The Worst of the Masterpieces | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

The Worst of the Masterpieces 

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The Worst of the Masterpieces, Bigwords, at the Neo-Futurarium. An eccentric artist, a pair of bumbling art thieves, an idealistic hobo with a talking sock puppet, and a Greek chorus of beatniks all vie for possession of a gaudy painting in Bigwords' latest ensemble-generated piece. By all accounts it seems the kind of rotten folk art routinely passed over at garage sales, yet this crude, postpunk portrait--seemingly a modern Hamlet, complete with skull, dagger, baggy jeans, and facial piercings--is so sublimely ugly that art circles have deemed it "the worst of the masterpieces."

Like the Blue Man Group but predominantly verbal, Bigwords uses exaggerated pantomime and loopy, off-kilter vaudeville-style humor to deconstruct the fickle tastes and pretensions of the art world. The attack in The Worst of the Masterpieces is not on art criticism, however, but on art itself. As the beatnik chorus reminds the audience, our definitions of what constitutes brilliant art are completely arbitrary: "If it offends your mother...if it makes you rich...if it's from France."

As a caustic meditation on art, The Worst of the Masterpieces both questions ingrained attitudes and demonstrates a remarkable cultural awareness. But the production places almost too much emphasis on superficial considerations. While the anarchic, cartoonish staging and lowbrow burlesque humor make for some arresting images, they also tend to overshadow much of the piece's valuable commentary. --Nick Green

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