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The Guiltiest Pleasures

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In between going to graduate school and working several jobs, I like to read celebrity gossip. When I say that I like to read it, what I really mean is that I can tell you which socialite is dating which male model at any given point in time, and that I received five different text messages from five different friends notifying me that Anna Nicole Smith had passed away within an hour of it happening. On a good day, I shrug my shoulders and tell myself that it’s all part of the postmodern condition. On a bad day, I just sit back and watch “The Year in Lindsay Lohan” on E! for the fifth time. Fortunately, I’m not alone; in a recent feature printed in The Guardian, writer Philip Oltermann revealed the guilty pleasures of a number of academic all-stars. These pleasures ranged from country music to television game shows to collecting celebrity autographs.

Although responses were often indicative of the participants’ roles as public intellectuals (historian Anthony Beevor on his predilection for the TV dating show, Blind Date: “[Daters] could not see how things had changed and how they had become potentially redundant in the brave new world of mass communication to which they had exposed their own pitiful inadequacies”), The Guardian’s effort was a refreshing reminder that academics are not, in fact, entirely one-dimensional, and that sometimes it’s okay to have “just pure sleazy fun”—as feminist writer Naomi Wolf says she does (and I can back her up on this one) by sitting down with a copy of Star.

In order to see how The Guardian’s feature translated to the Chicago art community, F Newsmagazine polled locally-based artists, critics, art historians, and curators to find what happens when they aren’t busy shaping the art world:

“Guilty pleasure covers a lot of territory. Some of it won’t go into here. There’s action movies with my son Gus, and rock n’ roll nights with my good friend Doug. But long before Arnold, or even Jimi, there was Bogart. When I’m shut in or just feeling used after teaching, I like to soak in the movies of Humphrey Bogart like a hot bath. They restoreth my soul.

You know the ones: Key Largo, Sierra Madre, The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep, I could go on. The ones filled with that edgy, sardonic, masculinity of the post-war America of my youth. The ones I saw in triple features at the Clark Theatre when I should have been in art history class. Existential is probably too elevated a word, but it’s close to the feeling I get from de Kooning’s paintings. The big difference being I can afford a movie on DVD, but not a de Kooning. I need to be alone, maybe a little high, so I can really wallow in self-love and delusion.

They let me connect to a sense of self that sprouted with my first pubic hairs. ere are some lines by Raymond Chandler, describing Phillip Marlow, clipped from an obit for Bogart by Joe Goldberg, that say it clearly: “He must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world. He talks as the man of his age talks, that is, with rude wit, a lively sense of the grotesque, a disgust for sham, and a contempt for pettiness. He has a range of awareness that startles you, but it belongs to him by right, because it belongs to the world he lives in.”

George Liebert, Adjunct Associate Professor,
Painting and Drawing; First Year Program; Printmedia

“Fantasy sports, poker, UFC. Yes, it’s true, I play fantasy football and baseball. I get together a couple times a month with artist and curator friends for poker (Texas, Omaha and Anaconda among other games); and I watch UFC fights on the DVR. It’s all about the competition… or maybe it’s about something else?”

Tony Wight, Director, Bodybuilder and Sportsman Gallery

“Well, I refuse to feel guilty about pleasure. I love keeping a rhythm of small pleasures through the day when possible. Sipping tea, reading newspapers, doing Pilates, eating chocolate, joking in the hallways. At night, reading mysteries. And flirting…”

Maud Lavin, Professor, Art History, Theory and Criticism/Visual Critical Studies, SAIC

“[I follow] the career of Eddie Vedder, the greatest voice in rock n’ roll.”

James Cuno, President, Art Institute of Chicago

“Of a predominantly rational and rationalizing nature, I rarely procrastinate and when I do it is usually by means of some kind of practical activity that I can argue myself into believing is necessary and useful. I might wash the dishes or hang pictures when I should be reading Panofsky. Mostly, however, what I do is think about food. (This is practical because we all need nourishment to survive, but trust me when I admit that I think about it far, far beyond subsistence levels.) I mentally run through the foodstuffs in my pantry and refrigerator and imagine how I might prepare them for lunch or dinner. I consult on-line recipes in order to figure out how to use the bitter melon recently purchased at the Chinese grocery. I read my collection of cookbooks as if they were novels. I window shop at the Swedish Bakery and browse the shelves of markets on Devon. I prepare more meals in my head than I could ever stomach eating. And of course, at the end of the day (or sometimes in the middle), I also roll up my sleeves and cook.”

Lori Waxman, art historian and critic

“Oh, like many of my colleagues at SAIC, I like to sit at home in my underwear and think about how important I am. But, really, I have a thing for CAN TV, the local public access channels (Channels 19 and 21 on my cable system). It’s that stunning intersection of democracy and amateurism (kind of like voting) that never fails to fascinate, the human comedy at full tilt. I especially enjoy “Can I Step With You,” a dance program focusing on indifferent, middle-aged African-Americans; “Exposé,” where a strange, Barbie-like woman conducts interminable interviews mostly with heavy-metal bands from the South Side; “Star Performers,” a local modeling and karaoke program that’s absolutely jaw-dropping; and “Taped with Rabbi Doug” brings back a lot of memories of my guilt-laden youth. If TV with the production value of a Kmart toaster is your guilty pleasure, then defrost a pizza, grab a grape soda, and enjoy!”

James Yood, Adjunct Professor, Art History, Theory and Criticism Department, SAIC; Regional Correspondent, Artforum

“If at home, I like to read the Financial Times weekend section and The Economist to reinforce my opinions with that of the Europeans of our dismal foreign policy, president, and the Iraq war debacle. The U.S. American news is only beginning to do so except for two of my favorites, “Democracy Now” and “This is Hell.”

If I have time on the weekend, I go to the antique stores in my neighborhood — Edgewater Antique Mall and Broadway Antique Market—in hopes of finding the perfect coffee table. Instead I usually find clothes. If I have a full free day and a rental car, I go to Salvage One and Jan’s, plus they are close to the galleries. After going to Jan’s, which is a mess, I recover by looking at pictures of minimalist homes in design magazines.”

Tricia Van Eck, Curatorial Coordinator and Curator of Artists’ Books, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago

“There is so much inherently interesting stuff to love about Chicago, that I try to keep my guilty pleasures local. While I have many vices, my favorite is finding the grimmest, dingiest, smallest hot dog stands in the city, and eating there. Hot dog and fries, period.

My interest dates back to my first summer in Chicago, when Doug Huston introduced me to Parky’s on Roosevelt Road in Berwyn. A bizarre little asymmetrical stand with a home-made sign that almost was bigger than the restaurant it was a woman’s hand, daintily holding a hot dog, and it was fraught with Freudian innuendo. Doug’s motto for Parky’s was to “throw out the dog and eat the fries,” which clued me in to the geographically specific wonder of Chicago french fries.

I think more people judge Chicago hot dog stands by their fries than by anything else. Where else in the United States can you get fries cooked in duck fat???? It took me a while to acclimate to the typical condiments applied to a Chicago hot dog—I grew up eating them grilled with sauerkraut, raw onions, and mustard—but I’m now a devotee of the local style. Sadly, while driving along Roosevelt Road in Berwyn last week, I noticed that Parky’s had become a taco/burrito stand. It’s okay, though, since I’ve discovered Gene & Jude Red Hot Stand on River Road, I have absorbed the loss (and there’s another Parky’s on Harlem…). Not to mention, who doesn’t like the odd taco or burrito?”

Mark Pascale, Associate Curator of Prints and Drawings, Art Institute of Chicago

“My guilty pleasure is definitely watching television cooking shows. Because I love to cook and rarely have time to fix anything more complex than a bowl of spaghetti, let alone entertain my friends on a regular basis, these shows are my fantasy escape into a world of the immaculate kitchens and the delicious menus of Giada de Laurentiis, the Barefoot Contessa, Mario Batali, etc.

It all started with “Yan Can Cook,” a Chinese cooking show that was on PBS several years ago (if Yan Can Cook, so can you!!), then came Martha (the Queen of Perfection), and then the Food Network was born and I discovered “Iron Chef” and Paula Deen (I would never make her artery-clogging recipes but it’s fun to imagine and I love listening to her Savannah accent!). I still catch Paula Deen and Giada on the weekends but my current can’t miss food shows are “Top Chef” (how could they not pick Sam!?) and “No Reservations” with Anthony Bourdain.”

Julie Rodrigues Widholm, Assistant Curator, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago

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