Curating a show isn’t something new for Chicago artist Bert Stabler. His show “$(heart),” which was featured in the NFO/XPO at Lumpen’s Version Festival 2009 this past spring, dealt with our psychological relationship to currency. A year previous, “Vulva O’Keefe Versus Angry Goldsworthy” prompted artists to “interact” with his premised division of the sexes: an “Eternally Perverse Primal Father Creator/Destroyer” and an “Infinitely Schizophrenic Future Mother Protector/Disintegrator.” Other favorite themes include paganism, swamps, and perversion (“Brown River,” July 2007). Stabler fully embraces the notion that being a curator can be artistry in itself, and each of his shows have sought simultaneously to express his own ideas and provoke new concepts from fellow artists.
While “Salad, Church, and Exercise” (a.k.a. “Sal-ChEx”), Stabler’s upcoming group show at the Co-Prosperity Sphere, has similar goals, the curator’s relation to the exhibition is slightly different. Unlike his previous thematic shows, Stabler is “positively invested in” this motley trinity. Salad, church, and exercise “are all things I actually care about,” Stabler says. He explains that past curatorial work has dealt with its themes and motifs critically, approaching them from an angle that is often “negative and abject.” In “Sal-ChEx,” he takes a risk by exposing his genuine interests and values to the various re-appropriative measures taken by the artists in the show.
In an attempt to balance out the foreseeable critical nature of the art that would address the second member of the titular triumvirate, Stabler reached out to several Christian artists whose work he found interesting. Making art out of iconography may walk the fine line of “irreverence,” Stabler said, although he maintained that one can create religious art that is both playful and respectful. Rachel Pollak’s “You Will Know Them By Their Fruits” is a wooden sculpture made of four interlocking church pews. Pollak’s work also includes a series of drawings entitled “Delectable Mountains,” which feature a symbol found in the American quilting tradition. This stylized, jagged mountain “figures prominently in ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’ by John Bunyon,” Stabler explains. Even further evidence of Judeo-Christian symbolism in Western culture: according to Stabler, the Delectable Mountain also makes appearances in “Little Women” and, more surprisingly, “Peanuts.”
If Stabler found some of the artists for “Sal-ChEx” in church, the common religious affiliation of many more came as a surprise to him. Jamie Henderson’s “giant drawings of mermaids” had always impressed Stabler. “Then, I was looking through her work and saw that she just happened to have a bunch of pieces on the crucifixion.” These images also create humor out of holiness, as in the case of “Golgotha,” a pen drawing that depicts Jesus Christ walking the plank. Stabler describes his own piece as “straightforwardly goofy”: a wooden figure is accompanied by an audio track of both Christian and Satanic heavy metal. While the two kinds of music must have vastly different ideologies, they can sound similar. “They’ll be fairly indistinguishable,” says Stabler.
Other artists in the show have chosen to explore the theme of exercise. Josh Ippel and Charlie Roderick, who form the artistic collaboration “Hideous Beast,” have built a bicycle-powered air hockey table. The salad theme is apparent in Dewayne Slightweight’s leafy utopia. His work depicts “elderly lesbians,” Stabler recalls. “Naked, making out, going at it, in this lush jungle of fruit and vegetable.” Slightweight, who identifies as male, is one of several queer artists in “Sal-ChEx.” “I really wanted to get some queer art in a show about religion,” Stabler continues. “It’s some of the most romantic art I’ve seen.” While Stabler admits that some queer art is motivated by activism and identity politics, he insists that it often “also has an imaginative element to it: fantastic, futuristic. It’s less rational, more thematic, emotional, sublime.” Perhaps it is not so different from religious art after all.
Only the most daring have attempted to deal with all three themes in a single piece. Michael Bancroft, who Stabler describes as “making dumbbells and a chin-up bar out of sausage casings filled with shredded religious texts,” comes pretty close to achieving perfection, although it’s difficult to imagine a sausage salad. Stabler laments that the salad prompt is under-represented, although there are “a lot of salad moments in the show,” referring to collage as well as the lack of “spatial organization.” The show’s arrangement will be “more aesthetic and intuitive,” Stabler explains: “salad-like.” Stabler hopes to hold a discussion at the closing session this Saturday, in an attempt to address some of the confusion and curiosity that undoubtedly will arise from a show with such wide-ranging subject matter.
Co-Prosperity Sphere, 3219 S. Morgan Ave. Closing party on July 18. Saturday, 1-4pm. Other hours by appointment. (773)696-9731.