In “101 One-liners; Falling Flat,” Jennifer Mills wonders if the limits of humor can’t be adjusted just a little lower. What about an art show that both examines and enacts an exceedingly dumb premise? You may not care to define what she’s doing here, though, as you chuckle your way through this witty, highly enjoyable collection, which offers exactly what its title promises: a children’s treasury of terrible jokes. There are not one but several piles of plastic dog shit.
Mills is an Upright Citizens Brigade-trained comic, performance artist, and recent School of the Art Institute MFA seen lately on the Chicago pedway, hawking tchotchkes—original and cheap at the same time—in her project The Dollar Store. It’s more or less the same here, where she manipulates (minimally, in many cases) little novelty-shop products into self-contained visual one-liners. There’s the occasional metajoke, like a huge banana peel next to a chalk outline of a body; more often there are double entendres. One shelf holds three books: a copy of Threepenny Opera with three pennies atop it; the Hunger Games volume Catching Fire under a fake burning cigarette; and Marx’s Das Kapital (volume three), decorated with Groucho mustache and glasses. (Prospective purchasers should take accumulated fines into account when considering this last, a library book.) I giggled; the one I laughed aloud at was the antacid pill/whoopie cushion combo.
A table of wordplay holds some obvious elements—a pair of pears; an apple atop a plastic crab—and some less obvious, like a lint roller pointing a gun at a dust ball. “Dust buster!” I thought. Turns out the joke is Stickyup. (Ugh.) One theme here is “evaporation”—the jokes are throwaway and so is the artwork she uses to represent them—but I found that a good mood persisted long after I left the gallery.