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The CMS debates: Losing twice but always winning!

Image for CMS debates event.

christophermichaelsullivan — one word, no spaces, 26 characters (shortened as “CMS”)– is the name of a Maine based art firm that produces art.  The firm is composed of three firm partners, all having equal ownership of the projects and firm assets, whose responsibilities are divided departmentally. These include Chris Sullivan, founder, Chief Operating Officer and Art Director; D.S. Lobley, Producer; and Gordon Lane, Communications Director. Unlike many collaborators these three function more like business partners; their studio works more like Koons or Kostabi than like Bruce High Quality.

The mission of christophermichaelsullivan is to explore the phenomena of the artist. Their methodology is process-conscious, utilizing collaborative strategies, rigorous planning, and diligent archiving. Thus far this has yielded a series of distinct conceptual projects, each exploring one or more of the practice’s core themes:

1. The life of an artifact outside of the artist’s studio.
2. The public’s perceptive role in the creation of meaning.
3. Circumventing traditional routes to artistic validation.

All projects serve to stimulate discourse regarding the sociology of art and deconstruct the culture industry for the betterment of the field.

Currently CMS has a show at Whitney Art Works in Portland, Maine, that opened this past Friday. The show is an exhibit of about a dozen Mylar blueprints of past, current, and ongoing projects but perhaps most interesting is a series of debates that are scheduled to commence on January 9th. Entitled Project 00018: What is “Debate” in French? and jokingly referred to by the firm as Project 00018: For those who still just don’t get it, these three debates will serve to question the notion of CMS and essentially what happens when a painter, a musician, and a writer run a business and produce fine art.

00004/ Le dîner de Descartes à la fin de son premier jour, 2007. Cheese Ravioli, Tuna, Mayonnaise, Salt, Pepper, Water. One Serving.

The first debate will on the topic of ‘Business’ will take the form of a Lincoln-Douglas-style debate modified to accommodate three debaters. Communications Director Gordon Lane will be running an argument in favor of the resolution: CMS is all Business. His two counterparts will be arguing against that, one arguing that CMS is all Art, the other that CMS is absurd. The second debate, on January 16th, is a debate on Art. This debate was described recently as “the group’s secret recipe,” so the best that can be divulged at this juncture is that the format resembles a pie-eating contest. The last debate in the three-act series is on January 23rd. CMS will have a local art critic moderate a lightning round debate on intellect, attacking CMS’s various projects, and pitting each firm partner against the other yet again. ARTLURKER contacted CMS’s Communications Director, Gordon Lane to find out exactly what the firm hoped to achieve by publicly dissecting themselves and whether they anticipated a volley of vomiting for second debate:


Gordon Lane: In regards to regurgitation, no it is not part of the performance, unless someone suddenly comes down with the Norwalk Virus or has an unusual reaction to mayonnaise. Even so it is unlikely that the show would stop. To be clearer about this second debate, we will be devouring Project 00004: Le dîner de Descartes à la fin de son premier jour, using Lincoln-Douglas timing and turn-taking. This debate performance is the complication in the three-act debate. The second debate is a conceptual re-enactment of debating where we will actually eat our fourth project. The act of eating will be governed loosely by Lincoln-Douglas time formats.”

ARTLURKER: In regard to the second debate, what did you mean by “the group’s secret recipe”?

GL: I referred to the second debate earlier as our “secret recipe” for two reasons. One, because to explain in full detail what the second debate will be would act as a spoiler; because it hinges strongly on concept I would have to get into theory and metaphors that would give away too much. Two, because our fourth project is one of our most confounding projects yet the recipe for the project is hardly a secret.”

AL: Your work is somewhat bland (ie. corporate), but the premise itself interesting and if you aim to destroy the premise itself with these debates then it even becomes compelling. Are you setting yourselves up for self destruction?

GL: The whole of the debates is one single debate broken up over three nights. It is a three-act debate, like a play. CMS is a serious art firm and we will be debating the details of that in the first debate, setting the stage. Yet in the second debate we will actually eat — as if at a dinner — an earlier project. The third will attempt to resolve the complication brought forth by debating via eating after arguing so hotly how serious CMS is. Again on the point of self-destruction: certainly. CMS is an individual artist and an art firm. How can it be both? Throughout the debates, the three individuals that compose this singular entity will be arguing what the firm is, obviously opening up even more contradictions. The key is in the disagreements. One might say the second debate itself is a disagreement. It agrees with nothing, except Project 00004 [.]


In a sense it seems as though CMS are thinking themselves into a corner. However, it remains to be seen whether one would be accurate in saying that the firm will be unilaterally destroyed. More reasonably it seems that by documenting the continued questioning of their existence they risk demonstrating their non-existence as a legitimate entity. This in itself stands a good chance of destroying the suspension of disbelief in their audience, but what will come of this and what the implications for CMS’s continued existence will be are as yet unwritten.


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The CMS debates: Losing twice but always winning!