Guest post by Lise Haller Baggesen
Dana de Giulio@ The Suburban Photo: Lise Haller Baggesen
IN THE YEAR OF THE SCAVENGER, THE SEASON OF THE BITCH…
… in the fossil fueled states of American gloom and doom, we are headed south on LSD, a donnerwetter looming on the horizon as a tic in the corner of our left eye. Shot-size raindrops splatter against the wind-shield from the sky turning from gunmetal grey to violaceous to petroleum green behind the silhouetted skyscrapers, swaying gently in the balmy November breeze as the wind picks up and a tornado warning ticks in on the mobile device, interrupting Kanye West suggesting that this would be a beautiful day for jumping out the window/letting everything go/letting everything go…
Indeed it is a beautiful day!
This apocalyptic weather, reminding us that the doomsday prophets were probably right, that this is not the 11th hour, that we are already fashionably late, makes it the perfect day for checking out a couple of shows in Chicagoland contemplating our species’ self-destructive impulse.
Hamza Walker’s modern day vanity Suicide Narcissus at the Renaissance society reads like a visit to the men’s department at Barney’s: tight and tasteful grey-tones with a splash of lush jungle green thrown in. Not unlike, in fact, its 17th century’s Dutch counterparts careful rendition of bridles and soap-bubbles, tulips and skulls, reminding us that the world is forever coming to an end.
The super symmetrical show is arranged on both sides of a corridor leading up to Katie Paterson’s All the Dead Stars, a map of said stars corresponding to the place on earth from where they were discovered laser etched into a matte black anodized aluminum sheet, creating an eerie map resembling a burnt out earth as observed from space. Observation posts glow-in-the-dark with the half-life luminescence of radioactive material, our radio signals still on their way to infinity and beyond long after we’re gone. From here we can turn left or right (or right and three quarters or maybe not quite) but either route will coil back on itself into a cul-de-sac, a dead end from where we can only retreat the way we came.
Each of the works in the show display the mechanics and dialectics of their creation in plain view, if not front and center to our reading of the works, like the endlessly similar variations of rope, pulley and mirror of Thomas Baumann’s perpetuum mobile Tau Sling or the dead pan unedited single channel registration of Nicole Six and Paul Petritsch’ Spatial Intervention, showing a lone figure hacking his way through the ice, in a circle surrounding himself. Not really sure if this unromantic reference to Kaspar Davids Friedrich’s Eismeer (the Sea of Ice from 1824), is going anywhere outside of its own hermetic picture plane, but whether we are witnessing a painfully slow suicide attempt here, or just some Sisyphus slow-motion slapstick, as a viewer you feel as frozen in time as the lonely man on the ice.
The row of vitrines that make up Harris Epaminonda and Daniel Gustav Cramer’s Infinite Library display a collection of reappropriated books -by the looks of it European post war encyclopedias and reference books with faded color reproductions of artworks and plants, painted over with geometrical figures that seem to suggest some obsolete world order, while Lucy Skaer’s Leviathan’s Edge, a whale skeleton boxed in a drywall space, opened up in three narrow slits, through which we can only partially admire the brittle grandeur of the beastly remains would not be out of place in a gentlemen’s explorers club, that other society, where adventurers who come back to tell the tale can compare their booty- Jolly good!
In a darkened cinema space, similar to a home entertainment den, Daniel Steegmann Mangrane’s 16mm, 2009-2011 the exhibitions only truly juicy work, is contained -as if its lush Amazonian green would otherwise spill out and contaminate the rest of the show in a toxic spill of unbridled fertility. Like decorative kale in a millionaire’s front yard its nutritious value is rendered void, and we are left with eye candy. This is our reward. The five minute 16mm film loop leaves us ample time to contemplate the cable running near the top of the picture frame along which the camera pulls itself still further in to the heart of darkness, the whirring of the projector behind us competing with the dense cacophony of jungle sounds on the soundtrack of the projection before us, until the movie without further ado comes to a dead stop and the screen goes black. The End.
On the surface, Suicide Narcissus mainly examines and admires its own elegant rhetoric. Initially I considered this the exhibition’s demise, but on reexamining it I have come to think that perhaps this is exactly its point: Like Nero playing the fiddle as Rome burns, you find yourself confronted with your own disengagement, as you consider the aesthetic possibilities and fashion choices of the world going to hell in an evening clutch. It is an uneasy notion, like deleting yet another petition appeal from you e-mail inbox.
As an antidote to this tasteful ennui may I suggest a visit to Dana DeGiulio @ The Suburban, which will tear you out of your inwardly spiraling anxiety attack and throw you right back into the real with the welcome catharsis of your friendly neighborhood suicide bomber. The battered backed-up Buick sedan is ramrodded into the cinderblock structure that makes up the central exhibition space at The Suburban with a precision that sits in the sweet spot between demolition and embellishment.
The curious fact that the car is damaged front and rear gives the impression not so much of a drunk driver swerving out on control, tearing through the front yard in the early hours of a sleepy suburban Sunday morning, but more of the feel-something- anything of a soccer mom’s revenge, later same morning, her anniversary.
And the shattered head answers back And I believe I was Loved I Believe I loved Who did this to us?
Because we can only contemplate art from our personal vantage point, just like we can only imagine Armageddon in our own time, I will approach this from the angle of Burn Out with their totaled car park in the center of Copenhagen and their smashed up ticketing booth for De Appel’s Crap Shoot (-a memorable show that culminated for my own part in a visit to the ER after a visit to the exhibition’s socially (un-)engaged Absolut-free-for-all-vodka-bar and a subsequent act of cycling under the influence ending abruptly when my front wheel got stuck in an Amsterdam tram rail and sent me to a dead stop against the wet asphalt). Curiously, these works originated round about the time when the 1996 LeSabre was still a classy car, but seem almost quaintly didactic now, in their 90s engagement with institutional critique, compared to this work which points only to its own calibration of annihilation through acceleration, suggesting that we are all flying solely by our instruments by now, no line on the horizon: In a godless universe you need to rely on your own moral compass, or perhaps some secular religion. Art for arts sake can be just that. It can be it’s own means and end.
It is an appropriation and an approach, but how do you approach appropriately, being in a banged out car and your aim the feel of not to feel it?
This is subtle and has to be premeditated. Premeditation is available in the form of a brochure which contemplate the estimated market value of the Buick before and after impact as compared to a circular silverpoint painting by Michelle Grabner, as consigned by Dana DeGuilio to James Cohan gallery and sold before the Buick hit the brick wall, perhaps to offset the costs of a second hand car and a cinderblock shed? The end is a zero sum game.
On the 10th anniversary of the suburban, this will be that last one for this building where it all began. Now structurally unsound, It will be torn down at the end of the show, or when the Oak Park police and zoning inspectors step in and say that it is time to clean up the mess, whichever comes first.
In Michelle’s own words: “This is the end of the suburban as we know it!”
Credits: Dana DeGiulio would like to thank her pit crew. I would like to thank you for reading.
Anonymous art criticism: sharp, succinct and to the point!
Photo: Michelle Grabner
Lise Haller Baggesen (1969) left her native Denmark for the Netherlands in 1992 to study painting at the AKI and the Rijksakademie. In 2008 she relocated to Chicago with her family, where she completed her MA in Visual and Critical Studies at the SAIC in 2013.
In the meantime, her work evolved from a traditional painting practice toward a hybrid practice including curating, writing and immersive multimedia installation work.
Her book “Mothernism” will be published on Green Lantern Press and The Poor Farm Press in 2014.
A historical piece which points towards exceptional moments observed directly by the writer, in Chicago, over the course of the previous calendar year. Alternative, NFP, and commercial galleries, as well as art centers, museums, and public spaces, were visited more-or-less regularly, according to the nature of their programming. All artwork copyright original artists; all photography copyright Paul Germanos.
“best of” lists and “year in review” articles are released late in December. And critics have tended to follow in lockstep. Yet such a schedule might be a cause for concern when one considers how little time in reflection is afforded the author of any such piece.
That said, it’s the original scope of the critic’s experience, and not the amount of time spent in reflection upon that experience, which is the greater issue in most cases. Readers have good reason to wonder about art writers: How much did he or she see in the first place? And what does it mean to be placed in a “top ten” list by a person who might have attended only ten events?
Of course, with regard to the utility of press, the writing itself counts for little; it’s a publication’s masthead and associated social connectivity which are really crucial. For whether the subject is artwork or the publicity related to it, heavily invested dealers, artists, directors, et al, labor to get the right bits in the right places, till the overall picture looks good–much like jigsaw puzzle work. The gaming of interpersonal relationships is, after all, the chief modality of the art world.
Let’s try something different!
(1) Best Artist’s Talk: “Andre Butzer @ Cochrane-Woods Art Center”
Forgoing the pretense of a rational narrative, German painter Butzer dryly delivered pre-Socratic fragments–first in his native language and then in English–alongside projections of his artwork. The audio and visual elements in combination, amounting to a performance, were, in fact, stronger than his show which followed at Rhona Hoffman Gallery.
Butzer became moderately excited when, after the lecture, I presented him with a question about Nietzsche.
6:30 PM, January 25, 2012
Cochrane-Woods Art Center, Room 157
(adjacent to the The Smart Museum)
University of Chicago
5540 S. Greenwood Ave.
Chicago, IL 60637
Runner-up: Karsten Lund’s performance piece in Peregrine Program.
(2) Best Gallery Opening: “Short Court: Tropical Aesthletics @ ANTENA”
Above: Jake Myers at left, in glasses, on the court in ANTENA.
Curated by Jake Myers and Chris Smith, a/k/a “Tag Team,” and featuring 19 artists (Adam Farcus, Adam Grossi, Alberto Aguilar, Alex Bradley Cohen, Angeline Evans, Brian Wadford, Caroline Carlsmith, Cory Glick, Edra Soto, EC Brown, Irene Perez, Jeriah Hildwine, Jim Papadopoulos, Kevin Jennings, Nicole Northway, Pamela Fraser, Philip von Zweck, Thad Kellstadt, and Vincent Dermody) “Short Court: Tropical Aesthletics” was dominated by Jake Myers’ own performance in the center of the gallery.
There, Myers and company (including two professional players) offered to “take on all comers” in a high-spirited volleyball match. The boisterous physical competition which ensued was entirely contrary to the quiet struggle for rank which is usually present, if unseen, at such affairs. This was good. It’s yet unclear to what degree Myers’ work is ironic.
February 10 – March 10, 2012
1765 S. Laflin St.
Chicago IL 60608
(3) Best Art Writing: “Hamza Walker for The Renaissance Society”
With regard to the consistency and volume of his production, Hamza Walker has been exemplary: Every exhibition at The Renaissance Society is accompanied by a broadsheet containing one of Walker’s companion essays. Curiously, these essays usually go nowhere. Are they not read? not understood? not thought to be of any value? Sunday attendance at The Ren is too often like unto church: orderly, solemn, performed for fear of damnation, and forgotten on Monday.
The Renaissance Society
Cobb Hall, Room 418
University of Chicago
5811 S. Ellis Ave.
Chicago, IL 60637
Runner-up: Jason Foumberg, skyrocketing in 2013.
(4) Greatest Spectacle and Drama: “NON GRATA ‘Force Majeure’ @ New Capital”
The Estonian performance collective NON GRATA staged the destruction of an American-made sedan on the grounds of New Capital: outdoors, late-winter, encouraging audience participation in the act. No fig leaf of sport covered the aggression here; this was a naked, public display of violence hitherto latent in the community. And it was possible to read the event as a sort of response to the call made by Butzer a little over one month earlier.
7:00 PM, March 4, 2012
1136 N. Milwaukee Ave.
3114 W. Carroll
Chicago, IL 60612
Runner-up: Unsolicited letters from Wesley Kimler.
(5) Most Noteworthy Young or “Emerging” Artists: Sarah and Joseph Belknap, Tyler Blackwell, Robert Chase Heishman, Sofia Leiby, Jake Myers, Meg Noe, Danielle Rosen, Joseph Rynkiewicz, Etta Sandry, Vincent Uribe, and Nikki Werner.
Over the course of the previous year, some memorable artwork, conversation, or public engagement was initiated by each the people listed above. Further, as a result of the good attendance at gallery openings and other events which most displayed, their names were easy to learn and remember.
(6) Best Museum Show: “The Language of Less (Then and Now) @ MCA Chicago”
Above: Dan Flavin: Untitled (for you, Leo, in long respect and affection) 3, 1978; John McCracken: Untitled, 1967.
Above: Carl Andre: Zinc-Lead Plain, 1969; Donald Judd: Untitled, 1970.
Curated by Michael Darling, the “Dimensions of Space” gallery within “The Language of Less (Then and Now)” exhibition wasn’t novel, or exciting, in the conventional sense. Rather, the thing had the appearance of being the logical conclusion of a long meditation upon the fundamental unit, or building block, of the works included, viz., the square. And this formal vocabulary hasn’t disappeared. For example, in “Binary Lore,” the most recent show local NFP threewalls, Edie Fake recalled Carl Andre.
Closed on April 15 , 2012
220 E. Chicago Avenue (MVDR Drive)
Chicago IL 60611
(7) Best Museum Opening: “Feast: Radical Hospitality in Contemporary Art”
Above: Michael Rakowitz’ Enemy Kitchen, opening night.
Above: Sonja Alhäuser’s butter buffet billy goat, opening night.
The Smart has made an effort to push its programming outward: into its lobby and courtyard. That physical movement runs parallel to the community engagement which has been a major thematic concern of several recent exhibitions. “Feast” wasn’t solely a remembrance of the past by means of a presentation of artifacts; rather, “Feast” was a new sort of moment, available to be experienced via the socialization which was possible at its opening reception.
February 16 – June 10, 2012
Smart Museum of Art
University of Chicago
5550 S. Greenwood Avenue
Chicago, IL 60637
Curated by Stephanie Smith
Artists: Marina Abramovic and Ulay, Sonja Alhäuser, Mary Ellen Carroll, Fallen Fruit, Theaster Gates, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, InCUBATE, The Italian Futurists, Mella Jaarsma, Alison Knowles, Suzanne Lacy, Lee Mingwei, Laura Letinsky, Tom Marioni, Gordon Matta-Clark, Mildred’s Lane, Julio César Morales and Max La Rivière-Hedrick, motiroti, National Bitter Melon Council, Ana Prvacki, Sudsiri Pui-Ock, Michael Rakowitz, Ayman Ramadan, Red76, David Robbins, Allen Ruppersberg, Bonnie Sherk, Barbara T. Smith, Daniel Spoerri, Rirkrit Tiravanija, and others.
(8) Best Performance: “Mikey McParlane @ Defibrillator”
Mikey McParlane’s performance on April 1, 2012, was really something special. Relevant to contemporary gender issues (whether I’m able to tease-out any deeper meaning) McParlane presented ambiguously in the guise of a harlequin. Here, the choreography, costume, makeup, audio and lighting came together perfectly. It was weird and beautiful.
April 1, 2012
“Second Annual Lyp Sinc Show”
1136 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Chicago, IL 60642
Performances by: Happy Collaborationists, Ben Foch, Sasha Hodges, Mikey McParlane, Sofia Moreno, Jillian Soto, Courtney Macandanz, Rosé Hernandez, Robin Deacon, Taisha Paggett, Jake Myers, Sharon Lanza, Monica Panzarino
Runner-up: Edyta Stepien & Ayako Kato @ Chicago Art Department
(9) Best Installation – “Jacob Hashimoto @ Rhona Hoffman”
Hashimoto’s work was interesting in its own right. But, too, quite literally depending upon fiber, it recalled gallery artist Anne Wilson’s past treatments of the space, and prefigured Fred Sandback’s recent showing there as well. Politics aside, it’s rare for a dealer (here) to survive long enough for such a formal thread to become evident–running through a succession of shows. Hashimoto was polite and professional, and he didn’t need to be so.
September 14 – October 20, 2012
“Super-elastic collisions (origins, and distant derivations)”
Rhona Hoffman Gallery
118 N. Peoria St.
Chicago, IL 60607
Runner-up: “Lane/Sirianni” @ New Capital
(10) Greatest Wasted Potential: “Color Jam @ Chicago Loop Alliance”
76,000-square-feet of colored vinyl, with a 500,000 USD budget, whose real cost was the good will of its patrons.
June 5 – September 30, 2012
The Chicago Loop Alliance’s “Color Jam” by Jessica Stockholder
State Street and Adams Street
Runner-up: “De-mystifying the Art Critic @ Chicago Artists’ Coalition”
(11) Best Residency: “ACRE Projects”
Insofar as a tangible return on investment is concerned, ACRE stands head-and-shoulders above it’s peers. Whether related to the residency, the sheer number of shows produced by ACRE has transformed the landscape of the Chicago art world.
1913 W. 17th Street, 1F
Chicago, IL, 60608
(12) Greatest Misses by Chicago’s Critics: “Noelle Mason @ Thomas Robertello Gallery” and “Sheree Hovsepian @ moniquemeloche”
Above: Artist Noelle Mason explains the process by which the satellite-mapped US/Mexican border city “bird’s eye perspective” textile in the foreground was fabricated; pinhole camera prints documenting her substantial skydiving experience are mounted on the wall in the background.
Above: Sheree Hovsepian with her artwork.
We all wonder why some shows receive press while others do not. Mason and Hovsepian “did everything right,” and yet received scant critical attention.
“Blue Skies/Black Death”
September 7 – November 3, 2012
Thomas Robertello Gallery
27 N. Morgan
Chicago, IL 60607
February 4 – March 24, 2012
2154 W. Division (@ Leavitt)
Chicago, IL 60622
(13) Best Painting: “Melissa Oresky @ Hyde Park Art Center” and “Davis/Langlois in Re:Chicago @ DePaul Art Museum”
Above: Melissa Oresky
Above: Robert Davis and Michael Langlois
These two (three) were interesting for the same reason: brush or roller “strokes” were applied directly to the walls of the exhibition site. “Painting,” here, was no longer wholly a commodity but rather also a temporary transformation of the venue itself.
May 6 – August 19, 2012
Hyde Park Art Center
5020 S. Cornell Avenue
Chicago, IL 60615
Robert Davis and Michael Langlois
“Living the Dream” in “Re: Chicago”
September 16 – March 4, 2012
DePaul Art Museum
935 W. Fullerton
Chicago, IL 60614
(14) Best Photography: “Dawoud Bey @ The Renaissance Society” and “Sade Kahra @ threewalls”
Above: Dawoud Bey
Above: Sade Kahra
Bey was exactly as expected; Kahra was wholly unexpected. Both photographers presented evidence of the human condition, the bodily circumstance, of their subject. Whether relatively conventional or experimental in its execution, the genre of social documentation is alive and well. Sincere, but not maudlin, the work in each case was a relief from the tide of irony here yet to ebb.
“1975 to the present, a career survey”
May 13 – June 24, 2012
The Renaissance Society
5811 S. Ellis Avenue
Bergman Gallery, Cobb Hall 418
Chicago, Illinois 60637
threewalls’ artist-in-research residency
June 1 – June 30, 2012
119 N. Peoria #2d
Chicago, IL 60607
(15) Best Public Sculpture: “Martin Creed ‘MOTHERS’ @ MCA Chicago”
After “Color Jam” and “Forever Marilyn” the bar couldn’t have been much lower.
Installed in August of 2012; now closed.
220 E. Chicago Avenue (MVDR Drive)
Chicago IL 60611
(16) Hottest Chicago Artist Who’s Not Theaster Gates: Heidi Norton
Above: Heidi Norton at the MCA.
Above: Heidi Norton and Geoffrey Todd Smith at EXPO Vernissage after party.
Norton’s schmutzy floral collages incorporate all manner of found objects–cast or bound together with wax and resin. If her additive Ab Ex, Neo-Dada process might recall a male figure such as Rauschenberg, her palette and penchant for translucent materials are more distinctly feminine.
After showing at Johalla Projects and the late Ebersmoore, Norton graced the MCA in 2012. In 2013 she was hired by Northwestern University; and institutional connectivity is, we all know, key to longevity in Chicago.
August 7 – October 23, 2012
Curated by Karsten Lund
220 E. Chicago Avenue (MVDR Drive)
Chicago IL 60611
(I) The following errors were identified and corrected in the article above:
- “Sofia Leiby” was originally written as “Sophia Leiby”
- “Vincent Uribe” was originally written as “Vince Uribe”
- “Chris Smith” was not named as Jake Myers’ partner in Tag Team
(II) Image of Jason Lazarus at ACRE Projects removed:
- On March 25, 2012, the author of the article above created a photograph of Jason Lazarus in the act of igniting fireworks in the alley behind ACRE Projects. Uploading said original digital image to Flickr, the author of the article above maintained the nomenclature which he received on-site at the time of said event: ACRE staff referred to said event as Lazarus’ “Fireworks Extravaganza.” Regarding that reference, for 16 months no complaint was made. Jason Lazarus saw said image on Flickr 16 months ago, left a comment on Flickr at said time, and therein made no complaint about the presence of the words “Fireworks Extravaganza” in said image’s Flickr caption. After the publication of the article above a complaint was received by Bad at Sports, from ACRE, with regard to the use of the words “Fireworks Extravaganza” in said image’s caption on Bad at Sports. The offending image and caption have been removed from the article above.
(III) No Endorsement:
- The author of the article above failed to clearly indicate that even as his viewing experience was his own, so too his conclusions were his own. No individual member of Bad at Sports, nor Bad at Sports collectively, ought to be assumed to endorse the article above, in part or in whole. Errors and omissions are the fault of the author of the article above, not Bad at Sports.
Likewise, with the exception of content which he has produced, the author of the article above endorses no content on Bad at Sports, whether said content is found in the blog, podcast, or in any other place.
- In the article above, an image of John McCracken’s “Untitled,” 1967, appears opposite Dan Flavin’s “Untitled (for you, Leo, in long respect and affection) 3,” 1978. Whether appropriate, McCracken has been associated with “finish fetish” artists: meticulous practitioners of craft, whose minimal objects are denominated by clean, smooth surfaces, illustrated by the mirror-like reflectivity of McCracken’s piece in said image, above.
Heidi Norton, while having exhibited geometric figures in the same museum (MCA) in the same year (2012) as McCracken, is in no danger of being confused with him. Norton’s work of late has been hallmarked by blobs, drips (see the image of Norton’s work, above) and other surface irregularities.
The author of the article above chose to employ the word “schmutzy” to describe said formal qualities in Norton’s work. “Schmutz,” literally, means “dirt,” though it’s more broadly used to signify some foreign matter: possibly organic, probably only semi-solid, and definitely capable of making a mess. The primary meaning of the word cannot be overlooked.
Artists and critics, male and female, gay and straight, in contemporary Chicago, have set precedent for the descriptive usage. For example, the application of such material to a picture plane was the definition of “painting” provided by Vera Klement: “a mark with liquidy [sic] stuff…a recreation of the body in a way, it’s the stuff that’s in your body, sloshing around in there, that kind of feces, primal material,” at 8:42 – 10:05, in the BaS podcast “Episode 214: Constellations: Paintings from the MCA Collection” October 4, 2009.
And prior to said statement by Klement, Jason Foumberg wrote: “paint flows expressively like an ejaculation,” in his June 22, 2009, piece “Portrait of the Artist: Dutes Miller,” in Newcity.
Bodily processes and sexuality might be hinted at by a word such as “schmutz” when used in relation to the appearance of Norton’s work; but, the association is no more necessary than is forcing such a (bodily, sexual) reading of “finish fetish” in relation to McCracken’s work. And it’s wrong to conflate the artist and the artwork: a description of one ought not to taken as a description of the other. In no place has it been written that Norton is schmutzy, or is a schmutz.
Postscript above appended on July 21, 2013, by the author of the article above, subsequent to a letter received from the blog’s editor.
Slow curated a small 7-person exhibition, “miniature GIGANTIC,” for Clutch Gallery. They brought it to Washington D.C. for its official opening.
Last month, I compiled a collection of interviews with a curatorial projects operating in the city of Chicago. In it, Happy Collaborationists, LVL3, New Capital, slow, Roxaboxen, Plaines Project, and Johalla Projects all answer the same four questions, discussing their respective curatorial agendas. I always love to hear the back room story behind spaces, the way administration and practical impasses influence day to day decisions. I would love to post all of them here, but as it is, I’m only going to wet your whistle on this Internet-machine. After all, the interviews were intended to go together. While the resulting zine, “AD HOC,” was available for free in the Bad at Sports booth of the Chicago EXPO, you can download the entire booklet via the following link: EXPO_Bas_pamphlet_for_web. Below I have included an interview from that collection with co-director Paul Hopkin from slow gallery — a wonderful space that straddles the line between apartment space and storefront gallery. At present, slow is exhibiting Benjamin Bellas, Represent the sound outside these spaces wherein”Benjamin performs herculean tasks and shows what is produced by his efforts.” That exhibit is open to the public until November 10th. For information about what they’re up to, the show they have installed in Clutch Gallery (a portable exhibition site in founder Meg Dugid’s purse). Hopkin’s co-director, Jeffrey Grauel is carrying it around at present, and even brought it to Washington DC for its official opening. Visit their website here and don’t forget, the following interview is just the tip of the ice berg. Each of those seven spaces has a interesting and varied way of thinking about their curatorial work.
Clutch at The White House
Caroline Picard: What kind of exhibitions excite you generally?
Paul Hopkin: I like an exhibition that gets under my skin. Art is best when I am not sure whether I like it or not, but I can’t stop thinking about it. I always try to get artists to present work in ways they would be less likely to without me, or the kind of space I run. That means pairing people who otherwise would not be paired, encouraging a new direction in the work or taking more risks in its presentation. I have been really lucky to have worked with a lot of really fantastic artists, but I have two favorite shows: one was called the low down and featured the work of Jeffrey Grauel, Caroline Allison, and Danica Favorito. Jeffrey covered all the windows with panels of crocheted video tape. It brought a darkness to the space — clearly because it was a sort of blackout curtain, but it also just pushed its presence into the space generating a kind of tension. Well, the fact that you also walked straight into a slowly spinning baseball bat maybe helped that a little too. I also really loved the play between Caroline’s gorgeously printed and beautifully framed photos with Danica’s that were off her junky inkjet she had at home, wrinkled and hung with obvious pieces of masking tape. I think one of Danica’s photos had a coffee stain on it.
The second show was last spring, titled, it ain’t over. Brent Garbowski and Joe Mault collaborated on this work that was not just designed for the space, but for people who come to it, for me. There was a kind of specificity to the work that was truly remarkable. They cut down a power pole and lay it down on the floor so that it cut through the gallery, through the entrance of my apartment and ran alongside my bed. They fabricated a swing arm with the familiar arch of a streetlight, so that the bulb illuminated my bed, complete with the way-too-bright light of an outdoor fixture. They are in the process of installing parts of that pole in another space and it is becoming a wholly different work. I also love that I got Barbara DeGenevieve to make work that was really light-hearted. I was really excited that she, one of my more established artists, was excited to work with Brent and Joe, two boys still in undergrad.
it ain’t over, installation shot, April 2012
CP: Do you have a particular story about what the back-end of your space is like? Something perhaps indicative of your administrative process?
PH: I would probably not be running a gallery if there were no separation between my private apartment and the storefront gallery. It is funny to me now, but I thought I wanted to keep people in the public space and keep my home out of the mix. A couple of shows into it I just realized it was ridiculous — it was more comfortable to use my home as the space to hang out in. If I haven’t swept the floor in my apartment and there is an opening, I just let it happen anyway. “Y’all come to see the work and enjoy a beverage. Hell, some of you seem comforted that there are little mounds of my dog’s hair everywhere.”
I made a rule — if I find you difficult to work with, it is not worth it to me. I will also not work with you if I don’t trust you to be alone in my home. I do this because I love it, and it is important for me to continue loving it. I have only had a few conflicts, and I hope I have resolved them well. Most of the artists I have worked with have truly been a pleasure. Not that there is never stress; stress is part of getting something worthwhile to happen. But the artists I have worked with have been helpful, resourceful, and interested in having good shows. I have been thrilled to see it work that way. I have had artists who have shown in my space just jump in and help with practical chores even when it is not their show.
I keep a running list of artists that interest me. Some, I check in with from time to time. I throw ideas around, often in casual conversations with friends. Just keep at things until an idea clicks. Then I approach the artists. Sometimes that doesn’t work out and it means I have to start again. Maybe an artist is unavailable, or sometimes just not into the idea. I usually have three or four studio visits with each artist leading up to a show and I always run my show ideas by Jeffrey Grauel, my co-director.
The biggest practical decision I make is to avoid shipping work. I have done it, and it has worked, but I mostly show Chicago folks. I find the practical matters to be a part of the scene, so working within the resources and space I have is a part of the fun. I don’t choose in a terribly practical fashion. I mean I had a power pole hovering over my bed for two months, and I let a performer live in my space drunk for a week.
I write for every show. It brings clarity about the show and why I put the artists together in the first place, and it helps the artists understand it too. When I get it right, the writing also helps generate some interest in the shows. But I try to avoid describing the work. I want to generate experience with the work on its own terms. I have my ideas, but I don’ t ever want to impose them on the work in a way that overshadows the work itself. I don’t have my writing in the space at all during a show. It resides on the internet on purpose.
I don’t understand your question about, “engaging a public audience”— I mean, people come; the events are, in some direct way, public. It is a bit of a mystery to me that I engage a consistent crowd of undergraduate artists, and a consistent crowd of adults who have been out of school for a good long while, whereas I don’t draw a ton of graduate students. It is a little frustrating to me, because critical attention has a way of following the interests of those grad students. But I think the shows at slow are better than that. And not that the projects haven’t received attention, because they have. But sometimes I still feel like slow is a secret. I have had a couple of grad students tell me straight up that it doesn’t seem like a place where they can figure how to get in —and if it doesn’t present them with opportunities then they don’t get invested in the space. The funny thing to me is that it can present them with showing opportunities. And then there’s the flip side of the same question: what good does it do for anyone if the venue will show anything that comes along? Editing, some kind of vision and hierarchy, seem to facilitate better things all the way around. I guess I am still figuring out some things, and those artists are too. But I want to maintain a kind of criticality, a kind of rigor, and I don’t mind that there are interesting artists who remain outside my radar.
CP: Do you think non-traditional sites for exhibition are important?
PH: Important is a funny word. Curators that work in canonized venues rely on the rest of us to decide what is worth thinking about, worth seeing. But what burbles to the top is just that; it is the thing that garnered attention. Local food and local art — you know? A lot of the best stuff will remain unknown to most, and that is why we visit the places that produce locally. It isn’t so much that that venues like mine are important, but we do a kind of work that isn’t done by important venues. Not so long ago Hamza Walker spoke very directly about waiting in the wings until a certain few venues have chosen first to pay attention to an artist, or to a new kind of approach. I think it is common for important critics and curators to wait and see what the lesser of us do. If a non-traditional venue bites on a new hook, and the results are well received, it can move through a system and become important. But I want to work from a messier place that is full of risk and opportunity. I love to play with ideas on their own terms. I love the heady space of “why the hell not” and “it’s about time.” That can happen when there is no bureaucracy. I can risk a big failure because nothing so terrible happens when I do fail. The payoff can be so much more satisfying when it comes from that sort of space. It isn’t all just freedom and light, but it is so much closer to the fantasy of how the art world works. I support what strikes me, what feels ignored or absent from the scene, but nevertheless compelling. I hope to bring a critical eye to my part of the art world in a time where criticality is threatened and disappearing.
The television show The Wire changed how I think about storytelling. You get such a deep version of a really compelling story if you see the entire 5 year arch of the show. Artists usually work more like the storytelling in The Wire than in, say, Gilligan’s Island. But we tend to see work that is from the fresh young thing just out of school. Or the work that has become important in the meantime. We see the same details, the same place in the storyline, repeated over and over. It is set up in this way that we think we are seeing a serial, but we’re really seeing one or two pieces of a story set on constant repeat. But there is so much more happening than either of those snippets. And I get to pay some attention to work in a way that has a different piece of the puzzle precisely because I do not aspire to become important as a venue.
Importance is overrated.
CP: What are some administrative influences and how have they colored your own approach to running a space?
PH: Artists need good opportunities to exhibit. I feel privileged to have such a big part of my own creative process that functions through the work other artists have made. I try to make the work and the show the focus of the experience. As much as I have a point of view in this, I want that to support the artist’s work, and not the other way around. I have worked as an administrator in several other capacities, and what everyone seems to want is freedom to choose things that have an importance, and for the things that aren’t valued by the individual to just disappear, to be done by elves. I work to make everything simple, approachable, and pleasant for the artists. If I can’t be the elf, I let them know. But if I can make something easier, I certainly will. My structure, my approach, is built on the philosophy that this will be what I want it to be, and what the artists want it to be, as much as possible. This is the place where you can ask to do anything, and it is a simple conversation. I am very aware that I am not an institution. I am not aspiring to be a lucrative business. I am opinionated, invested in fearless and sometimes transgressive art, I have a sense of humor, I have a sense of style, I am social and chatty, I enjoy a good beverage with friends, and I am intellectually motivated. I try to structure the shows to take advantage of all those qualities.
slow is located at 2153 W 21st Street, Chicago, IL.