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Review: Take time for 'Chew the Fat'

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 11, 2009 - "Rirkrit Tiravanija: Chew the Fat" is an exhibition of film interviews the Thai artist made with some of the most influential figures working in the visual arts today: Angela Bulloch, Liam Gillick, Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, Douglas Gordon, Carsten Hoeller, Pierre Huyghe, Jorge Pardo, Philippe Parreno, Elizabeth Peyton, Tobias Rehberger and Andrea Zittel.

At the Kemper, Tiravanija's installation is much as it was in the exhibition's debut in a 2008 group show at New York's Guggenheim: on an orange carpeted floor, relaxation mats are scattered around video monitors and headphones perched atop wooden boxes.

The entire affair has the feel of a minimal, new-age lounge, which perfectly parallels the sensibility of the filmed interviews. Most of these feature the artists going about their business, working or relaxing or eating, carrying on a casual conversation with Tiravanija.

At times the films border on complete inconsequentiality, and one is left to wonder what could possibly be gained by listening to Peyton's banal ruminations, or watching Gillick answer his email.

Indeed, the films sometimes feel smug, like a documentary on an artistic in-crowd to which most of us will never belong. Which is, actually, the case: many of the interviewees, like Tiravanija himself, are associated with an artistic practice the author Nicolas Bourriaud labeled "relational aesthetics" in the 1990s -- they don't make finished, exhibition-ready objects, but rather work on setting up interactive situations that parallel everyday life.

Given this fact, it's hard to imagine representing their art in any way other than to let the camera roll, and let them live out segments of their lives. There are highs and there are lows here: It's not clear what the painter Elizabeth Peyton is even doing among this crew (a low); while Pierre Huyghe emerges, expectedly, as the most informed of the artists with the most to say (a high).

But there is no doubt that "Chew the Fat" is destined to take its place as a significant document of early 21st century art.

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