“The history of my stupidity would fill many volumes.”
-Czeslaw Milosz, “Account”
Is there any room for stupidity in contemporary art? All signs point to yes, though we may not want to admit it. There are plenty of reasons we wouldn’t want to talk about the role of stupidity in art and life, be it fear of failure or the belief that art is too important to laugh about. But avoiding the issue means we miss out on a wide range of human experience, not to mention a slew of creative possibilities. It also dismisses a venerable history of artists making stupid jokes. (Did you hear the one about the sideways urinal?)
Play the Fool showcases three artists working in painting, sculpture, and animation who embrace stupidity as a vehicle for experimentation, humor, and inspiration. Their work engages with the anxieties, fears, and humiliations of daily life and incorporates these moments of uncertainty into the creative process. At times silly, unsettling, and confusing, this show asks us to consider the power of playing dumb.
Work by Zeyi Li, Miri Phelps, and Patrick Wilkins
Curated by Ben McElroy Fuqua
Zeyi Li, b. 1991, is an animator and painter. He got his MFA from School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2017. Li has shown artworks in spaces such as Beijing World Art Museum and Suillivan Gallery, and his animation has been shown at Skepto International Film Festival, Moving Picture Festival, and the London Monthly Film Festival. Currently he works and lives in Chicago.
Miri Phelps spends her time between Chicago, Southern Indiana and Kentucky. Passing through these rural and urban spaces helps inform her research into contemporary country music. As a middle and high school art teacher in a tiny town, she has witnessed the influence of the genre on young women. In the city, she is reminded of the disconnect between the two cultures and the ease at which these lyrics are delivered, unnoticed, to a rural population.
Miri has documented statistics on the low percentage of females in Contemporary Country charts, the rise of product placement and the decades-long tradition of singing about vacations in Mexico. Research inspires her sculptural practice which includes objects made of everything from cast bronze to spaghetti. At times her sculptures directly correlate with the numbers gathered in the gobs of spreadsheets, other times the sculptures are reactionary to the misogyny and racism prevalent in this genre of mainstream music. Sculptures embody everything from an 8′ corn cob on a camo beach towel to a Perler bead portrait commending Miranda Lambert for her semi-feminist lyrics. Miri’s loftiest goal is to hold Country music accountable, her most realistic goal is to piss off a Bro-Country singer.
Patrick Wilkins was born in Wiesbaden, Germany in 1987 and grew up in Elkhart, Indiana. He earned his BA in Fine Art – Painting and Printmaking from Purdue University in 2012 and his MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2017. He currently lives and paints in Chicago, Illinois.