A show featuring a paint-by-numbers portrait of Lyndon B. Johnson and a framed needlepoint-esque image proclaiming “NO FAT CHICKS”— perhaps more than even just your average conceptual art—conceptual art such as Ryan Duggan’s begs the criticism, posed by Gilles Deleuze, “It is difficult to understand what existence adds to the concept when all it does is double like with like.” Certainly, almost fifty years after Warhol’s Brillo boxes and Ruscha’s Spam container paintings, Duggan’s screenprinted image of a Flamin’ Hot Cheetos bag (titled “Hot Garbage”) seems intended as homage rather than experiment. Marcel Duchamp’s first prankster gestures are of course reaching the century mark. Indeed, work like Duggan’s would seem to fly the flag of the empty gesture—like Diogenes rolling his empty tub through the streets while the rest of Athens’ citizens prepared for war, uselessness qua uselessness is one definition of the sacred. But, unlike with Diogenes and Duchamp, this uselessness is not framed as truly having a purpose; another piece in the show, “Contradictory Statement,” features intermittently flickering lights framing a sign stating “ADVERTISING DOESN’T WORK.” Thumbing its nose at the uncanny cachet of 1990s mannequin sculptures by artists like Charles Ray and the Chapman brothers, Duggan’s self-portrait mannequin pissing on a grave with a headstone marked “YOU” relies on how ineffectual such a presumably provocative gesture has become. But, despite everyone being over everything, the small framed image (also echoing Ruscha) stating “The End” in classic Hollywood script implies that both the optimism and anguish in Duggan’s deliberately pathetic work may consist in nothing being ever truly over. (Bert Stabler)
Through February 25 at Johalla Projects, 1561 North Milwaukee.