Adult Toys

Nick Black wrote that his new exhibit will “hold no bars in slamming together every cheap, cheesy, sexist, office male humor, misogynistic, homophobic, racist cliché.” He continued, “As usual, I’ll be laying on the satirical self-depreciating humor thick and heavy.”

At the opening of “The Road to Candyland” at Pilsen’s Antena gallery, he said, “I feel like I didn’t come through on that.” Some of the pieces certainly do aim to shock and offend. In one sculpture, an alpha-male action figure wearing high heels kneels in front of another’s erect, uncircumcised penis. Burger King’s namesake king, grinning salaciously, lounges in the background. In another piece, a corporate fat cat-looking toy points his erection at a prostrate stuffed monkey. They both face a gaudy, light-up crucifix. There is no dearth of suggestive poses, emasculating S&M play, and tiny plastic penises in the show.

“The toy stuff lends itself to [raunchiness],” Black said–perhaps a little too much so. Using children’s toys to depict crude, sexualized scenes is a somewhat tired trope, making some of these pieces a bit expected. But while Black lacks originality with his materials, he compensates with clever conceptual work.

One of the best examples is a bottle of pepper spray hooked up to a time-release air freshener. “Double Decoy” is a fake surveillance camera hung high on the wall with a real video camera inside it. The video feed plays on a small TV in the corner. Another piece, called “The Shit-cagos,” is comprised of an old chair and footstool with their centers cut out. Sacks made of old tourist t-shirts hang inside the furniture.

Many of the pieces were created by rewiring mechanical toys. In one, the neon green body of a figurine with glasses and a pale pink brain for a head sits in a bathtub, holding a bottle of beer and a fried chicken leg in each hand. Faux-fart bubbles expand and contract toward the end of the tub. The sculpture, which is less than a foot long and sits on a shelf toward the back of the gallery, is motion-activated. When a person walks by, the figure will turn its neck and indignantly spout, mouth opening and closing, “Guys could you give me a little privacy?” or a similar reproach. Black, who is modest when explaining his work, denies any exceptional skill. “I’m just taking what’s there and rewiring it,” he said.

In “Extra Special Surprise,” Black admits that he did nothing to the piece other than find the materials. A smiling, corpulent Santa figure stands next to a small metallic monkey in a fez. When the sculpture is turned on, the Santa turns around and moons the onlooker. “I couldn’t top that,” Black said.

Antena is run by Miguel Cortez, who also lives in the space.  Visitors are greeted by a table piled high with junk and a sink filled with dirty dishes. The only signs of welcome are a few bottles of red wine and a refrigerator full of PBR. When asked if the mess was intentional, Cortez shrugged and answered simply, “It’s my living space; I share it, that’s it.” In the gallery, the wood floor is dirty and paint chips flutter down from the ceiling. Naked bulbs and a ceiling fan’s exposed wires complete the room.

Paralleling this scene, wires, broken plastic, and grimy toys abound in the art, providing little contrast between the gallery space and the work. The buzzing noises of the moving sculptures and the muffled sound of a Bible-on-tape in “The Muffler” make for a grating clamor in the room. “This one has a great soundtrack, but you can’t really hear it,” Black said about a few different pieces. In lieu of title placards, each piece has a number taped to it or written on the wall beside it. A single copy of the names of each work is penciled onto a folded piece of computer paper. According to Black, the printer broke.

There’s a lot to get past to appreciate Black’s more exemplary work. Noise, mess, and too much uninspired raunchiness could be immediate turn-offs. But the exhibit has some great moments, and Black could do more to push them to the fore. “I’m really bad at self-promotion,” he said, finally showing off the self-deprecation he promised all along.

Antenna Gallery. 1765 S. Laflin St. Hours: by appointment. (773) 340-3516

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