Children of the Playhouse

Children of the Playhouse

Organized by Stella Brown, Harry Kuttner, and Emily Sher

Presented by Shoot the Lobster

Hosted by PRESENT (Virginia Aberle), Chicago, IL

April 16 - May 8, 2016

Children of the Playhouse presents material by twenty-five artists whose work embodies the color, pattern, humor, and zaniness of the television show Pee-wee’s Playhouse, which aired on CBS from 1986 to 1990. Their work ranges in medium from ceramics and textiles, to illustrations, comics, and zines, as well as multimedia sculptures and installations. The organizers of this show, and many of the artists presented in it, are of the generation, or have children of the generation, whose formative years roughly coincide with the airing of the program. The production design of the Playhouse itself reflects the creative team’s nostalgia for their childhood experience of midcentury American design and popular culture. The show reflected the postmodern architecture and design of that era, the squiggle and the grid, heavily influenced by the Memphis design group and a nostalgia for the retro atomic age design of the 1950s and 60s. Likewise, the younger artists of Children of the Playhouse have drawn inspiration from their own childhood in the late 1980s and 1990s with a return to the squiggle- the pattern that permeated their childhood. These twenty-five artists are creating largely diverse material from one another, but share a tendency towards figuration, color, and pattern, which continues a tradition of alternative art-making with roots in the mid-20th Century.

Chicago is an appropriate location for this exhibition as a center for appreciation of alternative and so-called outsider art, as well as being home to the Hairy Who and the Chicago Imagist movement whose influence can be seen throughout the Playhouse’s design. Gary Panter, the television show’s production designer, was no doubt influenced by the vibrant colors and intense graphic styles of this movement, and like the Hairy Who, Panter is interested in exploring the visual signifiers contained within popular culture, kitsch, cartoons and comics, and American commercialism. The art of the Playhouse exemplifies this mixed-up approach to art-making, which Panter, along with his fellow designers Ric Heitzman and Wayne White, championed. The design of the Playhouse created a unique space for Pee-wee Herman and his many friends to go bonkers, enabling viewers of the program to explore relationships, their developing identities and the act of play.

The artists included in Children of the Playhouse continue the tradition of art that is not afraid to be representational, decorative and graphic, irreverent and playful, and embracing of materiality and craft. The Playhouse functions as both a world created for television and as a form of art and creative output for its creators: objects in the space serve dual functions as character/utilitarian object. Likewise, much of the art in this exhibition has a dual functionality of art/utilitarian object without being simply craft or product. Every object becomes an opportunity to celebrate its existence, to be the most version of that object, luxuriating in the extremes of color and form. The Children of the Playhouse create with the imagination and vividness of childhood by valuing a type of immaturity that allows them to maintain the humor, joy, and uninhibited, zany creativity that Pee-wee’s Playhouse celebrates.

Children of the Playhouse features work by Virginia Aberle, Ana Benaroya, Heather Benjamin, Molly Anne Bishop, Gretchen Brown, Alex Bradley Cohen, Paul Erschen, Flloyd Gomf, Clay Hickson, Linda Hoffhines, Sarah Hotchkiss, Lili Huston-Herterich, Burt Isenstein, Manal Kara, LAZY MOM, Ben Marcus, Moira Quinn O'Neil, Micah Schippa, Alex Schmidt, Will Sheldon, Hiromi Ueyoshi, Jesse Ward, Leah Wishnia and Crystal Zapata.

Photos by Tim Johnson, 2016

Press: Chicago Reader, April 2016