A Pierre Dream: A Portrait of Pierre Boulez, Chicago Symphony Orchestra Beyond the Score Series. Gerard McBurney, creative director; Pablo Heras-Casado, conductor; Frank Gehry, scenic design; and Mike Tutaj, projection and sound designer. November 14 and 16, 2014.
Adrian Leverkuhn, Painting? Thomas Masters Gallery, Chicago. October 10 to November 2, 2014.
Whenever I see CTA bus #146 and read the name of its route, I smile. Route 146 is Inner Drive. All life has inner drive. For artists it takes a distinctive form. They’re exceptionally curious and they’re driven to make and create. Whatever their métier, artists breathe life into their works. Every generation of artists contends with outmoded aesthetic forms and reactionary authorities and audiences. In response it devises its own approaches to innovation and creation. Instances of this age-old process crowd the annals of art history.
Recently I came across two examples in Chicago: A Pierre Dream: A Portrait of Pierre Boulez staged by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for its Beyond the Score series under the creative direction of Gerard McBurney; and Adrian Leverkuhn’s exhibition, Painting? at Thomas Masters Gallery. What does a CSO tribute to a ninety year-old musical titan have to do with the exhibition of a young painter interrogating his vocation? Writing about them together is more than a fluke of the season’s cultural calendar.
Decades before Boulez became a world-renown maestro, he sharpened his claws on institutions and self-appointed guardians of European musical traditions. He was ferocious and relentless, gifted and inspired. For him, all his work is “provisionally definitive.” The CSO tribute is in tune with today’s multitasking audiences. Images, words, son etlumière, choreography of agile “puppeteers,” and above all Pierre Dream’s music and espirit bring to life a tale of Boulez and his artistic milieu. The photos show the performance’s pitch-perfect visual design, and I trust them. Except for a couple peeks during the 75 minutes, my eyes stayed shut so the incantations of Mallarmé’s poetry and Boulez’s words—and the virtuoso performance his compositions—could conjure their own forms in my imagination and steep into experience.
The murmurings of memory resonate long after the Symphony Center’s bravos and applause for this fond tribute die out. They’re reminders that Boulez, now elderly and no longer in the limelight, was once a young artist ablaze with energy and indomitable will—”I shall tell you about the rows I have been having with Schaeffer: that would be enough to fill a huge folio! I shall tell you that the experimental studio is more and more crap, and that Schaeffer is a pain in the arse; and that I hope I shall soon be working with Stockhausen at the electronic music studio of Radio Cologne….Apart from that, in concerts here: Nothing. It’s desperate. Everything, from that point of view, is going on in Germany” (1953 letter of Boulez to John Cage in The Boulez-Cage Correspondence).
Boulez finds ideas and cues in the world around him. His fellow travelers include painters such as Philip Guston, Bernard Saby, and Dado. At one point in Pierre Dreams we hear Boulez speak about how music can learn from a dialogue with visual arts. This conversation is taken up by other artists. For example, Desy Safán-Gerard paints with both hands while a nude model moves to the music of Boulez.
In the recent exhibition, Painting? Leverkuhn intersperses among his paintings handwritten lists of “Questions for Painters.” The tone of his 94 questions hovers between wry and rhetorical. Leverkuhn was surprised when he sent the list to art academics and they took the questions literally, responding didactically as if presiding over a course quiz.
“22A,” Adrian Leverkuhn, outside Thomas Masters Gallery, Chicago. Photo by Lise McKean.
The works in Painting? assert that Leverkuhn has chops and range. After taking in the canvases from a distance, a curious viewer is likely to move closer. Changing perspective allows the textures, colors, and shapes to take on a different appearance. On some works the palette and forms are austere; on others color and detail pop. The paint on the seeming ground is thick and sculptural. It’s a figurative force of its own.
“7,” Adrian Leverkuhn. Photo courtesy of Thomas Masters Gallery.
Leverkuhn’s works address themselves to the figure. In some the figures suggest the freewheeling spirit of the skateboarder. Yet menace stalks them—one swings on a broken trapeze, another crouches on an unraveling net—crash and burn lurk on every canvas. This juxtaposition of insouciance and hazard echoes in his act of renaming himself with the surname of Thomas Mann’s ill-fated composer in the novel Doctor Faustus: The Life of the German Composer Adrian Leverkühn, Told by a Friend.
“42E,” Adrian Leverkuhn. Photo by Lise McKean
In a set of 18 works Leverkuhn evokes specters of human transformation. Is the figure in 42E poised for flight? Are others undergoing Kafkaesque metamorphoses? Another work in the show, 58, was painted by Leverkuhn and Thomas Masters. Like a tag-team, they paint one after the other on the same canvas. Their duet in 58 continues explorations that led to works they exhibited a couple of years ago.
It’s a safe bet to say we’ll see more of Leverkuhn. And for Boulez admirers who did not attend A Pierre Dream at Symphony Center, there will future performances. It will travel to California for performances at the Ojai Festival and the University of California-Berkeley. Later it will travel on to the Netherlands Festival and the New York Philharmonic. A Pierre Dream video is slated to stream on the CSO website.
Decades and an ocean may separate Boulez and Leverkuhn. Chance may have thrown them together in Chicago at this moment in time. But it’s not by chance that they’re both aboard #146. Pay the fare and you too can hop on for the ride.
Lise McKean is a social anthropologist and art writer, and recently is turning her hand to custom couture as an associate of Haj Gueye at La Maison de Haj in Chicago.
Ok, so this happened: this morning, as I was about to leave my hotel, there was some screaming and commotion in the hallway. A woman was yelling for help. I rushed outside and saw the staff, room service, the reception clerk, and some other hotel guests (military men, judging by their uniforms) swarm in from all corners an descend on the hotel room right next door to mine, where a young woman was standing in the door way, whimpering. She looked like she had just been on the way in or out of the shower (out, I think as I believe her hair was wet). She was half naked, or half dressed – but despite her state of undress, she did not look at all like she was “asking for it” – she just looked scared, in shock actually, and tried to compose herself as she struggled to give a coherent account of what had just happened. She could hardly believe it herself: A man had just tried to gain access to her room, under the cover of returning her credit card from the liqueur store around the corner. She remembered having seen him in a nearby coffee shop, and he must have followed her from there to the store and back to the hotel and seen her enter the room. When she answered the door he tried pushing her inside, but she screamed and struggled and finally managed to scare him off with the words: “I’m pregnant, why don’t you leave me alone?” Not sure if it was this salute that made him retreat, or just the realization that the noise was attracting attention.
The staff was looking at the security camera footage for images, but he had already fled the hotel. Police were called, etc.
I made my way back to my room, telling myself that is no “worse” being followed, threatened, assaulted, raped, or murdered in Philadelphia than in Chicago, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Viborg or anywhere else I have called “home.” But really, I just wanted to go home.
Instead I forced myself to go out and make my way to the ICA. As I left I saw her standing in the lobby, now fully dressed, but otherwise in a state of complete unraveling.
So, it is in this frame of mind I am reviewing the current show “Readykeulous!” which Nicole Eisenman co-curated with A.L Steiner – revisiting and expanding their 2011 exhibition “Readykeulous: The Hurtful Healer,” along with Eisenman’s first retrospective in a major American art museum (more about that later).
As I read in the accompanying leaflet (sadly, there is no catalogue of this great show) “the work in the show span a variety of text-based and text-inspired media, including painting, video, audio, sculpture, drawing, and choice selections from Ridykeulou’s exclusive PATRIArchives™.”
Just like the title, the works in the exhibition are packed with the punch of the lesbian experience and the related discrimination within the art-world, such as the Gorilla Girl’s revisited classic The Advantages of Being a Woman Lesbian Artist:
While I can’t claim that experience as my own I am right there with the anger and its associated catharsis: A lavender fist in the face of the frat-bro in-crowd of wheelers and dealers of that patriarchy.
The show is an energetic, upbeat fuck-you to all of that, and a funky collection of genres and cross-generational cross-pollination. An orgy of visual information appropriately jammed into the hallway between the water fountains and the lavatories.
Among my favorites is my former mentor Kathe Burkhart with one of her signature Liz Taylor portraits Suck my Dick. Full frontal and with her arms akimbo in her tussled hair, Liz’ button down shirt and jean buttons have come undone, her gyrating hips thrusting toward the viewer. Down there the painting is embellished with a black silicone dildo. Subtle it is not. The figure is surrounded on either side with rejection letters from galleries, museums and everything in between, to whom Ms. Burkhart has sent her portfolio over the years. Among them some Amsterdam art dealers, some bona fide jerks that I actually know. I feel you Kathe: Life sometimes can be ridykeulous!
The show is accompanied by a selection of paraphernalia from the archives: Correspondence, flyers, and even a misogynist candy bar wrapper have made the cut. What stands out (if only for its yellow-and-green-should-never-be-seen-color-scheme) is a vinyl bumper sticker, which reads:
“How’s My Painting? Call 1-800-EAT SHIT”
The main exhibition space houses Nicole Eisenman’s first (and not a minute too soon) major museum retrospective “Dear Nemesis,” spanning two decades of painting galore.
Is Nicole Eisenman the greatest painter alive and kicking in the US today? What do I know? What I do know is that this shit kicks ass! Ugliness is next to godliness in these paintings. Her crapshoot attitude to figuration is a hearty antidote to the empty calorie crapstraction we have been served much of late. Nicole shits where she eats and her fertile grazing ground is a pasture of painterly references, her output a many-splendored tour the force through art history. In no particular order we see Picasso, Tom of Finland, David Hockney, Vincent van Gogh, Edvard Munch, Max Beckman, Holbein, Georg Grosz, Pierre Puvis de Chavanne and Toulouse Lautrec frolicking by. If this is what she means by “eat shit!” can I have some more, please?
Breughel’s Blind Leading the Blind stagger across the foreground of The Triumph of Poverty – a complex composition of various figures, valiantly assembled in an around a wreck of a car on the road to nowhere. We don’t know where this will end, but is begins in the great American suburb, judging by the plastic sided bungalow in the background.
(The piece is signed conspicuously and prominently in the corner: NE09. Now, this is only speculation on my part, but since this is the only painting in the show that is signed in this manner, I will allow myself to speculate that this is a shout out to the “other” great figure painter who’s star was on the rise in 2009: “Hey Neo [Rauch], you wuss – lemme show you some real contemporary history painting!”)
Interbellum Berlin Biergarten Barflies meet and part, like ships in the night, or go down together, lips locked in punch drunk love. Gericault’s Medusa float comes sailing by. It is a party boat. Medusa is not ugly when you are drunk – you just have to squint to see her. She is beautiful and she is laughing. Belch.
The Stranger –a picture of a guy reading Camus’ novel in front of a carefully rendered bookcase filled with books, books, books—is so delicious I just wanna lick the paint right off of the canvas and his rudimentarily outlined woodcut of a face. His wooly sweater is a smear of Chromium Oxide green and the cover of the book he holds is a textbook example of graphic design stuck smack against the picture plane, like it was some bathroom mirror. How can these contradictory and discordant pictorial languages even co-exist within the same picture and sing in harmony?
Therapy sessions and Tits! Tits! Tits!
Eisenman’s sculptural work is represented by five busts, all titled Sleeping Frat Guy, indebted to Balkenhol, Basquiat, and Brancusi in equal measure. Sex objects, literally. It’s lump, it’s lump, it’s lump, it’s in my head. They wear little tokens on leather strings around their necks, lending their douchebag air a disarming hippie edge. The hottest one of them has passed out, mouth open, with his head tilted back at a 90 degree angle. In profile he looks just like Wolfgang Tilman’s iconic photograph of Damon Albarn in the shower. Yummy.
I am stuffed.
As I return to the hotel, Philly’s finest are crawling the hallway on all fours, combing the vomit colored carpet for forensic evidence. I ask if they have found the guy and they assure me they are working on it. Fucking reassuring that is. This shit is real. I mumble an offer to give a witness report, and they wave me off with a “Thank you, Maam!” before I shuffle back into my room; I’m just gonna stay in and write tonight.
Would I have felt different about it all and would this review have had a different flavor, if instead of this morning incidence, I had been helped across the street by a friendly neighborhood frat bro, like the frail little old lady I am today? Probably, but this has yet to happen to me.
Lise Haller Baggesen left her native Denmark in 1992 to study painting in the Netherlands. In 2008 she relocated to Chicago with her family.
In the meantime, her work evolved from a traditional painting practice toward a hybrid practice including curating, writing and immersive multimedia installation work.
Her first book “Mothernism” was published by Poor Farm Press and Green Lantern Press in 2014. The related audio installation is currently on view at Vox Populi, Philadelphia, and as part of the exhibition Division of Labor at Glass Curtain Gallery, Chicago.
It’s the megamax edition y’all. Twins are apparently in, and we’re seeing double. We had so many WWIB? options this week, we couldn’t just pick one. They’re too good!
Will the real Anne Wilson please stand up?
We’ve been big fans of Miss Pop Nails for a while but we’re having serious envy over this look for Refinery29 in October photographed by David Brandon Geeting. Time to upgrade our look from last summer photographed by Heaven Gallery’s Alma Wieser.
She sells sea shells by the… you know the rest.
Was super interested to learn that Robert Chase Heishman’s new body of photographic work is based on still life paintings by Guantanamo Bay inmates. Learn more about the paintings here and see the paintings at LVL3 where Heishman is exhibiting alongside another triply named artist, Adam Parker Smith, through December 14th.
Hand in Leopard Hand.
How cute are snow leopard homies Kristina Daignault and Edra Soto?
Are you my boyfriend?
No? How about you?
Header features a detail from Dan Gunn’s piece To fan No. 2, 2014, Dye and polyurethane on plywood, 22 x 88 inches in his exhibition at Impromptu Airs on view at Monique Meloche Gallery until January 3rd, 2015.
Please don’t let this be the last time we see you until Spring!
Can’t get enough of this new work by Aron Gent at Devening Projects. Recommend that you see this work before the show closes on December 6th.
Performance shot from The Conviction of Pearl Dakota. We were pleasantly surprised by the return of J. Soto to Chicago for their choreographic debut at the Cultural Center. Part of “SPINOFF 2014: Contemporary Dance Made in the Midwest,” Soto’s piece was inspired by trips to the Cook County Clerk in 2012-13. Modern dance with line stanchions? Unlikely combo, but we’re into it.
Who’s that annoying person taking photos during the Hybrid Theory screening by Theo Darst and Jennifer Chan? Oh, that’d be me. At least the artists didn’t go through with their plan to play the entire Linkin’ Park album by the same name throughout the entire screening.
Work by New York based artist Jacques Louis Vidal on view at The Hills Esthetic Center on view through December 14th.
Friend’s of WTT?, artist Eric Fleischauer and AFC’s Corinna Kirsch showing the world how it’s done at The Hills opening for Jacques Louis Vidal’s Nothing is Possible In There is No Future.
Check out the show and look out for the hidden painting by Alivia Zivich in her exhibition Bottomless on view at Night Club through December 5th.
Super sweet new mural outside of the Violet Hour by Jenny Kendler through her residency at the NRDC. We wish that we could show you Kendler’s killer beehive drive fit for the Queen B that she wore at the launch, but the bar was far too dark. Hopefully Chicago Looks got a shot! Instead, you can scan the pollinators on the piece for a free seed packet! Just gotta hold out until Spring.
The Inside/Within auction last Saturday made us wish we had more disposable income. WTT> is taking donations!
This sweet new Paul Erschen’s piece was hotly bid on throughout the auction.
Cutie patrol at the Inside/ Within auction on Saturday, November 15th.
Get your Miami on, Chicago.
This post is click bait if we’ve ever seen it. Get even more hot and bothered than you already are about Miami with McCaughan’s analysis of Muecke’s design. Warning: Not cute if you’re colorblind.
DfbrL8r’s new space on Chicago Ave. via the gallery’s Facebook.
Performance venue returns with 2015 edition of Rapid Pulse Festival
Open Calls for All
Defibrillator is back with a new space, new curatorial fellows and a new call for artists. On the tails of their announcement that the gallery will reopen at 1463 W Chicago Avenue with an exhibition by German artist Veronika Merklein in February 2015, the gallery has launched a call for the fourth annual Rapid Pulse Festival.
The well-timed announcement pairs nicely with Stephen Bridges Notes on Rapid Pulse 2014 on the MCA Blog. This year the RPF cocurator will be joined by new curatorial fellows Jennifer Mefford and Teresa Silva in addition to Founder, Joseph Ravens, curator Julie Laffin and Assistant Festival Director, Giana Gambino. The deadline for proposals is December 30th at midnight.
If you don’t know what Chances Dances is get out from under your rock and watch this video! There’s no arguing with their mission to be the bangingest queer dance party and DJ collective dedicated to building safer spaces and fostering creative expression in and out of the club. If you do know what Chances is and have been to their parties we don’t need to justify why this is a great organization to support. They give us all so much, give a little bit back to them. Oh, and while you’re at it, check out their super cute 10 year exhibition at Lula organized by Aay Preston-Myint.
The anticipation is killing us, so stop it. Seriously. Just donate now and we’ll celebrate together at the 10 year anniversary.
Theatrical sets allow for the real world to be transformed into the internal world. Against complete darkness, imagine a stage light illuminating one room within a house. Walls, hallways and exterior walls of the house are constructed out of the absence of light, while the walls of the living room are constructed out of illumination. The darkness hides the coming scenes from view, while the illumination presents furnishings in the current act – a sofa, table and chairs, a domestic preparation. This fabrication of a living room provides a model for the following stagings.
Kontakhof, Pina Bausch, performed at Brooklyn Academy of Music, 2014, photo credit: Oliver Look
“Is there anything deeper than surface?” I wondered, looking at one silken dressed dancer adjusting her dress, facing the audience as if they were her mirror. Having gotten herself together, she approaches with her dance partner, a suited suitor, whose arm she twists. The pair of dancers appear to be a couple, and the actions public humiliations, in as much as one dancer pulls the hair of the other, pokes the partner in the nose, bites the other’s shoulder. In Pina Bausch’s Kontakthof, dancers perform in a stage set as an empty hall with a window and door and row of chairs against three walls and small inset stage along the back wall facing the audience. Theatrically, the set is all that it needs to be, as minimally decorated as to provide a room inside of which action takes place.
On the other hand, it is a grand room.
The twenty-five dancers approach the audience from the back wall of the set, walking forward as a large mass, dressed as if attending a cocktail party. Sometimes a few dancers approach from within the mass – movements are directed towards the audience. And dancers perform acts on and for one another. They converse through tests of body language, as happens when a group of men surround a woman, patting, rubbing and pulling her limbs. As the dancers meet the edge of the stage, they run backward to the set’s furthest wall again, forming a machine in rotation from front to back.
Stop Crying: A Performance, Ida Applebroog, 1981, staple-bound book
Kontakthof‘s starkness invigorated me to look through the illustrated books of Ida Applebroog, printed in the late 70s and early 80s, each book subtitled “A Performance” on the cover.
The performances inside consist of a single set and only rarely a set change, and a script of no more than two lines. The pages of each book are a repeated photograph of a monochromatic drawing of a scene. They have a cartoon look. For example, one print shows a woman sitting contemplatively alone, her shadow cast on the wall behind, the entire scene viewed through a box frame. The first of a three line script reads, “Stop crying.”
Think of this as a theater, a small third floor affair. Operations are run by a single person, gamely but silently playing the parts of the director, lighting technician, actor and set designer.
Envision of the surface of a building. One might have a beige plaster front, another made from sedimentary rock, and a third obscured in a malaise of vines. These surfaces can be monologues as much as a slew of words can be: letters of discontent directed at the art world, for example, filling the lobby walls of the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia in the Readykulous by Ridykeulous installation called This is What Liberation Feels Like. Both commissioned correspondences and pre-existing letters of outcry from an exclamatory world fill the lobby. Letter writing appears just as what it is and in works of art as trope, both as a promise of a space for correspondence, and as the unfolding of particular resistance to an addressee.
I want a President, Zoe Leonard, 1992, xerox, 14 x 8.5 inches, included in Readykeulous by Ridykeulous exhibition This is What Liberation Feels Like
A facade, like a one-sided conversation, is the staging of interiority. Currently on view in Aliza Nisenbaum’s first solo New York exhibition at White Columns, among portraits of immigrants from Mexico and Central America, there is a painting of a letter, a pile of letters really, a bent paper pile. The writing is not identifiable, but the addresses of the correspondents appear, and drawings within the letters surface. Next to the letters, the flat, bent body parts of the sitters still manage to look solid, weighted. The bent ankles and limbs take the form of bent letters. Subjects look otherwise engaged, detached from being painted, but still. The two women of the painting Stephanie and Christina appear self-contained, as if entering this stage by having emanated from this fabric; henna-covered hands look woven from the thread of the pillows setting the scene.
Tinker Bell, Aliza Nisenbaum, 2014, oil in linen, 20 x 16 inches
Stephanie and Christina, Aliza Nisenbaum, 2014, oil on linen, 51 x 33 inches