Claire Pentecost’s new site-specific installation titled “the force that through the fossil drives utopia drives my greased age” is a peculiar hybrid: a rectified readymade and a political allegory. As a genre it is nonsensical, but as an individual work of art it is not too bad.
As is well known, Marcel Duchamp in 1913 invented the readymade: common objects—a shovel, a urinal, etc.—upon which he bestowed the status of art. The result was both to demystify art and re-fetishize the commodity. Sometimes however, he changed the purchased objects—for example drawing a mustache on a reproduction of the Mona Lisa—and called it a “rectified” readymade. He made quite a few of these, including the “Large Glass,” if you count the encased dust particles as readymades. But he never made anything so purposeful as a political allegory—that would have been antithetical to the anarchy and irreverence of the readymade.
Pentecost’s readymade consists of an old motorboat, stern in the air, pitched at a forty-five degree angle. It appears as if it crashed through a geodesic dome made of two-by-fours and landed in a bed of sawgrass. The grass is made of whorls of thin wire.
According to the Arts Club, which got the explanation from the artist, the work “signifies the collision of oil and water economies. Crashing, as it does, into the utopian form of the geodesic globe, the free-wheeling pleasure vehicle points to a dark future.” Well, if she says so. To me, the boat and dome suggest the “chance meeting on a dissection table of a sewing machine and an umbrella,” a line from “Les Chants de Maldoror” (1869) by Lautréamont, a novel much prized when the artist and I were in college. (For those a little younger, the line is the title of the debut album from Nurse with Wound, an industrial noise band.) Pentecost’s sculpture also suggests the battered flotilla of boats carrying Syrian refugees that have tragically foundered off the shores of Lesbos. That’s the trouble with good art—you can’t entirely control its meaning. (Stephen F. Eisenman)
Through November 7 at the Arts Club of Chicago, 201 East Ontario