Abraham Ritchie is the Social Media Manager at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago.
Saxophone or graphic design? That was a question artist Chad Kouri had to ask himself when deciding what type of career to pursue. Although, in the end, he chose art and design, music—and jazz in particular—has continued to be a very important aspect in his life. It’s something that informs his work and process as a working artist, which Kouri often describes as improvisational or intuitive, with a lot of trial and error; a lot of experimentation that may or may not work.
But jazz doesn’t just provide Kouri a method of working, it’s also inspiration for his series of works titled Jazz Movement Studies. This body of work began when Kouri first began exploring Chicago’s expansive community of lively free jazz, whose members can be seen at Tuesdays on the Terrace or in performances for The Freedom Principle. Coming from a more traditional jazz training, Kouri has explained: “this sub-genre confused me to say the least. In order to become more comfortable and intimate with these live performances, I started creating small intuitive and gestural drawings during a set, reacting to the physical movement of the performers as well as the sounds, riffs, pops, scratches, and anything else that came out of their instruments (or lack thereof).”
In his drawings you can see swirls and asterisks, zig-zags and figure-eights; marks that create a kind of vocabulary, often repeating within a piece or appearing in multiple works. It’s up to the viewer to assign meaning to these marks, decipher them, or simply enjoy a visual concert unfold. These marks usually become the only record of an experience that is likely unrecorded and improvised; an attempt to capture a fleeting experience—a challenge that Kouri enjoys rising to. There is, of course, artistic precedence for translating music, and especially jazz, into artwork. Kouri cites the bright colors, hard geometry, and abstraction of Stuart Davis (whose work you can see at the Art Institute of Chicago) as an influence on him artistically, and gravitated to it even before knowing there was a musical connection within the art. Josef Albers’s graphic, black-and-white album covers are another favorite of Kouri’s that combine music and visual art.
As an artist, Kouri strives to make his practice accessible to a public and hopes that his drawings will perhaps make free jazz music a little more accessible to everyone. As Kouri hopes for the viewer, “I’d like to think that people who wouldn’t be that excited about jazz music, [maybe what] I do could be an entry point into it.”
Catch Chad Kouri drawing at a Tuesdays on the Terrace or an MCA Stage performance over the course of The Freedom Principle, as he undertakes a special set of drawings for his Jazz Movement Studies related to the exhibition. And check out MCA DNA as we will be publishing his artwork on this blog regularly throughout the run of The Freedom Principle.
1. A Celebration of Marriage Equality: 2014 marked the year that the State of Illinois extended the right to marry to all couples, regardless of sexual orientation. When the legislation passed we knew we had to do something special to celebrate, so a core group of staff at the museum got together and quickly arrived at an ambitious idea: make the museum available for weddings all day, for free. We partnered with Equality Illinois for the event and sent out an open call for couples to participate. The response was overwhelming; filled with stories of couples who had long been in love but were not allowed the right to marry their partner until now. On June 2, we opened our galleries for 15 spectacular weddings spanning all traditions, cultures, and kinds, and hosted a free reception for each couple on our terrace in the back. Even with a little rain, it was a beautiful day.
2. “The Diversity Talk” by William Pope.L: Given that unofficial title by artist William Pope.L, the talk upended any expectations of what panels and discussions on diversity are supposed to be like when the panelists, Pope.L, Zachary Cahill, and Lisa Yun Lee, joined Romi Crawford on stage in full animal costumes—an idea from collaborator Wolfie E. Rawk. The costumes obfuscated all identities and physical appearances (so much so that it took some time to figure out who was who) and added some unexpected levity to the talk. As Pope.L wryly noted, diversity conversations often become divisive among potential allies, so an undoubted high point was when the artist-dressed-as-rat asked the packed house to check under their seats for the lyrics to “America the Beautiful.” As the audience sang the chorus, “America! America! God shed His grace on thee/And crown thy good with brotherhood/From sea to shining sea,” it was an inescapable realization that, in this moment of togetherness-by-song, we were describing a nation we are still working to better.
3. School Partnerships: Working with the community is a major and amazing part of the work that the MCA does every single year, but because it isn’t hanging on the walls of our galleries, many people don’t know about our partnerships with Chicago schools. This year we began sharing stories of our work—how we’re bringing students to the museum, working with the teachers to develop new modes of teaching and art-inclusive curricula, and how we’re enabling Chicago artists (above) to work with students in order to build their understanding of art and their own creativity—on social media and our blog, with more stories to come.
On a related note, we also shared Analú Maria López’s recent archival discovery of a grainy slide featuring Keith Haring, evidence of how far back the MCA’s collaboration with Chicago Public Schools goes. This led to additional discoveries in the museum’s archives about the 1989 collaboration between the MCA and Chicago Public School students. The next time you walk the passageway between the Orange Line trains and Midway Airport and think, “Hey, those panels look like a Keith Haring!” you’re right. They’re by Haring and CPS students, a collaboration we helped organize in 1989.
• Rappers in Museums: “A hip-hop concert inside a museum—not too many places are doing this you all,” remarked Hologram Kizzie, aka Psalm One, during her set for “The Language of Hip Hop,” a Word Weekend hip-hop showcase cocurated by Fake Shore Drive that also featured The Boy Illinois and Saint Millie. If you’ve been following us on Twitter, you may know that Lupe Fiasco is a regular visitor (often bringing his family to exhibitions). Looking to feed a growing curiosity about contemporary art, he asked curator Naomi Beckwith, in early 2014, for a more intensive study of our exhibitions. And David Bowie Is brought in even more hip-hop stars, including Usher and Chicago’s Chance da Rapper.
• Official David Bowie Day in Chicago, Proclaimed by the Mayor: Speaking of David Bowie Is, it was pretty amazing that Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel issued an edict declaring the opening day of the exhibition, September 23, officially to be David Bowie Day in Chicago. If only we could have actually gotten him to wear the Ziggy Stardust makeup.
• #BowieFlashMob: Civic pride for David Bowie Is wasn’t just limited to official offices, of course. Museum staff and visitors were completely surprised by the unplanned David Bowie flash mob that took place on the MCA Plaza during the excitement of opening day. For about 10 minutes, around 25 David Bowies performed a choreographed dance routine to a medley of Bowie songs, then just as quickly as they appeared, they vanished, leaving behind only wonder and joy for those that witnessed it. Fortunately it was captured on video, and in this digital age anyone can enjoy it.
• Amanda Ross-Ho’s Proud Father: Artist Amanda Ross-Ho’s sculpture THE CHARACTER AND SHAPE OF ILLUMINATED THINGS graced the MCA Plaza from 2013 into 2014. Near the end of the exhibition we received the above review from Ruyell Ho, Amanda Ross-Ho’s father, on the MCA’s Facebook Page, proving that you’re never too old or too successful for your parents to be proud of you. Hopefully this makes you smile as much as it has made me smile.
• MCA DNA launches: Over the years we’ve had a number of blogs for different projects, but this year we launched the museum’s ongoing blog, MCA DNA. I’m already looking forward to what 2015 will hold.
For the past week, much of our collective attention at the museum has been focused on Ferguson, Missouri. From my desk at work, I’ve followed the events as they unfolded live and considered the way that the story and opinions have played out online—especially on Twitter. Since so many people have begun to use Twitter as a newsfeed, I believe it’s utterly inappropriate for a chatty tweet from the museum to appear when highly charged events are happening in real time, and my role as the social media manager is to moderate our messaging appropriately or cut it off entirely when events escalate. Sadly, this responsibility has become a more frequent activity lately, with national tragedies happening in Sandy Hook, Aurora, and Sanford. As I write this, “Black Rage” is a top trending topic on Twitter, a song Lauryn Hill has dedicated to Ferguson with the message “peace in MO.”
As we all struggle for answers that are not there to these tragedies, I find that artworks become objects of emotion, contemplation, and reflection, seen in the songs, poems, and images people are posting to the Web. Some works seem to presage events; others are poignant reminders of how much work we have left to do as citizens and human beings.
I won’t forget curator Julie Rodrigues Widholm pausing next to John Ahearn’s sculpture Raymond and Toby (1989) during a tour of the MCA’s 2012 exhibition, This Will Have Been: Art, Love, and Politics in the 1980s. Commissioned for a South Bronx police station and depicting an African American man wearing a black hoodie and kneeling with his pitbull, the sculpture, according to Widholm, had been perceived as a negative depiction by members of the community, even though the artist had intended the work as a straightforward portrait. The viewers imbued the work with their own insecurities and negative emotions. The circumstances around Trayvon Martin’s shooting, Widholm noted, show that people still project their fears onto others—sometimes with tragic consequences.
— Jonah Weiner (@jonahweiner) July 14, 2013
Another work that I’ve seen regularly posted to Twitter or used as an avatar, is David Hammons’s In the Hood (1993). Over the past two years the artwork has proved both tremendously prescient and poignantly sad, an icon of projected fear and lasting prejudice. Many people on Twitter began spontaneously posting the work along with their thoughts in the wake of the Trayvon Martin shooting and trial.
These artworks do not have the answers to the massive societal problems we face; instead they challenge us to face them, to discuss them, and to work to solve them.
Internationally renowned artist Takashi Murakami recently traveled to Chicago to screen his film Jellyfish Eyes to a very enthusiastic audience that packed the Edlis Neeson Theater to capacity with many hopeful fans waiting outside for any available seats. Murakami showed up sporting some fashions inspired by his art: his shirt and vest were embroidered with his signature Jellyfish Eye designs, and his headgear riffs on a character from the movie as well. He was very generous with his fans, taking time to pose with everyone who wished to take a picture with him, as you see below.
Jellyfish Eyes centers around the appearance of mysterious creatures, called F.R.I.E.N.D.s, whose motivations may or may not be benevolent. We took a cue from Murakami himself who often appears in clothing styles inspired by his artwork and film, and asked our audience to attend the film with their childhood stuffed F.R.I.E.N.D.s—aka their stuffed animals—for a group photo with Murakami.
If you couldn’t attend the movie you can still view the music video for the theme song to the movie, Last Night, Good Night, as remixed by musician Pharrell Williams.
If you attended the MCA’s 2012 exhibition This Will Have Been: Art, Love & Politics in the 1980s, you probably saw Gran Fury’s 12-foot-long poster Kissing Doesn’t Kill (1989). Countering misconceptions of HIV transmission, it depicts two same-sex couples (and one opposite-sex couple) kissing under the titular phrase.
Provocative for its time, the work debuted in Chicago in 1990 on 60 CTA buses and 25 “L” stations for one month. Some of the posters were defaced, and the Illinois State Legislature even considered banning their display entirely.
If you lived through the 1980s, and the decades before that, you know what a historic moment it was when same-sex marriage was legalized in Illinois on November 20, 2013. You understand that it signifies real progress: We as a society—though not yet as a nation—have moved from a time when Gran Fury’s work was notorious to a time when the MCA ran the exact same ad on CTA buses in 2012 and received positive and appreciative feedback through its social media channels. We’re seeing our friends and relatives who have long been devoted to each other finally recognized by the state and by the law. This is progress. This should be marked. And this should most certainly be celebrated.
When Governor Pat Quinn signed SB10 last fall, the only question for the MCA wasn’t whether to celebrate, but how to celebrate this momentous occasion. A group of staff members who are passionate about gay rights and marriage equality met to brainstorm ways the museum could mark this progress with the LGBTIQ community. The idea that appealed the most to us was the most ambitious: open the museum for an entire day of marriages—for free. When we approached Pritzker Director Madeleine Grynsztejn with this proposal, her response was an enthusiastic “Yes!”
On June 2, the MCA worked with Equality Illinois—along with other generous sponsors who are providing complimentary photography, decor, and other services—to host 15 couples who were more than ready to, as the Beyoncé song goes, “put a ring on it.”
The MCA hosts weddings all year long and its staff is delighted to be able to host weddings for all couples at last. Congratulations to all of the couples throughout Illinois—and the United States—who have worked toward equality and who are finally seeing their efforts realized.
*This post first appeared in MCA Chicago (Summer 2014).
Check out the Chicago Sun-Times‘ highlight of the event here.
As 2012 comes to close, so too does Martin Creed’s yearlong residency at the MCA. A lot of our visitors chose to share their experiences of Martin Creed’s work on the web so we’ve selected some of our favorite responses to include here. Though we couldn’t include everything we loved, we tried to. Logically some works attracted more attention than others (say, the huge neon sign rotating on our plaza) so not all of Martin Creed’s pieces are represented. The following tweets are in roughly chronological order, beginning with the most recent. If you have a good photo you’d like to share with us, please leave a comment below, or let us know on Twitter or Instagram, @mcachicago.
This is the 3rd ball of paper I’ve seen @mcachicago today w/o reference on object labels. is someone playing a prank?
— Nicole Catalano (@NicoleMarieSays) December 12, 2012
— Nicole Catalano (@NicoleMarieSays) December 12, 2012
OK. THE PAPER WAS A THING. I CAN’T DECIDE IF I FEEL DULL OR CLEVER ABOUT ALL OF THIS. @mcachicago Courtesy of artist Martin Creed.
— Nicole Catalano (@NicoleMarieSays) December 12, 2012
— drew_in_chicago (@drew_in_chicago) November 2, 2012
— Daniel Craig Kittaka (@danielkittaka) December 8, 2012
— 701 CCA (@701CCA) November 2, 2012
— Jon (@gayforsatan) November 30, 2012
MCA is making me question life… And art. What is art? How does it relate to my life?
— Adam Burba (@adamburba) November 16, 2012
— Drew Blau (@drewlblau) October 24, 2012
— Tyler Blackwell (@TylerBlackwell) October 25, 2012
— nicole forester (@nicoleforester) November 27, 2012
— John Laning (@JohnLaning) September 12, 2012
The United Kingdom’s most prestigious art prize, the Turner Prize, was awarded yesterday. Congratulations to Elizabeth Price, who won the award.
In 2001, Martin Creed won the Turner Prize with the work shown below. We thought the occasion of the 2012 prize would be the perfect time to share this slightly hard-to-find video with you, plus a couple other of Martin Creed’s well-known works.
Martin Creed. Work No. 227, The Lights Going On And Off, 2000. In the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, learn more.
Martin Creed. Work No. 850 at Tate Britain.
We also thought our audience might like to see this video of Martin Creed’s installation at Hauser and Wirth, since a number of these works have made appearances at the MCA.
Entering the sea of balloons from Martin Creed’s Work No. 1190, Half the air in a given space (2011) was not at all like I expected. As the Social Media Coordinator at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago I had already seen a number of pictures of smiling, laughing people posted on Twitter, so I hitched a ride with another staff member to see the artwork that everyone was enjoying firsthand.
It being a Monday morning it was peaceful at the Hyde Park Art Center, and I was ushered into the balloon gallery alone. Immediately I had some reservations, along with a bemused smile. Balloons quickly and completely envelop you—that’s part of the fun, but it’s also disorientating. Your attention is immediately drawn to your physical being. Even as your senses are hindered by balloons, they seem to be at their height as you attempt to negotiate a path through the balloons. I imagine the feeling is something like a sensory-deprivation chamber; your faculties are paradoxically heightened as they are impeded. Your sight is compromised by balloons, reduced to only a couple of feet immediately in front of you, peripheral vision is cut off entirely. Your nose is filled with the smell of latex (allergic visitors please beware). That day the room was silent, interrupted only by loud squeaks of balloons on balloons as I attempted to move, which once again drew my attention to my bodily movement through the space.
This is a dimension of the serious side of Martin Creed’s very playful and fun artwork—its ability to bring your attention to the space you inhabit every day, but perhaps do not always notice: your body. You could write this work off as too crowd-pleasing, not “serious” enough, but that would miss what the artist is trying to show you about yourself.
If you walked past the MCA plaza sometime in the last few weeks you may have noticed some construction work going on. In early August, the pace accelerated and Martin Creed’s Work No. 1357 MOTHERS quickly took shape.
Here is the story in photos.
The London 2012 Olympics are under way and Chicago joined friends in the United Kingdom in ringing in the games with Martin Creed’s participatory Work No. 1197: All the bells in a country rung as quickly and as loudly as possible for three minutes.
Here at the MCA, we lacked a physical bell so we set our computers to ring digitally at 2:12 am so we would be ringing at the same time as those in the United Kingdom.
Further to the south, University of Chicago’s Rockefeller Chapel rang their bells too, sounding out “God Save the Queen.”
The project seems to have gone off without a hitch. Well maybe there was one problem, but at least no one was hurt.
Or, if you prefer, the disco remix version.