Max Guy built a Yellow Brick Road that ran from Chicago to the Land of Oz


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Max Guy took a deep dive into the Land of Oz. The self-deprecating Witch of the North called it “uncivilized” because it houses wizards and witches. This exhibition, “But Tell Me. Is It A Civilized Country?” was the result of Guy’s deep dive. The title of the exhibition–actually, Dorothy’s question to Dorothy about Kansas in the first Oz book published in Chicago in 1900—-brings back the racist and criminal inhospitalities that have occurred in recent years, including the Texas and Arizona governors’ inhumane shutting down of migrants north and Donald Trump’s question as to why the United States would accept immigrants from “shithole” countries.

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Guy considers Oz a mirror. In a talk at the Renaissance Society, Chicago, Guy compared the interrelated Oz literatures and films to Marvel Cinematic Universe. He described it as one self-perpetuating franchise. In Guy’s silent video The City and the City (6th cut 2022), two keystones of the franchise, The Wizard of Oz and The Wiz (1978), they play side-by-side. While the first version features an Emerald City that is at times reminiscent of Chicago, the second one includes many New York filming locations. Guy is a New Yorker who now lives in Chicago. The Wiz was criticized by white critics for not being able to revisit Oz with Black actors, new songs, and a new script. Guy shows his own analysis of the changes in this video. He has slowed both films down and played them to an end exactly at the same time. This is to make Motown and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer look equal, with an all-white cast, and an all-Black cast, and Dorothy, as performed by Judy Garland or Diana Ross.

Max Guy: City and the City, sixth clip, 2022 single-channel video, 3 hours 5 minutes and 35 seconds.

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Guy continues his cultural criticism through juxtaposition in Emerald City Leperello. (Featuring Pointless Rendering from Lorenzo Bueno)., 2022. The table is located at the center. The giant book contains eight pages that are vintage posters of Chicago’s skyline. It was created for an 1989 exhibition in which the Renaissance Society paired On Kawara’s “Date Paintings”, 24 by On Kawara, with contemporaneous work from 24 artists. These included heavyweights with minimal and conceptual leanings such as Jenny Holzer or Joseph Kosuth to those who are associated with the Windy City. Although the exhibition appeared to be representative of Kawara’s dialogue with peers and local traditions at the time, it is now clear that the curator’s conceit was exclusive. They were almost all white and now are mainstream. Guy created a border of harlequin patterns and yellow, green and black architectural forms for the exhibition posters. This made the cityscape more like the Emerald City. It implied that Kawara and other artists could take Dorothy’s place alongside her famous traveling companions, Toto, the Scarecrow and Tin Man. What artist would choose to be their companion on the Yellow Brick Road, where they imagine worlds? Who will walk alongside them? Guy might have traveling companions such as Lorenzo Bueno, mentioned in the book’s title. His Pointless rendering (2018) is part a whimsical proposal to construct an upside-down replica New York’s Citigroup Center Building right on top the existing structure on Lexington Avenue. We can imagine that Guy likes how this ambitious-but-impossible proposition plays with monumentality and implies an alternate universe.

Max Guy: Emerald City Leperello. (featuring pointless rendering by Lorenzo Bueno). (detail), 2022. Acrylic ink, laser printer, enamel paint and colored pencils on vintage On Kawara posters.

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Another type of inversion occurs when viewers look up and see a huge, multicolored flag hanging from the ceiling of the Renaissance Society. It is called Dargerino (2022) and aims to summon Henry Darger, the famed Chicago outsider artist, who lived alone in a small apartment and sometimes was under the influence from Oz. He was not discovered until his last year. The flag’s colors are representative of the regions of Oz. However, the flag adds an extra star to the standard Emerald City star to make it more like the six-point stars on the Chicago flag. Imagine Chicago being Oz. What if Chicago were a sort of Oz? Guy suggests that we should be able to discern between meaningful gestures and arrogant ones. Guy mentioned the colossal American flag sculpture Trinket (2008) by William Pope. L explained Artforum how his sculpture refers “to our mouse nature” and “how blot out all the sky with a paw and think that we’ve conquered the sun.”

Every year, Chicagoans turn their rivers bright green on St. Patrick’s Day. Guy captured this strange tradition on video for Chicago (2022). The celebrations seem so outlandish that they almost look like they were in Emerald City. We mortals can create and re-create advanced worlds, establish their bizarre rituals, and exalt them in so many ways. The Wiz shows how the Emerald City denizens celebrate green as the peak of fashion, until The Great and Powerful Oz declared green dead and advocates red. The chorus sings, “I wouldn’t be seen green.” Guy’s clever show brings Oz into the present. It prompts Guy to ask the question: How can we reimagine, stand up on end and remake the unwelcoming, careless, stained, stained and unsaved parts of our world?

Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams is a writer and editor. Angeles. She writes about politics, art, and culture for LinkDaddy News.

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