I am about halfway through a two-week period of guest blogging on the Art21 site. It’s been fantastic. Suddenly I had an opportunity to engage 11 artists in conversation, asking them questions I’ve always wondered about. I began to see the possibility of an arc in the interviews. On the one hand each interview is independent, on the other there is a thread of interest that flows through each post. I thought I could think through the progression here.
For the last couple years I’ve had a growing interest in celebrity culture. Not simply for its own sake, but rather as a particular reflection of the social structure in which we live, (i.e. post-industrial, capitalist America). Within that culture, celebrity provides a kind of apex or pinnacle of success. At one point, Young Joon Kwak equated them with the Greek Gods—as though Marylyn Monroe serves a parallel, cultural purpose in America as Hera did in Greece. At the very least celebrity provides a model for success and recognition, a model that translates into other fields, particularly in the arts, where tokens of legitimacy are rather slippery to grasp. As people working in a field with no direct use-value, the translated monetary/cultural value of a given object is highly subjective—something steeped in the momentum of the contemporary art dialectic. One way, then, to attain a sense of success is to become the famous Picasso, to be inducted into the Western Art canon. Or, the more immediate rock star artist option like, say, a Dash Snow type. Or, the shorter-lived 5 minutes of fame…”Even if you’re a flash-in-the-pan artist,” I remember a professor telling a class, “even if you just get famous for 5 seconds, at least you were famous. At least that one [painting] mattered. It’s better than nothing.” It’s the “nothing” that I’m interested in: the undefined, highly personal (and maybe less legitimate?) way of recognizing value in one’s work. Because I can’t define that “nothing” alternative, I’ve spent some time thinking through it’s dominant reflection: this whole Famous thing.
In lieu of those thoughts, I asked a series of artists to talk to me about their practices. I began with photographers Melanie Schiff and Jason Lazarus, asking about the gaze of the camera and how photographs memorialize events, or create opportunities to personalize mainstream culture. I then spoke to Young Joon Kwak, about his strategies of assemblage as a means to avoid commodification (oddly enough, he was also a finalist in the infamous SJP artist-reality-TV show), and Irina Botea about reenactment, revolution and film. That first segment of my guest-blogging was about the camera, in some way, or about our relationship to the camera.
My subsequent conversation with Anne Elizabeth Moore functions like a bridge—her interest in branding, for instance, crosses various mediums, even resisting the traditional “artist” label. She is a publisher, she is an educator and she also happens to make objects. All of her work is about self-empowerment in a context where that empowerment is difficult (if not, some might argue, impossible). Following Anne, I spoke with Brandon Alvendia who, like Moore, investigates self-publishing strategies. That is only one arm of his practice, however and working in different mediums, he locates “the art” primarily in himself. With Deb Sokolow, I asked about the characteristic second person pronoun throughout her work—here I feel like the interview-gaze shifts from Alvendia’s “I” to Sokolow’s, perhaps more aggressive “You.” (Agressive in so far as the audience becomes complicit with her work by reading/engaging in it.) At this point, the interviews start to shift towards an investigation of structure. Tsherin Sherpa talks about his relationship to the history and rigor of Tibetan religious painting, and what it means to step outside of that. He offers interesting reflection on the self, how he negotiates it. Here too, in some way I was surprised that the conversation became about the “self.” That theme is predominant in these interviews, and though I hadn’t anticipated it, it makes sense. After speaking to him, I interviewed Hiro Sakaguchi, Nadine Nakanishi and Ellen Rothenberg—artists working in very different ways, I was nonetheless especially interested in talking to them about the structure of their work and the places they work within. Hiro works in a museum, paints and teaches, occupying many different scales at once. Nadine boast a pragmatic optimism, running a print shop, participating in a printer’s guild and making her own work. Ellen takes advantage of overlooked portions of structure, in order to co-opt them for her own use. In all instances, the structure is both advantageous (in so far as it creates a context within which to work) and somewhat overbearing, insofar as it establishes standards and taboos. Ultimately I realized my thoughts about celebrity are really questions about structure.
Celebrity is a standard that reflects a structure, or style of thinking. The nothing, is the uncharted wilderness around that structure. Yet, that uncharted “wilderness” is actually more real and more vibrant. It is a more familiar context, and in taking time to better consider it, I realize that the fairy tale “fame” is actually the curious mistake. Because this whole gamut isn’t really about fame, it’s actually about doing good work, and thinking about the world with critical openness.
Paintings by Chicago artist James Jankowiak.
Architrouve is located at 1433 W. Chicago Ave. Reception is Friday from 6-9pm.
Work by Theodore Darst, Ben Baker Smith, Cole Pierce, Omar Mashal, Clint Ens, Morgan Higby Flowers, Antonio Roberts, Evan Meaney, Richard O’Sullivan, BotBorg, Aaron Zarzutzki, Morgan Higby Flowers, Jeff Donaldson, Vadim Sprikut Anton Marini, jon.satrom, and Jason Soliday (Friday) and work by Jodie Mack, Theodore Darst, Nick Briz, Alexander Stewart, Clint Ens, Nick Salvatore, Johnny Rogers, Jon Satrom, James Connolly, Ben Pearson, Jimmy Joe Roche, Karl Klomp, JB Mabe, LJ Frezza, James Connolly & Eric Pellegrino, Tamas Kemenczy & Mark Beasley, Jeronimo Barbosa, Andrew Bucksbarg, Ben Baker-Smith & Evan Kühl, and StAllio! (Saturday)
Transistor is located at 5045 N Clark St and will host Part 1 Friday from 8-11:30pm. The Nightingale is located at 1084 N Milwaukee Ave and will host Part 2 Saturday from 7-10pm.
Work by Brandon Alvendia, Conrad Bakker, Edie Fake, The Library of Radiant Optimism, Red76, People Powered, and Randall Szott.
Green Lantern Gallery is located at 2542 W. Chicago Ave. Reception is Friday from 7-10pm.
Tarot cards by Bridey Bowen, Alex Chitty, David D’Andrea, Rob Doran, Ryan Duggan, Ron Ewert, Heather Gabel, Horsebites, Myles Smutney Hyde, Damara Kaminecki, Jenny Kendler, Rick Leech, Monique Ligons, Alexis Mackenzie, Roy Miranda, Kyle James Morrison, Steak Mtn, Rachel Peacock, Bird Reynolds, Cristy Roads, J.L. Schnabel, and David Snedden.
Johalla Projects is located at 1561 N. Milwaukee Ave. Reception is Friday from 7-11pm.
Work by James Beckman, Arielle Bielak, Sher Dionisio, nikki hollander, Damien James, Robert Jeffries, Blake Parish Lewis, Lauryn Lewis, Vivien Park, Sarah Park, Holly Sabin, and Shawn Stucky.
Helicon Hall Gallery is located at 1542 N. Milwaukee, 2nd floor. Reception is Saturday from 6-11pm.
The madness of Artopolis is over my friends, and I’m glad for it, it was a long weekend. But this by no means indicates a lack of awesome art. This weekend is surprisingly busy, and here’s what I think shouldn’t be missed:
1. Immersioni/Immersions at Johalla Projects
A primarily, though not exclusively, video based exhibition jointly curated by Anna Cerniglia and Susanna Horvatovicova, and featuring the work of Elise Blue, Ben Russell, Rakele Tombini, and Chiara Tommasi.
Johalla Projects is located at 1561 N. Milwaukee Ave., 2nd fl. Opening Reception Friday, from 7-11pm.
2. Alphabetization at Noble & Superior Projects
An exploration of language curated by Ania Szremski, and featuring the work of Brandon Alvendia, Scott Carter, Eric Fleischauer, Brookhart Jonquil and Daniel Lavitt.
Noble & Superior Projects is located at 1418 W. Superior St. Opening Reception Friday, from 6-10pm.
3. The Home Front: What You Can Do! at Pritzker Military Library
WWII motivational propaganda posters. Have you started your war garden?
Pritzker Military Library is located at 610 N. Fairbanks Ct., 2nd fl. Show begins May 7th.
4. Flat 6 at Floor Length and Tux
Experiments in spicy with Jon Bollo, Luca Scala, Jonathan Ozik, Matty Colston, Catie Olson, and EC Brown.
Floor Length and Tux is located at 2332 W. Augusta, #3. Reception Saturday, beginning at 7pm, DJ at 11pm.
5. As you pass by and cast an eye as you are now so once was I at Western Exhibitions
Creepy sculpture and flat work by Rachel Niffenegger. John Parot’s show Hobbies also opens at Western Ex.
Western Exhibitions is located at 119 N Peoria St. 2A. Reception Saturday, from 5-8pm.