Solo Exhibition . February 2015
Curated by Laura Mott

MR. MDWST A REAL GOOD TIME is a stylized regurgitation of the back roads adventures of Beverly Fre$h. Like a postmodern tale of the picaresque, Fre$h has traveled extensively over the last two years on a quest to understand, reconfigure, and interrupt the social constructs and cultural rituals of the rural Midwest. He created impromptu, site-oriented performances alone and with strangers at carnivals, country fairs, front yards, and back roads, which were recorded for the Outskirts series (2012-present). This exhibition presents three new performances and stage sets inspired by his performative research in the region and features four character tropes he met during his travels: The Badass, The Innocent, The Professional, and The Seeker.


MR. MDWST—A REAL GOOD TIME is a continuation of the adventures of Beverly Fre$h, a stylized, autobiographical character that acts as the artist and performer persona for Zack Ostrowski. Beverly Fre$h is a mischievous doppelganger who operates freely in a variety of forms: rap music, fashion, performance, graphic design, acting, comedy, and contemporary visual art. The artist explains the character’s inception: “The persona allows me the strategy of mobility. I have created an identity that is adaptable and flexible enough to perform in a variety of venues. One that is not solely academic, nor exclusively street, but able to invade each of these separate contexts and in turn have these worlds confront each other.”

Over the last few years, the persona has been further tested as a vehicle while Beverly Fre$h has traveled extensively throughout the fringe areas of the Midwest region creating impromptu, site-oriented performances alone and with strangers in a series called MR. MDWST. Fre$h finds his collaborators at places like country fair talent shows, rooster-crowing competitions, and random run-ins along back roads where, for instance, the performer was drawn to the home of Chris Main in Loogootee, Indiana, because he had a Mountain Dew vending machine sitting in his driveway. The resulting video is of Fre$h rapping about the soft drink followed by the newly acquainted Main playing a power ballad on his electric guitar.

Fre$h is like a postmodern version of the picaresque, a literary term used for a genre of appealing anti-heroes telling stories from the road. The archetype has an extensive lineage, from which the character of Fre$h has a wealth of comparisons ranging from the good heartedness of Huck Finn to the crooked fearlessness of Hunter S. Thompson. Aligned with this brand of eager outsider, Fre$h approaches the Midwest region as under-examined territory. Hidden behind its presumed ordinariness, the artist unmasks a deviant outgrowth of extraordinary personalities and social ritual. His travels function as performative research, in which the artist electrifies the mundane in order to expose its conventions. A selection of his performances in reaction to these surroundings are featured in the exhibition at Cranbrook Art Museum, which includes a collection of documentary shorts from OUTSKIRTS, 2014, and clips from the film Bathtub Songs, 2015. The scenarios include, among others, Fre$h staging an impromptu performance with a pancake mask on his face at the Festival of Flags in Davidson, Michigan; collaborative performances with the Stark Show High School Choir at the Marshall Putnam County Fair in Henry, Illinois; and rapping at the gravesite of Ricki Dunn, America’s Greatest Pickpocket, in Colon, Michigan, The Magic Capital of the World.

The Midwest region is seen by Fre$h as a state of mind distinguished for its restlessness. He likens it to “the tension that you feel at a small town event when the energy could shift from friendly to violent in a second. The emotional complexity of a carnival —conmen, crafty homemakers, children, drunks at the beer tent, fights, and teenagers meeting up for dates — it has it all slammed together in one environment.” The scene he describes draws on odd sense memories of the sickly sweet taste of cotton candy, impatient legs standing in line, fresh sunburns, and eyes searching the crowd for something to happen. And then, like the first explosion of the fireworks, Beverly Fre$h enters the scene like a rascal wind with a big smile, fidgety hands, and a plan.

The exhibition space of MR. MDWST—A REAL GOOD TIME is devoted primarily to three stage sets for Beverly Fre$h’s new performance in which he channels four character tropes met at small town events: The Professional, a wall and archway covered with fake hair; The Innocent, a large pancake stage; The Badass, a porch defiled by graffiti; and The Seeker, who has no stage because he is always in search of place. The exhibition also includes a ten-foot fabric sculpture of a severed arm with tattoos of the name Chrissy and a rose with a vagina at its center—a crude talisman from a real-life inspiration for the Badass character. The MR. MDWST performance builds on the tradition of the “one-man show” and oral tradition, resulting in a 40-minute-long production of songs, jokes, and stories performed by Fre$h as he continuously switches personas and roams between the stage sets. During the exhibition run, Fre$h will add to the festivities with two workshops with guest speakers—a laughter yoga teacher and an inspirational speaker—which anchor his production in the milieu of strange public performance occurring every day outside the confines of contemporary art.

Comedians are often seen as honest populists; laughter not only feels good but also teases out universal truths. Humor is used as a form of camaraderie and strategy in Beverley Fre$h’s exhibition and his collaborative performances. Fre$h’s public interventions have roots in the careers of comedians like Andy Kaufman, who unflinchingly took on controversial performance personas—an alcoholic lounge singer, a pro-wrestler, Elvis, etc.—and would explore them on stage as well as in settings of everyday life. In a profile interview with a reporter in the 1970s, Kaufman took the writer to a diner and improvised a disagreement with another customer and began sobbing about his failed masculinity. Annoyed and embarrassed, the writer cut the night short, to which Andy replied, “If you don’t like that, I don’t know what to tell you. That is my most favorite hobby in the world. . . . We could have had a real good time.” As suggested by the exhibition title, a real good time is also a destination in Fre$h’s work—a place that resides outside social normalcies or the mainstream. He celebrates the authenticity and absurdity of life that can be found in the outskirts of the Midwest, and through his heavily trodden adventures, affirms that the periphery merits our time and fascination.

-Laura Mott
Curator of Contemporary Art and Design
“MR. MDWST” is a forty-minute performance created from documentation and field notes taken during phase one of “OUTSKIRTS,” an ongoing series of site-oriented performances to understand, reconfigure, and interrupt the social and cultural rituals of the rural Midwest. Building on the tradition of the “one man show,” “MR. MDWST,” aims to both entertain and challenge the audience by drawing from the field of oral tradition and exploring devices that allow cultural material to be transmitted such as songs, jokes, sayings, and stories.

AFTER LAUGHTER Presented by BEVERLY FRE$H, Featuring Lynne West
Beverly Fre$h presents “AFTER LAUGHTER” a guided session in Laughter Yoga (Hasyayoga) conducted by certified Laughter Yoga Leader Lynne West, “The Mistress of Mirth.” This afternoon workshop will explore the various methods and benefits of prolonged voluntary laughter.

LANGUAGE IS A HOUSE Presented by BEVERLY FRE$H, Featuring Bry’n Lambert
“LANGUAGE IS A HOUSE” is an inspirational keynote presentation that wanders the unsteady ground between nightmare and ecstasy. Inspired by Heidegger’s claim that “language is a house in which man dwells,” this program demonstrates how language calls together our basic exigencies and builds a place for us to reside. In this presentation, Beverly Fre$h will introduce Bry’n Lambert, a former reporter who has reinvented himself as a visionary real estate agent. Bry’n will take the audience down his path of reinvention and present some of his latest concepts.