Destroy the Picture: Painting the Void, 1949-1962.

"/> "Destroy the Picture" at MCA Chicago: A Guided Tour — The Airship
By Julia Langbein
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Chuck Norris, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Arnold Schwarzenegger and a volunteer docent named Mary are gathered at the entrance to Destroy the Picture, the recently opened exhibition at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art. It’s the February 18 members' preview, which entails hors d’oeuvres, music, booze, and access to new exhibitions a day before the public opening. Schwarzenegger and Van Damme are members (the privilege can be yours for $60/year) and Chuck Norris is Van Damme’s plus-one. Mary is 22 and hopes to graduate to a full-fledged intern by the fall.

Norris: Can we bring our beers in here? 

Mary: No, sorry. 

Norris: Well then I’m not coming in. 

Schwarzenegger: Carbs are not good for your abs, Chuck. Get a vodka.

Van Damme: I thought you said this was a show about violence and the pictures would be destroyed anyway.

Mary: In a controlled fashion. It’s about how artists did violence to picture surfaces after World War II. 

Norris: You know what Chuck Norris calls World War II? Lunch. 

Mary: You were four years old. 

Norris: Chuck Norris eats lunch for breakfast. 

Jean Fautrier, Head of a Hostage no 13, 1944 (click to enlarge)

Mary (reading): Marble dust mixed into a paste, mounded on top of layers of glued paper.  

Van Damme: It looks like it’s rotting. The paper part looks like it’s molding. 

Schwarz (reading wall text): “The surface of a painting can be a metaphor for flesh.”   

Mary: Doesn’t it look like a buried skeleton? The way the marble paste protrudes from the surface?

Norris: Or it’s a football.

Mary: It’s France, it’s 1944. There’s literally not a football in France in 1944. 

Security Guard: Sir? Can you take that beer out of the galleries?

Norris: Chuck Norris doesn’t listen to security guards. Chuck Norris invented security guards when he was bored of kicking bombs. 

Mary: Chuck…

Norris: I’ll just meet you guys after. 

Niki de Saint Phalle, Shooting Painting, American Embassy, 1961 (image via; click to enlarge)

Mary: So the artist, who’s a thirty-year-old woman, puts sacks of colored oil paint intact under layers of white paint and shoots at the sacks with a gun and they explode and drip colors down over whitewashed objects. An axe, a gun—

Van Damme: Mary, does it matter that the artist is a woman? You mentioned it... 

Mary: Probably. Although you don’t want to be one of those people that sees vaginas everywhere. 

Van Damme: No, but maybe she’s saying, “I don’t want to whitewash my behavior and carry a purse and put baby shoes on baby feet; I want to shoot a gun like a cowboy.” This was made in 1961 in Paris. I was born in 1960, you know? My mother was a housewife in basically a suburb of Brussels and she was proud that I had a talent for ass-kicking. She would be like, “Hey Jean-Claude, I’m making a carbonnade,” and I would come karate chop the potatoes. 

Mary: Well there aren’t many women in the show. Maybe unlike Saint Phalle, people like your mother displaced their violent impulses on their children.

Schwarz: Oh yeah, that’s why the Belgian Army is so fierce. It’s like Mossad with double chins. 

Yves Klein, Untitled Fire Painting, 1961 (click to enlarge)

Mary: Klein soaked cardboard selectively with water and then took an industrial flamethrower to it at a destructive testing laboratory outside Paris. 

Schwarz: The picture doesn’t look destroyed. It looks like a photograph. It looks like the film still from Terminator 2 that I donated to a museum in Miami. 

Mary: Planet Hollywood isn’t a museum. It’s true that the way they put it behind glass makes it looks like a glossy print.   

Schwarz: In T2, a blockbuster in which I play the lead, Linda Hamilton is talking to the computer scientist, and she says “Fucking men like you, you built the hydrogen bomb, men like you thought it up. You think you’re so creative. You don’t know what it’s like to really create something.”

Mary: Maybe that explains the lack of women here — they’re less attracted to creative destruction.

Schwarz: Then, in the movie, I do her with my fire penis. 

Van Damme: No you don’t. You’re there to protect Linda Hamilton. You’re just the mechanical warrior. It’s the fantasy of the mechanical warrior versus the atomic warrior.

Norris: The mechanical warrior and the atomic warrior both have fantasies about Chuck Norris. 

Mary: Hey, Chuck. 

Norris: Hey. I came back in through the exit, so I’m moving the other way.

Mary: Cool, what’s ahead of us?

Norris: Eh, bunch of vaginas. I’m trying to find some Americans. Not enough Americans. We destroy shit all the time! Why aren’t we in here?

Norris exits.

Lucio Fontana, Concetto Spaziale, Attese, 1958 (image via; click to enlarge)

Mary: I think this is what he meant.

Everyone shrugs.

Mary (reading): "Aniline on canvas, slashed."

Van Damme: You know, to me, this is a parody. 

Schwarz: Of vaginas? 

Van Damme: No, of heroes. Each of these little slices, you think of this Fontana man fighting a canvas, which doesn’t fight back. And the canvas is winning: look, it’s still a nice picture. We used to be emblems of heroism, martial strength, violence. Now we’re parodies of ourselves. 

Schwarz: I object to that. I went from physically powerful to politically powerful.  

Van Damme: What about the Expendables, Reds, the new Die Hard? The old action hero walking out of a ball of flames, carrying an uzi, that’s a joke. Have you seen my Coors Light UK commercials? I have a rat tail and I’m wearing a cutoff denim vest. I’m standing on a snowy mountain talking about my erection. My erection! Jean-Claude Van Damme’s erection, which used to move piles of cash around Hollywood studios like an iron crane, is compared to that of a penguin! These little slashes, they’re like miniature versions of a real gesture of violence. They’re not going to fuck anyone up. 

Schwarz (laughing): I’m just watching your Coors commercials on my iPhone. You look old, man. You should see Nina, my facialist. She keeps me looking like a pool floatie. I don’t have sex with her, because I don’t want to.

Mary: OK, Arnold.  

Kazuo Shiraga, Inoshishi gari-1 (Wild boar hunting) – 1, 1963 (click to enlarge)

Everyone is silent.

Schwarz: That’s bloodier than Commando

Van Damme: Is that real blood?

Mary: No, it’s red paint.  

Norris (appearing out of nowhere): Fucking sick, right? I made that with a roundhouse kick. 

Mary: Kazuo Shiraga made that. With paint and a boar pelt in 1963.

Norris: Kazuo Shiraga is Japanese for “Chuck Norris made that.”

Van Damme: No way, Chuck. You don’t know how to move like that. There’s a moment in Bloodsport when I say to Senzo Tanaka, my master, “Teach me, I can do it,” and he says, “But you’re not Japanese! You are not a Tanaka!” You know how I convince him?

Norris: With a stars-n-stripes.

Van Damme: What’s that?

Norris: It’s when you wrap your fist in skid-marked briefs and punch a dude in the temple.  

Van Damme: No, I convince him to train me by working hard. I physically changed the way that I moved. I studied Eastern traditions through movement. You can see the way he moved the paint with his feet here. 

A crowd starts gathering. Artist Saburo Murakami appears. He performs Iriguchi:

Norris: That’s awesome! This guy gets to fuck up a wall? I want to fuck up a wall! (Takes running start, leaps at wall, hits wall, falls in a heap.)

Schwarz: My driver’s outside, Jean-Claude. Do you need a ride somewhere? 

Van Damme: No, I’m going to Colorado to film another beer commercial. (An eagle screeches.) I’ll walk.