Michael Bulka, midnight rant

Number Seven


Date: Wed, 2 Jun 1999 07:48:00 -0500

Subject: Art1999Chicago diary

To new (and old) people, the disclaimer - This a periodic mass emailing from a guy in Chicago with nothing better to do, sent mostly to people who have asked for it. Repost whatever you want, wherever you want, but credit or blame where it's due is only polite. If you don't want to hear from me again, tell me and I'm gone. If you read me on some repost, same address and you're on the list.

Art1999Chicago Diary

Still not quite a rant, but somehow I feel this is expected of me. Sorry it's taken so long.

I woke up after artfest weekend tired, hungover, aching back, sore feet, thinking I never wanted to see art again. But then went back one more time, to concentrate on the film/video showcase upstairs.

There really was too much art to see at the pier and too many concurrent shows, parties, and events you couldn't tell which they were. Even though I missed at least half of what was available, I had to see as much as possible - just think of all those starving children in Pennsylvania and Texas and Arizona who never get this much concentrated culture.

There are a lot of problems seeing work in this context - at the pier, not only is the sheer volume of work an immense distraction, but most artists are represented by, at best, a few pieces, often only one. For the few artists you recognise there may be a pleasant sense of recognition, or satisfaction in seeing the real thing after slides and magazine pictures, but for the potentially most interesting work, by people you don't know, all you get is a tease. Art is in such variety that without knowing the project, without a context, it is difficult to know what you are looking at, even as you stand in front of it.

On the other hand, the apartment and hotel and other improvised venues have other problems. Sometimes, it's hard to know what to look at -- am I looking at a subtle, artful manipulation of hotel architecture, or an artifact of shoddy hotel maintenance? an installation or the host's selection of appliances? Apartment shows quickly devolve into parties, with loud DJs, dimmed lights, crowds of drunken art-trade workers.

My biggest problem isn't seeing too much art, or accepting the inevitable evil of commerce, but putting up with people who use art as a vehicle for celebrity. Too many conversations where someone reels off their resume, or an obsure art name is dropped as a shibboleth, with a brief pause to establish membership and ranking in the club. This is why I live in Chicago rather than New York or LA - the posers who like this game seldom find enough playmates here and move to a coast.

Facts? You want an approximation of facts? OK, but first some specific impressioins.

For years I have been mildly hostile to video, but this week that was the most memorable experience. My favorite piece of the weekend - in a hotel show, John Henley presented "The Legend of Thane Livingstone", a lovely fairytale of a man and his snails. An expeditious mix of crude puppetry, live action, computer effects, all in service to a generally sweet and witty story.

At Hot Sauce/Law Office (more on which later), the garret studio, with the simple addition of a projection TV and the clearing aside of piles of painting materials, became the perfect art video venue for Kirsten Stoltmann's curated program "Pretend TV". A crowd of people talking, laughing, drinking, made this like being in a small club to see a band. Much more appropriate than a monitor on a pedestal in a white cube. Especially for these generally very energetic, popmusic soundtracked tapes. I never did hit the room at the right time to see the begining of the program (though I am glad to have avoided "Carrie Yellow"). I did see the last third of the program several times, and Kirsten's day in the life of an art student, even though it could easily be edited into a GAP commercial, was consistantly strangely amusing.

Back at the pier, on the upper level, Hot Sauce/Law OfficeCamel cigarettes sponsored a video extravaganza. LOT/EK architectural studio was responsible for an Epcot/new age insatallation that completely overwhelmed and trivialized the work it meant to present, but an intersting presentation it was. Enetering along a lighted path, you entered though a dance-club sound installation and through the rear-projection screens into an arena of medical-office recliners that pointed you to a blank cieling. In peripheral view were ten screens with two alternating video programs. Headsets provided audio choices of Program A, B, silence, or one program in each ear. A very pleasantly Jetsons experience, but the video work was reduced to decor.

Next door, in the smoking lounge, in addtion to beer and, if you surrendered the information on your license to their database, free cigarettes and a bag of trinkets, were four more projected videos. Relatively, not a bad display system - if you sat at a table close enough, there were headphones connected to the nearest image, and each projector showed only one piece, not an anthology program, and the tapes were primairly visual. In keeping with the overload environment of the fair, it was impossible to give each piece the attention it should have, but even in the relaxed lounge-zone atmosphere, you could at least get the gist of the tape and choose to move in for a concentrated viewing.

I'm only sorry I didn't find the Camel area earlier in the fair, when I could have used a nap and a free beer.

The most interesting action was at the apartment and hotel shows. Of course a real mix - some real student crap, some half-baked stuff with potential, some things that shouldn't have to be shown in a hotel room. A show where the apartment setting was almost a political action, and one a counter-action.

At the Best Western three semi-coordinated shows. Somebody must have been having a good time - the hotel cops closed 'em down at 10. The Suite suite had more seasoned-but -unseen artists, Roomy and Room Service more fresh-but-studenty. My peraonal favorites, besides the snail video: Mindy Rose Schwartz's delivery of bouquets with notes from art-world personalties, begging her to become an artstar; Maria Jose Barandiaran's unmade bed, pile of mints, and a note saying "I have a lot to tell you in the morning"; and one of the most inspiredly stupid objects I've seen - Jessica Hutchins's half-plastered (or was it papier mache) blanket.

Some Art Institute students also did a show at the same hotel, but put it up and took it down the same day. Too quick for me. Missed it.

Meanwhile, at the swankier Embassy Suites, Tony Tasset and the Grad Kids of Circle reprised the show that inspired all the hotel/artfair stuff. Two notable images (here I'm reverting to rant mode, in which any name not on the tip of my tongue or visible on the top layer of my desk is subject to imagination and ad hoc description) - a video by that girl who showed chat-room and greeting-card scripted tapes at CPR recently -- this one notable only for it's graphic pornography. A rented actress and voulunteer studs perform the standard routine, with a pointedly irrelevant domestic dialogue (at least in the part I was able to sit through). The artist is in the same program as the perpetrator of "Yellow Carrie" and a very amateur teen-slasher flic that was niether parody nor homage, but just lame imitation and audience abuse, also on a monitor here. Maybe it is a generational thing, or the fault of an MTV faculty.

But I digress. The windows of the suite sported something more promising, in the not-quite-baked category. Of-course-I-can't-remember-his-name mounted tracing paper diagrams of the signage visible from his edge-of-urban-development student studio window. Incipient art/sociology. Maybe the best of two flawed fringes.

This is too long. Even weeks after the event I am exausted in the reconstruction. If you were here, welcome back. If not, enjoy missing what you missed.

The apartment shows

SmartLiving - Pedro, what are you thinking? Two big shows within blocks of you opening on Saturday, so you open on Friday, when the crowd is somewhere else. Sorry I missed the show, but it was nice to meet you at the neighbors'. [between the original writing and tonight's sending, I did manage to see the show, better than I would have on the weekend, largely because of several reccomendations to see Gerald Davis's tiny cot with over-active Magic Fingers. More Jessica Hutchins papier-mache - lumpy additions to six-pack holders and quilt of bottle-lables. I'm attracted to the image of obsessive drunken handwork, but as her growning popularity outstrips the dearth of explanitory rhetoric, I may have to turn on her. Some playful kitchen-, bedroom-, bathroom-, and freezer-specific pieces. A generally lumpy aesthetic, not surprisingly, a better, more lively show than the mediated "Stuff" at TBA. And, as is often the case, special commendations are due to the non-participating roommate for putting up with this for a month.]

And then, Saturday. The Lockedgroove and Hot Sauce shows. I seem to have learned a lesson - if you save the best for last, the memory is older and has to fight fatigue. At least a brief summary:

Hot Sauce at The Law Office - three guys with too much energy seem so far to be succeeding in sidestepping the gallery, grad-school and mentoring systems that are traditional for art-career success. The place and the art were much cleaner than at the Evil show this winter, and this worries me. Willie Gregory's O(sco) print (the artist kissing a poster of Jewel) loses a lot of energy in a nice mat and poster-store frame, and the rest of the work was also more polite. But, since this was a preview of a show scheduled to tour southern schools, maybe some politeness is in order.

It was a great surprise to see Roy Boyd and some of his artists hangin' with the kids whose work would never be right for his space, but where were Peter Miller and Bill Lieberman and the other gallery folk who should be scouting for fresh meat, and the Cultural Center and New Art Examiner people who should be paying attention, and Judith Kirschner, who should be scared? Maybe I just missed them in the crowd, or maybe they were down the street

at Lockedgroove at doozer. (why do apt shows have to have two names? Some sort of brand-name marketing?) As I said in the pre-fair advisory, this is mostly established artists moving into their students' scene. The whole thing had the feel of a Mitchell Kane schprockets-smart parody of an apartment show. Even without a crowd it would be difficult to see the art - the minimal neccessary to have a party and pretend it was a show. Apparently Michael Hall's art was the wall-text listing the particpants' names, Gaylen Gerber made the backdrop behind the DJ, and another artist is credited with the turntable stands.

There were a few more traditional artworks, including Sarah Whipple's untitled (yarn, dimensions variable) - a legnth of string thrown into the middle of an empty room. There is some arguable relationship to her real work, but a better argument could be made for "I'm such an art-star that I can get away with this." Save the attitude for your retrospective, girl. On the other hand, Oli Watt's airplane-shaped smudge on the wall was nice, but would have been better (more playful, less pretentious) in a less gallery-quality setting.

There may have been other good stuff, and there did seem to be some laudable sort of crude marketing gesture on the back porch by the kegs, but I claim the distraction of the crowds, the lights being turned off for dancing, and the untimely arrival of the police.

There is of course a web site: [http://www.doozer.net]. I haven't been there yet.

My favorite story from the weekend reinforces every contemporary-art hater's stereotype and would fit into any sit-com: At one point in the Law Office attic for the Pretend TV screening, I was sitting on a shopping cart full of stuff that I'd assumed was just shoved out of the way to make way for lawn chairs and various viewing furniture. Later, downstairs, Vince Darmodi, one of our hosts, was talking about a conversation with some obnoxious drunk. Who among us hasn't played that role before? But this one claimed to be a gallery owner from Stockholm who wanted to show the shopping cart at his booth at the pier. We had a little laugh, but Sunday afternoon at the art fair, there was the cart - cleaned up a little, still stuffed with costume bits and a pair of manekin legs, covered with an old blanket. It didn't seem to fit especially well with the rest of the gallery, and when I asked about it, it turned out that the girl at the desk was a Blackman loaner without a lot of info. But, by the end of the fair the cart had sold for a couple of grand.

And this:

While you're surfing, visit [http://www.logicpilots.com/appraisal.nsf]. Not Art1999 or Chicago related, but an interesting project that I have a few problems with. You might hear some from me about it here later.

Most of the artists or events I've mentioned I may be able to reference or contact tomorrow, or I am pressed to do so. If you want clarification or address something else I'll do what I can.

And, if any of you have anything to say, I read everything, reply when I get around to it and repost to the group at my whim unless you say no.

At the whim and blessing of Jno Cook, rants are archived at http://spaces.org/rants related material is at [http://spaces.org/caca] and [http://homepage.interaccess.com/~jpbrunet] Tell me which of the last two you prefer.

bulka 6/02/99