The Case of the Disappearing Dildo/Cabaret Hope/Oprah's On | Culture Club | Chicago Reader

The Case of the Disappearing Dildo/Cabaret Hope/Oprah's On 

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The Case of the Disappearing Dildo

Vince Darmody says he's tired of getting jerked around. In spring of 1998 the Museum of Contemporary Art commissioned the young artist to design a large canvas umbrella to join the collection on its sculpture garden terrace. The umbrella he gave them was crowned with a rather unusual decoration--a six-inch vibrating plastic dildo. But not long after the MCA displayed the umbrella, the dildo vanished. Early this year Darmody redesigned the umbrella and replaced the dildo, but that one disappeared as well, and no one at the MCA can tell him exactly what happened.

Back in 1997 the museum's special events department invited six artists to decorate umbrellas for the terrace; the following spring Heather Felty, a curatorial assistant, was asked to add a dozen new pieces to the collection. Darmody had recently graduated from the School of the Art Institute (where he'd once worked for MCA assistant curator Michael Rooks), and he eagerly accepted a $200 commission to design an umbrella, with up to $100 for expenses. He covered the canvas with nostalgic totems--a toy soldier, a magnifying glass, a Superman comic book--and painted it with circular bands of red, green, yellow, and black. To finish it off he added the words horny and displaced, and using epoxy he glued the dildo to the knob at the apex of the umbrella. "I wanted to make it different and put my penis out there," he explains. "I think my interest in the imagery had to do with my Catholic upbringing and being a man." Apparently no one at the museum raised an eyebrow. Rooks insists, "I really liked what he was doing with his sexual imagery."

Darmody says no one told him that museum workers would be hauling his artwork on and off the terrace, but according to Felty the umbrellas were moved several times a week that summer to make room for a large tent used during parties. About a month after Darmody turned in his umbrella, a friend of his saw it on the plaza in front of the museum, next to a hot dog vendor, and the dildo was gone. Darmody tried to get in touch with Felty but gave up at the end of the summer, when the umbrellas were stored in the museum's warehouse. Felty says the dildo had indeed fallen off and been replaced several times. Last February, Darmody contacted her again, and she confirmed that the dildo was nowhere to be found: "I have asked around, but no one has it," she replied by E-mail. "I hope that is not a big problem. Unfortunately, I don't think we have funds to replace it."

Felty invited him to replace the dildo, but Darmody decided to redesign the umbrella entirely. This time he painted it a fleshy pink and put his initials all over it. He went to an adult bookstore, bought a ten-inch latex dildo, routed out the center, and glued it onto the knob with industrial epoxy. "There was no way that thing was going to come loose this time," says Darmody. But when he visited the museum in late July, the replacement dildo had vanished. Furious, he tried to phone Felty, but by this time she'd left the MCA for a job in New York. Darmody got in touch with Julie Rodrigues, a research assistant, and asked that his umbrella be painlessly destroyed. "If it wasn't going to be the umbrella I'd delivered to them a second time, I just didn't want it shown out on the terrace at all," he says. Rooks called Darmody but was unable to dissuade him, and the umbrella was trashed.

Lori Kleinerman, director of public relations and marketing at the MCA, says the museum deeply regrets what happened to Darmody's umbrella but insists that no one on the staff removed the dildos, as either a prank or an act of censorship. "We're quite comfortable dealing with sexually explicit artwork at this museum," she says. She also notes that the umbrellas aren't considered part of the museum's permanent collection or accorded the same level of security, despite the fact that the agreement Darmody signed referred to the umbrella as "commissioned artwork." Felty thinks museum patrons might have swiped the dildos, though Darmody says no one could have reached them. For better or worse, the dildo caper has convinced him that, in the eyes of the MCA, he's no Robert Mapplethorpe.

Cabaret of Hope

The Royal George cabaret was standing room only on August 30, as Chicago Cabaret Professionals closed out an eight-week series of Monday-night performances. "We started out drawing about 80 or 90 people a week, then that grew to 120, before we finally hit 190 for the last show," says coordinator Claudia Hommel. The response to the shows has convinced the 75 singers who belong to the two-year-old organization that cabaret can survive and maybe even thrive in the city. Hommel says payment of artists is still a major issue: clubs often pay performers 70 or 80 percent of the gate, but many association members favor a guaranteed fee that at the very least enables them to pay their accompanists. Says Hommel: "It's terrible when you look out at an audience, see only maybe ten faces, and realize you're going to wind up paying for the privilege of singing at that club."

Oprah's On

Oprah Winfrey makes her much ballyhooed professorial debut this Tuesday with her course "The Dynamics of Leadership" at Northwestern University's Kellogg Graduate School of Management. Enrollment for the course, which will meet on the Evanston campus, is about 120, split evenly between full-time and night-school students. (According to the school's Web site, students will keep a journal, worth 15 percent of the final grade, in which they'll record their reflections on the course content as it pertains to their lives.) Despite the coup of adding Winfrey to the faculty, Kellogg is trying to keep the course from turning into a circus: no journalists will be allowed in the hall, students are not allowed to tape sessions, and any student transferring his seat to an outsider could be booted out of class.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Eugene Zakusilo.

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