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Chances Are the Comets in Our Future: A Visual Introduction to Drag City

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Tuesday, August 26, 2008–Saturday, October 04, 2008
Location:
Gallery 400
400 South Peoria Street, Chicago, IL 60607

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Chances Are the Comets in Our Future: A Visual Introduction to Drag City is an exhibition focusing on Chicago ’s own Drag City record label, which has been championing forward-thinking rock music since 1989, and is today recognized as a premier independent music label. Over the years, the label has had numerous run-ins with the visual arts. Drag City has released music by musicians who have been remarkably influential on visual artists as well as musicians who are visual artists themselves or have collaborated in-depth with visual artists. Still other musicians on Drag City have, in turn, treated their image with such attentiveness that their output can be viewed as a long-running act of performance. With Drag City, what you see is what you deserve.

Books Do Furnish a Room is the title that writer Anthony Powell gave to the 1971 novel of his twelve-novel project, A Dance to the Music of Time. Books may very well furnish a room, but records furnish a room and provide music to listen to while attending to the books. Furthermore, with a Drag City record, you get a package that draws attention away from the books altogether. Familiarity with the Drag City catalogue proves that a well-designed record package is a work of art, crafted with conceptual impact, visual intelligence, and emotional pleasure.

The album covers and other visual art by progressive rock musicians on display in Chances Are the Comets in Our Future reflect the interconnected artistic visions of the bands and artists, who make up the composite, shifting endeavor that is Drag City. The work includes covers, artworks, and more from groups such as Bonnie “Prince” Billy, The Red Krayola, Singer, Royal Trux, Gastr del Sol, Neil Hamburger, Silver Jews, Ghost, Weird War, and USA; with designs by Art & Language, David Berman, Barbara Bloom, Gene Booth, Bill Callahan, Brian Calvin, Neil Michael Hagerty, Stephen Prina, Albert Oehlen, Savage Pencil, Roman Signer, Mick Turner, Christopher Williams, among others.

As Gallery 400 Assistant Director Anthony Elms wrote, “Looking through the materials, and in my brief interactions with the Drag City team, I thought, ‘the history of the label still needs to get out. ’ If this exhibition serves as an early volley in a longer project of detailing Drag City’s history, then Chances Are the Comets in Our Future is an honorable and necessary step.”

related:

EXHIBITION SUPPORT

Chances Are the Comet in Our Future is supported by the College of Architecture and the Arts, University of Illinois at Chicago, and a grant from the Illinois Arts Council, a state agency.

EXHIBITION ESSAY

Rian Murphy

Drag City is a record label that has released LPs, CDs, DVDs, books, comic books, posters and the occasional t-shirt since 1989.

The goal upon founding was to release a 7″ single (“Hero Zero” by Royal Trux, the collage is on view in this exhibition). Nearly twenty years later, that goal has been accomplished. But are we satisfied, do we walk away? No! There might be another 7″ single out there worth doing…or something even better: an album, maybe.

There will be no scheduled end of the road for Drag City (unless the money runs out) because Drag City itself is a composite beast made of the bands and artists it has released over the years. The connection made with Royal Trux, Silver Jews, Smog, Palace Brothers, King Kong, Gastr del Sol, The Red Krayola, Flying Saucer Attack, Mick Turner, Aerial M, Neil Hamburger, Jim O’Rourke, Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Neil Michael Hagerty, David Grubbs, Bill Callahan, Six Organs of Admittance, Joanna Newsom and many, many others has created a real fucking life for the label and new friends for the boys and girls running it. It’s created a livelihood (at best!) and a reliable pastime (for some!), but we’re all a few records richer as a result. This is the important part: the art of it. Being a few records richer is, to our collective mind, a great richness.

The look of Drag City Records is in essence a shared vision between all of the artists on the label, each making a decision about how their records should look. Their decisions are curated, mitigated and framed by the suits and bigwigs down at HQ. It is to all the artists who have worked with us, many of whose fine works are on display here in this here gallery, that we extend our gratitude. Thanks for being our friends and allies – and thanks for all the nice wall hangings.

****

Anthony Elms

When I first proposed Chances Are the Comets in Our Future to the people of Drag City, I knew it could not be the complete history of the Drag City record label, but a presentation of some of the exceptional ways visual art and performers/records have come together. Over the years, the label has had numerous run-ins with the visual arts in all manners of methods. Drag City has released music by musicians that have been remarkably influential on visual artists and released music by musicians who are visual artists themselves or have collaborated in-depth with visual artists. Still other musicians on Drag City have, in turn, treated their image with such attentiveness that their output can be viewed as a long-running act of performance. It is rare that a label has had so much involvement with visual artists and also allows so many of its musicians to design, paint, draw, etc., their own album covers. In the gallery are numerous examples that sometimes an offset-printed record cover, designed with care and respect, can be equal to any artwork; and in particular, a well-crafted record cover can often trump most painting, drawing or video rooted in the artist ’s love of music.

Looking through the materials, and in my brief interactions with the Drag City team, I thought, “the history of the label still needs to get out.” If this exhibition serves as an early volley in a longer project of detailing Drag City’s history, then Chances Are the Comets in Our Future is an honorable and necessary step.

Special thanks are due to Ryan Davis, Sara Hays, Dan Koretsky, Rian Murphy and Dan Osborn, who all provided invaluable help and without whom this exhibition would not have been possible. Thanks also to Royal Trux, without whom this exhibition would not have a title.

****

Anthony Elms and Rian Murphy, Chances Are the Comets in Our Future, August 2008.

These essays were distributed in the gallery during the run of the exhibition.

PRINT COLLATERAL

Postcard: Chances Are the Comets in Our Future – Opening Reception

EXHIBITION CHECKLIST

David Berman

Collages for inner sleeve
Silver Jews: Tanglewood Numbers, 2005

Collage for inner sleeve
Silver Jews: Starlite Walker, 1994

Collage for tour poster
Silver Jews: The Arizona Record, 1993

Bonnie “Prince” Billy

Arise Therefore, 1996
Drawing by Gene Booth

Cold & Wet, 2006
Painting by Lori D.

I See A Darkness, 1999
Cover by Will Oldham

Sings Greatest Palace Music, 2004
Painting by Mclean Stith

Helena Espvall & Masaki Batoh

Helena Espvall & Masaki Batoh, 2008
Drawing by Kumagusu Minakata

Bill Callahan

Drinking Woman, 1999
published in Bill Callahan: The Death ’s Head Drawings

Collage for cover
Smog: A River Ain ’t Too Much to Love, 2005

Collage for front and back cover
Smog: Floating, 1991

Collage for poster
Smog: Burning Kingdom, 1994

Untitled, 1999
published in Bill Callahan: The Death ’s Head Drawings

Dearraindrop

Collage for Drag City promotional CD, 2005

Collage for cover
Bill Callahan: Woke on a Whaleheart, 2005

John Fahey

Untitled, not dated

Kyle Field

Drawings for front, back, and cover
Bonnie “Prince” Billy: Agnes, Queen of Sorrow, 2004

Flying Saucer Attack

Mirror, 2000
Cover by Savage Pencil

Gastr del Sol

Camoufleur, 1998
Drawing by Markus Oehlen

Mirror Repair, 1994
Painting by Albert Oehlen

Upgrade & Afterlife, 1996
Photograph by Roman Signer

Ghost

Hypnotic Underworld, 2004
Painting by Ichiyusai Kuniyoshi

David Grubbs

The Thicket, 1998
Photograph by Stephen Prina

Neil Hamburger

Sings Country Winners, 2008
Photograph by Simone Turkington

Neil Michael Hagerty

Collage for cover
The Howling Hex: All-Night Fox, 2005

Collage for cover
Neil Michael Hagerty: Neil Michael Hagerty, 2001

Neil Michael Hagerty & Jennifer Herrema

Painting for cover
Royal Trux: Singles, Live, Unreleased, 1997

Drawing for unused poster
Royal Trux: What is Royal Trux?, 1992

Collage for inner gatefold
Royal Trux: Twin Infinitives, 1990

Painting for cover
Royal Trux: Accelerator, 1998

Collage for front and back cover
Royal Trux: Hero Zero, 1990

Mock up for Royal Trux poster, 2000

Neil Michael Hagerty with Ian Svenonius and Michelle Mae

Collage for cover
Weird War: Weird War, 2002

Jennifer Herrema

Painting for inner sleeve
RTX: Transmaniacon, 2002

Embroidery for cover
Royal Trux: Pound for Pound, 2000

Rikke Iversholt

Collage for cover
Alasdair Roberts: The Amber Gathers, 2007

J. Spaceman & Sun City Girls

Mister Lonely: Music From the Film By Harmony Korine, 2008
Photographs by Brent Stewart and Juergen Teller

Loose Fur

Loose Fur, 2003
Painting by Brian Calvin

Delphine LeDorze

Photograph for cover
King Kong: Kingdom of Kong, 1997

Geoff McFetridge

Drawing for promotion poster
Royal Trux: Veterans of Disorder, 1999

Joanna Newsom

Ys, 2006
Painting by Benjamin A. Vierling

Michael O ’Bannon

Drawings for cover
Gastr del Sol: Serpentine Similar, 1993

Albert Oehlen

Cover mock-up
The Red Krayola: 14, 1994

Jim O ’Rourke

Halfway to a Threeway, 1999
Photographs by Jim Newberry

Dan Osborn

Drawing for poster
Joanna Newsom: Tellurian Night Music, 2007

Osorezan

Mimidokodesuka, 2008
Collage by Jim O ’Rourke

Palace Music

Lost Blues and Other Songs, 1997
Cover by Will Oldham

Viva Last Blues, 1995
Drawing by Dianne Bellino

Olli Päük

Collage for cover
Liimanarina: Spermarket, 1995

Stephen Prina

Push Comes to Love, 1999
Cover by Barbara Bloom

Emily Prince

Embroidery for cover
Joanna Newsom: The Milk-Eyed Mender, 2004

Singer

Unhistories, 2008
Design by Dan Osborn

Suarasama

Fajar Di Atas Awan, 2008
Cover by Hisham Akira Bharoocha

Ian Svenonius

Drawing for inner sleeve
Scene Creamers: I Suck on that Emotion, 2003

Drawing for cover
Scene Creamers: AK-47, 2003

Unused drawing for cover
Scene Creamers: AK-47, 2003

Drawing for cover
Weird War: If You Can ’t Beat ‘Em, Bite ‘Em, 2004

Collage for inner sleeve
Weird War: Illuminated by the Light, 2005

Spencer Sweeney

Drawing for cover
Bonnie “Prince” Billy with Matt Sweeney: Superwolf, 2005

Royal Trux

Cats and Dogs, 1993
Cover by Royal Trux

Veterans of Disorder, 1999
Logo by Dan Osborn
Background by Royal Trux

Radio Video EP, 2000
Drawing by Hiroshi Tanabe

Hand of Glory, 2002
Collage by Neil Michael Hagerty

RTX

Transmaniacon, 2004
Drawing by Fergadelic

Shellac

Cover mock-up
Shellac: The Bird is the Most Popular Finger, 1994

The Red Krayola

Coconut Hotel

Recorded 1967, released 1995
Photo by Mayo Thompson

The Red Krayola, 1994
Photo by Albert Oehlen

Amor and Language, 1995
Cover by Christopher Williams

Hazel, 1996
Cover by Christopher Williams

Chemistry, 1995
Cover by Christopher Williams

Fingerpainting, 1999
Cover by Christopher Williams

Blues, Hollers and Hellos, 2000
Design by Christopher William

Introduction, 2006
Design by Dan Osborn

The Red Krayola with Art & Language

Sighs Trapped By Liars, 2007
Lyrics by Art & Language

Mayo Thompson

Corky ’s Debt to His Father, 1970

White Magic

Dat Rosa Mel Apibus, 2006
Painting by Mira Billotte

Dark Stars, 2007
Drawing by Douglas Shaw

Christopher Williams

Contact sheet for cover
The Red Krayola: Amor and Language, 1995

MEDIA COVERAGE

“Chances Are the Comets in Our Future: A Visual Introduction to Drag City.” flavorpill.com, Aug. 26, 2008.

Reisinger, Justine. “Gallery 400 Offers a Visual Introduction to Drag City.” pastemagazine.com, Aug. 29, 2008.

Sanford, Graham. “Chances Are the Comets in Our Future.” gapersblock.com, Sept. 4, 2008.