Keeping an Eye on the Windy City
Just a few feet from Terzo Piano, the chic new museum restaurant where you can sup on grilled Nettesheim Farms beef strip loin with crispy Anson Mills polenta, mushroom fonduta and grilled ramps for 26 bucks, Roger Hiorns’s placement, through September 19, of two massive Pratt and Whitney TF33 P9 jet engines on a exterior roof terrace of the Art Institute of Chicago seems another eerie reminder of the temporal mechanics of power and authority. The two clearly spent and non-functional engines lay parallel to one another as if now prepped for cultural autopsy, their previous function (described in a wall label nearby) as the preferred jet engines for long-range surveillance planes, as the literal support and facilitator of ceaseless governmental geopolitical observation, is now reversed into something to be looked at, the stealthy observer now the recipient of the museum-goers gaze. In a kind of abject post-Futurist manner, London-based Hiorns allows the sheer rhythmic grace of the sweep of these engines, their almost lurid beauty of full-throated design, to be both celebrated and tempered by their current functional impotence. In their curious passage from embodiment of global power to inert sculptural and museological remnant they are somewhat, but not completely, defanged. Gilding the lily a bit was Hiorns’s almost secretive embedding of anti-depressant drugs such as Effexor and citalopram into the body of these two engines, something that was impossible to discern visually if not for information provided in the wall label, metaphorically positing that if surveillance is a manifestation of an age of anxiety, then these engines go about their business in a chemically induced calm, as do many of us. Hiorns’s action reminded me most of that scene in William Wyler’s 1946 film The Best Years of Our Lives, where Dana Andrews encounters a field filled with remnants of discarded bombers, just like those he recently flew in during WW II. He climbs into one and for a spell fully relives the physical and psychological presence and intensity of war until recalled to the present by a yard boss to whom these planes are now just so much scrap metal. Hiorns, in a similarly neo-masculinist kind of way, seems to evoke a similar sense of the evocative history of these machines—weapons, really—of mass observation and to brood on their current employ.
Surveillance of another sort underpins Tony Tasset’s 30-foot tall EYE, which will be placed in Chicago’s Pritzker Park across the street from the Harold Washington Library on State Street on July 7, and remain on view there until the end of October. Based on a 12 x 12 x 12 foot (it’s an eyeball, after all) fiberglass, resin, oil paint, and steel piece Tasset did for the Laumeier Sculpture Garden in St. Louis in 2007, the three-story highly realistic eyeball (to the extent that, at 30 foot, an eyeball can be realistic!) has a blue iris and slight indications of red veining across this expansive orb. It’s the latest in a seemingly unending series of witty and insidiously insurrective populist sculptures by this Chicago-based artist. In the grand tradition of clever and scrupulously crafted Chicago sculpture—H. C. Westermann, Karl Wirsum, Claes Oldenberg and Tom Friedman all come to mind. The latter two both trained in Chicago, Friedman under Tasset at the University of Illinois – Chicago. Tasset’s recent work has included Paul, a monumental sculpture of an exhausted and seemingly depressed Paul Bunyan, done in 2007 for the Manilow Sculpture Park at Governors State University in University Park in Illinois and his 2010 Blob Monster, which debuted at the ArtChicago art fair this April. Tasset’s EYE will be accompanied by CARDINAL, a series of 156 vertical street banners along State Street that function as a kind of flip book showing a cardinal—the state bird of Illinois—in flight. While EYE is probably not intended as a punning reference to where Tasset teaches—the school is referred to as UIC—and only possibly alludes to the staring heads of Illinoisans that comprise Jaume Plensa’s Crown Fountain in nearby Millennium Park, it would be like this artist to be thinking about the hundreds of cameras aimed at people walking through Chicago’s Loop every day. While overwhelmingly inviting that omnipresent sense of unrelieved and unblinking observation, of the urban dweller’s rapid scan being replaced by the rapid scan of the urban dweller, in Tasset’s case, however, the damned thing is blind.
By the time you read this John Parot is either continuing to make his way through his colleagues on Bravo’s rather disappointing “The Next Great Artist,” or has heard that dulcet phrase “Your work of art didn’t work for us,” and is free to return to Los Angeles, where he now lives and works. That’s for us, anyway, as the entire series has already been filmed Parot certainly knows his fate, which undoubtedly will have little impact on an already interesting career. Parot studied at UIC, and while there are even several images of stylized eyes in his recent exhibition at Western Exhibitions, it would mischaracterize his work to carry the above surveillance leitmotif further. His work does have a sort of pseudo-Ptolemeic quality, a kind of commingling of ancient Egyptian motifs throughout touched by a Hellenistic eroticism—the pyramid/triangle, hieratic staring eyes, and unabashedly pretty boys—that has an indolent and fey charm to it, all realized in the kind of pink/purple/black tones that have a lurid self conscious hipster Las Vegas feel. Parot is a clever artist, and this work is marked by the sort of pictorial cunning now much in vogue, particularly in LA, high in abstract but playful design motifs, lots of bright stripes and chevrons, etc., but refusing to be too intense or belabored, but with just enough intimations of sensuality to make it all upbeat and cheery. No narrative, no burden of subject matter, really, just a succession of amiable images that every once in a while playfully alludes to something kind of important, such as sex, intimacy, vulnerability, etc. Unlike, for example, Hiorns or Tasset, Parot is loathe to imbue too much weight to any single work, preferring capriciousness and variety over decidedness and concentration. All things considered, I think Parot would probably prefer to be the next cool artist than the next great one, and he may be well on his way to achieving his wish.