The Oracle of Vile
, Jerry Vile's one-night show at Tangent Gallery, seemed to be a hit last night. We were there for a few hours, watching a who's who of the Detroit art world filter in and out, after paying the $4.99 “art viewing fee.”
Think it's wrong to charge people to look at art? We know some “adult bookstores” that charge a similar fee, deductible from any purchases. And we're willing to bet Vile would do that same kindness to anybody who'd buy any of his art, which ranged from a few hundred dollars up to more than a thousand.
And if the atmosphere wasn't as obscene as an adult bookstore, it was certainly cheeky, from the busty lady who'd take your money at the door to Jerry Vile prowling around whacking women on the behind with a paddle decorated with – what else – an image of Jerry Vile.
The guests who filtered in and out during the hour we spent there included several well-known Detroit artists, including Andy Krieger, Clint Snider, Monica Molinaro, even a few writers, including Liz Hill and the inimitable Rob St. Mary, just back in town from Aspen last week.
Billed as “A Curious Fantastical Public Exhibitioin of Enlightening and Wonder-Inspiring Creations,” it actually was pretty engaging. Some future art critic will have to weigh in on Vile's spare canvas work, featuring whimsical-disturbing creatures of the imagination. But Vile knows how to put on a good show. His diorama-style creations and interactive pieces were the very best, involving some serious technical tricks.
For instance, the Oracle of Vile was done in the style of one of those carnival machines that, after being fed a few coins, gives you your fortune. But this oracle answered questions with a “yes” or “no,” with varying levels of emphasis. It had a tender, which suggested to us some buttons were being pressed for effect. One of our friends asked the oracle, “Will it ever stop raining?” to which the oracle replied with a resounding “No!” (Well, technically, it's always raining somewhere.) We asked the oracle if it were a work of art, to which it replied with a patient and careful “Yes.” You can't argue with that.
Another format-busting artwork featured a small, shabby, no-tell motel with one window uncurtained. In it was a dollhouse-scale motel room: cigarette burning in an ashtray, girlie mag on the floor, cash on the nightstand, and, on the bed, a tiny flatscreen showing a man humping a woman, his ass rising and falling as the woman cried out in ecstasy. Ingenious.
The art show spilled over into the theater area, with various wall-hung artworks and other interactive pieces. One was creepy, with a skull rising and falling against a kaleidoscopic background. Another was an automatic Ouija board, with a pointer featuring Vile's face vibrating across the board, stopping, then starting again. We were going to write down what it said, but it immediately went to “Goodbye.” We moved on.
Creepiest of all was a dark corner of the space featuring what appeared to be two Ewoks striking a pose in mid-dance. We could barely descry it in the darkness. We weren't sure if it was art or not. We flipped a cell phone light on it and notice it had no price tag, and was, therefore, not art. Too bad: a near miss.
Underneath all the trickery and silliness, there were glimpses of Vile the writer. His descriptions of the art were often better than the pieces themselves, with gags and little jokes that made the show plenty of fun.
Say what you will about Vile and his “art viewing fee.” Craftsmen are geniuses, but, in the art world, an artist is part-genius, part-charlatan. Vile's a guy who plays both sides of that coin with ease. Here are some tidbits of the show for those who missed it.