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November 30, 2004

Cranks and Hyperbolae All Around

In drafting my recent post on local crank Alan G. Artner, I'd been tempted to bring up his recent unhinged panning of Fiona Tan's piece at the MCA, Correction.

I, myself, had found Tan's piece to be really pretty decent but, given just the slightest whiff of 'spectacle' (I, for one, hardly found the piece "overlarge"), Alan high-tailed it to Crankytown, going so far as to declare that the show represents "a profound lack of judgment" on the part of artist and curator. Whoo!

But, however ruffled his hyperbole got my feathers, I found that Artner's trademark crankiness served him fairly well when it came to dealing with the museum's concurrent Kai Althoff exhibit, Kai Kein Respekt (Kai No Respect).

I was rather unfamiliar with Althoff before this and had actually been looking forward to seeing the show. My hating not on autopilot, I still found myself quite disappointed by the ridiculous muddle I found.

Artner, I think, gets this one dead right: Kai is utter trash. (Though I think the bit of vitriol heaved at the feet of Chicagoans' love for outsider art was unnecessary, if unavoidable with Mr. Artner.) Granted, most will probably find something to like here, mostly because the exhibit offers up a tiny bit of everything (I did appreciate his graphic sense), but the small triumphs don't come close to outweighing the dreck that surrounds them. One gallery is devoted to an installation of what Artner accurately describes as "unaltered refuse," a foul-smelling pile not even remotely refined enough to qualify as what Tyler Green has termed "scattertrash."

Anyways, Artner's kind of a wash on this one. Still, I consider this license enough for me to get my own crank on...

How disappointed I was to log on to Gapers Block today and see this little art review capsule in the Merge column:

If you are downtown this holiday season, the MCA has quite a few exciting exhibits worth checking out. Unfortunately their current headliner "Between Past and Future" stinks—the art seems to be on display more for its existence than quality. The Kai Altoff exhibit however, is fantastic and shouldn't be missed. Why is "No Respect" a good exhibit? Much modern art is examined and consumed in seconds. Once you "get" the idea, there is little beyond the surface to study and examine. Kai's work, however, offers not only a chance to get below the surface with his varied and media and themes, but his technique is excellent. It's a fantastic show, and I even found myself enjoying the music from his band Workshop, playing anonymously on the record player in the background.

Now, I wasn't ravingly enthusiastic about Between Past and Future, either when I saw one half of it at the ICP this summer or the whole shebang once it hit the MCA and Smart Museum this fall, but I still found it to be quite nice. It's nothing blindingly novel and there are a number of serious weak points but, all told, it's one well-rounded exhibit.

One Brian Sobolak (BS) though—apparently channeling the cantankerous Jay Sherman—simply tells us it "stinks." A minor lapse into crankiness? Probably. But let's not sell this fellow short; the laudatory comments that follow regarding Althoff possibly suggest a total deficit of judgment. Honestly, what about Althoff's art takes one deeper "below the surface" than the bulk of modern art? Seriously, I'm open to opinions.

So, nevermind Brian's naysaying. Between Past and Future is well worth your time (and, if you haven't already, be sure to hit the second half at the Smart Museum). And forget Alan's bellyaching and spend a few minutes with Tan's inmates and guards. Ignore my cranky complaints, too, and check out Althoff—but expect a whole wealth of storm and stress, signifying very little. Then loop around and catch the MCA's current permanent collection display, Stalemate, which is itself quite excellent. All exhibits remain up into January (Stalemate ending first, on the 2nd), so you've got a month or two yet.

More on Fiona Tan's Correction: Margaret Hawkins in the Sun-Times (via Google cache); Ruba Katrib at panel-house; Interview with Fiona Tan from WBEZ's Eight Forty-Eight (Real Audio)

More on Between Past and Future: New Photography and Video from China: Todd Gibson at From the Floor, with a follow-up here; Artner in the Trib; Stacy Oborn at The Space in Between; A chat with co-curator Wu Hung from WBEZ's Hello Beautiful! (Real Audio)

"Cranks and Hyperbolae All Around"
Posted by Dan at 07:36 PM


i also wrote some on this exhibit when it was at ICP; however i think i was equally cranky about it...

Posted by: stacy on November 30, 2004 at 11:56 PM

Added a link to your post.

I remember skimming it when you first posted and intending to get back to it later, but couldn't for the life of me remember after the fact where I'd read it in the first place.

Though our responses to the exhibit differed, this from your opening paragraph rang true:

i was greatly looking forward to it, and forward to it openly, meaning: i had no context for an expectation. i thought that this meant that i had no expectations, but, one finds, one always has expectations.

My own secret expectations (for which I had little context) reared their collective head when the exhibit failed to match up, leaving me a bit ambivalent about how to even approach the work.

For one, would it be appropriate to criticize the work or exhibition for being too 'Western' (whether this speaks to the influence of curatorial bias or that of an American or German photo education), or would this just be a kind of Orientalism, an expectation of exoticism?

Can we criticize the artists or curators for adopting or focusing on Western modes, or would this be a misplaced desire for cultural purity? Moreover, is there a level of difference there that I simply lack the context or patience to appreciate?

But, putting aside all sorts of intercultural issues I'm not prepared to parse (holla, Okwui Enwezor), and besides the occassional sub-graduate offerings, I found most of the work to be good, some of it excellent, and thought the exhibits themselves were coherent and compelling.

Posted by: Dan on December 1, 2004 at 11:28 AM

Dear lord, the Smart Museum. I used to work there. I see from their webpage that Rudy Bernal is still head preparator. A really sweet guy. Other senior staff, well, I'm not sayin'.

Posted by: Miguel Sánchez on December 2, 2004 at 08:44 PM

Sánchez: in light of your comment, as well as some recent academia-related posts of your own, you might be interested in a couple recent posts to Chicago's Other Group listserv...

Michael Beyer writes:

My wife and I finally visited the Smart Museum and the Renaissance society and were quite pleased. I was surprised to find Eric Fischl's bronze statue of a classical nude representing a person jumping from the World Trade Center. It was in the garden of the Smart Museum.....when did Chicago get this work? Last I heard it was in NY or Washington where it bothered a lot of people.


(Aeelms) writes:

The work is an edition, I think there are three? So the other two are who knows where. An anonymous donor lent the sculpture to the Smart last winter/spring.

many discussions were had about whether or not the butt should face the art history department across the courtyard.


Michael Beyer writes:

From my experience in an art history department, absolutely. I'm sure it would be examinned from that angle endlessly.

Posted by: Dan on December 4, 2004 at 11:41 AM

Referenced in this post:

Chicago Public Radio: Audio Library: Eight Forty-Eight—The Faces of Correction (Real Audio)
Chicago Public Radio: Audio Library: Hello Beautiful!—New Freedoms in Contemporary Chinese Art (Real Audio)
Chicago Sun-Times: Outsider's inmate videos challenge our assumptions—Margaret Hawkins
Chicago Tribune: After the revolution—Alan G. Artner
Chicago Tribune: Little respect—Alan G. Artner
From the Floor: Photography from East to West
From the Floor: The Utopia That Can't Be Realized
Gapers Block: Author—Brian Sobolak
Gapers Block: Merge—Current Crop At the MCA
Iconoduel: A More Virtuous Circle
Iconoduel: Alan Weighs In
Iconoduel: Back From an East Coast Swing
Jay Sherman Wave Collection: The Special Collections—It Stinks
Modern Art Notes: The Weekend in Chelsea
Museum of Contemporary Art
Panel-house: Fiona Tan: Correction @ The MCA—Ruba Katrib
Smart Museum of Art
The Space in Between: Pt. 2, Thoughts on Chinese Photography (and other thoughts)