‘Reckless Rolodex’ opens this week at UIC’s Gallery 400

Gallery 400 exhibition
Barbara Kasten, Crown Hall 2, 2018-2019, digital Chromogenic Print, 40 ½ x 54 in. Edition 1 of 3 + 1AP. (Courtesy of Bortolami Gallery.)

Gallery 400 at the University of Illinois Chicago will host “Reckless Rolodex,” a group exhibition from Jan. 13 until March 18 that celebrates the influence of the Chicago-based performance artist Lawrence Steger.

Steger, who was born in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1961 and died in Chicago in 1999, will be honored by the work of 12 contemporary artists as well as performance events that “explore the generational transmission of influence.” The exhibition is curated by Matthew Goulish, Lin Hixson and Caroline Picard.

The artists include Susan Anderson, Lilli Carré, Edie Fake, Max Guy, Barbara Kasten, Young Joon Kwak, Devin T. Mays, John Neff, Betsy Odom, Derrick Woods-Morrow and Cherrie Yu. There will be performances by ATOM-r, Sky Cubacub, as well as Matthew Goulish and Natasha Mijares.

Gallery 400 exhibition
Lilli Carré, “Loose Lock”, 2019, Terracotta and underglaze, 27 ½ x 11 x 2 ¾ in. (Courtesy of Western Exhibitions)

Works on view will wield a theatrical quality, crossing mediums and emotions to “undermine the notion of a static self.” Themes of performance and movement emerge in Guy’s hanging mask work, Yu’s recasting of janitorial labor and dance, and Odom’s graphite kitchen knives nestled on a soft pelt.

These artworks consistently present formal concerns while bantering against expectations. Carré’s mounted ceramic lock evokes both entrance and exclusion to a door that isn’t present. Anderson’s life-size photographic portrait similarly evokes and eludes the full scope of Steger’s presence. Works on view undermine an object’s expectation, whether through May’s quiet — and easily missed — artistic interventions, Neff’s color field homage to the movie poster for “Jaws,” Kasten’s architectural abstractions, a mattress installation by Woods-Morrow or the fragmentary cast of a mirror ball by Joon Kwak.

Described by the Chicago Tribune as “one of the most important, and most influential, performance artists in Chicago during the late 1980s and 90s,” Steger explored desire and sexuality in performance until his death in 1999 due to AIDS-related complications. A skilled director, writer and performer, Steger relied on the disciplines of theater and a community of collaborative artists to realize his intricately constructed performances. He reflected his deep knowledge of a wide range of sources, from pop culture and film to the writing of Jean Genet and the Fluxus-style works of Yoko Ono.

Gallery 400 exhibition
Susan Anderson, “Lawrence Steger,” St. Georges Ct., Chicago, 1992, 1992/2022, Lightjet print on silver gelatin paper, mounted on Dibond. (Photo: Susan Anderson.)

Mercurial, stylish and comical, he presented himself refracted through historical figures such as Ludwig II, the 19th-century “Mad King” of Bavaria, or imaginary personas like nocturnal figures populating cabaret dreams and nightmares.

“Reckless Rolodex” is the first concentrated examination of Steger’s work to date, providing a landmark opportunity to unearth an artistic predecessor too-easily marginalized by his early death.

Programs accompanying the exhibition:

“Reckless Rolodex” Virtual Tour
Friday, Feb. 3
3-4 p.m.

Join Gallery 400 and the UIC Disability Cultural Center Director Margaret Fink for a virtual tour of “Reckless Rolodex.” CART live-captioning and ASL will be available on Zoom. Gallery 400 will have a camera connecting Zoom audiences to the artworks in the gallery. Verbal descriptions will be integrated into the presentation.

Gallery 400 exhibition
Betsy Odom, “Wusthoff Knives”, 2013, carved graphite, fur. 14 x 10 in. (Courtesy the artist.)

Natasha Mijares and Matthew Goulish
Thursday, Feb. 9
5-6:30 p.m.

Poet Natasha Mijares will give a reading of her work “Sound Audition,” and “Reckless Rolodex” co-curator Matthew Goulish will present “A User’s Guide to Reckless Rolodex,” both in response to the works, history and ideas of the exhibition.

Tuesday, Feb. 14
5-6:30 p.m.

ATOM-r presents a mixed reality love poem for Steger, drawing upon his performance cover of an Alice Cooper song in 1997. The work explores thresholds and excesses, melding the vocabulary of transitions in theatrical production with the choreography of nautical line-crossing ceremonies observed by sailors when crossing the equator.

Sky Cubacub: Rebirth Warriors
Thursday, March 2
5-6:30 p.m.

Sky Cubacub of Rebirth Garments presents youth designers from their design incubator program, showing both garments fully designed, cut, sewn and modeled by the youth designers as well as collaborations designed by the youth designer, fabricated by Rebirth Garments and modeled by queer and trans disabled models of all sizes and ages.

Call and Response: Lawrence Steger’s Archive
Tuesday, March 7
6-7 p.m.

Join exhibiting artists in “Reckless Rolodex” and its curators, Matthew Goulish and Lin Hixson, for a conversation on the performance scene in Chicago during the 80s-90s and the enduring legacy of Lawrence Steger. The featured artists will discuss how they engaged, or did not engage, with Steger’s archive for their works in the exhibition. Presented in partnership with the Chicago Collections Consortium.

Gallery hours:
Tuesday-Friday 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Saturday 12-5 p.m.

Support for “Reckless Rolodex” is provided by the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts; a grant from the Illinois Arts Council Agency; and the School of Art & Art History, College of Architecture, Design, and the Arts, University of Illinois Chicago.

For more details and additional public programs, visit Gallery 400.

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