Critics’ Picks

View of “Our Literal Speed,” 2009. From left: Jackson Pollock Bar and the Project for the New American Century, Picasso/Braque, 1989, 2009; Academy Records, Self-Titled, 2009.

View of “Our Literal Speed,” 2009. From left: Jackson Pollock Bar and the Project for the New American Century, Picasso/Braque, 1989, 2009; Academy Records, Self-Titled, 2009.

Chicago

“Our Literal Speed”

Gallery 400
University of Illinois at Chicago 400 South Peoria Street
May 1–July 4, 2009

The second manifestation of Our Literal Speed (reprising a 2008 event in Karlsruhe, Germany) comprised a twenty-first century academicized Cabaret Voltaire–style gathering of the South Shore Drill Team, Art & Language, David Joselit, and a host of University of Chicago faculty, among others. The conference included conversations, performances, various displays of academic preening, and examples of hybrid pedagogies, such as a discussion on the topic of dissent with Bill Ayers, Bernardine Dohrn, and several irascible interlocutors planted in the audience.

An accompanying exhibition, also titled “Our Literal Speed,” opened with a “live theory installation” by the collective Jackson Pollock Bar. The group employs game-show props and pedantic presentations to parlay history and fiction into numbing “truthiness.” The exhibition also includes a hardcover copy of T. J. Clark’s 2006 book The Sight of Death: An Experiment in Art Writing, which rests on a vinyl peacock-blue Herman Miller shell chair, adjacent to a single packaged CD of the official OLS “sound track,” featuring the Size Queens, propped on a small white wall shelf. Rounding out the east gallery is a line of ten framed photographs by Rainer Ganahl documenting lectures and conversations that formed the 2008 installment of OLS in Karlsruhe, and Sharon Hayes’s single-channel video depicting a nonplussed audience of twenty-two people watching footage from the 1968 National Democratic Convention in Chicago.

Academy Records, the mercurial Chicago collective sustained for a decade by artist Steve Lacy, has contributed a large orange banner to the exhibition that reads IT’S NOT THAT I’M BETTER THAN YOU YOU’RE JUST DOING IT WRONG. This paradoxical sentiment speaks to the fraud occupying the heart of the OLS project. (The event’s organizers seem to welcome such chicanery.) The faux marching banner is both brave and naive, highlighting the basic psychological impulses—instead of the loftier intellectual justifications—that motivate OLS and underscore its creators’ desire “to present a microcosmic rendering of the contemporary art world,” as stated by one of the event’s devisers, art historian Matthew Jesse Jackson. The text’s blatant incongruity is also why the exhibition component of OLS is more successful than a weekend of academics playing at being artists playing at being critics. The exhibition is not simply a manifestation of academic ego and therefore is much more politically effective.