This Is Modern Art Credit: Michael Courier

Everybody vs. Chris Jones and Hedy Weiss

In February, Steppenwolf Theatre’s young adults program presented This Is Modern Art (Based on True Events), a new play by Chicago-based writers Idris Goodwin and Kevin Coval, about young street artists—also Chicago based—who in 2010 decided to tag the Art Institute’s new Modern Wing. Reader critic Albert Williams considered the show evenhanded: though “clearly sympathetic to the artists’ point of view,” it was “not blind to the impact their reckless act would have on their own lives.” Hedy Weiss of the Sun-Times and Chris Jones of the Tribune took a decidedly different view. Apparently still traumatized by the bad old days of the 1970s and ’80s, when every big-city subway car was a target for what Weiss called “urban terrorists” with spray cans, both critics attacked the show for seeming to condone and even teach criminal, socially destructive activities. Well, you’d have thought they’d come out in favor of puppy strangling. The backlash was immediate, fierce, and often nasty. The critics were decried as racists, the whole institution of theater criticism rendered suspect by their bad-think. But the funniest response came from Coval himself, who called Jones and Weiss “old white people” even though he’s the same shade and, middle-aged himself, arguably aging out of his long-cultivated hip-hop persona.