"Thrill 2," a Joymore Gallery Production, June 29 and 30, 2002, at 1723 North Humboldt Boulevard, Chicago
Summer is good for baseball and a nice tan. But summer is not good for art. Usually galleries have shorter hours and lousy group shows. This summer was made even worse because the art entrepreneurs decided to flock to Documenta, seeking higher morals and deeper understanding of life through Okwui Enwezor's packaged globalism.
But in Chicago, the art never stops and Melissa Schubeck and John Henley, directors of Joymore Gallery, one of the busiest alternative spaces in town, decided to throw a block party with all the trimmings. The show included everything that's fun: pools, a light show, food, music, beer, hammocks and fireworks. And unlike Documenta, "Thrill 2," as the exhibition-cum-block-party was called, was free of charge, easy to get to and open to the public.
Included in the party mix was a selection of 32 artists from St. Louis, Chicago and Milwaukee. The result was an improvisational collaborative effort that lasted 48 hours -- a huge success, considering the fact that artists had less than a month to complete new work for this exhibition.
The surprise of the show was the reappearance of Michael Bulka, a celebrated and prolific art critic, who had been absent from the Chicago art scene for more than a year. Bulka came back from his self-imposed sabbatical, however, in the guise of one of his many alter-egos, a chef named Gazpachonator. Bulka's attire conjured an extraordinary sense of funky fashion. The costume, assembled from diverse clothing and other stuff found at thrift stores, was gritty and dirty.
Bulka wears his weird costumes not only in art shows but also in public, going out to bars, sometimes dressed like a naked man-sheep with an enlarged penis. Bulka's acts are not supposed to entertain, but rather to instigate a sense of tragedy in the viewer.
Another work with "tragedy" written all over it was Denise Dietz's Elvis. Dietz modeled a sculpture after Elvis, in his white Vegas outfit, crouching and vomiting in the dirt. Dietz's mannequin sculpture is sad because it brings the Pop icon to the same level of a homeless barfly.
Scott Pondron, an artist who until recently lived in St. Louis, also showed up in a weird costume. Pondrom seemed to be riding a giant chicken. To achieve the height of this giant chicken, the artist wore stilts, and walked around the show wearing them for more than six hours each day. Pondrom's endurance is admirable and his costume embodies the wry sense of folk humor identifiable with the Midwest.
One of the highlights of the show was a shack decorated with printed cardboard resembling wood paneling. The kiosk was a functional shop in which Amanda Ross-Ho and Katy Fischer sold some of their designs on screen-printed t-shirts. Valued at $20, the shirts, in different colors and sizes, sported sentences like "I'm with stupid" or "I love being lazy." Others had the image of a kitty scratching post, or a horizontal line of fringes. The artists accept commissions if you e-mail them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In Swimming Pools and Movie Stars, Asimina Chremos, Cat Chow and curator Melissa Schubeck collaborated in a ritualistic dance, performed by a group of girls in colorful underwear and adornments made out of hot dog and hamburger buns. The dance was centered around five kiddie pools placed in the center of the lot. The performance was ridiculous but entertaining and kids seemed to enjoy it.
Ben Stone flirted with ideas of colonialism in Guided Missile, a movable sculpture made out of his car. Parked adjacent to the lot, the grey auto seemed like a naval base stationed in the middle of the neighborhood. Attached on top the ceiling of the car was a battleship, attached to the ship was a balloon and attached to the balloon, way up high in the air, was a war plane. Both war machines, the boat and the plane, were made out of painted cardboard and tape. Although playful, Stone's models were a reminder, that even in summer, things are always tense in wartime.
Tim Flemming decorated the lot with colorful and cool paper signs. One of the signs reads "stripdown," and it was designed in the same way text in a 3-D movie would look like without the bi-color glasses. Mike Wolf's Video Telescope was exactly that, an oversize telescope constructed out of cardboard, in which viewers would look inside and see a video puzzle, a soup of letters moving in a Kaleidoscope-like maze. I couldn't make out what the words meant but Wolf's low-tech tricks, installed in unusual places, have a sweet naïve feeling and focus on hope, just like looking at the stars.
DJ duty was in the hands of Jim Dorling, Technical D and Steve Lacy. Jim Dorling, bassist for Town and Country, played a marathon set of '60s soul. Technical D, composed of artist Siebren Versteeg and Ben Stone, featured a broad selection of hip hop. And a raw segment of '70s boogie was provided by founder of Academy Records Steve Lacy.
Providing generous art were Lora Lode, Paul Druecke and Julia Marsh. Lode in particular rewarded party goers with Perennial Pods, a kind of lawn furniture made out of recycled burlap, straw, dirt and various herbs. Very comfortable and relaxing. Also by Lode was a slingy-stretchy selection of three hammocks in the trees.
Milwaukee artist Paul Druecke, the man in charge of managing the Social Event Archive, gave away Butterfly and Flower, a framed drawing of a butterfly made in yarn. Druecke installed the piece in the chain link fence and left it there after the show was over, as a gift to whomever walked by and took it.
Julia Marsh, artist and writer, planted a mini-garden of sorts called Boxed Sod. One in a series of garden projects, the work functions as an archeological site where Marsh uncovers domestic or residential artifacts. The architecture of the garden is based on a box template designed to, theoretically, hold the amount of sod removed in digging up the site. The site, in this case an herb garden, acts as a gift to residents of the adjacent house, as it is left for them to use, completing a cycle of removal, rejuvenation and return. Clichéd as it sounds, the garden is the gift that keeps on giving.
Julia Marsh's garden design at "Thrill 2" cost approximately $1,100, a generous donation by the artist to the community of Humboldt Park.
The success of "Thrill 2" lies in the fact that it was embraced by the community that housed it. Proving that socially conscious art doesn't need to be preachy, the show was fun, smart and interesting. Don't take it from me, but from the words of a neighbor during the firework display on closing night: "This is so beautiful and so much fun, I can't believe it's art. Now I know, I'll make sure to bring my brother next year."
PEDRO VELEZ is a Chicago-based artist, critic and curator.