Abraham Ritchie

Abraham Ritchie is the Social Media Manager at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago.

Ferguson, Art, and Tragedy

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Posted August 21, 2014

David Hammons, In the Hood. 1993. Photo embedded from Art F City’s article “1993 at the New Museum: Slideshow and Commentary,” Feb 14, 2013.

Abraham Ritchie is the Social Media Manager at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago.

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.

John Ahearn. Raymond and Toby, 1989. Oil on fiberglass. 47 x 43 x 39 in. (119.4 x 109.2 x 99.1 cm). The Broad Art Foundation, Santa Monica

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.

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.

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Takashi Murakami
Still from Jellyfish Eyes, 2013
Color/100 min./HD
Written by Jun Tsugita and Yoshihiro Nishimura
Directed by Takashi
Murakami
Starring Takuto Sueoka, Himeka Asami, Shota Sometani, Kanji Tsuda,
Mayu Tsuruta, and Takumi Saitoh

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.

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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.

Group photo with Takashi Murakami (center) and F.R.I.E.N.D.s

Group photo with Takashi Murakami (center) and F.R.I.E.N.D.s

 

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.

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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.”

(Left) Mandi Hinkley and Chai Wolfman with their daughters Image courtesy of the couple (Right) Jessica and Hannah Jones-Lewis Image courtesy of the couple

(Left) Mandi Hinkley and Chai Wolfman with their daughters
Image courtesy of the couple
(Right) Jessica and Hannah Jones-Lewis
Image courtesy of the couple

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.

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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?

 

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.

Martin Creed. Work No. 1190, Half the air in a given space, 2011. Gold balloons. Multiple parts, each balloon 16 in. (40.6 cm) diameter; overall dimensions variable. Installation view, Hyde Park Art Center, 2012. Courtesy of the artist and Gavin Brown’s enterprise, New York. Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago

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.

All images: Martin Creed: Work No. 1357, MOTHERS, 2012 (MCA Chicago Plaza Project, install in progress). White neon, steel. 22.4 x 47.6 feet (6.8 x 14.5 m). Courtesy of the artist and Gavin Brown’s enterprise, New York. Photo: Abraham Ritchie, © MCA Chicago.

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.

With the London Olympics under way, the United Kingdom and Martin Creed rung in the games with Work No. 1197: All the bells in a country rung as quickly and as loudly as possible for three minutes performed precisely at 8:12 am on July 27.

The Independent recently wrote an insightful profile of Creed, detailing his personal life, musical interests, and art, not all of which are easily separated.

On his inspiration to become an artist: “They [my parents] are Quakers and I grew up being taught that art and music were the highest things you could do.”

On his motivation to make art: “Often I wake up with a horrible feeling, like a nightmare carried into the day. Trying to make something that someone else might like makes me feel better.”

Read the whole profile from The Independent.

On the 27th of July, at 8:12 am, London time, Martin Creed’s Work No. 1197: “All the bells in a country rung as quickly and as loudly as possible for three minutes” will be realized as Londoners ring whatever bells they have as part of the celebration for the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. You can see what bell events are planned and by whom (the Royal Navy is even participating) on the All the Bells website.

In celebration of the London 2012 Games and Martin Creed’s yearlong residency here at the MCA, and in a spirit of unity with those participants in the United Kingdom, the museum will also be ringing a bell simultaneously with our European counterparts—meaning we will be ringing a bell or two at the early hour of 2:12 am. We will document the ringing and post it at a later date, please continue to check this blog or follow us on Twitter for updates.

The MCA is also honored to be joined by other bell ringers in the city, including the University of Chicago’s Rockefeller Chapel.

You can also ring along with Martin Creed here in Chicago by ringing your bell at 2:12 am (CST) “as quickly and as loudly as possible for three minutes,” according to the instructions for the artwork. Add your event here, or check if there’s one near you.