No exhibit in Chicago this fall is likely to draw more visitors than “Sympathy for the Devil: Art and Rock and Roll Since 1967,” which just opened at the Museum of Contemporary Art and will remain on display until January 6. Forever linked with “sex” and “drugs” in the unholy trinity that is all the religion many require, the popular music of the last forty years has been more than a soundtrack or style guide: for its makers and most fervent fans, rock is a reason to live. Whether a devotee of this stripe or merely one of the politely interested, you won’t be disappointed by the show, for it’s a smash hit: go, clap your hands, and say “yeah.”
Not everything here succeeds, of course: it’s inevitable in such a large, high-concept show that there should be “outtakes” or “b-sides.” But Curator Dominic Molon, ranging far and wide in exploring his rubric, has done a superb job overall: assembling works of great variety— both formal and thematic—and providing them with meaningful contexts and connections.
Among the many showstoppers are Jim Lambie’s “The Byrds (Love in a Void),” which is an outsized ceramic parrot perched atop cans of spray paint and made vertiginously strange by the rivers of oil paint poured over it and oozing downwards in a bad-trip spectrum; Slater Bradley’s video “The Year of the Doppelganger,” in which a shirtless young drummer pounds out a Led Zeppelin riff on a kit set up in a stadium while shirtless University of California football players run their macho drills around him; and the deliriously kitschy banner paintings of Detroit’s “Destroy All Monsters” collective, one of which features White Panther Party head and cause célèbre John Sinclair backed by the gigantic Uniroyal tire landmark—which sanctifies him with a steel-belted, rubberized halo.
For sheer metaphorical suggestiveness, however, nothing tops Rodney Graham’s large photo-negative diptych “Awakening.” Appropriated from a 1970 publicity shot, one panel shows the eerily solarized members of Black Sabbath, with Ozzy pointing across a gap to the other panel, where the artist (and amateur musician) has had himself shot as a bum on a park bench. At once an evocation of Caravaggio’s “The Calling of St. Matthew” and a comment on the potential for pretentiousness for those who would cross over into rock or art stardom, it is a compact summary of this exciting show’s stereophonic resonance. (Sean Francis)
“Sympathy for the Devil: Art and Rock and Roll Since 1967” shows at the Museum of Contemporary Art, 220 East Chicago, (312)280-2660, through January 6.