I stepped off 18th Street and its panaderias and lavanderias into a first-floor apartment filled with dozens of leather-clad, septum-pierced artists milling about sipping Charles Shaw. Knowing full well the distinction between Pilsen’s two art scenes—the former founded on predominately Mexican-American cultural traditions, the latter chic, trendy, and usually strange—I entered the Honey Hole’s “If They Mated” expecting the obscure and prepared for the inane.
I was not disappointed: immediate standouts included a pair of boxing gloves holding churros and a photograph of a torso in a windbreaker holding a windbreaker. With no curator or host in immediate sight, I walked the gallery’s perimeter and inspected the fifteen pieces, each of whose creator was on hand to enthusiastically fail to explain his or her work. I was unable to escape the feeling that I was not experiencing the scene in the way it was meant to be experienced—I had come to the gallery just to see the art instead of coming to mingle with all the other Pilsen art types who all seemed to know each other (and probably did). Frustrated with my perennial loneliness at gallery openings like the Honey Hole’s, I tried to befriend the photographer who did the windbreaker thing by asking him about his work over a can of PBR. He and his friends poked fun at my notepad.
Curated by Zachary Harvey, a grad student in the University of Chicago’s Department of Visual Arts, “If They Mated” takes its name and shtick from a frequent sketch on Conan O’Brien wherein two celebrities’ faces were morphed into one (usually very ugly) approximation of what their child would look like. Harvey asked fifteen artists to “create an offspring,” though the curator’s standards were much looser than Conan’s: according to the gallery flier, “anything and everything can mate.”
In this case, the fusion of “anything and everything” yielded, to name just a few, a photograph of a Boston cream doughnut smashed over a woman’s genitalia, a crayon drawing of a lizard woman, a pink papier-mâche phallus, and a brick stuck in the wall. The pieces were split about evenly between paintings and things that were not paintings; by far the standout entry among the former was a scene from 50 Shades of Grey done in the style of that one grotesque painter in the same room as “Nighthawks” at the Art Institute that I always see by accident right after “Nighthawks.” [The author probably means Ivan Albright—Ed.]
On the floor of the gallery were two notable non-paintings. The first of them was a foil-covered baking sheet filled with green water, on top of which floated a piece of paper showing a scene from the Teletubbies and a quote from Heidegger. This one I didn’t like. I did, however, adore “Pizza boy.” The artist, Travis Fish, anthropomorphized a Little Caesar’s delivery bag on top of a pair of New Balance sneakers and left it standing in a corner. I laughed out loud when I saw this. For a moment I thought modern art might actually be getting somewhere. But then, maybe not: when I tried to take a picture of “Pizza boy” with my iPhone, my view was blocked by another dude trying to take a picture of it with his iPhone.