Sympathy for the Devil review

by Vittorio Carli


“Sympathy for the Devil: Art and Rock and Roll Since 1967” is an intriguing new exhibit which explores the cross pollination between rock’n roll and visual art. 

The exhibit is named after a classic Rolling Stones song, but few of the pieces deal directly with the Stones or the '60s.

Most of the art exhibit showcases art that was inspired or done by later rock bands—especially punk, post punk, no wave (sometimes called punk jazz), and new wave performers.

This exhibit showcases more than 100 paintings, drawings, videos, films and sound installations that span from 1967 to work done in the last five years.

The audio tour comes with an I Pod that includes many songs or performers related to some of the specific art pieces in the exhibit such as David Bowie’s “Andy Warhol,” Laurie Anderson’s “O Superman,” Funkadelic’s “Maggot Brain,” and the Velvet Underground’s “All Tomorrow’s Parties.”

Christian Marclay’s “1,476 Records” is a whole floor covered with classic albums albums. This allows viewers to do what art snobs have done for years—walk all over pop music.

The exhibit also has some of Christian Marclay’s impressive “Body Mix” series of collage pieces which combine parts of sexualized pieces of album covers. In one shot we saw the androgynous top of the David Bowie-as-alien-photo (from his recording "Aladdin Sane", with a female bottom. When Marclay’s collages combine parts of people from different genders and races, they satirize extreme depictions of masculinity or femininity and blur the lines between genders.
The Destroy All Monsters art collective/noise rock band (named after a kitschy Japanese monster film) is well represented in the collection. There were several large colorful murals including “Amazing Freaks of Motor City” with White Panther leader, John Sinclair accompanied by a halo-like Uniroyal tire landmark which makes him look like a saint. (see for the images).

The murals tend to celebrate Detroit rock culture, and include many of its leading luminaries such as Iggy Pop, various members of the MC5, and Niagara, a Destroy All Monsters member. In “Mall Culture, 2000”  she is depicted holding a knife and clothes covered with blood stains-simultaneously and satirizing and cultivating her femme fatale image. All of the posters are done in garish colors and they are reminiscent of old fashioned carnival freak show poster.

Some of the most striking photos are by the transgressive film maker, Richard Kern. “Kim Gordon with Gun” is a photo of a Sonic Youth member posing in tough-girl position that evokes the bad girl characters in the film “Faster Pussycat Kill Kill.” The photo is a production still from Kern’s gory but fascinating video for the Sonic Youth song, “Death Valley ’69.”

Scott King’s and Kevin Cummings” Futurama, 2004” depicts Ian Curtis, the ill fated lead singer from Joy Division in three combined photos surrounded by chalk lines. The stage poses trace his stage movements but almost and almost make him look like three different people (he is holding the mic on the two side shots, and he is mic-less in the center one .)  The stark black and white photos perfectly capture the gloomy, existential atmosphere of the band's songs.


Andy Warhol’s “Screen Tests, 1966” features members of the Velvet Underground (including John Cale, Nico and Lou Reed) in video footage. They are recorded without makeup in basic poses doing routine things, and it’s clear that Warhol was intentionally trying to deglamorize them. There is also mesmerizing footage of Warhol’s traveling troop called “Andy Warhol’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable” by Ronald Nameth, which shows one Warhol’s be-ins which features dance, the Velvet Underground, and eerie psychedelic lighting.


Even more impressive was the futuristic art by Pedro Bell that was inspired by George Clinton’s various glam-funk groups such as Parliament and Funkadelic. Bell’s album covers and Robert Crumb and Skip Williamson influenced cartoons perfectly capture Clinton’s merging of sci-fi and urban sensibilities (which influenced later people like Prince and Rick James.)


No exhibit can be all things to all people, and “Sympathy for the Devil” should have incorporated some pieces influenced by rap or afrobeat music or rock from other cultures (although German artists and Krautrock influenced art are well represented).Also, it’s ridiculous that there is no work included by Mekons member, Jon Langford, one of the better known painter/musicians in Chicago (Chicago always seems to get stiffed)


Also some of the pieces in the exhibit qualify more as junk with sociological value than art (including a New York Dolls sketch looks like it could have been done by a 5th grader)

 But there is enough interesting work here to please most rock and art buffs. The museum will be free until November 14, so this is also a perfect time to explore the museum. The exhibit will close on January 6.



What: Sympathy for the Devil
Where: The Museum of Contemporary Art at 220 East Chicago Avenue
When: now until Jan. 6, 2008
Tickets: admission is free until Nov. 14, after that Admission is $10 general; $6 students and seniors; free for members and children (12 and under).
Phone 312.280.2660
Web site


Vittorio Carli teaches at Moraine Valley Community College,  Richard J. Daley College, and Morton College.  E-mail him at

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