“Found garbage” breeds new meanings in watery, domestic

By Michael Murphy

The Renaissance Society unveiled the second show of its 87th year on Sunday. The show, titled watery, domestic (named after the less than optimistic Pavement album of the same title), brings together seventeen artists whose work re-composes nostalgia and irony to comment on popular culture.

Located on the fourth floor of Cobb Hall, the Renaissance Society houses independent shows five times a year, and holds no permanent collection. Well known for presenting cutting-edge artists before their “big break,” this current exhibition, watery, domestic, highlights superstar artists like Paul Winstanley and Richard Prince (included in a Whitney Museum of American Art Retrospective 1992, and biennial 1985) as well as artists whose work recalls, among other icons, Gerald Ford, Starsky and Hutch, Billie Holiday, Fleetwood Mac, and Barry Manilow.

Hamza Walker, director of education at the Renaissance Society and curator of watery, domestic, describes this show as “something close to the melancholy feel of a thrift store.” From Mindy Schwartz’s campfire arts and crafts to the found garbage of Mary C. Wilson, watery, domestic is a bric-a-brac of what Walker calls “a by-product of nostalgia.”

The Renaissance Society has been a staple of the University of Chicago campus since its birth eighty-seven years ago. Ground-breaking exhibitions such as Alexander Calder (1936), Jacob Lawrence (1944), Paul Klee (1945), Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1946), Diego Rivera (1949), Réné Magritte (1963) Juan Muñoz (1990), and Moshekwa Langa (2001) have concretized the Renaissance Society as one of the most vanguard galleries in the country; and yet when asked about the Renaissance Society, few U of C students know where it is, let alone what it is.

When asked why nobody seems to realize the Renaissance Society’s existence even though it lies in the heart of the most thoroughly trafficked building on campus, Maggie Hansen, gallery assistant at the Renaissance Society and Director of the University’s Festival of the Arts (FOTA), jokes, “Because everyone here seems to live in little underground caves. Granted, the ‘Ren’ is a bit of a secret and sort of hard to find, but it remains a mystery why on campus you never hear people talking about its significance”

Optimistically she added, “this is a great show to get people talking about the ‘Ren’ though…[it’s] a very entertaining show, and easy to access.” When asked what she meant, she responded, “It’s not super arty. There is something for everyone.”

On Sunday, November 17th, the opening reception was held. DJ David Patton performed a 23-minute, live Allman Brothers recording, acting as human battery and spinning the record with his finger. After the performance, thirteen of the seventeen artists fielded questions from Mr. Walker in a round-table discussion about the work and its relationship to irony and nostalgia.

Other artists included in the show are Michael Ashkin, whose photographs explore the metropolitan trash dump called the New Jersey Meadowlands; Jennifer and Kevin McCoy, who along with Conrad Bakker, Christine Tarkowski, and Andrew Ehrenworth, have deconstructed every shot of every Starsky and Hutch episode; and Jay Heikes, Joseph del Pasco, Brian Jungen, and Dario Robleto, who search for new meanings to the term “found art.” Included as well is the work of Siebren Versteeg, whose cassette- collection self-portrait is a mix tape of portraiture and nostalgia itself.

Along with this event, The Renaissance Society will host a live reading from Sam Lipsyte and Gary Lutz, authors of The Subject Steve and Stories in the Worst Way, respectively, to take place on December 8 at 2:00 p.m. There is also a concert on Sunday, December 15 at 5:00 p.m., which will feature live music by the Chicago staple, Town and Country.