Gallery of the Damned: The Chicago Art Department brings deceased artists back from the beyond

So, another review glowing polysyllabically over some obscure gallery opening in Pilsen probably won’t turn too many heads. I don’t care; the Chicago Art Department’s new show, “Night of the Living Artist,” deserves every bit of overarticulated praise coming its way.

In observation of Halloween and zombie season, CAD’s Kerry Flaherty prompted twenty-six artists from Chicago and beyond to “zombify” a favorite musician, author, or artist. The result is a goofily macabre collection of artwork undead-ifying everyone from Franz Kafka to Kurt Cobain.

The show opened last Friday during Pilsen’s monthly art walk, attracting a friendly crowd of attractive, young Pilsen gentrifiers (the pre-yuppie wave) who twirled their asymmetrical haircuts between their cigarette-stained fingers, nodding to Biz Markie–he’s recognizable enough to spin now that ”The Wackness” came out–and swilling the free wine in little plastic cups as they contemplated the art.

While the show has a few duds–the plush zombie sculptures are kind of lame–there are plenty of inventive and gruesome zombie drawings and paintings. The artist Creepy painted a delightfully grisly Van Gogh gesturing with his severed ear stabbed on the tines of a fork. The flesh-eating Yoshitomo Nara reinterpretation by Stacy Peterson is hilarious. Definitely make sure to check out Philadelphia artist Mark Mattson’s zombie tribute to Ed Ruscha, in which he portrays the condiment-painting artist as a cracked-out bottle of zombie mustard streaking gleefully into a neon-lit city street. It’s both beautiful and strangely poignant. The informative and amusing artist’s statements posted next to most pieces are also worth attention.

With its goal of fostering the careers of just-blossoming artists, the Chicago Art Department gallery cultivates a welcome unpretentiousness. The gallery’s desire to include inexperienced artists means that it’s a mixed bag of talent on display, but the audience certainly won’t be made to feel like it needs a degree in art history or a seven-figure income to hang out and appreciate the art.

Since the gallery is usually only open by appointment, the best time to see “Night of the Living Artist” is at the closing party early on Halloween evening. Set the mood for the evening by taking in the rotting zombie tongues, gnawed-off bloody stumps, and undead eyes with a vacant soullessness rivaled only by Cindy McCain’s. Or just take the opportunity to mingle with the faux-“I don’t give a fuck”-haircut-sporting crowd, avail yourself of the booze, enjoy the gallery’s resident DJ Tapedek, and maybe appreciate the chance to see famous dead artists “alive” again–in only the loosest possible sense.
Chicago Art Department, 1837 S. Halsted St. By appointment only. Closing “Halloween” Party: October 31. Friday, 7-10pm.