Navigating Our Post-9/11 Culture of Fear with Nancy Chunn’s Darkly Comical New Show

  • Image courtesy of Ronald Feldman Fine Arts.

“Crime rates have been dropping, dropping, dropping,” sociologist Barry Glassner said in Michael Moore’s 2002 documentary Bowling for Columbine. “Fear of crime has been going up, up, up. How can that be possible? It doesn’t make any sense.”

Perpetuated by politicians and the media, that phenomenon—what Glassner calls “the culture of fear”—inspired an ambitious body of work by New York–based artist Nancy Chunn. Like Moore, she felt moved to investigate the subject in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Now, after years of work, her site-specific “Chicken Little and the Culture of Fear” arrives at Ronald Feldman Fine Arts in New York Now, with hundreds of interconnected works that explore our post-9/11 world.

Chunn never expected the process to be quick or simple. “After 9/11,” she writes in an essay accompanying her new exhibition, “the media went into overdrive, broadcasting every idiotic, innocuous, hilarious, and (only on rare occasions) poignant dangers.” As with many of us, it was sensory overload. “Listening to all this crap, and not being Jon Stewart,” she says, “I decided the only way to maintain any sanity in this age of absurdity was to embark on a baroque, obsessive, labor intensive process that has become as insane as the content.”

Obsessive, perhaps, but not quite insane: The hundreds of works are all part of a cohesive narrative based on the classic folktale. In Chunn’s hands, however, the new allegory explores and satirizes our culture of fear.

The story follows Chicken Little from her garden, where a falling TV set bumps her on the head, through the spaces of her home—bathroom, kitchen, bedroom, etc. In the bedroom, she removes her mattress tag—a crime that gets her arrested. The story continues as Chicken Little goes to jail, then hits the open road with her friends, later landing in the ER. In one version of the classic folktale, the story ends with Chicken Little getting eaten by a fox; in Chunn’s version, it’s Fox News that consumes the protagonist, with Chicken Little transforming into one of the news channel’s blonde anchorwomen.

  • Image courtesy of Ronald Feldman Fine Arts.

Chunn’s new show is darkly comical and vividly rendered. It’s also technically impressive. In addition to 68 giclée prints and seven 3D-printed sculptures, there are 511 acrylic paintings displayed across 11 gallery walls, each representing a certain category of fear, from household dangers to medical issues to national recession. While it’s been years in the making, the exhibition packs a political punch that feels remarkably timely, especially since, 15 years on, we’re still in the same fight.


—Bridget Gleeson


Nancy Chunn: Chicken Little and the Culture of Fear” is on view at Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, New York, Sept. 10–Dec. 17, 2016.

Follow Ronald Feldman Fine Arts on Artsy.

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