DON BAUM IT: Money And Relevance In Art In Chicago

December 3, 2013 · Print This Article

Guest Post by Britton Bertran

The art economy in Chicago – specific to the visual art market – is busted.  It doesn’t work and hasn’t worked for a long time.  Yes, this a provincial observation as we are in a global society, but ask any commercial gallery owner in Chicago that’s not one of the Mighty 5, and they’ll tell you the same.  Yes, more and more people who aren’t in Chicago are paying attention to us as a viable location.  Chicago is a place that has artists who make (and made) great work and some non-Chicagoans are even buying art from here (good luck in Miami y’all!).  But when it comes to a localized presence, we are somewhere near the bottom of the attention totem pole.  Where would you place visual art on the Chicago matrix of culture that includes Theater, Music, Dance, and yes, Food?

There are several ingredients that make up this pie: artists (check-plus), galleries (check), arts administrators (check), art critics (check-minus) and collectors (check-minus-minus).  One could also add art schools, art jobs and art conversation to this pie.  As well, we have venues in which to look at art which is obviously important for this mixture: fancy/academic/contemporary museums, commercial galleries with varying levels of artist representation, medium-sized and smaller not-for-profits, artist-run apartments/storefronts/garages, city-sanctioned public spaces and galleries AND, lest we forget, our computers.  These are all parts of this economy and much of its success is reliant on the flow if information that reaches non-art world people and what happens when those people react to what they see.  The trouble is that most of those non-artworlders are either taking what they see for granted.  In general, they are not really looking, seeing or reacting.

Chicago has a landscape and art is very much in it.  So what’s missing?  Why is it broke and how can we fix it?

MONEY

Money helps.  Money helps a lot.  Yes, I know it’s gauche to talk about especially in the realm of aesthetics, but the majority of artworlders here are sadly not flush for reasons beyond their control.  And yes, I also realize that many artists choose to ignore the money part of their equation as it interferes with the thinking about their work and its discourse.  But it still needs to be discussed as it’s a part of the system we live within.

I place much of the blame of a lot of the troubles the Chicago art world has on the lack of collectors.  There are collectors in Chicago – both with a little c and a big C – but there are just not enough.  I’m going to ignore the Collector portion of this equation and focus on the Lil’ c’s, with the knowledge that one often becomes the other due to the pure pleasure they receive from the act itself.

Who are they? Where are they? Why won’t they come out and play? I know they’re here: they sit on non-profit auxiliary Boards, they go to First Friday, they eat out three nights a week, they buy condos in the West Loop, they have scooters as alternative transportation devices, they bring their visiting parents to the Art Institute and they could probably tell you at least ten contemporary artists they’ve heard of.

Since they are here, we have solved part of the problem and this is important because the Lil’ c’s need to be localized in order for this to work.  Next is the hard part: they need to understand that collecting art is a good thing, it’s healthy, it’s fun and it’s really addictive.  They need to understand that they don’t need to spend a lot of money.  They would be helping out this economy from a small business point of view, for both artists and gallerists.  They could say, “Hey I’m young, why don’t I collect some emerging artists that are the same age as me and we could grow together!” Or they could say, “Hey, if a New York Giants linebacker collects art, why shouldn’t I?” Or “I heard that Leo DiCaprio was lurking in the corner of the some art auction last week?”  This is a thing that people do!  This is something that you, o’ Lil’ c, would be great at!

Sadly, the majority of the Lil’ c’s also need to be told what to buy, at least in the beginning.  As such, they need the lecture about aesthetics vs. investments, to buy with your eyes and not your ears, that it’s more than filling in the space over your couch in that new condo and, if they so desire, art collecting brings with it a whole new set of social structures that can be horrifyingly awesome.  An additional secret: Lil’ c’s don’t need Leo money to buy art they just need to be educated.

Is there anyone out there that’s taking up this challenge and whisper in the ears of these Lil’ c’s?  There are, but there aren’t enough and there aren’t enough that are doing it right.  Two examples that are doing it right: The Chicago Artist Coalition and Threewalls.  The CAC’s tagline is “Building a Creative Marketplace”.  They’ve re-booted the organization in the last couple of years and are making real strides to make connections between artists and collectors.  Threewalls has their CSA Initiative (Community Supported Art) that makes a kind of implied statement on the relationship between non-profit-ness, artists, art-making and the joy of owning artwork.  These are also sustainable examples.  One-off events (aka Art Fairs) may provide convenience and atmosphere but do little for long term development of collecting as a functionary system beyond good and services.  Relationships need to be built which is also part of the fun.

RELEVANCE

Beyond the money – there is relevance.  These are two concepts inextricably associated with each other.  In the context of Chicago, with its persistent inferiority complex, relevance especially applies in ways that will always be in flux.  Some choose to ignore it, others choose to whole-heartedly embrace it and there are others whose mission in life is to better it.

Don Baum

There used to be individuals who developed a way of thinking and talking about art in Chicago that directly translated into success for a number of artists, both critically and monetarily.  Two that come to mind are Don Baum (circa Monster Roster in the late 1960’s) and Judith Russi Kirshner (circa Chicago-neo-conceptualism of the late 1980’s).  The artists that they worked with are well represented in our local art institutions as well as the collections of many Collectors.  This is artwork that was disseminated in a way that clever, deft and meaningful within Chicago and then beyond.

This is still happening today in a way that could amount to something bigger.  The current Whitney Biennial may provide a stopgap for this situation with near 1/5th of its artists currently working in Chicago, or at least with very close ties.  Hopefully, the deserved exposure for those lucky artists will translate into more than a sentence or two in a reputable purveyor of art criticism.  There is also a handful of local curators ensconced at our museums who do their part by creating scholarly looks at the recent art history of Chicago artists as well as develop vehicles for showcasing some of our emerging and mid-career artists.  But is this enough?  When the #WhiBi is over, how many of those artists will have some sort of local gallery representation?  How many times will we see the same Tony Tasset/Robert Smithson photo at the MCA?

A surefire way of gaining some sort of relevance in the art world used to be simply having someone write about your work.  In Chicago this used to be a little harder than other cities, but it was still there.  I used to think that a certain level of professional art criticality and good old fashion art journalism was a part of this puzzle, and I still think it is, but when it comes to creating a sense of relevance – it’s a downward spiral.  This is something I have no idea how to fix.  The state of journalism (online or offline or whatever) is a sad state at this point because there simply isn’t enough of it happening on a higher level.  At the same time, if someone where to start consistently writing about Art in Chicago in a serious and engaging way, who would be there to read it?  Is there anybody reading this that isn’t already in some way trying to make a living within the local art scene, or at least attempting to become more relevant in some meaningful way?  Writing about art, critically or journalistically, needs an infusion that is less about navel gazing and more about starting a conversation that is extroverted.

Thankfully, there aren’t anymore “Chicago schools”.  Or at least no one (that’s not a gallery developing a marketing ploy) has decided to wrangle our artists into any sort of synthesized concrete definition in order to look at them easier.  And, if someone where to, what would it look like?  Would it be too transparent an attempt at selling?  Or does that simply not matter anymore?  Being an artist in Chicago might just have to be enough, but it can’t be because there is too much at stake.  I don’t think there is room for another Don Baum in Chicago, but there is room to recognize that there are more questions than answers in this essay.

 

Bio: Britton Bertran ran 40000 from 2005 to 2008. He currently is an Instructor at SAIC in the Arts Administration and Policy department and the Educational Programs Manager at Urban Gateways. An occasional guest-curator, he has organized exhibitions for the Hyde Park Art Center, the Loyola Museum of Art and several galleries. You can find him trying to be less cranky about the art world on twitter @br_tton.  Stay tuned for another guest post about looking forward to 2014 (and maybe a top 10 list of sorts too.)




Recoloring Queer and Transgender Performance Art: Reflections on Recent Performance Panels

November 19, 2013 · Print This Article

Guest Post by Autumn Hays 

Let us start off by acknowledging that there is a distinct difference between Queer and Transgender subjects. It’s important not to lump these two together. Though related and often overlapping, these are not interchangeable terms. Queer being a reclaimed pejorative for gay, and transgender being a person whose self-identity does not conform unambiguously to conventional notions of male or female gender. (see more.) With that in mind what I would like to look into a reoccurring concern in the discussions that take place around both queer and transgender performance art.

4_ah

Artist Micha Cárdenas. (photo- Fran Pollitt)

In the last month I have seen multiple panels touching on the subject of new Queer and or Transgender works. There was a definitive connection between all panels: and attempt to shake up current the definitions, and what some define as new codified zones of safety. When I say zones of safety, I am referring a kind of identity politics that sits safely in a form of expression that is confortable enough for new standards of acceptance. Artworks that sit in this comfort zone fail to realize the full potentiality of the subjects and often begging to forum it’s own predictable cliché. The challenging of the formulation of a tamed queerness or transgender performance is an often-highlighted theme appearing in new works. The formulation of a safely circumscribed zone undermines the attempt to reconsider the subject due to an inadequate scope.

Queer and or transgender arts panels often attempt to define the new wave of artists making work in these areas. Today many artists are attempting to define a new direction that departs from the identity work that came out the 80s and 90s. Often these earlier works are ascribed the quality of crying out for recognition. Much of the work being produced today is looking for finer definitions, as opposed to this preliminary awareness.

2_ah

“Queer Chicago” ‘ Artist Keijuan R Thomas. Defibrillator on 19 October 2013. (photo- Isabelle McGuire)

We could go on to talk about the subject of the word Queer as discussed during the roundtable “New Queer Aesthetics” in late October. Queer New York International Arts Festival (QNYI)  had come to Chicago to exhibit a Queer Fest as an extension of the one in New York at Defibrillator Performance Art Gallery . The Chicago show featured artists Suka Off, Bruno Isakovic, Gabreiela Mureb, and Keijaun Thomas. Queer fest distinctly pulls itself away from other Queer festivals which they feel are accepted ideas of the term Queer. As one of the festivals curators, Zvonimir Dobrović, explained, the festival seeks to redefine and challenge preconceived notions of the term Queer. Not all work is made by the LGBT community and instead is defined loosely by a sort of norm-challenging ascetic. After struggling through various definitions, redefinitions, embracing, rejections, fears of washing out the word of meaning completely, and other post-modern linguistic dilemmas an audience member mentions queerness in regards to race, specifically the colored queer. Why is this important? Because the conversations began to progress from the semanticlogical, what is Queer, to what are current Queer issues are concerned about, who are we dealing with the queer female of color in art today.

1_ah

“Transgender/Arts- A Roundtable on the Future of Transgender Cultural Production” at the The School of the Art Institute of Chicago on 6 November 2013. (photo- Noah Davies / SAIC)

This November I attended a panel at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Transgender / Arts : A roundtable on the future of transgender cultural production, which  included panelists Trish Salah, Jules Rosskam, Julian Carter, David Getsy, and Micha Cárdenas. During the panel many valid points were made about Transgender art. Micha Cárdenas presented important question to the panel, “Where are the trans women of color in art?” Many of the panelist themselves who specialize in Transgender arts could in fact not think of a single artist. The panel began to discus a kind of film festival, performance and art transgender normative narrative. A washed down version, where you began to see something constrained, not quite all the way there. Sitting in a place somewhere in academia where it is comfortable and safe.

5_ah

“Autonets” Artist Micha Cárdenas. (photo- Fran Pollitt)

How does performance readjust and challenge Queer and Trans identity without losing site of the community in general? There is something that happens to us when we are about to fully realize the other; we find a way to compromise, to only go so far. Many Queer or Trans artist today are attempting to push at the boundaries of a newly accepted normative narrative and point at the things we are forgetting, those who still don’t have a voice. The Art world, the world, is still white male dominated. In a way the lull of sleep we put ourselves in this supposedly post-feminism, post-racism, post- sexism, post-gender issues world that we keep referring to as better than it was before is more dangerous. Because hiding under that comfort is the fact we haven’t changed all that much, we should be forging new grounds and making sure it doesn’t fall asleep.

If I was asked where the new queer or trans aesthetic is headed today, I would say somewhere within the struggle of continuous disturbance, in the understanding that things aren’t there yet and we have to keep shaking it up, shaking ourselves up, so we don’t become our own worse enemies, the perpetuators of a normative Queer of Trans identity. As performance art specifically keeps pushing on with another panel at the Hemispheric Institute for Performing Arts, this week discussing “Race & the Colonial Impulse: Queer Performance Practices”, I look forward t a continued discussion that bridges gaps in the dialogue between racial queer and transgender  issues in the arts.

 

_______________________

Autumn Hays is an Artist, Curator, Teacher and Writer. She graduated the School of the Art Institute of Chicago with an MFA in Performance where she received the John Quincy Adams Fellowship. She received her BA in Visual Arts at UCSD. Hays was the recipient of numerous scholarships, grants and awards including two major Jack Kent Cooke association scholarships.Currently she is assistant curator at Defibrillator and Directing Coordinator of the Rapid Pulse International Performance Art Festival. www.autumnhays.com




Epsiode 425: The Return of James Elkins!

October 21, 2013 · Print This Article

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.


download
This week: James Elkins returns to Bad at Sports. Nuff Said!

James-Elkins_2000




Comedy Tonight: Even in LA

October 20, 2013 · Print This Article

Ithamar

Ever heard of the The Second City ? Of course you have. This is a Chicago based arts and culture website, and Second City is “The” comedy theatre in Chicago, right? The Second City Chicago has turned out such comedy greats as Alan Arkin, Fred Willard, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and Steven Colbert to name as small group. The Second City opened its doors in Chicago in December of 1959 as a small cabaret theatre. As the success of the Chicago company grew, it gave birth to off shoot companies and comedy schools in Toronto (John Candy, Dave Thomas, Catherine O’Hara and Martin Short  are all alumni as well), Los Angeles, and touring cast and a TV show called SCTV.

But I don’t live in Chicago, I live in Los Angeles, and I am not a part of the comedy world. I watch Saturday Night Live (full of Second City alumnus), and I watch Arrested Development and 30 Rock on loop with my Appletv, but I have never been well versed in the art of sketch, stand-up and improvisational comedy. I work in film. Dark, gritty, independent film where people drink, cry and fight and have irresponsible sex with inappropriate partners…(I’m talking about the characters in my films, not the people in my real life…I swear.) However, recently I’ve had several friends who have very real interests and talents in comedy and so I’ve found myself at the Second City Hollywood theatre quite a few times in the last couple of years. This past month I saw two shows by which I was extremely impressed. And not just because the performers are my friends, but also because comedy is HARD and they are working HARD at it and their work pays off for the audience in a big way.

The Second City offers classes for performers from everything to beginners improvisation comedy, to sketch comedy, to comedy tv writing at various stages. I’ve attended several comedy tv pilot readings and, as a writer myself, am always impressed that people sat down and wrote a show. A whole episode of a show that they invented. They thought of characters, and jokes and silly scenarios that are sometimes totally relatable and sometimes absolutely ridiculous, but hopefully funny enough to make the audience laugh. Sometimes the pilots work, and sometimes they don’t. As I mentioned, comedy is hard. At least, it seems hard to me. I’ve also watched a lot of improv comedy groups. I’ve learned that there are rules to improv comedy. Always say “Yes” to your improv teammate. Meaning, if your teammate says “hey, you’re a cow” then you must say “yes, I’m a cow” and then play the part of a cow for the rest of the sketch. That is the best way to create a cohesive, smooth and funny scene. I’ve seen this work, and I’ve seen this implode (usually when the teammate says “I’m not a cow, I’m Matt Damon.”) It seems to me that comedy is about commitment to a moment and a character, even if it is isn’t the character that you would have wished to have to commit to.

Recently, I’ve sat in the audience for more sketch comedy. In the last couple of weeks I’ve seen two very different sketch shows that were all about commitment to character. The first was from a group called The Virgina Slims. They are a duo of performers who, in this show, played the roles of a duo of performers. Ha! The show is called Ronnie and Lorraine’s Last Reunion Show IV. A high quality mock TV preview that played as the shows opening told the audience that Ronnie and Lorraine were once the America’s Sweethearts of comedy couples (Think Lucy and Dessie or Donnie and Marie (but married)) In their heyday they had comedy specials and musical albums and toured around the world. But drugs, scandal, and divorce drove them apart, but now they are back for a reunion show! Then for the next 50 minutes or so the Virgina Slims (Laura Eichhorn and Pepper Berry) performed comic sketches and songs as Ronnie and Lorraine playing their old characters. It was very Shakespearean…the play within the play and all that. The sketches were swift and funny. Clever and physical. In between the sketches the characters of Ronnie and Lorraine talked directly to the audience about themselves, their struggling careers and occasionally their obviously strained relationship. The actors (Berry and Eichhorn) stayed very committed to their characters both in and out of the sketches, and that’s why the show worked so well. These characters were silly and unglamorous but highly relatable. They wore gaudy 1970′s outfits and wigs but so naturally that we as the audience were never distracted by them. At one point Eichhorn’s Lorraine sang a dark, serious power ballad about hitting a deer with her car (if I remember correctly) while Berry’s Ronnie popped up over and over behind her with different rhythm instruments. Because the performers took the moment so seriously, no winking at the audience, no acknowledgment of the silliness of their wigs and the subject matter of the song, the audience cheered. On the whole, the show was not only a great showcase of the Virgina Slims comedic performance talents, but also of their writing talents, and musical abilities.

The following week I saw a totally different kind of sketch show. Entitled, Ithamar has Nothing to Say, the comedian, Ithamar Enriquez, performed a series of non-verbal sketches to music. It was a mixture of pantomime, scene structure, and interpretive dance all in a one-man show (but that description doesn’t do the performance justice.) The show opened by Enriquez (really in his 30′s) as a crotchety old man with a cane shuffling on stage, taking out his teeth (pantomime, of course) and turning on a scratchy old record. Then as the old man fell asleep, Enriquez acted out the characters from the old man’s dreams, depending on what song played from the record player (this is my interpretation.) Over the course of the next 30 minutes Enriquez silently became a sexy, elegant female prostitute and several of her drunk Johns, a trio of jazz lovers who can’t help but dance when they listen to music, a Mexican wrestler who enthusiastically wrestles (and pins) a soft red blanket, and a hapless magician who you can’t help but route for. In one sketch, he used a very weird half monkey/half man puppet to create an uncomfortable run in at a bus stop (we’ve all had those, if not with a half monkey man puppet) which showcased that this performer has puppetry skills as well. The show was light-hearted and hilarious and even sentimental at times. In the final sketch of his show, the Old Man returns and plays out the entire meeting, courtship, and marriage of he and his wife (the wife being played by the cane,) ending with the two, now old with grown children, relaxing together listening to the scratchy record player. It brought tears to my eyes, both of laughter and of emotion. The show was charming, and hilarious and (other than the creepy masturbating monkey man) completely family friendly. I think my parents would have loved it! I think Enriquez’s parents would love it! I do know Ithamar Enriquez personally, and I always knew he was a talented comedian. He works a lot in the industry, in commercials, and TV including Arrested Development, Key and Peele, and The League to name a few recent appearances, and he is high enough in the company at The Second City that he is one of their staff members and teachers as well as a performer, but I thought this silent show showcased  talents I hadn’t really considered. It harkened back to the brilliance of Charlie Chapman and the silent clowns at the circus (minus the pies in the face and the creepy make-up.) It was his commitment to each character that made you watch, believe, enjoy and most importantly…laugh!

So, The Second City Hollywood may not have the same long standing reputation for great comedy as its forefather The Second City Chicago, but it is in fact churning out great new comics all the time. So, I’ve had to accept that L.A. is not just a film town where people like me are churning out gritty independent drug movies and big budget space films, but there are also tons of people making thoughtful committed comedy shows as well. This is probably not a surprise to anyone else, I mean, Andy Dick came out of The Second City Hollywood so… But for me, I feel lucky to have found some comedy to balance out the darkness of my Breaking Bad addiction.

For more info on the Virgina Slims check out their Facebook page and follow them on twitter at @VSimprov and follow Ithamar Enriquez at @IthamarEnriquez and check out his website at www.Ithamarenriquez.com.

 




Episode 421: Spencer Finch

September 23, 2013 · Print This Article

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.


download
Spencer Finch
This week: Duncan and Richard talk to Spencer Finch about his current exhibition “Study for Disappearance” at the Rhona Hoffman Gallery.

What is the color of the threshold – of that liminal space before day plunges into night? Spencer Finch attempts to answer this question through his most recent body of work created specifically for Study for Disappearance, his fourth solo exhibition at Rhona Hoffman Gallery. Each watercolor diptych in this new series individually renders violet, blue, green, yellow, orange, and red as they appear on objects in his Brooklyn studio. On one side of each diptych, Finch has labeled the swatches of varying hues of a single color according to the object that bears them: “candle,” “brick sample (Baltimore),” and “bull-fighting poster” to name a few. This study is paired with that of the identical collection of objects observed as the colors shift to grayscale with the dimming daylight. Slowing down the viewer’s process of seeing, Finch guides us through the nuances of the fading light and the stages of visual perception. Accompanying the watercolor diptychs is a new light box piece, Color Test 600, comprised of various multicolored squares layered together to create an abstract study of darkness.

The ephemeral light of dusk is a seductive territory for Finch and such fleeting scenarios fuel his artistic process. Artworks such as the light installations West (Sunset in My Motel Room, Monument Valley, January 26, 2007, 5:36 – 6:06 PM) and Dusk (Hudson River Valley, October 30, 2005) have transported the light quality of a specific place during that transitory magic hour to the setting of art galleries and museums worldwide. Once again, for Study for Disappearance, Finch has succeeded in blending scientific method with a poetic sensibility to both record the light and color of the physical world and simultaneously explore the intangible and ethereal essence of a place. This time, Finch generously offers an intimate look at the enchanted and often confidential space of the artist’s studio.