Art the Destroyer

THIS PRESS RELEASE CAME IN THE MORNING MAIL. It is a shining example of academic/museum culture. An initial cue to the tenor of things is the windy title of John Russell’s untitled painting. [Scroll down.]

If you see only two glowing suns, not three as announced, do not fret. The third will show up sooner or later in another replicate. It is an inkjet print—quite a huge one—on polyester. Russel exhibited the identical central image in a group show at the Royal Academy, London, in 2008.
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Back then, it appeared as Ocean Pose (Pink), a digital print on vinyl. That one measured 3 x 8 meters with no suns at all. Be patient. Another sun will come soon enough. God bless print technology.

More to the point of this post is the language, the announced purpose of the exhibition, not the illustration. It is the straight-faced mumbo-jumbo of it that has larger cultural significance.

As the blurb says, “statements of fact are not enough.” This is especially true when one has no facts to convey. When there is nothing to state, only an aura to be generated.

The good people at DeVos do not specify which “accepted notions” are to be “put in crisis.” No matter. What counts is the heady suggestion of Transformative Subversion of Everything. It is the same dreary urge to upend the status quo without having to define the nature of the status quo or the character of its replacement. [The very term status quo carries the whiff of an aura even while it is applied to complex sets of circumstances.] Our classroom revolutionaries come to us straight from the Mad Hatters’s tea party. They race around the table shouting “Clean cup! Clean cup” before anyone has a chance to see what, if anything, is inside the one they have.

A little homework on some of the artists listed—a quick Google does the trick—and you see that Walter Benjamin’s wrecking ball is still swinging.

Herewith, my morning’s mail:

John Russell, Untitled (Abstraction of Labour/Time Enternal Recurrence/Monad) 2010


October 8 – November 14, 2010

Opening Reception:
October 8, 6-8pm

The DeVos Art Museum
Northern Michigan University
1401 Presque Isle Ave.
Marquette, MI 49855

The DeVos Art Museum presents A Unicorn Basking in the Light of Three Glowing Suns, an exhibition that presents artists and artworks that navigate the intersections where bureaucratic information and fantasy define each other. Science fiction and other forms of speculative entertainment often posit a future or parallel world where nature, science and culture function according to different laws. Of course, in order for the audience to understand the nuances, differences and allusions to their own world, common tropes, structures and objects are required to recognize what is not of this world. The borders need to be readily legible in order for accepted notions to be placed in crisis.

The clarity of information is often ridiculously humbled whenever new findings reveal the limitations of classification and the orderliness of fact is found too be more permeable than the press would have us believe.
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And as anyone with a passing knowledge of science fiction, or really almost any genre, can attest often the road to otherworldly will be bogged down by the endless repletion of detail, factoids, technical minutiae and busywork. The artists or groups featured have each in their own way let it be known that statements of fact are not enough, and that fantasy never escapes the boundaries of what we can imagine.

This world is trouble. We know it. We could spell out the why and how, but that tale would hardly result in any dream worth having. In 2008, when discussing artistic strategies that claim the political legacy of 1968, British artist Liam Gillick made the following observation: “for every artist’ collective that offers information in lieu of a fourth estate no longer meeting its obligations, there is a small painting of a unicorn basking in the light of three glowing suns.” This statement was the genesis for the exhibition. The jarring quality of this comparison is just how similar the two supposedly diametrically opposed poles seem. A Unicorn Basking in the Light of Three Glowing Suns addresses, sometimes passively and sometimes through negation, those things that socially construct desire. For where is ideology more blatant than in a dream?

Artists include AIDS 3D, TOPI/TOPY/Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, Gary Cannone and Charles Irvin, Castillo/Corrales. Chances Dances, deluxe projects, Dexter Sinister, Renée Green, Shane Huffman, Matthew Metzger, Rebecca Morris, My Barbarian, Orson Panetti, Jon Rafman, John Russell, Steve Ruiz and Zachary Cahill.

On October 8 at 5pm the curators will give a talk about the exhibition, with a reception to follow from 6-8pm. During the reception, at 7pm, artist Zachary Cahill (Chicago, IL) will perform in the museum.

This exhibition is curated by Anthony Elms and Philip von Zweck. Elms is a Chicago-based artist and writer, Editor of WhiteWalls, and Assistant Director of Gallery 400 at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Von Zweck is an artist whose practice primarily involves the organization of other artists’ work, which has included a weekly radio show, monthly apartment exhibits of other well-known and undiscovered artists, developing guest lectures and performing weddings. Von Zweck was the 2007 recipient of the Emerging Artist Award from the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation.


© 2010 Maureen Mullarkey


  1. Zachary Cahill does performance art, another term for politicized entertainment. He follows the old totalitarian precepts of the ’20s and ’30s: Simple stuff [no complex ideas; no nuances] to suit the mind of the masses. In cases like this, the academic masses.

  2. Russell’s “horsey tangle” was trotted out in 2007 under the title “Gray.” It’s the print that keeps on giving.

  3. AIDS3D are an American-born couple in their twenties, two guys, who expatriated to Berlin. Their composite name tells you much. Do gay men have prostates? Do they get MS, brain tumors, or anything besides AIDS? It is the best funded illness in the history of medicine. Does it need any more promos?

  4. I’m pretty sure aids3d r not a gay couple, where did u hear that?

  5. I wonder when the term “academic” will begin to reflect what actually happens in academia.

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