He was no stranger to the place, having worked as a security guard for the Museum of Contemporary Art for seven months. He’d spent hours staring into its sculpture garden–in which there were no sculptures–so he knew that once he was over its fence he had to keep low.

Beneath the range of the security cameras he began to go about his business, pacing the appropriate number of steps. With a video camera taping his actions, he buried three paintings three feet apart, then moved low against a concrete embankment, leaving the way he came in.

The results–not only Dead Paintings, the video of his mission, but the paintings themselves, retrieved six months later–can be seen in Eric David Hamilton’s latest show, at Beret International. You also can hear the results of Response, a work that came out of Hamilton’s placing the same personal ad in the men-seeking-women and women-seeking-men sections of a “Chicago Arts and Entertainment Paper.” He taped the responses.

“It was a personal thing and I tried to make it more universal, or not too personal,” says Hamilton, 35. “I’m a single white male interested in meeting females. And I know people who’ve put ads in and met people and actually got married. I was just intrigued by it, just like everyone else. You eavesdrop on these people. You record these people telling personal things about their lives. But they’re still anonymous people.”

Did he feel guilty about getting people’s hopes up?

“Yeah, well, it just goes to show you, you shouldn’t get your hopes up,” he says. “But I also feel guilty because they pay, like, $1.95 a minute. I feel guilty about that.”

Hamilton’s interest in conceptual art was sparked as a boy in Iowa, when he would carve small “ancient looking” heads out of soft concrete and leave them on the path that led to his family’s boat. As an adult he followed a woman from Chicago to Germany; when things went kaput, he buried a puppet that looked like him in the garden below her window.

As for the furtive expedition to the MCA, Hamilton says it was an act born out of neither spite nor desperation. “I wonder what the MCA thought about it,” he says. “I sent them a press release that the dead paintings had been exhumed. But they probably won’t care until I move to New York–then they’ll show the video. Artist’s joke.”

Hamilton’s work is at Beret International, 1550 N. Milwaukee (773-489-6518), through June 26. –Sridhar Pappu

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Jim Newberry.