The University of Chicago News Office
Nov. 15, 2002 Press Contact: Karen Reimer
(773) 702-8670

watery, domestic at the Renaissance Society:
November 17 - December 22, 2002

Related images:
Brian Jungen
Coleman coolers, wooden palette, light, metal clamps

Dario Robleto
Sometimes Billie Is All That Keeps Me Together
Buttons crafted from melted and recast Billie Holiday records, and enamel paint

Michael Ashkin
Untitled (New Jersey Meadowlands Project)
Detail #3
Silver gelatin prints

Related Links:
The Renaissance Society

Group Exhibition Featuring Michael Ashkin (New York), Conrad Bakker (Urbana, IL), Joseph del Pesco (Minneapolis), Andrew Ehrenworth (New York), Jay Heikes (Minneaoplis), Brian Jungen (Vancouver), Jennifer and Kevin McCoy (New York), Harvey Opgenorth (Milwaukee), David Patton (Los Angeles), Richard Prince (New York), Dario Robleto (San Antonio), Mindy Schwartz (Chicago), Christine Tarkowski (Chicago), Siebren Versteeg (Chicago), Mary C. Wilson (San Francisco), Paul Winstanley (London)

“Forget Irony... Have A Nice Decade.” That headline appeared on the cover of the September 1991 issue of Esquire. Unfortunately, it reads as all too ironic given that the September 11th attacks took place exactly a decade later not to mention that throughout the 1990s irony was anything but forgotten. As if Wayne’s World was enough, NOT!, many took irony as a definitive characteristic of the present moment to the extent that Graydon Carter, publisher of Vanity Fair, declared the September 11th attacks “an end to the Age of Irony.” Broadly defined as a discrepancy between what is expressed and what is meant, irony is inherent to the act of signification making it anything but unique to a given era. Having made a pronouncement no different than sentiments expressed after two World Wars, Carter can count himself quite far down on the list of individuals who have wished for civilization’s delivery into an epoch of truth and moral clarity. The species of irony to which Carter refers, however, is no longer discernible from a nostalgic impulse. Although we are a full generation and a half removed from the Nixon administration, those years still serve to remind us of the degree to which great expectations have been blunted by disappointments or circumscribed by the fatigue of unfulfilled aspirations. No wonder the rock band Pavement adopted a mantra of negative hope -- “don’t expect, don’t expect, don’t expect” -- as the end refrain on the recording from which watery, domestic takes its title.

“Remember Irony...Have A Nice Century.” From an art historical perspective that is how the Esquire headline should have read. Now that successive generations of artists have long been fashioning sentiment from strategies questioning art’s material, social, and institutional basis, it is safe to say postmodernism’s illustrious past dates back to the early Twentieth Century. Not bound by mastery, suspect of master narratives, and more than willing to blur the distinction between fine art and popular culture, the seventeen artists in watery, domestic have settled into a downer’s groove whose wake harbors laugh tracks and landfills, reruns and ready-mades, impeachments and implants. Lacking the self-consciousness associated with irony, much of the work is vulnerable rather than cynical. The exhibition includes Michael Ashkin’s bleak but beautiful panoramas of the New Jersey Meadowlands; the respectively modular and procedural assisted ready-mades of Brian Jungen and Joseph del Pesco; the second-hand, unassisted ready-mades of Mary C. Wilson and Harvey Opgenorth; Richard Prince’s explicit depiction of irony in his joke paintings; the haunting, photorealistic paintings of Paul Winstanley; the rigorous deconstruction of a television sitcom by Jennifer and Kevin McCoy; the lovably and laughably degraded commodity-based sculptural tableaux of Conrad Bakker; Jay Heikes’s unadulterated idol worship; David Patton and Dario Robleto’s literal and metaphorical redux of the over-celebrated cult of disc jockeying; Mindy Schwartz’s flirtation with the uncanny via campfire arts and crafts; Christine Tarkowski’s wallpaper and serial sensibility realized in vacuum-formed plastic; Andrew Eherenworths’ subtly warped but oddly accurate graphite renderings of presidents; Siebren Versteeg’s self-portrait of the artist as a young man’s cassette collection. As the title watery, domestic suggests, there is none of the emotional surplus associated with the more heroic work of art. With cameos by Gerald Ford, Billie Holiday, Barry Manilow, and Starsky and Hutch, irony is less the construction of the artist and more a byproduct of nostalgia. For many of these works, the sentimental value in their source material has been spent giving watery, domestic the melancholy feel of a thriftstore. Despite any pathos or humor, the exhibition seeks to recoup the word hope from hopeless, spelling it as two words rather than one, lest anyone think we have run out.

Related Events

All events are free of charge


Sunday, November 17, 4:30 pm

David Patton

Forget cut, bust and scratch, David Patton a.k.a. DJ David Patton has won a cult following for his humorous performance in which he literally spins records the old fashioned way, i.e. with his index finger. This is Old School before there was a school. This event will take place during the opening reception.

Roundtable discussion

Sunday, November 17, 5:00 pm

This discussion will feature several of the artists in the exhibition. This event will take place in Cobb Hall Room 307, directly below the gallery.


Sunday, December 8, 2:00 pm

Sam Lipsyte and Gary Lutz

This double bill features two outstanding talents in contemporary fiction. Lipsyte’s first novel is The Subject Steve, an all too familiar satire of a society littered with cults, failed dotcoms and reality-based sitcoms all hellbent on watching a man die of a mysterious disease called boredom. His previous book is a collection of short stories entitled Venus Drive. Lutz is the author of a collection of shorts entitled Stories In The Worst Way recently issued in paperback by 3rd Bed Press. His stories have been described as “crushingly sad.” As Brian Evenson noted, “His phrases strip away all that we have built to hide ourselves from ourselves, revealing the essential ache that crowds beneath our skin.” This event will take place in Cobb Hall, Room 402, down the hall from the gallery.


Sunday, December 15, 5:00 pm

Town and Country

Founded in 1997, Town and Country has become a much beloved staple of Chicago's rich and inexhaustible music scene. Over the course of four recordings, its members, Jim Dorling, Ben Vida, Liz Payne and Josh Abrams, have fashioned a smart and wholly accessible weave of minimalist influences, including John Fahey, Tony Conrad, and Morton Feldman. Town and Country's all acoustic instrumentation features bass clarinet, guitar, double bass, harmonium, celeste and chimes. Without a drummer, their sound is best characterized as gentle. You are invited to join us as the gallery becomes an extension of Jim Dorling's living room where the band perfected their subtle sensibility. This event will take place in the gallery.

MUSEUM INFORMATION: Established in 1915, The Renaissance Society is Chicago's oldest contemporary art museum. Focusing on the forefront of the visual arts, The Renaissance Society maintains an international reputation as one of the finest resources for contemporary art. In addition to exhibitions, The Renaissance Society also sponsors concerts, performances, film and video screenings, and talks by noted artists and critics.
Last modified at 01:19 PM CST on Friday, November 15, 2002.

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