Sympathy for the Devil

Sympathy for the Devil Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago Through Jan. 6, 2008

“For most people these days, rock ’n’ roll and contemporary art seem to exist in alternate universes,” said Kevin Nance in the Chicago Sun-Times. It wasn’t always this way. Sympathy for the Devil looks to a time when visual artists “were inspired by the rebellious irreverence of rock music.” Musicians such as David Byrne of the Talking Heads cut their teeth in art school, and everyone from Andy Warhol to Raymond Pettibon created album covers. This exhibition traces communities of collaboration in various geographical areas, here and abroad. “Ground zero for the art/music connection, however, is New York, where at certain periods the art and rock scenes blended to a striking degree.” In the 1960s, the Velvet Underground was Warhol’s house band. Later Cindy Sherman and Robert Longo lived and worked closely with various new wave and punk performers. Throughout history, music and art have always cross-fertilized each other, said Alan G. Artner in the Chicago Tribune. “But you wouldn’t know it from Sympathy for the Devil.” The show provides a 10-cent tour of places, personalities, and performances, but never explains exactly what formal or conceptual ideas were being exchanged. Rock music is, by its nature, confrontational. This art isn’t. “Not a single piece here demands to be encountered again and again or seriously challenges the audience.” Drawings by Longo and paintings by Karl Wirsum do capture the vital frenzy of the music, but such energy is otherwise in short supply among the many videos and graphic works. This disappointing show also misses the big story: “How serious artists were led by Andy Warhol to aspire for the first time in history to the status of popular entertainers.” No wonder so many works here already seem dated, nostalgic artifacts of passing fads.

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