Cheryl Donegan b. 1962
Alive! Artist! Model! Pleasure!
(1998, 3:27 min, color, sound)
In Alive! Artist! Model! Pleasure!, Donegan calls into question the institutional armature that surrounds a work of art, and investigates boundaries between "high" and "low" culture. In a nondescript suburban room, a woman watching late-night television catches Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin introducing a musical number about art-making: "You can trace the mystery/of ancient history/through art of artists, and their models..." The curtains part and the performers turn to go on stage for the main act, urging us "to get perspective on a world that's drab and gray... frame it in just that way...," at which point Donegan suddenly cuts to four people in street clothes in a high-school cafeteria, who pick up Lewis and Martin's song a capella, and engage in slap-stick with paint and other art-related props. After several verses, she cuts back to Martin and Lewis concluding the number. Donegan cuts out the middle — the show-biz heart — re-placing and re-staging this artifact of mid-century "low" culture with no attempt at versimilitude. Echoing Jerry Lewis's goofball foil to Dean Martin's suave straight-man, Donegan uses the banal to highlight the more classical pleasure of an older model. Donegan's "models" sing, in imitation of Dean Martin: "There's modern art to see/that makes you wonder what the heck it's meant to be," and we indeed begin to trace a history: that of a culture in which questions of representation become increasingly complex.