Harper Center Art Review: The Vagrant

By Professor Canice Prendergast

Professor Canice Prendergast

Professor Canice Prendergast

The newly installed video artwork beside the mail folders is called The Vagrant. It was created by Darren Bader, a young American artist. At face value, it is a futuristic animated episode describing how a multinational organization chooses to send artworks into space for posterity.

Its appeal is more subtle than this. First, its true focus appears to be a statement about the absurdity of how we govern through institutions and language, referencing an old strand of literature, where writers such as Gogol have used farce or surrealism to lampoon organizations or bureaucracies. This piece does so by using surrealism to comment on how we govern and make decisions: the portentousness of the UN official at the beginning of the work with its documented vote counts is followed by the bizarre lottery to make a decision on what to do. The humor of the use of the internet to get suggestions on what the sculptures should be, with the system becoming overloaded, makes fun of our modern version of democracy. The use of Spanish references how the UN translates into every language, giving it an even greater grandiosity, despite the triviality and idiocy of the decision that they are taking. The piece also touches on private/public funding we see all the time now, where it is private individuals who take up the project when funding runs out. This combination makes it a serious and biting commentary on governance, a topic of foremost interest here, at Booth.

The Vagrant, by Darren Bader.

The Vagrant, by Darren Bader.

A somewhat darker interpretation is that it is a commentary on how language has been so debased and corrupted by bureaucratic, scientific, political, and cultural structures, that it no longer has any coherent meaning and devolves into absurdity. We don't even know what to decide, much less how to decide.

To find out more about the art collection at the school, go to art.chicagobooth.edu. Comments and suggestions are always welcome. The next student art tour is on December 1 so watch out for the email.

Professor Prendergast is the W. Allen Wallis Professor of Economics at Chicago Booth