Thursday, December 19, 2013

Mixing Media

Performance art is supposed to be equal to the physical thing that hangs on your walls. Why, then, would it be wrong for an artist to mix the media and present a work of art that exists in a particular space while also being performed in other places?

Jason Pallas has been punished for doing just that. Which proves that the jury of experts running the West Chicago City art museum are a bunch of philistines with no concept of what real art is.
By Jason Pallas

What would you expect, though, from a town that doesn't even have an original name? They could have called themselves anything, but the town founders tried to piggy-back on Chicago's fame. They didn't copy the city's vibrant art scene, or highly evolved attitude towards modern art.

The mixed media art presentation that Jason Pallas put together arose from a project that asked artists to create something based on an object in the museum's collection. Mr. Pallas found inspiration in a 1930's playbill for a minstrel show.

Controversial, to be sure, but art is meant to make us uncomfortable. Being reminded of the old Jim Crow days is definitely not pleasant, but neither should we shy away from reminders of what we would not wish to repeat.

At any rate, Mr. Pallas did his art thing and the museum put it on display, not realizing that what was in the museum was only part of the overall piece. The rest of it was an installment of performance art that was spread out over a wide area.

He crafted false press releases, inviting all to a minstrel show to be put on by a fictional glee club at the local high school.

And he got a reaction, which is what performance art is meant to elicit.

The plebeians in charge of the museum promptly removed the physical portion of the artwork from their exhibit, and have been exhibiting high dudgeon ever since. They could have saved themselves a lot of trouble by looking at the artist's other pieces, and reading a bit about his attitude towards art, but when all you know of art is that nice big painting hanging behind your couch, you won't be prepared for what is being done these days.

Of course there was no minstrel show, but in the 1930's in West Chicago there was a minstrel show and Mr. Pallas used his talent to bring the bad old days back to mind. He made the museum people very, very uncomfortable.

His mixed media artwork was a success. Even if no one can see it now at the West Chicago City Museum.


Anonymous said...

The art exhibit wasn't pulled because it was too edgy for philistine West Chicago. Read the Chicago Reader coverage.

Peg Leg O'Sullivan said...

The Reader is still around?

So the museum people pulled the exhibit because it was a hoax that created a big stir because those who received the press release were led to believe that a school was putting on a minstrel show in this day and age. And hilarity did not ensue.

That's edgy. Not too edgy for the people I know at MCA, but they're off on the far edge anyway.

Anonymous said...

Comment #1: "Since Mr. Pallas would like a public discussion about privilege and racism, I can start off. How about an entire school, whose student body is majority Hispanic, having its reputation degraded because a product of the University of Chicago would like to pad his portfolio? Because the artiste was too lazy to pull a few census records, or even Google "C & N.W. RY," a high school has to waste time and defend its reputation against the unfounded charge that it would be so backwards and insensitive so as to perform a minstrel show. Or maybe Pallas made a calculated decision to suppress the facts of an ugly racist performance in the past because it would complicate his own heroic vanguardist narrative: 'All of THOSE teachers instill racism, but THIS teacher/artist/activist is going to show you how racism starts in the classrooom and is wrong! I am so edgy that I don't care about exposing myself to the ire of a school district and a multinational corporation! I did it with art, but because I didn't draw or paint or do anything that requires artistic skill, I really made you guys think! And if you didn't like it, you don't understand art or racism!'"

Anonymous said...

I am not sure what reporting you have done for your post. Pallas is in the museum catalog. To say that his exhibit wasn't pulled because West Chicago isn't ready for performance art is either misinformed or intentionally dishonest. Maybe to your standards a forged press release which slanders a school is high art. Or perhaps Pallas's remarkably lazy understanding of the historical event on which he built is project qualifies as art.

Peg Leg O'Sullivan said...

Reporting? I write fiction. I make things up.

In fact, this whole incident has inspired an idea for a short story, in which a reporter receives a press release about a minstrel show and is so horrified that she (stories with female protagonists are easier to sell) sets her sights on stopping the horror.

Her quest leads her to discover that she has been had, that her crusade to stop an insult is the result of a hoax perpetrated by a self-centered, bubble-dwelling academic. A Hyde Park liberal sort, who talks a good game but has never been in the trenches.

The reporter aims to bring down the artist, to make him pay for his oblivious cruelty. She interviews him as they walk along a busy street, her detached coolness a facade to mask her ire. They pass a Salvation Army bell ringer, a representation of all that the artist would lift up through his art. The artist dismisses the poor black man as if he were not there, while the reporter finds herself reaching into her pockets for change.

The turning point of the story is the realization by the reporter that many who espouse a particular philosophy are spewing so much hot air, unaware of the harm they cause because they exist in a cocoon. The reporter accepts her embarrassment for being pulled into a trick, and moves on with a new perspective. She may or may not make a donation to re-elect Ted Cruz in the closing lines. I'm not sure exactly how I'd end the story.

And the people who run the art museum should have vetted the artist. I still maintain that they are at fault for a lack of due diligence.