Farmer Chad Nichols welcomed the new addition to his stand with a sense of humor, saying, “I like it in the middle of the stand. It adds an artistic element to the whole setup. I did try to roll it over the crepe guy, but it doesn’t budge much.” Reflecting on Da Cunha’s overall project, he added, “I like how it ties together. I call this one the drive-thru window!”
Other farmers noted the symbolism of Da Cunha’s installation, which features a repurposed cement mixer with a quasi-kaleidoscopic center, a tower of precast sewer pipes, and a cement disk. Land End Farms duo Mr. and Mrs. William S. Farish remarked, “[We] think of reduce, reuse, recycle. The work takes something that isn’t being used anymore and makes it into art—turns it into something beautiful.”
Gotta B Crepe owners Ryan and Kathia had a different take. They called for a more community-oriented interaction between the farmers’ market and the Plaza Projects: “The MCA always does something interesting, but it would be cool if it was more aligned with the farmers’ market and the idea of community engagement.” When asked for his thoughts on the work’s meaning, Ryan added, “Rumor has it that’s a sewer pipe! I had no idea.”
Still others viewed the piece differently, describing visitors interacting with, climbing on, and even sitting on the art—a testament to Da Cunha’s success in engaging the community.
In its fifth installment, the MCA Plaza Project has come to raise visitor expectations for bold and compelling work before even entering the museum. Vendors, too, have begun to count on plaza installations—as complements to their stalls. A farmer with Lehman Orchard, which has participated in the farmers’ market for years, told us, “The MCA always has something interesting going on. It is always loud and in your face.” Da Cunha’s large and impactful work sparked the memory of a farmers’ market veteran from Noeffke Family Farms: “We all really enjoyed the ‘Mothers’ [Martin Creed’s Work No. 1357 MOTHERS, 2012] work, it was great because it related to the woman’s hospital nearby.”
SOAR Farmers Market on the MCA Plaza, in all its artist-activated and community-driven glory, has firmly taken root at the MCA, offering a summery treat for the hungry bodies and minds of Chicago.
I’ve developed quite a reputation among my colleagues at the MCA—somehow, they all seem to know I love medieval art. It’s become a sort of secret handshake: a furtive discussion of French Romanesque architecture next to the photocopy machine, the librarian passing me a discarded book on medieval Italian painters, and a plethora of forwarded memes featuring bizarre creatures from the age of illuminated manuscripts. It’s entirely true—I adore medieval art—but I just love art in general (maybe not those boring 19th-century landscape paintings with cows, but pretty much everything else). The thing is, loving both medieval and contemporary art is not necessarily a contradiction. Lately I’ve been thinking about medieval pilgrimage culture and how it relates to the way we interact with contemporary art.
A key to understanding medieval culture is recognizing the importance of the pilgrimage. Pilgrimages were enormously popular during medieval times. People traveled at great personal expense and danger to see the relics of saints, which were housed inside churches. As the popularity of the pilgrimage increased, church architecture developed alongside it, with the construction of spectacular buildings decorated with lavish sculptural detail. The most common pilgrimages were to St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, the shrine of Thomas Becket in Canterbury, England, and the Camino routes to Santiago de Compostela in Spain.
These days when we think of a long trip, we imagine a 10-hour flight in coach where we’re rubbing arms with a sweaty man next to a screaming baby in desperate need of a diaper change. In the middle ages, a pilgrimage took years. Years of walking or riding a donkey, exposed to bandits and every sort of weather. (I really want to know where these pilgrims ate, slept, and went to the bathroom, don’t you?) People became ill and even died taking pilgrimages. So why take the time and the risk? Those relics I mentioned earlier—they had an intense mystical power. Being up close and personal with those relics transported dusty, foot-sore travelers to a state of divine communication with the honored saint, who had the power to advocate for the pilgrim in their next life and facilitate their transformation into spiritually eternal beings.
While I’m not suggesting that present-day tourists are visiting contemporary art museums to commune with saints, there are intriguing similarities. Just as church architecture flourished along with pilgrimage culture, many contemporary museums have developed into tourist-magnet spectacles of architecture (I’m looking at you, Guggenheim museums). These museums are decked out with site-specific art from the inside out: from plaza projects, to fountains, to text-covered stairways, to time-art pieces, to installations made to fill a gigantic hall. Since the scale and unusual materials used in contemporary art must be experienced in person to be properly understood, people flock to these museums. And what do contemporary art pilgrims do when they encounter art at a museum? They take a selfie, of course! They tag themselves at the museum on Facebook; they tweet and Instagram the bajeebus out of it. The real-life, present-tense art experience becomes a metaphysical internet event. It’s the 21st-century version of divine metamorphosis, and I think medieval pilgrims would totally get it. I mean, had #ItouchedthestatueofstjamesandnowImgoingtoheaven been around in the year 1200, people would have been all over it.
Don’t take my word for it though—come to the MCA and experience our unusual exhibitions in person. Take a selfie in the Kris Martin hot air balloon. Tag yourself in The Freedom Principle. Transport your art encounter into the divine continuum of the internet. And if you have a special interest in Romanesque church carvings, stop by the Box Office on the first floor and we’ll nerd it out.
As these posters suggest, Child City, a daycare center run by AACM guitarist Pete Cosey’s mother, was at the heart of much AACM activity. Housed in the AACM’s headquarters for a time, Child City has been described as a place filled with family, friends, and incredible experimental teaching and music making. In the 1970s, the AACM used the space for meetings, classes, and concerts—including regular Sunday performances by the Muhal Richard Abrams Sextet. Visitors from far and wide came to Child City, and a 1973 description of a concert by French jazz critic Philippe Carle, was the first to be published in Europe. Of the concert, he wrote: “Before playing, the musicians, backs turned to the audience, remain motionless for a few minutes. Then they turn to approach their instruments: all wearing rubber masks worthy of a horror film . . . Little by little, via small percussion, whistles, and toy instruments, the space becomes a kind of immense birdcage.”
Source: George E. Lewis, A Power Stronger than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music, University of Chicago Press, 2008.
Tuesdays on the Terrace with the Ari Brown Quintet was a real treat. More a stroll than a sprint, Brown’s saxophone lines floated over top of the locked-in rhythm section, wandering about while never sounding lost. The crowd was dense but casual. A sharply-dressed slender man at stage left couldn’t help but hoot and holler at the organ player, egging him on every step of the way: “That’s it! Wooh-weee! That’s right! Get it!” This is by far my favorite thing about live jazz shows. Old men and women uncontrollably ecstatic over licks and rhythms like they are possessed by some kind of juke and giggle demon. You couldn’t tie them down if you tried.
The meandrous nature of the tunes influenced me to try a new system in my drawings; the plan being to lay down two colors of pattern to represent the unwavering rhythm section, and plot out various large black dots on top—like pins on a map—over time connecting them one by one until the last dot links back to the start. With the first two drawings feeling a bit timid and unbalanced, I chose to speed up my drawing pace on the third and fourth (illustrated below), forcing me to trust where the music led my arm, with no time for second guessing.
Toward the end of the first set—as I became eyebrow deep in my newsprint pad—I heard another saxophone enter the performance. I looked up to investigate and to my surprise the same five performers are on the stage. I scan the group a second time and realize that Brown had picked up a soprano saxophone, slid it in his mouth next to his tenor and was playing both instruments simultaneously.
Needless to say, the sharp-and-slender hoot-and-hollerer had sounded the alarm moments earlier, so I should have known something was going down. I stopped dead in my tracks and watched Brown, who was still playing riffs that seemed to hover over the group like helium. From that point on I decided to draw with two markers at once, and to my surprise, the outcome was quite nice. One gesture simultaneously creating two paths almost like an offset print. It’s rediscovering these seemingly simple, almost cliche techniques in a new way that keeps me interested in making things, and jazz music itself for that matter.
1. In 2007, Pablo Helguera’s musical performance at the opening of Escultura Social and presentation of the “Panamerican Address of the People of Chicago,” Los Super Elegantes’ Dance Painting, and riding Pedro Reyes’s Leverage (a giant red see-saw in the galleries)
2. In October 2005, live parrots in the galleries and dancing to samba music at the Tropicalia opening one week before having my first child
3. Almost riding the elevator with Brad Pitt when he was here to see Lee Bontecou’s exhibition
4. Rashid Johnson throwing the first pitch at a Cubs Game and seeing “Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago” on the scoreboard
5. The South Shore Drill Team performing as Cauleen Smith’s Solar Flare Arkestral Marching Band in the museum’s atrium with the TCA wearing her custom capes
6. Rudolf Stingel’s orange carpet painting covering the 4th-floor lobby as part of Francesco Bonami’s Universal Experience exhibition and Stingel covering up the walls of the atrium in foil during his solo exhibition
8. Meeting Ed Ruscha after his lecture with Dave Hickey
9. Watching Richard Tuttle install his exhibition in his magic way
10. Visiting Doris Salcedo’s studio in Bogotá
This past fall, Hugh Scott-Douglas’s Untitled (2014) and Eric Wesley’s DPS #9 (2014) entered the collection and were briefly on view along with several other works. Although I did not immediately see a connection between the two, I found both of these works to be visually striking and conceptually compelling. I was intrigued by the intricate narrative and process involved in Scott-Douglas’s work—the way he used the scanner to explore the visual qualities of currency.
And Wesley’s humorous exploration of the tension between procrastination and productivity immediately resonated with me.
The decision to exhibit these pieces together came after a third work of art entered the collection: Gabriel Kuri’s untitled tsb mini statement details (2014). In the work—which consists of a pair of tapestries—Kuri explores the relationship between art and quotidian bureaucracy using an unexpected method: a centuries-old weaving tradition. Kuri commissioned weavers in Guadalajara to re-create both the front and back of an old ATM mini-statement through Gobelin, a laborious form of tapestry weaving developed in seventeenth-century France. By monumentalizing the common ATM receipt, the artist draws the viewer’s attention to this humble, yet ubiquitous object in an entirely new way.
While it can sometimes take months, or even years, for recently acquired objects to come on view, a theme seemed to emerge from these recently acquired works. Kuri, Scott-Douglas, and Wesley each appeared to be grappling with the relationship between daily experience and art, and were specifically honing in on the bureaucratic functions and tools that help us organize our lives. Once I realized this connection, I knew I had to show them all together.
Together, these works form the core of the exhibition Out of Office, demonstrating the ways the museum’s collecting practices can directly shape an exhibition. While there are thousands of wonderful works in the MCA collection, curating our recent acquisitions was a thrilling opportunity to unveil and engage with artworks that speak directly to our current moment.