Ken Fandell, Scott Reeder and Tyson Reeder: Chicago Chocolate Tour”
Ditch Projects @ 937 (Fourteen30 Contemporary)
by Patrick Collier
I broke one of my soft rules for art writing while viewing Chicago Chocolate Tour: I spoke to exhibiting artist, Ken Fandell. (Why such a rule? If the press materials and the artwork don’ t do it for me as your ‘average viewer,’ then what’s the point?) Truth be told, I had intended to introduce myself, for we had a connection of which, I suspected, he was not aware. I remembered him, and even attended a final critique or two while he was still in graduate school at my alma mater, the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Chicago: The City of Big Shoulders is characterized by an historically blue-collar ethos colored by very distinct neighborhoods and attending attitudes that have been hard to shake. The Second City is a moniker no longer appropriate for Chicago (especially with regard to the U.S. art scene/market) but is to a large extent perpetuated by a dysfunction not unique to, but certainly ubiquitous in that city’s self-assessment and actions. Known as an affordable place to live for artists, yet with a culture haunted by the Hairy Who, Chicago is a city where factions have been formed.
Correspondingly, there are artists who succeed via bravado that accompanies a talent, while other artists manage to achieve success by endearingly and quietly giving a fuck. In a city with its fair share of angry-inchers, they are gleeful oddballs, and herein lays the formula for bodies of work so dark and so sweet, and funny while sad. For as any
comedian will tell you, self-effacement is a hair’s breadth from pathetic, and is therefore the most dangerous schtick.
Chicago Chocolate Tour is comprised of three artists that would otherwise represent a triumvirate of Chicago artists were it not for the number of others working in a similar vein. Known variously as Chicago Silly or Chicago Doodlers, the artist Mike Lash may be the father of this school. The sculptor Ben Stone is also be of a similar ilk. Yet, there are artists outside of Chicago who have found a home there: Sean Landers exhibited his confessional story paintings at Robin Leach Gallery in the late 1980s; Chris Johanssen found favor at Kavi Gupta Gallery in the late 1990s; Fandell and the Reeder brothers continue the tradition.
One might begin the walk-around with Scott Reeder. His pen drawings are simple, quick, perhaps even cursory, and busy with absurdist constructions occasioned by wizards, robots, office workers and little demons. One can see them as an artist’s exercise to exorcise. The unconscious makes associations that begin to loosen the juices of
imagination and invention. So freed, Reeder can then proceed onto little word games, wittily bringing the symbolic back around to what might be uttered.
In comparison, Tyson Reeder would seem somewhat more traditional, limiting the exhibited work to small paintings (some collaged), except they also seem as spontaneous as brother Scott’s drawings. Elements of figuration exist within the murkiness of the surfaces like a disturbing dream.
The Reeders’ two dimensional works compliment each other, and to further demonstrate how these two minds blend, they have included a video, “Jail City.” Reminiscent of Paul McCarthy in costuming and construction, it seems to explore a realm where one’s oppressors are somewhat benign, and expressive freedom is eventually forestalled
(symbolized by death or sleep). Still, the story is told more by symbolic actions than by narrative.
Had I not spoken to Fandell, I would not have known that he was the artist Ditch Projects’ Donald Morgan contacted to arrange the exhibition. Fandell’s initial response was to show some of his video work, but when he learned that the Reeders planned to include video, he decided on a sculpture, and “ Bananas on Red, Green, and Blue, and
Omega Centauri” serves as a good substitute to fill out the show. While what he gives us is less a sculpture than crudely constructed tables with large, non-archival digital prints, it fits nicely, even serendipitously, with the Reeder videos in particular and the tenor of the exhibit as a whole: paper banana moons amongst (as opposed to ‘in’, which would have been too easy) flattened skies of blurry stars.
One may wonder why bother with viewing art that seems so indulgent, haphazard and visceral. Indeed, I cannot pretend to convince anyone that it is anything more. Yet, this is not bad art that seeks intentionally and primarily to be just that. This quirky art humbly seeks release from conventions, albeit less canonical technique than thought, and may
even generate a smile from the appreciative viewer.