Weekly Update — ICA’s immersive Spring Shows

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This week’s Weekly has my review of the ICA’s new shows. Below is the copy with some pictures. More photos at flickr. And check out Libby’s review here.

Mike Smith
Michael Smith (suit) with Annette DiMeo Carlozzi of the Blanton Museum of Art, University of Texas at Austin. The Blanton organized the show.

ICA continues its walk on art’s wild side with two new shows: “Mike’s World,” an immersion into the theatrical sets, props, videos and other works of performance artist Michael Smith; and “Wow That’s Mean and Other Vegan Cuisine,” a 3-D black-light wallpaper-and-drawings extravaganza by Trenton Doyle Hancock.
Mike Smith
Survival Rations–Crackers, from the home safety shelter snack bar in Mike’s World.

Some 30 years ago Michael Smith—who attended art school to become a painter—stopped painting and instead started thinking, writing and performing material about a sad-sack character named Mike (no surname). Since then, everyman Mike’s exploits have been performed, videotaped, filmed and lauded just about everywhere in the Western art world, including the 2008 Whitney Biennial. This exhibit includes many of the videos and huge chunks of the stage sets created for Mike by Michael, with his main collaborator Joshua White and others.
Mike Smith
Viewers relaxing and looking at part of the theme-park like show, Mike’s World. Here the tv monitor showed a close-up of the floor rug’s pattern.

Walking through the show (organized originally by the Blanton Museum of Art at the University of Texas in Austin) is like a stroll through an indoor theme park or museum dedicated to a godlike-but-clay-footed human. Everything from Mike’s drawings, Mike’s “Mike” belt buckle, Mike’s ties and other stuff is shown as if in beloved tribute to Mike. But Mike happens to be the ultimate loser.

Mike Smith
Snack bar in Mike’s survival safety shelter.

Good-natured Mike looks earnestly at the camera, explains his projects, and performs, dances and talks like he’s your favorite uncle. But all of Mike’s projects fail. Underlying everything is a critique of life in an America where dreamy Willy Loman and Walter Mitty are doomed to be forever second- (or third- or fourth-) best.

Mike Smith
Comic book “Mike in…the Edge of Forever”…note how this piece, showing the survival snack bar, is completely integrated with Mike’s world — the whole world is self-referential from start to finish.  

The two most elaborate sets in the show (samples from Smith’s 30-year performance history) are Musco (a disco and backstage from the story of a disco lighting company that fails after it falls out of touch with the post-disco world) and QuinQuag Arts and Wellness Centre, a failed artists’ retirement community.

Mike Smith
Disco environment in the Mike show.

The disco piece is outstanding in its recreation of a bygone era. In fact, the attention to detail and level of craftsmanship throughout the show is right on, from the slick video introduction that greets you at the show’s entrance—perfectly mimicking a smarmy TV infomercial—to drawings that parody art-fair caricatures and comic books that portray Mike’s tragi-comic adventures à la Nancy and Sluggo.

Mike Smith
Media ball showing the various faces of Mike.

The deadpan affect of Mike and his ephemera are among the show’s greatest charms. With the slightest hint of flamboyance or wink-wink, this show would land right in kitsch’s front yard. But the work aspires to far greater heights than kitsch, and succeeds the way Mister Rogers succeeded—by being just plain serious.

Mike Smith
Trenton Doyle Hancock (hat) during the walkthrough of the Mike show at ICA.

Trenton Doyle Hancock’s trippy 3-D wallpaper and Project Space installation spins a mock-heroic yarn the artist has been evolving since his grad school days at Tyler, when he lived in disharmony with a vegan couple who introduced him to tofu and their meat-hating ways.

Trenton Doyle Hancock
Trenton Doyle Hancock’s wallpaper in the ICA ramp.

Close up of the wallpaper, which you can view with 3-D glasses, courtesy of an encounter between Doyle Hancock and ICA preparator Isaac Lin, a proponent of 3-D glasses who had used them to view his own work at Fleisher-Ollman in the show Cave Paintings a few months back.  Lin suggested the 3-D glasses and ICA got some.  The work looks even more psychedelic with the vision enhancement aids.
Close up of the wallpaper, which you can view with 3-D glasses, courtesy of an encounter between Doyle Hancock and ICA preparator Isaac Lin, a proponent of 3-D glasses who had used them to view his own work at Fleisher-Ollman in the show Cave Paintings a few months back.  Lin suggested the 3-D glasses and ICA got some.  The work looks even more psychedelic with the vision enhancement aids.

Doyle Hancock’s obsessive works depict fantasy battles between the hateful vegans and the sweet, gentle mounds (human-plant hybrids). This work will surely hold its place in art history’s panoply of artists obsessively working a single narrative. Here, in early pencil drawings, you can see the artist’s roots in the apocalyptic works of Hieronymous Bosch.

Trenton Doyle Hancock
The drawings are truly amazing in their Bosch-ian, delicately-depicted nightmarish scenes.

ICA’s continued programming in zones traditionally neglected by museums—art with humor and playfulness whose motivation lies beyond the commercial realm—is commendable. Shows like these, and the recent Puppet Show, Ensemble and Locally Localized Gravity shows, give art’s outer limits much-needed credibility and respect.

“Mike’s World” and Trenton Doyle Hancock
Through August 3. $3-$6. Institute of Contemporary Art, 118 S. 36th St. 215.898.7108.

Tags

ica, michael smith, mike's world, trenton doyle hancock

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