Unknown Pleasures


Left: “Sympathy for the Devil” artist Rita Ackermann and Andrea Rosen Gallery director Branwen Jones. Right: “Sympathy” curator Dominic Molon. (All photos: Brian Sholis)

“I’m a soon-to-be-aging postpunk,” admitted MCA Chicago curator Dominic Molon at Friday morning’s media preview of “Sympathy for the Devil: Art and Rock and Roll Since 1967.” While he squired thirty-odd journalists through his multimedia survey, it quickly became apparent how true this was. Although the show begins with a video projection of Warhol’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable and includes the work of young artists like Bjorn Copeland (of the band Black Dice) and Steven Claydon (formerly of electronica band Add N to [X]), its musical heart lies between the years 1978 and 1984. The endeavor is, refreshingly, as much a fan’s paean as a theoretical workout.

As artist Mika Tajima explained the ins-and-outs of her sculptural installation, which re-creates the recording studio used by the Rolling Stones in Godard’s 1968 film Sympathy . . ., I whispered with Molon, asking if he was required to explain every artwork to his press audience. “In this case, I actually want to,” he replied, before turning to the group to rhapsodize about how Peter Saville, whose immaculate graph-paper sketches for New Order’s 1983 album Power, Corruption & Lies rested in a nearby vitrine, “taught me everything I needed to know at age fifteen about aesthetics.”

At the evening reception, artist Dave Muller spun records from a third-floor balcony overlooking the museum’s oversize atrium, while below, interactions were marked by good will often unseen at similar events in New York. Perhaps those assembled to support Molon found his enthusiasm infectious, or maybe the midwestern environs disarmed the what-I’ve-been-up-to braggadocio that too often passes for conversation at opening receptions. MCA associate director Greg Cameron warmly recalled Molon’s college-era days as a security guard at the museum; “Sympathy” artist Rita Ackermann talked about reading Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment in Hungarian; Ackermann’s New York dealer, Andrea Rosen, approached her colleague Anton Kern to effusively praise his father Georg Baselitz’s new exhibition at London’s Royal Academy; and Miami collectors Debra and Dennis Scholl waxed lyrical over their love of early-morning kayaking.

Left: “Sympathy” artist Dave Muller. Right: Band performing inside of Rirkrit Tiravanija's Untitled (Rehearsal Studio No. 6 Silent Version), 1996.

Afterward, those bearing laminated backstage-access-style dinner invites hailed taxis to the nearby Hard Rock Hotel. MCA chief curator Elizabeth Smith explained that the museum frequently hosts ancillary events at thematically related venues, citing a “lighting company” as the site of a fete for the Dan Flavin retrospective. We rode the elevator to the Gibson Ballroom—the guitar company, naturally—for a buffet that, with scattered tables, guests hugging the walls, and an overhead slide projection of exhibition artworks nestled into the Hard Rock decor, resembled a louche bar mitzvah. A DJ played the best music we would hear all night, but it was a subdued affair, and guests eventually circled Molon not with congratulations but with entreaties of “Where next?”

The answer was Relax Lounge, a slightly-too-chic(ago) knock-off of Damien Hirst’s Pharmacy, where green-cross-emblazoned poker chips were traded for specialty cocktails, and talk turned to tattoos with Tajima and artists Christian Marclay and Adam Pendleton. Local dealers and artists admitted to never having set foot in the venue, so around midnight a group of inexhaustible revelers headed to an unmarked, low-ceilinged dive at the corner of Augusta and Leavitt.

“Even Chicagoans don’t really know about this place,” said Chicago dealer Julia Fischbach. LA collector Shirley Morales and artist Jim Lambie sidled up to the bar, which seemed, inexplicably, to have organ pipes lining the wall behind its shelves of cheap liquor. Evidence of the venue's area-favorite status was borne out by the number of local art-world friends I bumped into whom I hadn’t seen at the museum’s reception, including Western Exhibitions proprietor Scott Speh and Milwaukee’s Institute of Visual Arts curator Nicholas Frank. Later in the evening, a vendor snaked through the crowd bearing a cooler full of tamales, five for five dollars. As Kern, Lambie, and photographer Melanie Schiff chowed down, Marclay looked around the room—beer stein in one hand, half-eaten tamale in the other—and said, simply, “I love this country.”

Left: Collector Dennis Scholl, photographer Melanie Schiff, collector Debra Scholl, dealer Kavi Gupta, and curator Jessica Moss. Right: “Sympathy” artist Mika Tajima.

Left: MCA Chicago director Robert Fitzpatrick. Right: Dealers Anton Kern and Shane Campbell.

Left: MCA Chicago associate director Greg Cameron and photographer Zoe Crosher. Right: Dealer Kat Parker and artist Adam Pendleton.