that I'm hardly watching anything this summer. Yes, even despite the clarion calls of "America's Top Model" and "For Love or Money" I can hardly bear to turn it on to watch anything besides the Daily Show, Insomniac (really, just about all of Comedy Central's original programming is worth watching), Sex & the City (Rob Livingston is a nice addition) and Letterman. I do want to complain, though, about one tiny thing from this spring. I caught an episode of Friends where Rachel Green, snooty, WASPy, princessy Rachel Green, was wearing an MC5 shirt. There's no way. Sure, Jennifer Aniston would recognize the street cred and cool quotient of a shirt from the White Panther loving, bitch slappin' Motor City Five, but there's no way Rachel Green even knows who in the hell they are. Rachel Green has John Mayer and Norah Jones in her record collection. If she wants to rock out, maybe she has one AC/DC disc that an old boyfriend gave her or if she needs to get her groove on she could have some Missy or Jay-Z. She does live in New York after all.

2003 Mid-year singles report

Here's a list of hot songs that will duke it out for a place on my oh-so-hotly anticipated year-end top ten list:

In da Club - 50 Cent
Hey Ya -- Outkast
Reignition (remix) - R. Kelly
Just Because - Jane's Addiction
Still Waiting - Sum 41
Honestly - Zwan
Take it off - the Donnas
Beautiful - Snoop Dogg
The Leaving Song Pt. 1 - AFI
The Seed 2.0 - the Roots with Cody Chestnutt
Where have all the rude boys gone - Ted Leo and the Pharmacists
Ride of a Black Swan - ZWAN
The Hardest Button to Button - the White Stripes
The Scientist - Coldplay
Going Under - Evanescence
Like a stone - Audioslave
Can't Stop - Red Hot Chili Peppers
Danger! High Voltage - Electric Six
Stacy's Mom - Fountains of Wayne
I Can - Nas
Where's the Love - Black Eyed Peas
Any one of Justin Timberlake singles
Beautiful -- Christina Aguilera
Move Your Feet -- Junior Senior
Me and Giuliani Down By the Schoolyard -- !!!
Amsterdam -- Guster


You gotta look at these events in rock and roll history as shit, okay? Woodstock was a big piece of shit, and there have been several pieces of shit all the way down the line since the beginning of rock and roll.

The event is nothing. It's what made the event happen - which is no longer where the event it. The event is the leftovers. It happens so that the entity, the spirit, or what made the shit happen can move on.

So all these events, no matter what the hell they are, are nothing. What is meaningful is what is left and gone beyond that. So all we have is people standing around a pit of shit, looking at it. You wouldn't expect that shit to go back and sit in the shit, would you?

Neil Young, from Shakey, by Jimmy Donohugh


I wish that for just one time
You could stand inside my shoes
And just for that one moment
I could be you

Yes, I wish that for just one time
You could stand inside my shoes
You'd know what a drag it is
To see you


Respond to this blather


HC 17
January 2003
2002 Year end lists, plus more malternatives, Chicago and NYC art
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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