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Breakout Artists 2009: Chicago’s next generation of image makers

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Layout 1By Jason Foumberg

You’re not going to find an abstract painter in the bunch of this year’s breakout artists. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it’s getting difficult to define the value of traditional, solo practices in the age of the networked artist. Today’s image makers are less studio artists than opportunists in the expanded field, less gatekeepers of taste than trailblazers in the public sphere—“social entrepreneurs,” as Mike Bancroft calls it. The timing is just right. As this feature is printed, Chicago’s renowned but diminished commercial art fair has opened its doors to include the city’s beloved alternative, artist run and non-profit spaces. The market’s embers are cooling off, and for many that smells like opportunity.

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9 Responses to “Breakout Artists 2009: Chicago’s next generation of image makers”

  1. Michael Una » NewCity article, plus new videos Says:

    […] an article in Chicago’s NewCity this week called Breakout Artists 2009: Chicago’s next generation of image makers. And who is one of these breakout artists? Moi. Does it matter that I’m not much of an image […]

  2. in_disbelief Says:

    I’m curious… what part of the boystown parade is licentious? Having attended the Boystown Halloween parade for years now I can only safely assume that it is “licentious” in the eyes of both the writer and the artist because it takes place in a location historically known as being populated by homosexuals, queers, bi-sexuals and trans-gendered people. And as such, this parade must be a breeding ground for the sort of behavior commonly associated with deviants, perverts, sex-crazed trash and their ilk.

    Occasionally I dream of a day when white straight male artists of a certain class (and those who write about them) stop perpetuating (for their own gain and at the expense of these important and complex communities) the tired tropes of the homosexual/bisexual/transgendered person. Why not instead choose to consciously engage in making intellectually compelling, complex and thoughtful thinking, writing and art-making?

    There needs to be a consideration of the implications that come from the position they hold and the power that comes with having such a wealth of privilege at their disposal in regards to education, employment, opportunity and the art world.

    Comparing the Boystown parade and those who attend as being the perfect “symbol” and metaphor for the rat experiment & the resulting, “overpopulation, rape, infanticide and cannibalism,” discussed in the article is offensive at best. Both the artist and writer, if at all able to frankly consider their thoughts and arguments, should be able to recognize this.

    The insinuations laid out are at best poorly articulated and at worst highly incendiary and assuredly loathing and hate-filled. At the end of the day, whether purposefully executed or merely sloppy thinking on the part of the artist and writer, these statements need to stop and need to stop now. The luxury to be able to make these arguments needs to be questioned and interrogated with the thoroughness that this community has been denigrated and desecrated by these two men.

    I hope that NewCity and Ben Fain can perhaps step back and realize that these forms of logic are no longer acceptable. Perhaps they can recognize that making these claims is an incredibly harmful act of marginalization and other-ing to both those of us who live and make art within this community of “licentiousness” that I call home.

  3. Jason Foumberg Says:

    Dear James,
    Thank you for your response. It’s clear that you care about this topic very much so I’m going to answer you with due seriousness. The word “licentious” means “Disregarding commonly accepted rules” (Oxford English Dictionary). In my article, I describe parades as celebrating “a legal or moral order by poking holes in it.” The Halloween parade is not the Pride parade, mind you. Halloween is a chance to engage the spooky and dark side as a way to celebrate life, and liveliness. (Note in many of the artist’s photographs from that night, the audience is smiling).

    The gay rights movement is not just about gaining equal rights, it’s also about showing the world that whatever gays do (in the bedroom or whatever) is just as “normal” as what the straights do. In turn, whatever the straights do (the so-called “normal”) can be opened up, or made “queer.” (Queer Theory 101). The parade is a great opportunity to celebrate the queering of the norm because a parade is a celebration by way of temporary inversion. (And it has historical precedent: Look at the great painter Brueghel who showed carnival as a plethora of licentious activities, where sin was celebrated for 1 day and the moral order was upturned, as sponsored by the church. Also look at the Marquis de Sade, the original libertine—a synonym of licentious—who freed the body from a repressive moral order by pushing that boundary very very far).

    Personally, I support Ben’s symbolic parade because I don’t think art should just be about raising a rainbow flag and patting everyone on the back, great job we are normal just like everyone else. Just as you say, it is indeed a complex community, and it deserves a complex perspective.

  4. in_disbelief Says:

    Hey Jason

    Thanks for letting me know you responded… Having emerged out of queer theory and out of a radical activist background that is disinterested and against normativity in homosexuality/the queer/and the faggot it’s hard for me to swallow your response.

    I don’t support the current gay agenda, their interest in gay marriage, in equality or in the “rainbow flag” that coyly masks conservative rhetoric and an agenda of normalization. I don’t need to be informed of what is and is not “queer 101″…. and to be perfectly honest, the project that Ben presents here is not one that even begins to remotely or coherently address even the basics of this admittedly complex field. I am also very familiar with both Brueghel and Sade… painfully familiar, and quite simply, this project is neither…. far far from it. And that is the point.

    For the record, licentious is also defined as, “promiscuous and unprincipled in sexual matters,” perhaps it would be helpful to clarify which definition of potentially problematic terms that you choose to engage. I think in the end it’s about consciously choosing terms and articulating them…. In the end I’m not arguing for some sort of “gay” Kool-Aid response to Ben’s work or to this community…. Instead I’m asking for a level of language and thought that makes sure that these instances of careless language are avoided in favor of a radical agenda of queer or at least an understanding of it when trafficking in the language, people and culture.

    His choice of location, his choice of locating the licentious element of his work in this specific event (and not other locations), his decision to use/leave this community and not engage with it again, and so forth, indicates a lack of comprehension for what occurs within the beds and lives of these people… There lies my issue with this work.

    In the end though, I think we both agree about the ideas… but merely disagree about the success of the artist in question in executing them. I would argue that Ben Fain needs to go further and take time to consider his actions/words and what they imply and assert. And perhaps you disagree.

    Thanks for responding, I’ve enjoyed reading your writing in the past and look forward to your future reviews.

  5. Jason Foumberg Says:

    I think it’s fine that we disagree. You say that you’re not the rainbow flag waving type, and I know in some gay sub-sub-cultures being morally disreputable is a point of strength. But that may all even be beside the point because the rat city parade is not just about gay culture (as it’s not just gays who attend the parade). Licentious was used here not as a judgmental word but as an adjective to describe a parade. And clearly it’s provocative. If Ben had simply painted a picture of rats and hung it in a gallery in Boystown it would not likely stir the same reaction. As a parade, as art, it asks us, Are you a rat?

  6. in_disbelief Says:

    You’re right, as a painting, this idea of the “rat” within us would be an idea that falls flat/short of the mark and as a performance it is certainly a far stronger work/concept. I merely wanted some clarity Jason on your position and relationship to this work.

    While not being one to wave the rainbow flag, I’m also not one who works towards being “morally disreputable”…. Not being in support of “flag-waving” doesn’t automatically equate to having an agenda of being, “morally disreputable” let’s be honest…. I think this isn’t so hard to comprehend. For examples of contemporary scholars who are not engaged in such reductive binary logic one could start with Michael Warner and Lee Edelman as sources of thought that propose alternate and very productive projects to the ones cited in your response.

    It’s the lack of self-relection and self-implication in the questioning that I find to be at issue. Not everyone at the parade is queer, gay, bi, trans, questioning/other in identity, that you are correct about. But, this parade has been and is one that at the core is supported and populated by these marginalized groups. You can’t say that a queer or gay night at a club isn’t queer or gay just because an unwitting straight-married couple decided to show up to dance.

    The location of this specific parade, the history, the community and the vast majority of the spectators can not be neutralized or white-washed because of a recent shift in local demographics/tourism and it doesn’t discount the potential interpretation that this work can have. It does not take a fantastical imagination to see a relationship between the image of the diseased rat and the diseased homosexual so popular amongst those outside our community both today and in the past. Since the publishing of the article I have forwarded it to numerous friends, colleagues and peers and all find, to one degree or another, the problematic potential that I have teased out in this comment section.

    Fain’s working methodologies for this specific project are in line with many current Chicago-based artists that make “public” and/or performative works that rely on a minority community in order for production/performance to be possible. Their relationship to these communities is often tenuous and parasitic without either party realizing/recognizing this state.

    I think in the end the simple alteration of, “Are you a rat?” to “Are we rats?” radically changes the question and would have entirely altered my reaction to this piece. With this change in basic language Ben Fain and his performers would be involved in this line of questioning. With Fain taking his own art-making practice, production and role inside/outside this community into consideration we have on our hands something entirely different.

  7. Jason Foumberg Says:

    Again, it’s fine that we disagree, but as a point of clarification, I don’t believe that gays are only either rainbow-waving or self-loathing. I meant only to say that there’s a wide range of perspectives. Also, I do think Ben/performers are implicated in the question of rat-hood; they were wearing the costumes.

  8. secretgeeksociety Says:

    I am a Boston based artiste named Shana East. Recently on an excursion with a Mr. Michael Bancroft to the Boston ICA retrospective on Shepard Fairey, I took several so-called “touristy” photos of him alongside Mr. Fairey’s art, while Mr. Bancroft in fact, took none. While the idea of us “selling” these images was that of Mr. Bancroft’s, the idea for the “lemonade stand” was mine. I would like Mr. Bancroft (the artist) to know that if he appropriates even a pixel of my photographs without my permission, or if he sells ANYTHING at any sort of stand in the near future, he will be hearing from my lawyers.

  9. benfain Says:

    I have to say I am surprised by your reaction (in_disbelief) and I am really sorry you feel this way. I do want clarify a couple things. Below is a list of some parade themes from recent North Halsted Halloween Parades, courtesy of Tom Laporte (one of the parade organizers since 2002)

    2003 Theme: Evil Clowns.
    2005 Theme: Alien Space Invasion.
    2006 Theme: Seventies Disco Zombies.
    2007 Theme: Dragons.
    2008 Theme: Rats.

    In this context, to me, rats don’t really feel all that out of place.

    Also, for the record, the following texts are taken from the 12th Annual North Halsted Halloween Parade press release, presented by the Triangle Neighbors Association, a branch of the Lake View Citizens’ Council, and in conjunction with the Northalsted Area Merchants Association.

    “The parade has quickly grown to become one of the Chicago area’s must-attend Halloween events.”

    “As in past years, we expect to see costumes from garish to ghoulish-worn by adults, kids and pets. The costume contest has been a huge success and we anticipate imaginations to run wild again this year! It’s the year of the “Rat” in Chinese Zodiac and so we’re hoping to see everything from “Ratatouille” to “The Rat Pack” to “Rugrats”, lead by our very own “Franken-Rat”.”

    When I presented the theme of “the rat” to the organizers we all liked it because we thought it was adaptable. Since the parade I have heard literally hundreds of interpretations of the small portion I put on, my favorite being “the man in the bed is obviously John McCain and the rats are clearly the Democratic Party,” (it was election time).
    It is accurate, as Jason mentioned, that I was initially inspired by the rat because of Freud’s conception of it, published in his Case History of the “Rat Man” in which Freud wrote that, “in the rat we see a likeness of ourselves”. I thought of it as an appropriate analogy, and still do, when considering our own behavior in relation to nature, each other, and the world.

    Again, I am sorry that you read the performance as you did.

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