This fall, Chicago’s Golden Gallery presents Objective Confess, the first solo exhibition by artist Anthea Behm. The works in this exhibition situate the historical relations of modern art and the modern museum, the conceptual vicissitudes of art history and visual studies, oppositions of high and low, elite and popular and the recent controversies of intellectual property somewhere between cultural theorist Theodor Adorno and roguish teenage film character Ferris Bueller.
During the Reagan-Thatcher years, the formula for economic and social success via the mediation of high culture and the refusal of low culture began to collapse when corporate merging and culture marketing precipitately expanded. It was also during these same years that the film Ferris Beuller’s Day Off was filmed throughout the city of Chicago, throughout the public schools, the streets, the spectacle of parades, and very specifically the Art Institute of Chicago. It is the latter where Anthea Behm ‘s film Adorno/Bueller; Theodor W. Adorno, Aesthetic Theory, 1977, ed. Gretel Adorno and Rolf Tiedemann, trans. Robert HullotKentor, University of Minnesota Press, 1997, pp 243-244; Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, dir. John Hughes, 1986, minutes 4:36… is set. The complete title of this single channel video, central to Behm’s exhibition, is the complete credit listing for the video– to ignore the titles of Behm’s works here would deny a significant part their content. Adorno/Bueller (as we’ll call it for the sake of brevity) is set within the galleries of the Art Institute where Behm was a student from 2007-2009. The camera follows several museum docents as they recite a script, which merges language from Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory (1970) and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986), and as they continuously trade in museum uniforms for white bathrobes in a Brechtian style performance. The video formally manifests the contradictions behind both texts: Does Bueller ever really gain the autonomy he so wishes to attain? Does Adorno’s cultural critique just promote an elitist awareness of “high” art?
Also included in the show are two cyclical pencil-drawn diagrams of the merging scripts and docents’ reconnaissance throughout the galleries. Finally, two alluring blurred prints are framed on the wall: A/B Extract; Ed Ruscha, City, 1968, Custom Blur: Surface Blur radius 100 + threshold 2, Surface Blur radius 10 + threshold 203, Surface Blur radius 20 + threshold 85, Guassian blur radius 16.5 and A/B Extract; Richard Hamilton, Towards a Definitive Statement on the Coming Trends in Men’s Wear and Accessories (c) Adonis in Y-Fronts, 1962, Custom Blur: Surface Blur radius 77 + threshold 56, Surface Blur radius 42 + threshold 80, Surface Blur radius 58 + threshold 65, Guassian blur radius 1.5. They are the artist’s rendering of two paintings for which copyright permissions were blocked for either filming or for still photography. Because of various regulations, Behm was not allowed to film and photograph particular paintings so they are presented as blurred in the video Adorno/Bueller.These blurred video images are then “extracted” and presented in the exhibition to scale. For example, Behm had permission to film the Hamilton, but not to reprint it as a still image. The Ruscha was more complicated in that it was Ruscha’s studio itself that denied Behm filming permission, not the museum. It is through this obscuring of both language and vision that the complicated structures within which these images and words operate are now made clear. In other words, visibilty is the refreshinglyenlightening side effect of obscuring in Behm’s work.