Robert Chaney

Robert Chaney
Artist and member of Vox Populi, artist collective
Director of Curatorial Affairs,
Institute of Contemporary Art, U of P

Before I moved to Philadelphia, I worked for seven years at a large contemporary museum in the Midwest, where I learned art installation. I had the good fortune to work under many skilled, responsible, and talented people. “Lucky Luke” was just such an individual.

Lucky Luke arrived at the museum as damaged goods, having recently lost his longtime girlfriend Leila to a local record store clerk. Being dumped was overwhelming for Luke. During his first few months at the museum the breakup dominated every conversation: plans to win Leila back with love letters, plots to make Leila regret the day she left, etc.

About three months after the breakup, we began work on the fabrication of a full-sized wooden skate bowl designed by a group from Chicago called Simpark. Luke was given a supervisory role, if for no other reason than to get him to talk about something other than Leila. From the start, the project was controversial. The university that supported the museum had recently imposed a campus-wide ban on skating. After failing to make the University Board of Overseers and their lawyers comprehend the artistic significance of the project, the curators finally convinced them that the skate bowl would provide enjoyable, wholesome, supervised indoor fun for everyone.

Throughout construction, Luke couldn’t fathom how Leila could have left him. His decision to get a first-hand explanation ended in a series of restraining orders. His inability to let go even inspired a local musician, Ron House, to compose an entire record entitled “Obsessed.”

The morning the project was completed, the designer/skateboarders offered to take us out to lunch. Luke decided to stay behind to make certain everything was in order for the afternoon tour of curators and university personnel. I volunteered to stick with him. As the others left, Luke observed that the bowl didn’t seem that big or challenging. He saw a skateboard left in the gallery and wondered if a skater would impress Leila. As I went in search of kneepads, a helmet, and some work gloves, I heard a loud yelp followed by a thud. As I got closer, I also detected a little whimpering.

The next noise I heard was the chatter of curators and board members being ushered up the ramp to admire their latest achievement. We all arrived at the top of the skate bowl and gazed down at Luke. No one could think of what to say. The curator-at-large managed, “He’s hurt.”

The medics arrived and promptly diagnosed a broken collar bone and one loose molar. As they climbed out of the bowl to get a brace, one of them asked me, “Who’s Leila?”

Luke was fished out, moaning all the while. In the eyes of the university personnel, the entire skate bowl production was in jeopardy. What about the potential lawsuits? How could we possibly allow teenagers to enter the “ring of death?” What would the press do with this one?

Amid all of the flashing lights, sirens, and chatter of curators, lawyers and police, Luke tugged on my shirt sleeve from the stretcher. I leaned over and he whispered in my ear, “I think Leila might take me back.”
Published June 2006

Institute of Contemporary Art
Vox Populi