Plot Line

This year’s artist to watch mines his life for his work

Stan Shellabarger’s catalog reads like an index of E. E. Cummings poems: Untitled, Untitled, Untitled. He didn’t name the two graves he dug in a steep hillside for the international showcase Art Basel—graves that he and his partner, Dutes Miller, climbed inside. Nor has he titled the 50-foot pink tube that he and Miller have been crocheting in public for five years. “Most of my work is untitled performances—untitled because I’m not interested in groundingthe work in something,” says Shellabarger, 40, who is one of the most interesting artists working in Chicago right now, partly because his work is autobiographical, and partly because its meaning hits you with full force.

The graves for Art Basel? Mourning. The pink tube? The romantic connection between his partner and himself. “There’s a historical precedent, people like Richard Long, but there aren’t a whole lot of artists doing what I see as endurance performance art,” says Scott Speh, who opens a show featuring Shellabarger’s photography on January 14th at Western Exhibitions (119 N. Peoria St.; westernexhibitions.com). Elsewhere around town, Shellabarger has plugged hundreds of thousands of pine needles into the Hyde Park Art Center (5020 S. Cornell Ave.; hydeparkart.org). The needles look like hair. And they represent, well, hair. Sure, the artist could craft clever nomenclature that explains that he’s giving human qualities to a building. But if we get it, why bother?  

Photograph by Saverio Truglia

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