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ART/EVENT: Conrad Freiburg’s Slipping Glimpser @ Linda Warren Gallery

Event: Conrad Freiburg’s Slipping Glimpser Opening Night
Location: Linda Warren Gallery / 1052 W. Fulton Market / Chicago, IL
Date: 09/08/2006

Review: Upon meeting Conrad Freiburg, “artist” isn’t the first word that pops to mind. His dress and demeanor would seem to place him at the local dive bar with blistered hands wrapped around a pint glass. It’s the disarming smile and wonder in his eyes that makes one realize that Conrad is a thinker. As a freelance woodworker, he is also a doer. His work ethic and practicality in daily life may be one of the things that makes Conrad’s artistic and fantastical visions so much more accessible. Freiburg knows art is serious business, but his work doesn’t aim to exclude anyone from the base enjoyment of it all.

That enjoyment and wonder that underlines all of Freiburg’s past works has been uprooted and stacked atop itself in his newest work. Finding himself simultaneously fascinated with the Chicago Columbian Exposition of 1893 (The World’s Fair made popular by the book Devil In The White City) and the philosophy and work of artist Willem DeKooning, The Slipping Glimpser was born. DeKooning often thought himself most useful and interesting when he was on the brink of meaning. If he knew exactly what he was doing, the mood would dampen into banality, but when he was working on something where the outcome was unknown, that was interesting. He was slipping.

The slipping part of it all was only half of it for Freiburg. On New Year’s Eve, 2004/05, Conrad built a in his warehouse apartment (one I was lucky enough to share with him at the time). The idea was that you didn’t need to turn on the television to watch a ball drop. You could watch the ball drop over and over again. On the floor in front of the ramp, Conrad painted a bright red and white bulls-eye. When the bowling balls dropped that night, they destroyed. The idea, despite all of its destruction and mess, was beautiful. Some at the New Year’s party smashed bottles, some smashed old toys from their childhood. Beyond breaking our resolutions (literally), there was the minor thrill of the interaction between the people. Oh yes, and the danger.

Eventually, the temporality of whatever was put in the bowling ball’s path (not to mention the temporality of the ramp itself as it wore down) clicked with Freiburg’s fascination with the World’s Fair. People from all walks of life worked hard and long to erect the famous White City, only to have it torn down shortly after. Yet, the 1893 World’s Fair is one of the most remembered. A fleeting moment of historical beauty to be remembered long after the active creators had passed. The immortality of experience and grandeur, adhering to Daniel Burnham’s maxim to “make no small plans, they have no passion to stir men’s blood”, was what made the World’s Fair survive history. Freiburg held on to this thought and began expanding the ramp into an unknown interactive and towering structure that would both pay homage to the inspiration and set out to thrill the new audience. As he was building the namesake structure, Freiburg himself became a Slipping Glimpser in the most satisfying process.

Equally satisfying is the result, which is now on display at the Linda Warren Gallery in the Fulton Market gallery district of Chicago. While galleries are widely known for being sparse and sterile, Conrad’s winding structure, constructed from ash wood, fills the space. Covering the entire length, breadth and height of the gallery, the Slipping Glimpser inspires awe from all ages even before it is put into action. At the opening reception on the evening of September 8th, people clutched their free beer, hot dogs and popcorn while carefully examining each of the Slipping Glimpsers sections and mechanisms. Many seemed to be wondering what the point was. The inspiration of the World’s Fair is represented by 12 simple computer print outs, labeling the various architectural wonders and locations that once were, proving that Freiburg doesn’t need to rely on other’s work to “stir men’s blood.” Children and adults alike could be seen poking and prodding the numerous moving parts that included cranks, harnesses for the bowling balls and track shifting levers.

With a crowd larger than any I have witnessed at a gallery opening, Freiburg brought out the specially made transparent bowling ball. Encased inside of each ball are remnants of Freiburg’s other sculptures that were destroyed under the original ramp at a fundraiser event held at his previous loft apartment. The ball was placed at the beginning of the structure and from there, it was up to the audience to make the Slipping Glimpser slip.

The mechanisms that propel the bowling ball through the Slipping Glimpser’s twelve sections are slow and clunky. As a little girl turned the crank to send the ball up the first incline, I first heard groans of impatience, then gasps of anticipation. Patience and effort are integral parts of the sculpture’s meaning and effect. Long bouts of clicking and turning cranks are rewarded, however, with quick, slick and dangerous bursts of kinetic energy that sends the ball careening down ramps, through a complete loop and around curves. One section of the sculpture takes 400 cranks to lift the bowling ball up a minor incline. It would be just as easy to pick the ball up and place it at the top, but all of the hard work is often what makes Freiburg’s work pay off. After several twists, turns, climbs and zig-zagging descents, the finale of the Slipping Glimpser cashes in with a ramp that sends the ball hurtling through the air to crash down on a wooden landing representing the “Agricultural Arena” of the World’s Fair, which not only catches, but also feeds the ball back to the initial harness. The final destruction and quick wear and tear that each moving part of the sculpture experiences caused several “breakdowns” during the show, but it is these breakdowns that remind us of the destruction that goes hand in hand with the creation of art. It reminds us of the impermanence of beauty and what awaits anyone who holds on to things too tightly. When each moving part of the structure is reset, or reconstructed, by hand, the thrill and anticipation is not exhausted. Rather, the audience quickly became a team in setting the sculpture in motion again.

Part Rube Goldberg kinetic sculpture and part meditation on the very nature of creativity itself, Freiburg’s Slipping Glimpser succeeds in doing what very few modern art pieces do. While most modern art comments and re-contextualizes, it leaves very little room for interpretation or engagement of the audience. The Slipping Glimpser downplays the artistic and aggrandizes the community required to sustain the art world. Though certainly one man’s vision, the Slipping Glimpser becomes everyone’s memory. Even if the memory is the fear of a wide-eyed child being crushed by a speeding lucite ball flying off of a rickety wooden track, the Slipping Glimpser engages and excites without sacrificing the high-art concepts that are to be found by those who wish to dig a bit. Alongside the immense joy you will experience while witnessing this structure in action, that is the Slipping Glimpser’s true success.

It has been said that art has the ability to bring people together. Conrad Freiburg has succeeded in doing so with the Slipping Glimpser. Never before, has a gallery show been so full of joy and devoid of pretense. Chicago is lucky to have artists of his calibre, but with our gallery culture focusing on consumables rather than creativity, we may need to work a bit harder if we wish to keep him.

You can start by making your way over to the Linda Warren Gallery (located on 1052 W. Fulton Market) before the show closes on October 14th.

Rating: 4.5 / 5

Linda Warren Gallery: LINK
Conrad Freiburg’s Analogy Shop: LINK

One Response to “ART/EVENT: Conrad Freiburg’s Slipping Glimpser @ Linda Warren Gallery”

  1. Consumatron » Monday Media Mass Says:

    [...] Conrad Freiburg’s second solo show at Linda Warren Gallery is a logical progression from his Slipping Glimpser. Though Freiburg’s work is still full of the sense of play that makes his work stand out, [...]

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