Local artist-slash-troublemaker Vincent Dermody was showing off his new manicure in the hallway outside Wendy Cooper Gallery last Friday night. Former Vice magazine photo editor Tim Barber, who has work up in the gallery, and I were snickering, and Dermody warned Barber not to fuck with him. “I have a black belt in the ancient martial art of hapkido,” he warned for about the zillionth time that night, only slightly kidding.

“Why did you get clear polish?” I asked Dermody. “Why didn’t you get the lesbian manicure?”–just a buff, no paint.

“Yeah, I bet you wear pink, too,” Barber said, piling on.

When Dermody and I said we liked pink on men, Barber scoffed, “Hello, 2003! You guys are so midwest.”

We were taking a breather from “The Promised Land,” a show of mostly photos designed to “convey aspects of human striving and failure,” according to the gallery’s press release. “Loosely conceived as a landscape show,” it goes on, “the work carries much greater weight as social commentary in an age of alienation from the environment and from our very purpose on earth.”

In one of Barber’s pictures, Staten Island Ferry, a rockabilly couple smooch sluttily in a corner. Next to them another couple embrace as if they’ve narrowly escaped some tragedy. Barber said he shot it while on a date on the ferry, “a grimy-ass boat.” He says he, too, had gone to that corner for some action and took pictures behind his date’s back while they were going at it.

My favorite piece was the OODA Group’s Sailor’s Delight, a helium-filled neoprene weather balloon that roamed around a tiny room they’d built, blown by a fan in each of the four corners. Attached to it was a Sharpie on the end of a string. The marker drew lines on graph paper, recording the wanderings of the balloon.

OODA member Shaun Owens-Agase told me the project was an experiment in chance versus determinism. Normally, he said, if you believe in one, it cancels out the other. “We wanted to figure out how to combine the two.” The lines were determined by the positioning of the fans, but any disturbance could knock the balloon off course. “You can see it drawing a distinct pattern,” Owens-Agase said. The Sharpie drew a black loop as the balloon made a circuit around the room and very dense scribbles where it hovered for prolonged periods. Is it crazy that I felt sad for the balloon? There it was, trapped in a box, being blown around by forces it couldn’t control, continually mapping the rut it was stuck in.

Dermody was crushing a beer can with one well-groomed hand when we caught sight of art star Scott Reeder. Earlier that day, while I was interviewing his wife, Elysia Borowy-Reeder, on the phone, he’d told her to quit talking to me. Coincidentally, she and I had been talking about Dermody–specifically about why he wasn’t in the show Borowy-Reeder, Scott Reeder, and Scott’s younger brother, Tyson, helped curate recently at Gavin Brown’s Enterprise in New York, “Drunk vs. Stoned 2.”

The Reeders, who founded a gallery/boutique/hangout space in Milwaukee called General Store, curate shows together at fancy-pants galleries in New York and Miami. I’m a fan of their irreverence–their shows are the art-world equivalent of a crayon drawing on a mansion wall. Other people seem to like them too: last year the Village Voice called the first “Drunk vs. Stoned” “one of the most diverting group shows of the year,” and this summer the New York Times gave “Drunk vs. Stoned 2” a mostly positive review, calling it “ambitious if understandably discombobulated.”

Last time I saw all these people in the same room was in this very building last February. They were friends at the time–Dermody had a drawing up in the Reeders’ “Four Color Pen Show” at the now-defunct Van Harrison Gallery. But their relationship has since gone sour.

In August Borowy-Reeder asked Dermody to contribute some photos for “Drunk vs. Stoned 2.” Dermody was in Berlin and his work was in Chicago; he’d had to ask a friend to break into his Wicker Park apartment and sort through thousands of photos on his computer and e-mail them to him. Dermody had them printed and sent overnight to Gavin Brown’s gallery.

But none of the ten photos Borowy-Reeder had requested ended up in the show, and Dermody says he’s never gotten a good explanation for why he was cut. Borowy-Reeder won’t talk about it, saying it’s a “nonissue,” part of the “mundane details that go along with setting up a show.” And Dermody has never gotten his pictures back–nor the drawing he contributed to “Four Color Pen.”

“I’m out $1,500 and so much faith,” he said.

Back inside, Barber introduced me to Wendy Cooper’s director, John McKinnon, and I had another flashback to “The Four Color Pen Show.” After I wrote about that exhibition, mentioning that Van Harrison was about to move to New York, McKinnon wrote a letter to the Reader asking why I would even bother comparing that city and this one. “You wrote a mean letter about me!” I screeched at him. “Nice to meet you!” McKinnon took it all in stride, and we laughed about it like old pals.

Here we were, reunited at 119 North Peoria, and all our relationships had done a complete 180. It felt like more than coincidence.

At the end of the night, Scott Reeder approached Dermody. “He told me he was going to play Kofi Annan,” Dermody said. They stepped outside to chat, and Reader photographer Andrea Bauer followed them. “Scott threw his coat over his head and ran down the hallway like it was an episode of Cheaters,” said Dermody. “This is so gross, because he’s supposed to be my pal. You know he won’t even be my Friendster? It’s so sad. And Elysia won’t even talk to me. She sent me away like I was a helium balloon without a string.”

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