Meat market at the MCA
The social dangers of art events
by Katrina Kuntz
It’s not every weekend that I shave my legs and paint my nails for the sake of art or in the name of journalism, but I sucked it all up the evening of November 4 for the MCA’s First Fridays event. I wiggled into my best jeans, zipped up my high-heeled boots (I don’t even wear heels!), and checked my lipsticked pout before heading out the door. And all because I have learned that the MCA’s monthly late-night opening is less about contemporary art and more about the currently single.
I arrived two hours late not only for the most fashionable entrance but also to avoid the long admission lines. However, my plan backfired, and I found myself shivering in my tiny but oh-so-artsy sweater with the rest of the hip twenty-somethings in a line that wrapped around the museum’s exterior. Evidently, the doorman (not even a gallery guard, but maybe some kind of frustrated art professional living vicariously through us “kids”) wasn’t aware that Chicago’s weather isn’t necessarily a determining factor in First Friday outfits.
Twenty minutes and one hand stamp later, I headed upstairs to snake through the well-dressed and heavily-perfumed crowd. My first obstacle: the mob clustered around the computerized compatibility stations, a.k.a. the iMac digital dating bar. You see, the test-taker responds to images that flash randomly across the monitor and, once the results are tallied, the tester receives a sticker to wear for the rest of the evening that corresponds to his/her personality: turquoise represents creativity and strength (that’s me!), blue stands for compassion, etc. First Friday-goers either sat enraptured in front of the blinking screens or stood fascinated with those testing, but all were waiting for confirmation and the frenzy that follows meeting equally attractive people with complementary stickers. (Note: I’m still looking for a handsome maroon.)
I weaved my way further along, dodging plastic cups, trendy oversized shoulder bags, and the tossing of carefully-coiffured hair. Past the sweaty salsa dancers and those waiting to buy overpriced beverage tickets, I made it to the first gallery of the Tropicália exhibition and entered—to find the space dark and nearly empty. I was surprised but eager to enjoy the highly interactive exhibition at my own pace with few distractions.
As I prepared to step into the installation, a guard, whose conversation with one of the First Fridays attendees I had obviously disrupted, beckoned me to stop. I hesitated and, just as the parrots—also part of the installation—started squawking hysterically in their covered cages, noticed the signage: “This exhibition is not open this evening.” I moved onto the other Tropicália galleries to find more, if not most, of the exhibition shut down for the so-called opening. I reaped more benefit and knowledge about “one of the most significant cultural movements to emerge from South America in the last five decades… based in work that embraced an aesthetic of informality, interactivity, and cultural hybridity” leafing through a catalogue on the less congested third floor than I did throughout the entire Tropicália exhibition.
What’s more, with the ending of the Dan Flavin retrospective, there was little else art-wise to see besides the 12 x 12: New Artists/New Work. If there is nothing to look at and the people attending are clearly there only to ogle one another, why disguise the event as an “opening?”