Dumpster Fire/Blank Slate———work by Dmitry Samarov

September 23—October 22, 2023

Buena Vista Projects, 10056 S Ewing, Chi IL

When I first visited John Salhus’s Buena Vista Projects, I was struck by the sense of possibility the space inspired. I’m not the sunshiniest individual you’re likely to meet, but this place and the neighborhood it’s in made me strangely hopeful. I immediately wanted to be involved in some way. Salhus wasn’t interested in a traditional gallery situation; this would not be yet another store for luxury items. What he wanted was to host artists trying to stretch or take a left turn. A kind of experimental lab rather than more of the Art World same old-same old. 

My idea was to haul a bunch of material to the storefront and make as much as I could make in three weeks. The south wall is a mixed-media mural that extends the collage alphabet I’ve been fashioning since COVID lockdown. Made up of personal ephemera counterpointed and enhanced by spontaneous mark-making, it is an attempt to breathe some life and find new connections from dormant material. The east and north walls are hung with paintings and drawings I made in and around the building.

I don’t know whether these two sets of work complement, clash, or even relate with one another, but look forward to thinking on it during the monthlong run of this show. I hope a few others will join me in the rumination.

As John read the above show text after printing it out for gallery visitors, he cringed a little over the appearance of his own name. He was thinking of ‘Dmitry Samarov, art critic’, worried about being judged. I laughed and told him I was trying to quit the critic racket.

Back in elementary school I resented being forced to offer opinions or analysis in book reports and essays. My gut reaction was always: if you wanna know what it’s about, read it yourself. Imagine my surprise when sometime in my early forties, after my first book was published, I began to be paid to write book reports. Pretty soon I was rendering judgments on movies, art shows, and plays as well. It became a part of the routine. When I questioned myself about it I reasoned that it was better than driving a cab.

Then years passed, editors came and went. I got along with some better than others. Sometimes it was easy; other times, like pulling teeth. At no point did I delude myself into thinking that this writing was creative expression. At its best it pointed a reader to something they might get something out of or steer them clear of a thing they didn’t need to suffer through; at its worst, it was a trying and inefficient way of paying some bills.

I’ve written enough articles by now to fill a book but doubt I’ll ever subject anyone to buying such a thing. There are a few critics who elevate the form to a sort of minor art. There are very few and I’m certainly not among them.

This summer, when I decided to go back to bartending part-time, one of the reasons was to cut back on the journalism. It’s been diminishing returns for quite a while. Maybe I can cut it out of my life altogether.

The other day I went to a movie. It was just okay. A low-key thing I’ll probably forget I ever took in after a week or two. But the greater joy that struck me as I left the theater was the realization that I don’t have to render judgment on it in any public or professional way. Knowing that I would have to write about a thing always cut into the experience of the thing.

Later that evening, I went to a play. This is what I wrote about it.

Weekend gallery hours continue at Buena Vista Projects on Saturday, 1-5pm.