Michael Bulka, midnight rant

Number Eight


Date: Tue, 15 Jun 1999 05:37:49 -0500

Subject: complacency and desperation

Disclaimer at the bottom.

These things that started as rants have devolved into mini reviews. There're are better places for that sort of thing - CACA Newsletter for one. It's just hard to work up a head of steam about much art anymore, and that's the biggest problem with art today.

In the current New Art Examiner, in the anniversary nostalgia series on the back page, Ann Wiens reminds us about what a cranky, activist troublemaker founder Derek Guthrie used to be, especially as compared the PC PR of most contemporary art press. (Of course, I'm paraphrasing and expanding Ann's rhetoric a little. She was a little more gentle, but then, she is of the newer, polite generation.)

It's not just the press. Art has changed a lot in the last twenty-five years. AbEx painters thought they were going to change the world. Modernists believed in something, were like scientists building on the work of their predecessors, even the Imagist/abstractionsit scuffle was a real, vital argument. There was passion.

Post-modernism changed everything. It drew its energy as a movement from the remnants of the spirit of debate, of oppositition, of controversy, but after draining the well, contributed nothing. Passion was replaced by commerce. The game was over.

As the legacy of PoMo, and well-meaning but PC and ultimately consumptive ideas like regionalism and cultural diversity, we have just a lot of stuff. When you put enough dabs of different colors together, it all just turns grey.

As Ann said, all the new galleries, storefront and apartment shows are not in opposition to anything, but in addition. She seems to think it's a good thing, that we can all live happily together. She compares it to a wide ethnic variety in a diner menu.

Art ought to be more important than a menu. And for that matter, if I go to Cincinatti, I'd rather eat that bad mutant chili with the cinnamon and spaghetti in it, if that's what's they're into, than go to Denny's and get my choice of side dishes.

And it's not just the press and the spaces. Art hardly matters now either. It's been a long time since I've done a review that talked about the work. I'm usually more interested in the crowd, the politics or some fantasy of the artist's psychology. The objects just aren't very interesting or important anymore. It's not a part of a dialogue, it's just more stuff.

And while I enjoy the openings, I get the feeling that the art isn't even party decoration, but party excuse. I have a hard time distingushing a recent birthday party from most apartment shows. People even refer to the group birthday as "The Gemini", as if it were a show or gallery or club. It was a good party. Thanks Julie and Bobby. But I digress.

There are shows up that, once upon a time, would have pissed me off enough to write something interesting. Like the MCA putting up Charles Ray for the tourists, or Brennan McGaffey's very dissapointing and oh so smarty pirate radio installation at TBA. As the radio thing is a perfect literal manifestation, it's all just noise in the information stream. Everything is so unconnected to everything else that it's hardly worth the trouble to go see it. And the bad stuff will be gone without a ripple in a month anyway.

Of course, the obsessed eccentrics keep on working, and god bless them, and so do the folks who focus on perfecting their craft, but we end up with a lot of random flailing about. Artists trying to do something that gets a more substantive response than "Good show, man".

Oh, and the gallery report - given the times, there are still shows worth seeing. If we don't got a collective passion, at least we got entertainment.

Cultural Center

At the Cultural Center - Eleni Glinou is a hippie with a Mac. Photos of WWII battleships, with the ships replaced by blossoms, and blown up to mural size. Cathleen McCarthy's fishing line installation is a little Op, a little scary. Mostly invisible. And there are some photographs.


312 - This might be the best show of the summer. At least it's all very fun. Allison Ruttan's animated fucking shapes, Donald Stahlke's hairy bigfoot photos, repaired plates that I thought Karen Riemer had quit making, Shuko Wada's string path running behind the "wall for art". A bunch of other stuff. I'll need a better, sober look.

Baliwick Theatre

Baliwick Theatre - it's not even the lobby, more like the hallway to the bathrooms. Maybe you could see small things well here, but Renee McGinnis makes life-sized figurative paintings. She's my newest favorite obsessed excentric. Beautiful painting, a lot of very unfashioinable allegory. And King Velveeda's rich, supple lines (I'm trying to talk about the art here), wrapped around pleasant pornographic cartoons. And there are some snapshots of a gay pride parade.

Temporary Services

Temporary Services - up just beyond Logan Square on an interesting stretch of Milwaukee Avenue, exactly at the point where normal Spanish Chicago (I think it's Mexico here) turns into Jackowo. I'm sorry to admit that I've never been to the space before. Mobile Sign Systems. Sandwich boards. It was a good opening, but I don't know how this is going to work in real life. The sign boards are going to be at the gallery for a month, and then out in the city where who-knows-what will happen to them. Another buncha artists. Zeena Sakowski and Rob Kelly's series of boards that fold out into putt-golf holes were fun, but I can't imagine them working out in the real streat. Also at the gallery is a contemporary urban sociology in a slide show of commercial sign boards. If you see something wierd on the sidewalk this summer (other than a cow), blame it on these guys.

Toy Show

And, I don't know why there was such a buzz about the Toy Show, but a buzz there was. A bunch of girls in an apartment. They might have been doing something, but at least they were playing and outputting more stuff. Spirograph drawings and gears in one room. Castings in plaster and salt? sugar? something like that. A doorway ceiling covered in cotton batting.

And now, back to me. Something new: two excerpts from responses to the last one.

"Maybe a point that needs to be made is that the efforts that everyone made to coordinate these events that go on during the art fair, need to be spread out a bit into the rest of the art "season" in order to make things a little more interesting in the long run. Otherwise, the one night stand stands as promiscuous, unrespected in the morning and stood up for a later date. At least that's what always happens to me when I say yes on the first date. Chicago, that lil whore! Daddy should have paid more attention to it when it was growing up; then it wouldn't have to feel like it has to compromise itself just to be liked, to be noticed (oh! the shenanigans), maybe to fall in love but most likely take a black eye every once in a while, the apologies afterward making everything alright. Too stupid to know any better. No, in as much as it has known nothinbg else, it has nothing else to compare against, except the glossies."


"But more to the point, I saw the cart. Surely you jest? It's a bad joke out of a bad movie and I'm still laughin'."

And that's all I know tonight.

Except for this, which probably should have been at the top, but here it is:

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.