Windy City wrap up

I went to Chicago
the other week, mainly because of an anticipated move there later this summer
(which is looking increasingly likely. Some in Dallas are rumored to be pleased.) They’d
just had the first 70 degree day in six … months. Sixth months, in which over 5
feet of snow had fallen. That same weekend, 33 people got shot. I guess
exuberance about the temperature increase got a little out of control.

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(reflection in Kapoor’s Cloud Gate

Despite continual jovial banter by the locals about
smash-and-grabs and gang violence, the most notable quality I tuned into was
how much everyone said they liked Chicago, and how freakishly friendly everyone was. Some transplants we talked to said that
was one of the hardest things to get used to.

One of them is a former Texan, artist Aaron
Baker, who I met in Miami
last December, and again here recently when he showed at Road Agent. He’s lived in Chicago
now for eight years, and like nearly everybody else we talked to, loves it. He’s the curator for Playboy’s art collection, and he and
his wife Tiffany are lobbying hard for us to move to their neighborhood, Logan Square, which
is chock full o’ artist-types and Etsy-fied hipsters (check Lula for Sunday
brunch; suck it, Greenpoint!) gearing up for full-on gentrification.
Plenty of gang activity for now though, which is reassuring in a certain sick
sense (Root of all evil: yuppies or gangbangers? I vote yuppies.)

Aaron went to
UNT and was a founding member of the Good/Bad art collective, before heading
off to UNLV. At a wonderfully catered champagne brunch at their home, Aaron
regaled the assembled art world out-of-towners with the best Dave Hickey
imitation imaginable, and an affectionately dead-on Jeff Koons. If there was an
art world MadTV, Aaron would be its natural Frank Caliendo, only marathoner skinny.

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(it’s smelt season! mmm, small fried creatures. Shaw’s Crab House, two thumbs up. The oysters are off the hook…did I just say "off the hook"?)

It’s been a few days, and it’s interesting to see what I
actually came away remembering most vividly. One is the unbridled
friendliness. I’m not just talking about the friends of friends, a number of
whom seem to be going out of their way to help. I’m talking about the guy
cleaning the train platform at the airport, who when asked directions, I
thought might just get on the train and take me by the hand to the hotel. I’m
talking about waiters and coat checkers and museum guards, one of the latter
who hit my wife up for advice about how to deal with a current estrangement
from his girlfriend. We gave the best counsel we could in 30 seconds ("Give her space, but let her know that you’re "giving her space" and not ignoring her.") I
commend him on taking advantage of all the people moving through his sphere
each day.

This wasn’t just people being pleasant because the weather was
warming up (though that was helping), or just seeming nice because of the sense of travel adventure. Actually, the thought of having to move has been bumming me out; but
I came back feeling much better about it. I’m talking about a vibe here, as
distinct as Dallas is from New York is from San Fran is from LA.

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Art-wise, there was the big Hopper show at the Art
Institute
. Though impressive and thorough, as usual I found all his misanthropic depictions of existentially alienated, button-eyed, crime-noir
replicants pretty bleak and depressing, if insightful into the American psychic shadow.
Even his portraits of houses seem, not so much haunted, as just eerily empty. The Homer watercolor show across
the hall was a nice antidote, if as poignantly, infinitely removed from
American life today as those Remingtons at the Amon Carter. I looked for a
favorite Arshile Gorky, but it was down while they build a new modern wing. There
are also a great series of Japanese buddhas and bodhisattvas, that I took lots
of pictures of with the continual fantasy of creating something someday that
refined, graceful, and meaningful. I’m not holding my breath. 

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(I love how this gesture kinda says "Eh…c’est la vie. Don’t sweat it.") 

At the MCA there was the Gordon Matta-Clark retrospective.For me, there were resonant echoes of the Smithson retrospective seen here in 2005 –
they both made pretty terrible drawings when young, revolved their work around meditations on entropy
and the implosion of the industrial revolution,
and both died tragically in their 30’s. I found it peculiar that M-C’s palette in
his hippy-fried marker drawings was the same as in his father’s paintings – neither one
of which I’m much fond (though I kinda really like this Matta…)

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Upstairs, a Karen Kilimnik retrospective showed respectable
rigor in a nice-looking install, but I couldn’t really care less about the work. Yet more crudely rendered illustrations of movie stars and bobbles for a pop-culture elite, like a
more rock and roll, feministic Elizabeth Peyton. Both artists lately seem to
find great inspiration in Marie Antoinette-era ornamentation and its
aristocracy – or at least Sophia Coppola’s movie about it. Some nice moments,
but her work is too cute, fey, and market-self-concious for my taste. The waters felt shin deep.

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We went to the art fairs, five of them taking up separate
floors in the Merchandise Mart. An appropriate venue to move some product,
ya’ll. In an unmarketable if integrity-inducing move, the Next Fair organizers suggested
that exhibitors feature just one or two artists. Road Agent chose my pal Ludwig Schwarz, who rocked the
house with his installation “The Four Seasons; Episode Two”,
featuring a custom spice blend of his own creation, with music videos for
each component ingredient (I’m still singing “Black Pepper” in the shower, two weeks
later.) That was about as edgy as things got. I was happy to not have to be
taking notes or even having to pay much attention, since I had no paid writing
gigs riding on it, just letting it all flow past me like so much eye
candy. Which is all most of it added up to in the end.

The best thing I saw, really, was a smallish Howard Hodgkin
painting at Art Chicago. I don’t know the gallery, but despite an aesthetic
crush in which I could count the times I was honestly impressed on one hand, I
stopped and looked for a full five minutes (an eternity in fair time) until dragged away. I simply love Hodgkin.
I could try to explain why, but I would probably just bore you, and really, I’m
mystified by it myself.

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(it wasn’t this one, but you get the idea) 

I heard scary sales reports by some gallery folks I talked
with. Not a good year to decide to take advantage of the art boom and expand, not
when the market wave tunnel is crashing down. It was an awesome ride (that surfing metaphor could go on and on…) I guess
they figured if Miami could handle 25 fairs, Chicago could do five.
Well, Miami
couldn’t handle 25, and I’m betting Chicago won’t have so many fairs
next year either.

I made some gallery rounds too. There is so much really bad
painting going on, and it was dominating most spaces, I just want to mention my
other major art highlight, other than that Hodgkin. It was a solo show by Rosemarie
Trockel at Donald Young
. It combined all the qualities I most prize in
my contemporary art. She’s clearly working on the level of the personally
revelatory, yet the work remains historically informed, conceptually driven,
and visually sophisticated. She seems to work without any boundaries whatsoever,
materially or stylistically, but these objects weren’t simply unbridled
noodling in a style-less miasma. It all retained an inexplicably odd cohesion despite her
scattershot approach.

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There was also a palpable sense of dialogue going on with
her own favorite artists – one collage, for instance, featured a photo of Francis
Bacon with a collaged cyclopic eye replacing his original pair, with a silver
garland curtain framing him. Odd and cool. Other works in clay and cast bronze
sang with raw, visceral intensity, and all of them together looked like a
museum display of relics both natural and cultural, ancient and mod-futuristic, found and ritually constructed
for purposes unknown. Photographs from the website don’t really do it justice.

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(Bacon at the AIC, seen two days earlier ) 

Chicago
– in the end, despite round two of a chest cold, sleep deprivation, and a
more or less constant low-level hang-over, it was cool. Ate some great food
(yes, I had that char-dog I’d been longing for), saw some good art, and made some new friends. I get the impression this will be par for the Chi Town course. I
think I could dig it; for a year or two anyway. I’d do almost anything to
escape summer in Texas,
at least until the cold works a change in my attitude.

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Raychael with Chicago Dog 

also by Titus OBrien

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4 responses to “Windy City wrap up”

  1. …the niceness is due to the weather. relatives and friends there contemplated suicide from the misery this past winter caused. otherwise, a great city 5 months out of the year!

  2. moved up here from houston two years ago for grad school and haven’t regretted the decision for a moment. don’t get me wrong, texas is home and i love it and miss it daily….but there’s something about chicago, it’s vibe, and of course, the 5 months of beauty are also a selling point. i hope you guys take the opportunity to come up here for a few years

  3. I’ve shown in some cities and Chicago was by far one the ‘nicest’ places I’ve ever put work in. That said, I thrive on rejection and being under-appreciated, mistreated, underpaid and misunderstood so Texas suits me just fine. It reminds me of my parents. Buy the right clothes and you’ll never give the weather a second thought. I hope you stay in touch. And Rachael is mighty cute.

  4. And at the risk of being accused of being bitter, I sorta know what you mean cowboy, I know what you mean.

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