Artist Patrick McDonough gets it. For a show that hangs in the entryway to Civilian Art Projects — an alternative take on a mainstream space — McDonough has employed a Tower Records’ worth of alt-art strategies, from tattoo ink to latex house paint. If the work winds up feeling hollow, there’s a reason for that. McDonough makes the commercial distribution of art his business, nearly to the exclusion of any other artistic concern.
That much is clear from “112003-birdhouse,” McDonough’s reproduction of Smart Studios. This dollhouselike model, complete with patio furniture and roof shingles, hangs in the entryway over the stairs leading to Civilian on the second floor. It’s a devotional not only to the artist’s childhood (McDonough grew up in Madison) but to the aesthetic revolution of the early 1990s. His focus isn’t the independent musician but the independent music studio — one rent-seeker among many who set up shop outside the temple of the counterculture.
McDonough is young enough that he probably remembers the perpetual teenage fretting over artists selling out. His art, in any case, is made in that paranoid style. For “112303-accent wall,” a work that many viewers are bound to overlook, McDonough has painted a wall inside the narrow entryway purple.
It’s his homage to Soundgarden’s “Ultramega OK,” the band’s 1988 studio debut album. The record features tracks by the names of “665” and “667.” As a response, McDonough painted the wall at Civilian with latex house paint to match the Photoshop color 665667 and, for $20 to $50 per square foot, he will paint any wall you like the same shade of purple.
Leigh Conner, the namesake of Conner Contemporary Art, where McDonough is employed, mentioned during the show’s opening that she might purchase a McDonough work — by asking him to paint parts of the wall obscured by other artworks hanging in her home. McDonough’s show is rife with potential for this kind of subversive humor.
For example, “112303-tattoo” — note McDonough’s titling convention, seemingly devised to frustrate newspaper editors — cannot be sold at all. For this piece, he had song lyrics (“DAMN RIGHT I’LL RISE AGAIN”) tattooed across his back, just as the character does in the Hold Steady song from which he borrowed the line. If he were to attempt to sell this patch of skin as art, he would be violating human-trafficking laws: pretty alternative. Instead, he drew up a will pledging the marked-up skin off his lower back to an institution to be named at a later date. (He named his partner, Leah Hunter, as the executor.)