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Allen Ruppersberg's back pages

"No Time Left to Start Again" gives a chaotic history of rock 'n'roll



"Everything is collected but nothing is saved," writes conceptual artist Allen Ruppersberg in the catalog that accompanies "No Time Left to Start Again/The B and D of R 'n' R," his history of postwar pop music. The adjective, his, is vital: Ruppersberg stresses that this cacophonous installation is "one possible history of Rock and Roll"—his history, which leaves all questions open, answering none. "No Time" is composed of five parts: an introduction, set up to face the atrium of the Art Institute's Modern Wing, and then, inside the exhibit proper, "lyrics," "home," "church," and "fun." Those distinctions seem arbitrary, though. If they relate to discernible organizing principles, then how, for instance, did a 2010 remembrance of rock musician Alex Chilton end up in the "church" section?

Each division is given its own 32-foot length of pegboard, silk-screened with colorful images of pennants and bull's-eyes and hung with laminated items—obituaries, old black-and-white photos, record covers—from the artist's collection. There are no legends, captions, or narratives. Like the similarly silk-screened cardboard boxes that clutter the floor in mock haphazardness, the pegboards simultaneously send up and perform curatorial nostalgia for the early rock era, when boys wore letter jackets and wooed girls during the homecoming game. (Or whatever they did. Everything I know about this sort of thing I learned from Grease—which may be part of what Ruppersberg's getting at.)

Photo albums contain the overflow: sheet music, more album covers, pictures of unidentified people on the street, at bars, and in photo booths. One imagines what must still be sitting in the artist's basement. An iPad plays music from Ruppersberg's playlist—R&B pioneer Louis Jordan when I visited. There's much too much information to process here; the best you can do is just let it go by. I can't say the results are satisfying, but this mess of sensation, with its occasional flashes of insight into the historical moment, really does ape rock 'n' roll. Everything is collected, but nothing is saved.

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