Sol Lewitt, #StankyLegg, and the Publics for Conceptual Art

Evans Dances

Evans Dances Baldessari Sings Lewitt Via UIC

Can the Stanky Legg bring new publics to conceptual art? Perhaps this is arguable.  But why don't you make up your own mind about it while Chaz Evans shakes a leg in his Vimeo video.  Shots of Evans dancing the Dougie, the Robot, and the Hustle after the break.

Dancing the robot

The shots of dancing are from the interactive exhibit EDBSL-Evans Dances Baldessari Sings Lewitt, and the dancer and creator is a MFA at University of Illinois Chicago, who is working with the 1972 recorded performance of artist, John Baldessari. 

As Evans writes on his Vimeo page: "I feel that this is a tribute to [Baldessari] in that I think his vocal stylings have been hidden too long in the walls of art institutions and video art websites. Perhaps by my dancing them to popular moves it will bring his songs to a much larger public." Baldessari's songs range from the tune of Yankee Doodle Dandy to arhymthic compositions with no tune at all in the style of 1970s performance art.


With his get-down-boogie dancing, Evans is mirroring the intention of Baldessari himself who was in 1972 trying to reach out to the public by translating another strange artifact.  Baldessari's singing was a delivery of the premises of conceptual art written by Sol Lewitt.

  1. Conceptual artists are mystics rather than rationalists. They leap to conclusions that logic cannot reach.
  2. Rational judgements repeat rational judgements.
  3. Irrational judgements lead to new experience.
  4. Formal art is essentially rational.
  5. Irrational thoughts should be followed absolutely and logically.
  6. If the artist changes his mind midway through the execution of the piece he compromises the result and repeats past results.
  7. The artist's will is secondary to the process he initiates from idea to completion. His willfulness may only be ego.

Evans is Still Dancin

The sentences(there are 35 of them in all) don't seem to be written for a popular audience.  But that didn't stop Baldessari and now Evans from bringing them to those who wouldn't engage or understand.  Evans not only translates each sentence into a dance move from American popular culture.  His exhibit also allows the viewer to use a controller to scroll through and choose which dances/sentences to experience. Evans writes, "It may be the case that after selecting the dances you will experience additional enjoyment brought on through a principle of choice-supportive bias."


It seems to me the exhibit does interesting work.  It assumes the value of connecting new people with the historical work of conceptual artists. But this connection is made with a good dose of humor, more familiar parts of American culture, and also through gesture and the body.   The disarming, enlivening dancing by Evans mediates a problematic relationship between the American public and the cultural heritages they either ignore or cannot access.
The user-oriented interface of the exhibit is another layer on top of that.

Sol Lewitt

Sol DeWitt, Circle With Towers Via Artnet

Landmarks, our public art program on UT-Austin campus, recently helped to buy a major work of art by Sol LeWitt, "Circle with Towers." But the comments on the Landmarks press release indicate that conceptual art and the public still, at times, remain at an impasse.  Those who posted comments against "Circle with Towers" argue that in a tight economy, the money used to purchase art would be better used on salaries, university technology, or anything else. The anti-art comments also question the aesthetic value and meaning of the Landmarks collection, which are mostly contemporary works of abstraction.  On the other hand, the comments from art professionals and staff indicate the assumption that contemporary art has enduring value for the public.   The whole purpose of the Landmarks program is to give people access (the art pieces are installed across UT campus). In their replies, the Landmarks staff post web links to multi-media support materials such as podcasts, written context, and images. 

I believe the mini-controversy at UT shows that there is a bit of work to do in regards to engagement, but I believe personally that this presents a vital opportunity for us to reimagine our relationship to art in America in the new economy.  I think Evans with his Stanky Legg is on to something.   We need to engage art with our bodies.  Also, I think we need to consider that we're not going to survive in a time of scarcity without digging into creative ways of thinking.  It isn't going to work anymore to continue the status quo, and who better to show us that than artists like Lewitt who lived to upset it.


reaching broader (counter)publics?

What I think is so super about this particular project is that Chaz Evans is doing dances that were created within a particular, urban counterpublic, and then became more popular with other publics as the dances widened their geographic scope. Evans is connecting two very disparate counterpublics, both of which have been misunderstood and often misrepresented in the larger mainstream, in a way that hihglights similarities in a humorous but ultimately important way.

I think it would be interesting to take Evans' vimeo and present it to the groups of teens who do, create, and perform these dances and see how they react to the "Baldessari's" Stanky Leg or Robot. In what ways might they be encourged to make connections between what they do at the Winter Formal with conceptual art?

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