Darren Bader + Stephen D’Onofrio


The Stolbun Collection is pleased to present PHANTASMAGORIA, an exhibition featuring Stephen D’Onofrio and Darren Bader. Like the first PHANTASMAGORIA, this second iteration is staged as two solo exhibitions, which juxtapose two distinct bodies of work. The exhibition includes three new complimentary paintings by D’Onofrio—a monochromatic site specific painting that nearly matches that of the Menil Collection’s iconic Gray, as well as both a large scale painting, and a small canvas. The two works on canvas are made in the artist’s laboriously rendered, kitsch and home décor inspired representational style. The exhibition also includes a participatory, performative text based tattoo piece by Darren Bader, represented by a copy of Jane Eyre from which the tattoo’s text is derived.
PHANTASMAGORIA takes its title and central organizing theme from Walter Benjamin’s seminal Arcades Project, an unfinished work of cultural-criticism, focused on the conditions of Parisian life in the 19th century. Benjamin’s idea of phantasmagoria references the 18th century form of Parisian theater that used a rear projected light display—famously called a magic lantern—to project ghostly, often menacing, shapes and caricatures to form hallucinatory and shadowy images for a captive audience. This process, a precursor to film, and now, video, was a compelling metaphor through which Benjamin critiqued the growing commodification of 19th century European society. Benjamin’s Arcades Project examined the many Parisian iron and glass covered shopping arcades; he likened these engrossing bazaars to Marx’s notion of the commodity fetish with shadowy allusions to Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. More specifically, Benjamin appropriated the term and idea of phantasmagoria to connote an important cultural moment and a kind of hallucinatory human state in which commodities were glorified on a large, seemingly ever present stage, untethered to use-value or practicality. It was a shift in culture at which time our desires of and for ourselves were sold back to us via a phantasmagoric hall of distorted mirrors. Two examples of this are the Parisian Arcades and the emergent World’s Fair style exhibition.1
Benjamin’s focus on phantasmagoria has been written about and interpreted by numerous cultural theorists, writers, filmmakers and artists—Edward Bernays, Guy Debord, Harun Farocki, Susan Buck-Morss, Jacques Lacan, Chris Marker, and Cindy Sherman to name a few. PHANTASMAGORIA extends Benjamin’s ideas by examining the proliferation of constructed and fleeting images that pervade contemporary culture through the social and commercial applications of our personal digital devices, which are then projected onto the world through an incalculable number of screens.
In our current moment, social media, and in particular image based services like Instagram, Snapchat, and Vine, play a role akin to the 18th century phantasmagoric images of the magic lantern. With the fleeting, and often hyper-constructed, posed, edited and even simulated scenes, actions or appearances, applications such as Instagram offer a shadowy glimpse into the worlds in which users wish to live and the selves they desire to be. These devices offer a steady stream of micro-fictions, part fantasy and part reality, as a series of self-projected illusions.
This exhibition approaches Benjamin’s phantasmagoria and the current state of digital image (mediation) based information-sharing by juxtaposing two distinct bodies of work. The first iteration of PHANTASMAGORIA included a series of paintings by Spencer Carmona and a group of speculative custom objects by @uvproductionhouse, a collaboration between Brad Troemel and Josh Citarella. The juxtaposition between relatively traditional painting and highly conceptual art continues in this second version of PHANTASMAGORIA. In a critical and self-reflexive twist Stephen D’Onofrio is making three works—one that is a site-specific installation on The Stolbun Collection walls while the other two are more traditional paintings on canvas. All three of the works are painted in “Behr Graceful Gray” a close match to the well-known “Menil Collection Gray”, a color that is used throughout the Menil’s campus buildings, which was originally used for temporary and permanent exhibition design.2 This gesture is meant to inspire reflection on questions that surround public, and in particular private arts institutions: what is an art institution, who starts these places and why? What does it mean to exist outside of an institution rather than to be a part of an existing pubic institution?  

D’Onofrio’s paintings are rendered to appear machine made totally smooth, formally uncomplicated, and highly graphic. However, his process is intensely laborious. The artist takes motifs from home décor, advertisements, and various kitsch that he observes in his surroundings. After gathering source material and an idea, he designs his compositions in Adobe Illustrator with traditional commercial graphic design tools. These digital compositions are then transferred to canvases by tedious hand tracing and outlining. After tracing patterns D’Onofrio, applies numerous layers of paint, and finally he sands and smooths out the surfaces to create lustrous and flat images. These paintings are presented in PHANTASMAGORIA precisely because of their laboriously achieved flatness, a reference to compression and decompression, which offers another layer of tension to the ongoing exploration of digital and analog image making and distribution, ultimately though allowing the digital reproduction to circulate more effectively.

The second work in PHANTASMAGORIA is one of Darren Bader’s tattoo based text pieces; To prolong doubt is to prolong hope –Charlotte Brontë. The work, initially acquired from Bader’s recent solo show at Sadie Coles HQ by Mr. Stolbun, is a quote from the novel Jane Eyre that is realized only when the owner/collector of the work sends an image of the permanently inked tattoo on a human body to Bader. Once Bader receives the image, he will send Mr. Stolbun a certificate of authenticity to realize fully the work and allow it to circulate in the secondary art resale market. This text based work fits within a growing conceptual tradition, and is particularly resonant with works by Lawrence Weiner, Tauba Auerbach, John Baldessari, Jenny Holzer, Glenn Ligon, Rafaël Rozendaal, and Adrian Piper to name a few. For PHANTASMAGORIA a willing participant will receive the tattoo, and a digital image will be sent to Bader where realization is delayed, and simultaneously heightened by the transference of data via a digital image. 

In a reflexive twist, all iterations of PHANTASMAGORIA are not publicized through images. There are and will not be any images issued of either the works in the space or of the installations. Visitors are not allowed to take or make image-based documentation of the exhibition. Should a visitor wish to post anything visual about the exhibition on social media, The Stolbun Collection will provide promotional documentation. This promotional documentation is an image of downtown Chicago taken from the 15th floor window of the gallery space with the exhibition’s graphic identity and title superimposed on the view.
With no visual documentation allowed, text, through a series of commissioned essays, is the only form of documentation. This strategy serves to frustrate and highlight the viewer’s expectations of an exhibition that pits social media friendly work in juxtaposition to relatively traditional painting. PHANTASMAGORIA asks viewers and participants to consider these questions: How do artists engage with digital image based forms of social media, and does it affect how and why they make new work? What does dissemination mean and how does it change traditional notions of interpretation?
PHANTASMAGORIA, as part of an ongoing series of exhibitions that examine the tensions between emergent forms of artmaking and traditional practices, challenges viewers’ and artists’ notions of both artmaking and exhibition making. It offers at least a glimmer of light behind the shadowy curtain of caricatures and fantasies, which underscore contemporary society’s obsession with image based social media.

–A. Will Brown, Curator


A. WILL BROWN is a Curator and Writer. He is a Founding Curator and Deputy Director of Monument Lab and the Assistant Curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland. He has held curatorial positions at, the Rhode Island School of Design Museum, the Kadist Art Foundation, Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts, Crown Point Press, Triple Base Gallery, and the Aspen Art Museum. Brown is a regular contributor to Daily Serving, The Exhibitionist Blog, Hyperallergic, Studio International, and Art Practical.


1Benjamin, Walter. “Paris, the Capital of the Nineteenth Century (Exposé of 1935).” The Arcades Project. Pg. 7: “World exhibitions glorify the exchange value of the commodity. They create a framework in which its use value recedes into the background. They open a phantasmagoria which a person enters in order to be distracted. The entertainment industry makes this easier by elevating the person to the level of the commodity. He surrenders to its manipulations while enjoying his alienation from himself and others.”

2"Gray is Still the Color” The Menil Collection Spring/Summer 2016 Membership Bulletin