Majesty of Flesh. Ron-Athey. photo by Rosa Gaia Saunders
by Autumn Hays
Considered to be one of the most renowned performance artists, Ron Athey began his works in the 80s. They are notorious for including aspects of S&M culture and it’s relation to the AIDS crisis. Athey’s iconic pieces focus on a wide range of subjects including sexuality, religiosity, trauma, gay identity, loss, illness and ritualism. Raised with the expectation that he would become a Pentecostal minister, and after running away to L.A. and coming of age in the milieu of the punk rock underground, Athey’s work grew out of a complex performativity that still informs his art practice today. In 2013 Ron’s first book dedicated to his work was published entitled Pleading in the Blood: The Art and Performance of Ron Athey, edited by Dominic Johnson. The book includes writings by peers and scholars such as Guillermo Gomez-Pena, Antony Hegarty, Robert Wilson, Lydia Lunch, Bruce LaBruce, Amelia Jones, Jennifer Doyle, Homi K. Bhabha and others. At the start of February, Chicago was host a legendary performance artist, Ron Athey visited Chicago. I was lucky enough to attend his performances, lectures and snag him for an interview. Here are some excerpts from our discussion.
AH: How it feels to be back in Chicago?
RA: I think I had more pre-anxiety about coming here, memories of staying here with Lawrence Steger and doing things with him. I was shocked and went into the shivers from the cold when got off the plane, not wearing long underwear. It’s not like London is warm, it’s moderate and miserable there. Where as here needing many layers, I dig it.
AH: Tell us about he last time you were here and the last performance you did.
RA: I had to look at my own notes, I was here twice in ’99 doing Solar Anus so at Hot House and at Chris Kellner’s gallery Hook Torture and I hadn’t realized I haven’t been here since then.
AH: I’ve actually been through the Randolph street archives and have seen videos of your work there and you really could feel its loss once it was gone here. I am interested as you are here working with Defibrillator a newer performance space what are the correlation and difference between these kinds of spaces in this new kind of art climate?
RA: I think it just takes energy to make things happen. It’s not really that the climate is any different. A lot of spaces with the same history as Randolph Street that go back to NEA funded times, but really even before that these are artist run spaces and they don’t, move with the times. So there was this gap and it takes someone high energy like Joseph (Ravens) to get people to work together. I mean even for these pieces I am doing this week and that he realized that Defibrillator itself would be a crunch and he found the right place off site, this is another way of working the art space because the space is so important. Some pieces I feel like I don’t want to be in a place that shows work, like you know this site specific thing becomes a more neutral space than that black box or white wall hygiene kind of space.
AH: Your work is very versatile where you can perform in a lot of different kinds of spaces. I mean you can do that black box theater, the white-walled gallery, you can do performance art spaces or even S&M clubs so you have a versatility in where you can perform and also a little bit in your performativity, you engage various kinds of performance. What’s the difference in working in these spaces? Is there a benefit to being flexible?
RA: Well, I wish I could still perform in clubs still, but I did evolve out of that scene. That allowed me to workshop before even any idea of funding to make the gig possible came up. For some pieces I think I might be precious about it being there. I tend, since I started doing the self-obliterations, I like being in with the audience. For the most controlling side of me, a perfect black box with the floors freshly painted and super duper lights, because you’re not fighting the white wall sucking the light out from one minimal light that happens to be shining. It’s a more controlled situation and I do work in lighting illusions and those sorts of things. So that’s if I’m being precious but it’s not necessarily the best feeling, the way I feel interactive with the audience or the space. But I think to get away from those white gallery walls I did start staging pieces in the middle of the room so that the people are the frontdrop and backdrop. You know I don’t come out of this tradition of thinking of live art as an extension of gallery, my work doesn’t come from there, I fully understand work that does but I’m not so keen on this… of course I love the perfect image, the perfect photograph but that’s not the work. I’m always concerned with how many cameramen are in there. I thought we were watching a work.
AH: Especially nowadays with camera phones it’s interesting to have that camera lens constantly there.
RA: I think you have to think about what you are not experiencing while looking for that shot and also, do you care about the work, or are you just documenting your own life?
AH: So we touched on your definitions of live art and performance art. There are always different definitions. What are your thoughts on that?
RA: I think you get this polarization. This is the gallery school, and this is the theater school, but actually my background was through the Pentecostal church, particularly woman evangelists who did illustrated sermons starting in the 20s with Amy Semple McPherson, who built Angelus Temple in Echo Park and later Miss Velma (Jaggers) who built the jeweled altar from the Book of Revelations and who would appear as the whore of Babylon swinging in on a crescent moon using all the 70s technology, like the echo box, strobe lights and fog machines. So, performance art is this other type of sacred theater without the belief system in it. In abstract terms I might still use a thing like the audience is the witness, and its not about second guessing what their boundaries are, what they will experience, what they come in the door with. It’s impossible to know. It’s a mix of things, which is what it should be. Also it’s about what mode you are in. It’s obviously not acting, so it’s just full of these triggers to go into, not an altered state where you look like your fitting or asleep but some heightened state. I like art that rides a line between art and not art at all.
AH: I was wondering if you could tell us more about your book, “Pleading in the Blood”, and your process of making it.
RA: To start out with the book, you have to open archives that you didn’t even know existed. And here is where I have to give some kudos to social media. I am very linked in to people in LA, people from the late 70s and early 80s Goth and Punk scenes. So I was able to come up with materials, confirm dates, and stories through there, and then track down the photographers. All I ever had was the newspaper, the tabloids, the rough printed images, Xeroxed and scanned, you know that kind of thing. And then I started getting closer to the source of the original image. It felt like I was perusing someone from a David Lynch movie, you’re in a hotel room with seven 5by7s in a brief case. So you track that down and try to flesh out some of those stories, which is a harder period for me to flesh out. And working with Dominic Johnson who is a young academic at Queen Mary University, London. He was clear about what heavy academics who we liked in common, but I was clear that I didn’t want it to be one of those artist books with three academic essays in it and lots of pictures so that no one ever, except for people in school, ever read the writing because its inaccessible outside the bubble. I wanted to give it a testimonial voice not just an academic one.
AH: Do you have any advice for younger artists attempting to learn the craft of making performance art?
RA: The key element of making work is immersion. Rather than doing research as a strong guide, let it be something you soak up. There is nothing sane about making performance art.
Majesty of Flesh. Ron Athey. photo by Rosa Gaia Saunders
Defibrillator, Hook Torture, and Mana Contemporary pooled their efforts to showcase Ron in Chicago this month. Each night was filled with a wide mix of viewers, from pierced punks and goths, old school Chicago underground, art students, and art academics, many eager to see Ron’s work in person. He performed two works on two separate nights, “Incorruptible Flesh: Messianic Remains” and “Sebastian” featuring Jon John and Sage Charles.
Majesty of Flesh. Ron Athey. photo by Rosa Gaia Saunders
Messianic Remains is part of Athey’s Incorruptible Flesh series. The series started in 96’ and references the dark reality of living with AIDS. Athey talks about the piece saying it stems from “still living but not living bodies”. 10 years later in Glasgow, Athey did a solo individual piece, 6 hours long. The third part focused on the Mythological. Now this 4th and final chapter, was performed in Chicago at Mana Contemporary on January 31st. The work reveled in a religious grandiosity and explored Ron Athey’s body as a post-AIDS entity: a survivor. The work also looks at Athey’s own bodies ageing, and seems to shake hands with notions of death. The choreography is inspired by Kenneth Anger’s short film, Lucifer Rising.
The audience came in on to Ron laying down on ladder sitting on two wooden sawhorses with a baseball bat, swollen glands, and his head latched to a series of hooks in a crown of thorns style lining, his head connected to the wall. Though the preparations for this performance were not part of the audiences’ viewing, many felt the preparations, though unseen, were a large part of the work. Clear gloves were handed out and the audience dipped their hands in a pale Vaseline before taking turns touching Athey’s body as he laid on display. The offering of his flesh was both a gift and an obligation as viewers chose to experience the tension and pain up close. Ron than rises for a mythical, almost Egyptian dressing ceremony and moves to a new part of the gallery where he begins to read text from Our Lady of the Flowers, Jean Genet, specifically “Divine’s Funeral.”
Sebastian. Ron Athey. photo by Autumn Hays
The very next day Ron Athey, Jon John and Sage Charles preformed “Sebastian.” While interviewing Ron I had asked him about Working with Jon John and Sage.
“We have this great chemistry where we trust each other, we don’t have to plot out everything. You’re going to do what you need to do with the goal of making this action happen. Easy directions within a choreographed frame. What is Sebastian? I don’t know. I think that’s where live work can be surprising. If you know what you want to prove rather than explore something you’re just strong-arming a result. The potential of live experience is so beyond that outlined vision that I’m doing. It took me a long time to understand that.”
In this work Athey is taking on the role of St. Sebastian, a saint that has also become a homoerotic icon. The event starts with Sage and Jon John making their way through the crowd in a procession towards Ron, who is already hung up on a ladder, tied with red rope. As Sage drums, Jon John climbs a second ladder to meet Athey and begins piercing him with arrows. Ron begins to scream and chant in performance’s best ritualistic shamanism. Jon John then fills the role of St Irene and begins to heal Athey, spreading lotion on Athey’s body, eventually removing the arrows and as Athey bleeds he helps him depose down from ladder and onto a table where they cover him in a white cloth. For the final and perhaps most touching part of the performance, one that had echoes of the NEA controversy, Jon John cuts sections of cloth-covered in Athey’s blood and places them in tiny frames handing them to random audience members.
Sebastian. Ron Athey. photo by Rosa Gaia Saunders
Ron Athey’s work certainly isn’t for the squeamish, but despite the inclusion of blood and body modification I didn’t find the shock value of the work to be any kind of crutch or sympathetic tool. Rather is was a means of performativity that outwardly engaged Athey’s body as a gay, post-AIDS, religicized, performative body. When looking at his work, the dense symbolism and actions, the controversy and the intense metaphoric value, I feel like ending this with one of my favorite quotes from my interview with Ron Athey that I feel addresses his work, process, and in a way the very practice of performance art.
“I’m actually at this place in performance art where I think everything is just an entry point. You can say this is about your mother, this is about this accident, this is about AIDS, but it’s actually not what it’s about. You don’t know what it’s about till you do it live, that’s why it’s live work. I have to bring something to life to make work. There has to be uncertain things within the framework of the piece that allow it to go as it will.”
When I first came to Chicago in January of 2011, my girlfriend and I met in the large, empty luggage area of Midway that, even as a place designed for waiting, seems hilariously ill-suited for the purpose. And then, after a brief train ride, we arrived–slightly out of breath and heaving large suitcases–at my brother’s front door, where we would stay for a month to look after a pair of cats and introduce ourselves to the brand new grid we would call home. A month later, we moved into our new apartment; a day after that marked the first day of the massive blizzard called snowpocalypse, snowmageddon, or blizzaster depending on what terrible local blog was on-screen at the time.
Here we are, three years later, in what feels like another long and dreary winter in the same vein as all the long and dreary winters before it, and after it, and etc. I always associate winter with a certain kind of loneliness, and especially that one three years ago, living in a new city without any real way to even figure out how to best navigate a massive snowstorm, when our plans to hit up IKEA were blocked and we ending up spreading peanut butter and jelly with chopsticks while sitting on the floor.
In a lot of ways, I think winter and videogames can be kind of comparable in that loneliness, for better or for worse. At the time of experience—either treading through a deep snow alone or deep into the fantasy narrative of an outrageous dragon-adventure—they’re both intensely personal. It’s only really until after the fact that people begin to talk about the shared experience they had, be it shoveling out their car, or falling into a snowbank, or conquering some foe on what ended up being a very similar adventure. In a similar way, games and winters begin in the individual, personal realm, and only later transform into the social, shareable experience after the fact, via discussion.
It can be difficult to get new players or people unfamiliar with the personal commitment necessary to play a sprawling, multi-hour epic, and truth be told, even as a fan, I find it daunting myself. After all, if you’re more comfortable with books, or films—you have the necessary foundations to understand those mediums, prevalent as they have been in our culture—it makes more sense to dive into one of those, just as it makes more sense to stay on the west coast, or in Texas, away from the feet of snow that always finds a way to creep into your boots.
I bring this all up because during that 2011 winter, with a lack of anything inside our outside our apartment (aside from snow), I discovered a game by Terry Cavanagh called At a Distance. I had first encountered Cavanagh’s work in the small flash game Don’t Look Back, which turns the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice’s ascent from the underworld into a bit of puzzle-platforming, and is its own obvious meditation on love and loneliness. At a Distance is something quite different, though, because, unlike Don’t Look Back or those other single-player monoliths, it requires not only two players, but two screens, two computers, positioned side by side. The game, however, is just as much about loneliness as it is togetherness, a kind of blending of that initial personal and secondary social experienced that can occur through gaming.
Though it took a bit of work to get it setup—for which Cavanagh offers a handy guide—once we got At a Distance working, and played through it, it became one of the most memorable gaming experiences I had ever encountered. The art of the game is enchanting; there’s a sort of lo-fi blurriness to the game’s monochromatic worlds that wouldn’t be out of place on a 90’s screensaver. But the play is just as engaging, mostly because the way it treats shared space, physically, as different than the individual space, which is entirely cooped up in the digital form of your computer.
Like a lot of the press which came out about the game at the time, I’m reluctant to give too much away. But what essentially happens is that Cavanagh plays very successfully with a physical aspect of the game via screen-sharing. Maybe you’ve played or seen others play a split-screen adversarial game such as Goldeneye on the N64, where each player’s location, though broadcast openly through the nature of a shared screen, is a closely guarded secret. In short, screen-looking (as it is often called) is looked down upon, akin to cheating, as it could easily provide an edge against an opponent.
Cavanagh’s At a Distance, on the other hand, flips this premise in two ways: first, screen looking is naturally encouraged via his setup suggestions (side-by-side). Since it’s meant to be played on two systems, the natural assumption by omission would be a head-to-head setup, computers and people facing each other, Thunderdome-style. Second, as players progress through the game, the digital space they find themselves in is not exactly shared, but intrinsically linked in a way that really only comes to light through screen-sharing, through conversational awareness, and social discovery between two players. Even though each player finds themselves in a solitary digital realm, the game is anything but lonely, because that social aspect—normally confronted after the fact through identical shared experience—is combined willingly into that personal, individual experience of playing a game on the lonesome.
Above all, what I mean to say is that, if, like me, you look outside at the grey canopy of snow/cloud/doom and feel the urge to crawl back into the warmth of a recently-vacated bed, give At a Distance a try. Just like hot chocolate is the perfect companion for a cold February day, so is At a Distance, if you and a partner are willing to give it a shot and stretch the boundaries of a sometimes solitary, occasionally-wintry medium.
MEXICO, D.F.– Last week art world snowbirds descended upon Mexico City for the biggest Latin American art fair outside of Art Basel Miami Beach. While ZONA Maco, now in it’s 11th year, is obviously the big fish, 2014 also saw the launch of MACO’s first satellite, the ambitious Material Art Fair. We couldn’t stand the idea of missing out, so WTT? headed down to Mexico City to experience the fair scene in DF first hand. Armed with recording equipment and having just watched an Anthony Bourdain program on Mexico City, we were off.
The colonia we stayed in, Condesa, was just west of the center of the city and felt like a way cooler Logan Square. Nice apartments, lots of cute cafes, tons of bars and restaurants. Everyone, including Bourdain, told us that tacos al pastor were the best. We ate like a million immediately at a place closest to our airbnb. We briefly made it to the opening of Material Art Fair and after a comically unsuccessful attempt to go to the after party we ended the night at a dank little bar with heavy red curtains for doors called Bósforo.
First up. MACO, the monolith, was just that. It featured all of the usual bells and whistles: a massive convention center, an artsy partnership, a myriad of sponsors and all of the regulars. MACO also wins the award for worst branding and website possibly ever.
Fancy seeing you here.
Finally, something that even I couldn’t kill in the design section at MACO.
To be fair to the fair, we did discover a couple of sweet Mexican galleries: O.M.R., Kurimanzutto, LABOR and House of Gaga. Apart from the local galleries, Nuevas Propuestas, the smaller single artist booths were the most interesting. Featuring younger artists and more comprehensive views, we spotted work by one of our fav Miamians, Leyden Rodriguez-Casanova, at Alejandra von Hartz’s booth. Rodriguez-Cassanova’s precise assemblages of screens, 2×4′s and vertical blinds felt oddly appropriate in the setting of the hastily constructed booth partitions.
Work by Rodriguez-Casanova in the Alejandra von Hartz booth.
We also loved seeing new work by Leonor Antunes on view in the “curated” section, Zona MACO Sur, with Marc Foxx gallery. Attracting our attention through the labyrinth of drywall, her bronze hanging work based on Anni Albers’ textiles were just the right amounts delicate and gold. Bonus points for having the most impressive rigging in the fair. The scaffolding supporting the works were tied with thick black ropes around the convention center’s ceiling vents.
Work by Antunes in the Marc Foxx booth.
The Vázquez at Odabashian.
On the way out we met the charming father and son team at Odabashian, who were only the millionth people that day to advise us to visit the Museo Nacional de Antropología. One of their rugs was even designed by Pedro Ramírez Vázquez, the architect of the museum. In retrospect, you can totally see the repetitive polygonal facade of the museum in the gold and silver geometric pattern of the rug.
Before leaving Condesa for downtown on Saturday morning we walked to House of Gaga in Condesa and then O.M.R. in La Roma just to the east. On the way we grabbed the most amazing cornbread I’ve ever eaten from a bakery/cafe called Maque. It was my favorite breakfast in DF and really cemented our love for our temporary home of Condesa. Over at House of Gaga, Emily Sunblad’s en plein air paintings of elephants and jaguars at the Santa Barbara Zoo were just as delightful as the cornbread. Less delightful were the various cuts of meat placed throughout the gallery, but I was really feeling the dresses and the casual floral still lifes in the back. We also heard that musician Matt Sweeney performed with her at the gallery and was spotted at Bósforo during the fair. If you’re interested, the performance audio (which was avaiable on USB’s throughout the gallery) is also on the gallery’s website. The exhibition was House of Gaga’s first in their new space, the paint was still fresh and made our head buzz.
Work by Sundblad at the House of Gaga gallery.
A wall of happiness at Maque.
Facing the Plaza de Rio de Janiero and a gigantic bronze David replica, O.M.R. is easily the most grandiose gallery space I’ve ever been inside. Mexico City is terraformed and like many of the old buildings in DF, the luxurious old house is sinking back into the swamp. From the moment you open the iron gate into the ornate white staircase it’s on. I’m convinced that the gigantic marble slabs rigged up by Jose Davila for his exhibition only enhanced the effect of the sloping floors and vise versa. Also on display were some wild old James Turrell work from his Mendota Hotel period in the early 1970s.
Can I just live here already!?
Cristobal Riestra in front of work by Jose Davila in the O.M.R. gallery.
The main galleries were impressive but I was most partial to Pia Camill‘s work in the project space adjoining the main gallery. Her bright abstract curtains with sumptuous blues hanging in front of windows and throughout the gallery were complemented by the large shapely ceramic works and painted walls. Despite the massive population of the city, the art world in Mexico DF feels roughly Chicago-sized, so we weren’t too surprised to discover that Francisco Cordero-Oceguera, the artist behind Lodos Contemporáneo also has a gig as Camill’s assistant. The bookstore downstairs was pretty cute too. We found a kids book designed by Niki de Saint Phalle called Malo Malo that I only wish I had as a toddler.
Our final stop before returning to Material was the oft recommended Museo Nacional de Antropología. Totes worth it. From the Vázquez building to the Sone of the Sun and the countless artifacts and displays, you could spent an entire vacation in the museum. It was all pretty spectacular, even if we could only decipher about half of the label text. After drooling over the elaborate marble and molar sacrificial jewelry we took a walk through Chapultepec Park where the Museo Rufino Tamayo is also located.
Antique artists pallets and tools.
Just some morning yoga at the museo.
Sacraficial teeth necklace!
Recreation of a mural inside of the pre-Colombian wing.
Bone instruments at the Museo Nacional de Antropología.
For the slightly more adventurous and internet savvy art enthusiast, Material Fair at the Hilton Reforma in El Centro was the place. The marked difference between the two fairs was palpable as soon as you made it to the entrance on the fourth floor. Far from a chore, Material felt like a hip family reunion with newly discovered extended cousins. Their signage was also way more to my liking. By invitation only, the fair was a tightly curated selection of 40 art galleries and alternative spaces from Mexico, the States and Europe. I like to think that this fair would have been Bourdain’s preference.
While some familiar veterans like Andrew Rafacz (Chicago), Kinman (London), Clifton Benevento (New York), Michael Jon (Miami) and Green Gallery (Milwaukee) were present, the inclusion of project spaces (aka alternative spaces, apartment galleries, pick your favorite) such as Queer Thoughts (Chicago), Regina Rex (Queens) and Important Projects (Oakland) galvanized fairgoers and established fraternal bonds amongst the visiting artists and galleries. The anchors of Material were absolutely the Mexican project spaces (Yautepec, Otras Obras, NO Space, Neter, Lodos Contemporáneo, and more) who also acted as generous hosts and guides for the artists and gallerists visiting from abroad.
Chelsea Culp’s work inside the QT booth.
QT booth on the opening night of Material.
The success was largely due to the personal touch and attention of fair organizers, Daniela Elbahara and Brett W. Schultz, who also run Yautepec in the neighborhood of San Rafael. Drawing on relationships they established through visiting other cities and fairs, and the observation of like-minded spaces on the internet, the fair felt like more of an authentic survey than whatever Hans Ulrich Obrist thought he was doing with 89plus.
I was feeling the crying payaso at NO Space’s booth.
The always easy to spot Birk and Delmar at the fair.
The project spaces, many showing outside of their own closet or living room for the first time, responded in a variety of ways. Some spaces, such as Important Projects, who’s own small residential Oakland space usually exhibits single artists, presented a group show which included DF locals and NO Space proprietors Debora Delmar Corp. and Andrew Birk. They also debuted print editions from Leisure Press, a project of Medium Cool’s Ria Roberts. Regina Rex’s booth was dominated by Black Beach, an impressive clay wall by Hugo Montoya, which was created on-site and continued to dry and crack throughout the duration of the fair. It paired particularly nicely with Michael Merck’s plaster casts of limited run fast food items and Alina Tenser’s jiggling vases in her Hip Openers video.
Schultz participating in a trust exercise at Otras Obras.
La_Compañía’s booth at Material Art Fair.
Other’s took a more experimental approach. Yautepec’s booth featuring Debora Delmar Corp. and Natalia Ibañez-Lario was installed with a mix of curtains, pillows fitted with printed bras, semi-household objects and brightly colored cut out legs that made it feel like the most fucked up living room in the best way. The unofficial faces of the fair, NO Space’s Birk and Delmar decided to show finished garments alongside the raw material of fashion designer Roberto Sanchez. Otras Obra’s use their booth as a studio and filmed many of the artists and attendees over the weekend. The resulting film, Dando y dando: pajarito volando is available to watch here
Header image is the beloved Museo Nacional de Antropología.
Michael Hunter’s work at the Important Projects booth.
We would be remiss if we didn’t mention the closing party for Material, a showcase by Mexican label N.A.A.F.I. It more than made up for our first attempt at a Material Party. People were jammed packed into Bahia Bar, the music was good and loud and there was nothing else to do but dance. As you might expect, we spotted Schultz and Elbahara breaking it down right by the stage. The party was so fun we heard Sayre Gomez changed his flight back to the states just so he could stay at Bahia longer.
MEXICO CITY CONTINUED
Yautepec’s booth at Material.
Artists Chelsea Culp, Leonardo Kaplan, Sarah & Michael Hunter and Ben Foch on their way to Bósforo.
Elbabara receives all the flowers on a night out in Plaza Girabaldi.
The Friday night Lodos opening for an exhibition by Important Projects’ Joel Dean and Jason Benson at their space in San Rafael only reinforced the camaraderie. On the corner across from the gallery I fulfilled my dream to eat blue masa tortillas like Anthony Bourdain did and it was divine. Back to the exhibition, it was based loosely on the last line of an Amiri Baraka poem, “Another Name for Liar,” and was crammed with the fanciful arrangements of the duos “post-studio” practice. Dean’s “Poster Boy,” a double sided takeaway featuring Elroy Jetson and Trayvon Martin on the back was the most singular and powerful work in the exhibition. Other arrangements seemed to rely on an inner narrative and possible a speaker set up that wasn’t audible over the din of the crowd. That night we also got a chance to see the NO Space space, located in the dining room of Delmar and Birk’s super sweet apartment on the top floor of a nearby building.
Delmar and Dean at the opening for “Another Name for Liar” at Lodos.
The holy grail.
“Poster Boy” by Dean at Lodos.
Artist Carson Fisk Vittori in front of work by Jason Benson at Lodos.
The point is that Anthony Bordain was right. Going to Material and seeing the impressive programming around the fair was like drinking a refreshing glass bottle of agua mineral. It also doesn’t hurt that Mexico, DF is probably the most captivating city in the Americas. It’s 100% nothing like people described it beforehand, except the water thing– that definitely seems real. Having visited though I’m not surprised to have met so many ex-pat artists living there. People are super nice and interesting, there’s an obscene amount of awesome wrought iron fences, brightly painted buildings, all kinds of old and new stuff smashed together, lots of trees and anything else you could ever want ever, and so much color. We left the way we arrvied, with tacos el pastor. Mexican food in Chicago is never going to be the same again.
So… Next year in Mexico City?
Hey! PS- Watch the podcast for my forthcoming interviews with Daniela Elbahara and Brett W. Schultz, Important Projects and Cristobal Riestra from O.M.R. for more on Material Fair, MACO and why you should move to Mexico City. Hasta luego!
It is our sad duty to report the untimely passing of Frances “Frannie” (nee Ronshausen) Dittmer, a giant in the world of art, philanthropy, and living life. Ms. Dittmer died when the airplane she was in went down over Puerta Vallarta, Mexico last week. Bad at Sports Co-Founder Richard Holland writes, “I had the pleasure to meet her several times, a long, long time ago and remember her as being a giant of both personality and intelligence.” Ms. Dittmer was 72 and will be missed by two daughters, a son and four grandchildren, among many other loyal family and friends.
A longtime former resident of Chicago and latterly of Aspen, Colorado, Mrs.Dittmer was a philanthropist and collector admired in preeminent art circles and beloved by family and friends of all stripes. “She was a force behind some of the most important institutions in this country,” said Philippe Vergne, director of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. “Frannie’s impact on our museum and museums across the country has been profound,” said Aspen Art Museum Co-Presidents John Phelan and Paul Schoor. “We could count on Frannie to speak her mind and make sure we took the right direction. Her leadership, vision, and friendship will always be treasured, and we already miss her and her infectious laugh.” And said James Rondeau, Dittmer Chair and Curator of Contemporary Art at the Art Institute of Chicago, “She was incisive and discerning, generous and glamorous, a radiant personality with a devilish sense of humor.” Blonde and statuesque, Frannie was stylishly self-possessed, plainspoken, and prone to call a spade a shovel. She talked and laughed with a lilting twang that she never tried to lose, but it was the laugh that was her trademark. An exuberant and unmistakable chortle, it was audible from astonishing distances and once heard, was not forgotten. Born and raised in Port Arthur, Texas, she was a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin and a Kappa Kappa Gamma. From 1964 to 66 she worked on Capitol Hill as personal secretary to Democratic Texas Senator “Smilin” Ralph Yarborough, an extraordinary responsibility for someone in her early 20s. In Washington she caught the eye of Thomas Dittmer, a young lieutenant in the fabled Third Infantry and a White House Social Aide. In 1966, Frannie and Tom married and moved to Chicago, where they raised a family, built a business, and collected art. When Tom and stepfather founded R.E. Friedman commodities firm Refco in 1969, Frannie became one of the company’s first five employees. Refco’s success grew exponentially, and Frannie cultivated her passion and keen eye for art. In 1979 she met Sotheby’s Vice Chairman Anthony Grant, then a young associate in contemporary art, and the two began a lifelong journey. Through the years the collection evolved and changed from Modern masters such as Pablo Picasso and Fernand Leger, to post war giants Willem DeKooning and Jackson Pollock, to the art of our time by Cy Twombly, Brice Marden, and Christoper Wool. Concurrently Frannie also built a world class portfolio at Refco, with Adam Brooks as curator. Grounded in contemporary photography and in the works of master printmakers such as Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg, the collection was preserved after Tom sold the company to private shareholders in 1999. The Dittmers were involved in numerous Chicago civic and arts organizations, including the Chicago Lyric Opera and Providence St. Mel School, but Frannie’s heart lay most fondly with the visual arts. In addition to her AIC trusteeship, she and Tom endowed there the Frances and Thomas Dittmer Chair of Modern and Contemporary Art. She was also a life trustee at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago where, together with Tom, she was one of six board members seminal to fundraising for that institution’s expansion in 1991, leading to the first major museum building in Chicago in 65 years. Throughout her life, Frannie participated substantively in many of the nation’s most prestigious arts organizations, including in New York the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney, the Drawing Center, Dia Art Foundation, the Menil collection in Houston, and the Aspen Art Museum. Her magnanimity extended to animals, dogs in particular, and she supported a number of shelters and rescue organizations. Her cherished Chihuahuas once graced the cover of the Aspen Animal Shelter calendar, which made her immensely proud. Generous as well in their spirited entertaining of friends and associates, the Dittmers hosted famously creative and occasionally lavish parties. Her houses were always comfortable and beautifully designed, befitting her longtime collaboration and friendship and with designer David Easton. Not everyone knew she had her pilot’s license and played the piano by ear, but her reputation as a football aficionada and Bears fan was well established. In the early days she and Tom played flag football with friends, and she was invariably the first one picked. “She was a master of the quick kick,” Tom boasts. “And hell, she could throw the ball 50 yards.” More recently her children recall their fashionably clad mother loping across the lawn in Hermes sandals, manicured nails rasping on the pigskin as she threw perfectly spiraling passes to her grandsons. In 1994, as winds of business and finance shifted, the Dittmers left Chicago for New York, and after 33 years of marriage the formidable couple went their separate ways, divorcing amicably in 1999. Frannie moved permanently to Aspen, where they had long had a second home and where she was, not surprisingly, active in the community. The family nonetheless remained close and often spent holidays together. Surviving are son Jason and his wife Allison of Park City, Utah; grandsons Casey and Jesse; daughter Alexis Gaughan and her husband Chris of Santa Monica, California; and Chris’s daughters Casey and Peyton. A sister, Marilyn, and her husband Warren “Dutch” Holland, live in Durango, Colorado. Frannie also counted as family Matthew Morris, who for 25 years faithfully headed her household staff. The family respectfully suggests that gifts in Frannie’s memory go to a charity of the giver’s choice. Afternoon services will be held both in Aspen on Wednesday, February 19, in Aspen, and in Chicago on Friday, February 21, details to be announced.
Curated by Molar Productions, with by work by Benjamin Bellas, Judith Brotman, CC Ann Chen, Meg Duguid, Andreas Fischer, Jeffrey Grauel, John Henley, Andrew Holmquist, Greyson Hong, Theodore Horner, International Chefs of Mystery!, Carol Jackson, Carron Little, Nicholas Lowe, Ryan Noble, Susannah Papish, Steve Reber, Oli Rodriguez, Joshua Slater, Rafael E. Vera, Rebecca Walz and Ryan Michael Pfeiffer.
slow is located at 2153 W. 21st St. Reception Friday, 6-9pm.