Before entering the “Fragonard Mood Swing Faux Pas Fart Show,” I am required to attach a piece of cloth, cut to resemble toilet paper, to my shoe. This, I am told, will free my inhibitions and allow me to enjoy the exhibit without prejudice.

First, I visit the Fart Hall of Fame, where the artist, Matthew Kopp, is receiving visitors. “In the art world, people are controlled by their art,” Kopp says. “They are being used by their art instead of their art being a liberation.”

Kopp has expressed his freedom by inserting the word “fart” into well-known quotations scribbled on a wall. “Only through fart can we get outside of ourselves,” says Marcel Proust. Gertrude Stien (sic) checks in with “A fart, is a fart, is a fart, is a fart.” Rudyard Kipling is quoted, “The Devil whispered behind the leaves, “It’s pretty, but is it fart?”‘

Mindy Rose Schwartz, another artist in the show, is wearing a dress she’s made of wire mesh and Naugahyde cutouts of a variety of antidepressants and mood-stabilizing pills. “If you wear this dress, you won’t be depressed,” Schwartz says. The show, she says, is named after Jean-Honore Fragonard, the 18th-century French painter. “Like him, we want to honor things most people consider embarrassing,” Schwartz says.

I walk around the exhibit and look for broken taboos. Nonfart pieces include Shampoo Spill With Hair on Arm Rest Taken by Mistake From a Doctor’s Office, the Give Yourself a Hug Doll With Placenta Sound Track, and a painting called Count Chokula Chocolate Milk Doo Doo Toast. In the fart collection, a piece of yellow foam hangs on the wall inked with the legend, “Silent Butt Deadly.” There’s also a huge plastic bag hanging from the ceiling labeled 101% Pure Fart Gas. The Farting Frog Vat With Potpourri de Jour is a barrel of water containing a plastic frog which, when dunked, creates bubbles.

I squeeze the frog and run my hand through the water. Andi Pihl, the artist who created Farting Frog Vat, says, “It’s based on the story of a lounge singer in Europe who would drink perfume and sing in farts,” she says. “You know, and how you’re not supposed to smell the farts in the bathtub until the bubble comes up.”

Then there is the Fragonard Mood Swing, designed by Schwartz, which replaces the human figures from Fragonard’s risque pastoral The Swing with smiling, cartoonish antidepressant pills and includes an actual swing for visitors. Schwartz is sitting on the swing, adjusting her dress. “There’s a real underlying seriousness here,” she says. “You know, about bodily control, about controlling your language and your moods.”

Many of the artists in the show met at the Art Institute and collaborated previously on a show based on their memories of The Sound of Music. “I have very few skills that I think I’ve brought with me,” says Schwartz, “but one of the things I can do is make a keychain out of lanyards. That basically has no value in the culture. So I’m trying to empower myself or whatever by seeking to use art in what I know.”

As I’m leaving the gallery, Pihl is blowing up whoopee cushions and placing them under a pink paper mat embossed with the words “To aire is human.” She tells me that later she will be performing an interpretive dance on the mat. I hear a voice behind me. “Hey man,” Kopp says, pointing downward, “you’ve got something on your shoe!” It’s the cloth piece of toilet paper. But is it art?

“The Fragonard Mood Swing, Faux Pas, Fart Show” runs at the Near Northwest Arts Council gallery in the Flatiron Building, 1579 N. Milwaukee, 3rd floor, through July 30. Admission is free. Gallery hours are Thursday through Saturday, noon to 5. Call 278-7677.

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