Reckless Rolodex at Gallery 400: January 13-March 18, 2023.

Young Joon Kwak, "Brown Rainbow Eclipse Explosion", 2017. Cast aluminum, welded aluminum rods, resin, glass mirror tiles, acrylic mirrors, epoxy putty, acrylic paint, motor, steel chain and hardware, custom LED light, shadow 31 x 31 x 31 inches (installation dims variable). Image courtesy of the artist and Commonwealth and Council, Los Angeles and Mexico City. Photo: Ruben Diaz.

I had the opportunity to co-curate the group exhibition and performance series, Reckless Rolodex, with Matthew Goulish and Lin Hixson. Inspired by the performance artist Lawrence Steger (1961-1999), the show will be on view at the University of Illinois Chicago’s Gallery 400 from January 13-March 18, 2023. Exhibiting artists include Susan Anderson, Lilli Carré, Edie Fake, Max Guy, Barbara Kasten, Young Joon Kwak, Devin T. Mays, John Neff, Betsy Odom, Derrick Woods-Morrow, and Cherrie Yu. With performances by ATOM-r, Sky Cubacub, Matthew Goulish, and Natasha Mijares. Reckless Rolodex was featured in Artforum’s Chicago Must See List and January’s Art Top 5 list in New City. See below for additional media coverage.


Reckless Rolodex highlights the lasting, though largely overlooked, influence of Lawrence Steger, described by the Chicago Tribune as “one of the most important, and most influential, performance artists in Chicago during the late 1980s and 90s.” Lawrence Steger explored desire and sexuality in performance until his early death in 1999 due to AIDS-related complications. Rather than eulogize the artist’s life, Reckless Rolodex underlines Steger’s legacy through works by contemporary artists responding to his work and research practice. A skilled director, writer and performer, Steger relied on the disciplines of theater and a community of collaborative artists to realize his intricately constructed performances, reflecting his deep knowledge of a wide range of sources, from pop culture and film to the writing of Jean Genet and the Fluxus-style works of Yoko Ono. Mercurial, mordant, stylish, and comical, he presented himself refracted through historical figures such as Ludwig II, the nineteenth-century “Mad King” of Bavaria, or imaginary personas like nocturnal figures that populate cabaret dreams and nightmares.

Reckless Rolodex is the first concentrated examination of Steger’s work to date, providing a landmark opportunity to unearth an artistic predecessor too-easily marginalized by his early death. Central to the exhibition is a stage, created by Edie Fake, where commissioned performances will premiere alongside writing by artist and co-curator Matthew Goulish. Over the past eighteen years, Goulish has written a series of lectures and essays in response to Steger’s archive. Some of that writing will appear in printed form or as newly presented lectures in the context of this exhibition. Additional works on view respond to different facets of Steger’s public persona including an exploding, fragmentary cast of a mirror ball by Young Joon Kwak; a set of masks by Max Guy; a site-specific installation by Devin T. Mays; a set of kitchen knives fabricated from graphite by Betsy Odom; and more. As befits Steger’s oeuvre, works on view wield a theatrical quality, crossing mediums and emotional registers to undermine the notion of a static self. Support for Reckless Rolodex is provided by the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts; a grant from the Illinois Arts Council Agency; and the School of Art & Art History, College of Architecture, Design, and the Arts, University of Illinois Chicago.

Critical Response:

In his review for New Art Examiner, John Thomure writes: “As an introduction to one of Chicago’s most integral performance artists and organizers, Reckless Rolodex elaborates on Steger’s highly unique art practice and elucidates why he has never stopped influencing us, even when we have failed to recognize this fact. The show itself is the fragmented reflection of Lawrence, each work a different spectral aspect.”  Annette LePique from the Chicago Reader writes: “The exhibition imparts urgency and impresses intimacy upon Steger’s legacy and honors the artistic communities that continued in his absence. There is a type of magic that occurs when one is dislocated in time and place. It is in these moments that one can join something bigger than the self. This magic is what Rolodex offers viewers.” In Art PapersMichael Dango writes: “An article available in the collection of ephemera in the exhibition’s back room quoted Steger as saying: ‘When you’re fucking, you slip out, somebody farts, whatever.’ Steger was interested not only in the main event but also in all the accidents and crap that happen in its orbit. So, too, was Reckless Rolodex not so much about the man but the world to which he belonged, or what can be revived of that world a generation later. Following Steger, the humor of many of the works, as well as the cleverness, built that world at the level of mood and atmosphere—the farts and whatevers.”