David Bowie Is a Temporary Tattoo

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Posted November 21, 2014

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Illustration by Tobey Albright

The MCA Design, Publishing, and New Media department enjoys any excuse to collaborate with outside artists and illustrators we admire. During our planning for the David Bowie Is exhibition, we were curious to know which phase of Bowie’s ever-changing career had been influential to others. We approached a few artists and asked them to contribute. Subject-wise, we left it open to their interpretation. We simply wanted the illustrations to be reflective of the energy captured by the exhibition. These illustrations would take the form of tattoos—an homage to Bowie’s own, ever-changing body art. Below are the final tattoos, as well as a few outtakes, in action.

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Illustration and gif by Cari Vander Yacht

Outtakes:

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Illustration by Derek Erdman

 
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Illustration by Michael Worful

 
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Artists who contributed also included Katie Chung, Benjamin Niznik, Alex Spaßenberger, and Bryce Wilner.

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Loving the Alien

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Posted November 18, 2014

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Screen shot of video for Monitor 2
All photos: Michael Smith
Courtesy of Lee Blalock

Lee Blalock is an artist, performer, and educator. She has been blogging the process of developing an “otherworldly tea party,” in response to David Bowie Is, that takes place at the MCA on Tuesday, November 18. An excerpt from her blog describes some of the materials that she has prepared for the event.

I start everything with an image to keep me on track. It’s also the way I think, in images. I decided on the image of a space traveler. One common thread among all of my work, no matter who the character is at any time, is a new origin story. We don’t know much about space, so it’s a great opportunity to inject the nonlinear into performance personas. The image sets the tone. Next, I started planning out the flow of the performance. Short and sweet, a duration of about 30–40 minutes.

First spread of performance booklet

First spread of performance booklet

We’ll be speaking in Bowie lyrics, so I needed to print them off and design them for a score book that we’ll all read from. I don’t expect everyone to remember the lyrics. He has such a huge catalog, right? And I’ve chosen songs that maybe some people won’t know. There will be one performer who will sing one of my favorites, “Subterraneans,” from the Low album. The lyrics were written using the cut-up technique, something Bowie borrowed from Burroughs.

Tarot card design for "Subterraneans" lyrics (recto, verso)

Tarot card design for Subterraneans lyrics (recto, verso)

I’ve created a set of tarot cards that use words that rhyme with the original lyrics to prompt the performer to sing intermittently throughout the performance. In between these somewhat theatrical spoken lyric performances, there will be live art making prompted by actions inspired by the Oblique Strategies cards (originally created by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt) which were used during the production of Bowie’s Berlin triptych.

Deck of cards for performance prompts based on Oblique Strategies

Deck of cards for performance prompts based on Oblique Strategies

I’ve created a set of strategies with prompts to modify behavior and body language called “Loving the Alien: Other Orthographic Projections.” The strategies will be interpreted by the performers, most of whom are artists and friends. And of course, it’s my piece, which means there will be media—lots of media. I’m shooting video and writing programs for sound and video control.

Final rehearsal

Final rehearsal of Oddity()

As always, there will be fabrication, sound, video, movement (the Lab dancers are on board again!), and writing. Wonderful. A really fun part of performance, for me, is making the media which supports the live work.

To learn more about Lee’s process, visit her blog.

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Notes from
Rapid Pulse 2014

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Posted November 13, 2014

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Alison Crocetta and Peter Reese
Photo: Emerson Sigman

MCA Curatorial Assistant and Rapid Pulse cocurator Steven L. Bridges reflects on the third annual Rapid Pulse International Performance Festival, which took place this past June, and the personal and professional impact it has had on him.

In the fall of 2011, Chicago-based artist Joseph Ravens—founder/director of Defibrillator Gallery—asked me to join him, then-graduate student Giana Gambino, and Chicago-based artist Julie Laffin in establishing a performance art festival in Chicago. At the time, performance art remained somewhat under-recognized within the greater arts ecology of the city. So Ravens, Gambino, Laffin, and I set out to create a more visible platform for groundbreaking performance work. That idea spawned the Rapid Pulse International Performance Festival.

Highlighted below are a selection of artists who I think reflect the uncategorizable nature of performance art practices. While some of these works may be disturbing to some (and, frankly, that is part of their conceptual conceit, as they engage with difficult subject matter), others explore how movement, play, and the somatic experience (i.e. the experience of and through the body) open up new and different paths for the production of knowledge and subjective understanding.

Michal Samama, What am I paying you for?

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Photo: Nabeela Vega

Chicago-based artist Michal Samama’s performance took place inside the context of the gallery and involved only a plastic woven bag, the clothes she wore that day, and her body. As the title subtly implies, the underlying tone of the piece was antagonistic. The bag is one that is often used by immigrants and migrants, and its presence offered insight into the social classification of the performer. Samama entered the space nude with the bag balanced precariously atop her head. For the next 30 minutes, she moved deliberately throughout the space, drawing attention to and exploring the relationship of the bag to her body—whether as an oppressive weight, or an object of affection. To complete the performance, the artist unzipped the bag, took out its contents (her clothes) and dressed—slowly, methodically—in front of the audience. Samama is highly regarded for her work with the body, investigating its physical qualities and limitations. In this performance the body also became an object, along with and akin to the bag, raising questions about the objectification of the body—specifically the female body—and its (de)valuation in a capitalist, global society.

Carlos Martiel, Simiente

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Photo: Nabeela Vega

Cuban artist Carlos Martiel’s performance also addressed the movement of bodies, though in a much more direct and politically charged way. His work focused on the suffering, both physical and psychological, that immigrants often face. For the piece, he invited Chicago-area immigrants to donate blood, temporarily transforming the gallery into a blood bank on the night before the launch of the festival. Martiel chose blood as his medium in part because it is an extremely affective material, one that most people have a strong aversion to, in spite of its vital importance. On the opening night, Martiel created a tableau vivant, lying naked on the floor of the gallery in a pool of the collected blood, his body flexed and tense, trembling. It was a difficult sight to take in—the experience raw and challenging to the viewer—but deeply moving nonetheless, especially to those who donated their blood and felt a sense of shared experience, of political and social status, with their fellow participants.

La Pocha Nostra

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Photo: Emerson Sigman

Founded by Guillermo Gómez Peña and Roberto Sifuentes, among others, La Pocha Nostra comprises an ever-evolving roster of artists. The performance for RP14 was at times pedagogical in nature, at times carnivalesque, and focused on creating images for mass consumption and distribution. To this end, Peña would halt the performance and invite audience members to take photos and upload them to social media sites, calling on them to “send these images all over the . . . world.” Throughout the performance, Peña also gave instructions to the other performers—Roberto Sifuentes and Erica Mott—along with the audience members, all the while developing a kind of meta-critique of the live performance as it unfolded in real time. At various moments there was a skinned goat draped across the back of a performer; the likeness of a Madonna covered in roses with milk pouring down her bosom; a boxing match; and a prop gun offered to audience members to pose with, held to Peña’s body and head. Ultimately, the piece created a critical space around which all things performance were thrown into question, and in which moments of profanity mixed with references to the sacred.

Alastair MacLennan, One Four Six

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Photo: Kevin Sparrow

The work of Alastair MacLennan—a member of the notorious avant-garde performance collective Black Market International—was meditative in nature, engaged as it was in unknown rituality. He embarked on a process that was very much experimental, improvised and momentary. Whereas La Pocha Nostra dissected performance through a series of loosely choreographed gestures, MacLennan created an impression of genuine, unscripted openness. The artist requested a seemingly random series of objects—fresh fish heads, an orange, a green apple, two buckets of water, ticker tape, a bundle of sticks, and so forth—which he arranged in a turnabout down the block from the gallery. As audience members gathered around him, he removed his shoes and blindfolded himself, relying entirely on his other senses to enact an open-ended process, punctuated at times with specific actions, like the pouring of a bucket of water containing fish heads and fruit over his head. A number of random passersby also encountered the piece, intrigued or bewildered by MacLennan’s actions. Perhaps they assumed the rest of the audience members understood what was happening. In fact, none of us did. But to be there in the moment, to be aware of one’s own physical and mental experience in that moment and nothing more, was precisely the point.

 
This is but a snapshot of the different performances and events that make up Rapid Pulse. I personally have found the experience of working on the festival to be transformative and eye-opening. For many years I was somewhat dismissive of performance art myself, but I understand now that this was due to my own lack of understanding and willingness to engage. Now I am acutely aware of how my experiences with Rapid Pulse have begun to color the many other artistic initiatives I am involved in. In fact, many of the exhibitions I organize for the MCA involve performative aspects and are geared towards open-ended inquiry, improvisation, and the acceptance of the unknown. It has been rewarding, if not also liberating, to push myself beyond my own comfort zone and move into this other realm of artistic activity, for it is exactly these kinds of experiences—deeply affective and challenging as they are—that become all the more formative as one pushes onward, blindfolded and barefoot though we may be.

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A Preview of the Eyeworks Festival

Posted November 11, 2014

The fifth annual Eyeworks Festival of Experimental Animation brings an avant-garde edge to animation, often redefining one’s expectations, or presumptions, through the films. The MCA is proud to present a free series of Eyeworks screenings tonight at 6 pm. Due to its popularity, we advise arriving early.

Can’t make it to tonight’s program? Preview some of the films featured below or catch the festival this weekend at Nightingale Cinema.

Joshua Mosley, Jeu de Paume, 2014

Joung Yumi, Love Games, 2013

Hoji Tsuchiya, Black Long Skirt, 2010

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Holcombe Waller
Wayfinders
Photo: Tyler Kalberg

Holcombe Waller reflects on the inspiration for his performance, Wayfinders, at MCA Stage November 7–9.

In Wade Davis’s audio-lecture series, The Wayfinders, Davis recounts Nainoa Thompson’s first solo voyage from Hawaii to Tahiti in 1980 on the Hōkūle’a, a handmade re-creation of a double-hull, ancient Polynesian voyaging canoe. In making this journey, Thompson became the first contemporary native Hawaiian to successfully travel thousands of nautical miles without instruments, using only the traditional Polynesian art of navigation taught to him by the last living Micronesian master navigator, Mau Piailug.

Thompson’s story is very dramatic. After almost a month at sea, Thompson and his crew faced days and nights of relentlessly overcast skies, hiding the stars and sun. Sitting in silent meditation, tracking every piece of data to sustain a mental picture of the ship’s dead-reckoning across the open sea—including waves, winds, birds, fish, clouds, and the often obscured sun and stars—Thompson felt his thread of focus unravel, and realized that the Hōkūle’a might be lost at sea. But before fear overcame him, he remembered a simple teaching that master navigator Mau Piailug repeated often: Remember that everything you need is on board the ancient canoe.

Hawaiian navigators sailing a multi-hulled canoe, c. 1781

Hawaiian navigators sailing a multi-hulled canoe, c. 1781

Through their work, Mau Piailug and Thompson reclaimed the legacy of ancient Polynesian navigation and its historical role in populating the vast archipelago of Polynesia—catalyzing the final undoing of the historical theory of accidental drift from Peru associated with National Geographic hero Thor Heyerdahl and his famous journey on the Kon-Tiki raft.

I was struck by the profound existential themes of Thompson’s journey. Open-sea navigation, guided only by one’s knowledge and senses, seems impossible to me, and yet Thompson overcomes this impossibility. The vastness of the sea overwhelms the tiny canoe and its crew, but they move through this vastness to pinpoint the culture they are seeking on a distant island. They make the connection to that culture through the power of ancient seafaring wisdom. The crew of the canoe faces imminent death and despair, but they have the resources within them to face both success and failure.

My performance Wayfinders is not about Nainoa Thompson’s journey. Instead, it uses the themes within his story as a point of inspiration. My interpretation branched into roughly three areas: the evolving technology of navigation (now including ubiquitous GPS carried on almost all of our persons); the role of navigation in evolution, including the theory that the evolutionary purpose of “consciousness” is to mobilize and navigate an organism; and the cultural shifts of how we relate to space and place, particularly today, when technology so thoroughly mediates our relationships with people, places, and things.

In a series of workshops, including one conducted at the MCA, the performers, designers, and I created pieces of performance around musical sketches. When confronted with a creative obstacle, we reminded ourselves that everything we needed was with us, in the theater. In this way, the work became about the meta-narrative of a set of people cocreating their own reality and their own journey. This idea led to the notion of an isolated spaceship—inspired by Thompson’s description of the voyaging canoe as “the spaceship of the ancestors”—in which technology comes to mediate consciousness itself, allowing a kind of virtual world in which place, trajectory, and identity are all fluid constructs that the passengers can actively imagine into being.

Very quickly I realized we were in the territory of science fiction. A chance re-viewing of the original Matrix film led me to the writer William Gibson, who coined the term “cyberspace” in his Sprawl trilogy and predicted the notions of “the matrix,” virtual reality, and even the World Wide Web. I found a synchronicity of thought between the ideas we devised in workshop and the narrative threads of Gibson’s writing, particularly how his books discuss the notion of living entirely virtually, even after the death of the body.

Thinking about the degree to which we relinquish our privacy to benefit from an increasingly connected existence, I began paying attention to how social media is transforming our relationship to death and loss. Online profiles of deceased friends and family take on an active life of their own. Reading the Tibetan Book of the Dead, I found a connection between its description of the stages of death and our own contemporary surrendering of our personal boundaries. Wayfinders imagines a kind of convergence of William Gibson’s vision of a virtual afterlife with the Buddhist belief in the last, most subtle mind as the final boundary before a oneness with all things.

Wayfinders occurs in a highly meta, non-linear, imaginary state of consciousness. In many ways, the creation of this work has coincided with my own personal journey—an attempt to align words, music, and stage picture to an existential question: “Where am I?”

I invite you to come and experience the world of Wayfinders at MCA Chicago.

To hear Holcombe talk more about his performance and to see clips from his workshop at the MCA, visit.

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Election Day: Remember to Vote!

Posted November 4, 2014

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Thomas Demand. Poll, 2001
Chromogenic development print and Diasec mounted on Plexiglas
© 2001 Thomas Demand
Collection of the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, restricted gift of Mr. and Mrs. Sanfred Koltun
Photo: James Isberner, © MCA Chicago

Today is Election Day in the United States, make your voice heard and exercise your constitutional right to vote.

Feeling non-partisan? Show your support for the candidate that everyone can agree on—David Bowie. You can even download and print your own “I vote for Bowie!” stickers (use Avery template 22807).

© Victoria and Albert Museum, London/Private collection

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Art That Goes Bump in the Night

Posted October 31, 2014

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Maurizio Cattelan
Felix, 2001
Oil on polyvinyl resin and fiberglass
26 x 6 x 20 ft. (7.9 x 1.8 x 6.1 m)
Collection Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, the Edlis/Neeson Art Acquisition Fund, 2001.22
© 2001 Maurizio Cattelan
Photo © MCA Chicago

While Felix, our giant, household cat, created by Maurizio Cattelan, may not strike fear into your heart, in anticipation of Halloween we asked MCA staff members and the public for suggestions on artworks that make their skin crawl. Below are our top picks.

 

Joseph Seigenthaler The Couple, 1993 Acrylic on ceramic on fiberglass and steel, fabric, and ottoman 63 1/2 x 67 x 28 in. (161.3 x 170.2 x 71.1 cm) Restricted gift of Walter F. and Dr. Mary Pullig Schatz 1993.12.a–e Photo © MCA Chicago

Joseph Seigenthaler, The Couple, 1993. Acrylic on ceramic on fiberglass and steel, fabric, and ottoman. Restricted gift of Walter F. and Dr. Mary Pullig Schatz. 1993.12.a–e. Photo © MCA Chicago

Janet Wolski, Assistant to the Director:American Horror Story: Freakshow has got nothing on us!”

 

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Joel-Peter Witkin, Feast of the Fools, Mexico City, 1990

Leah Singsank, Assistant Registrar: “I discovered this artist through a friend from grad school—a photo specialist interested in post-mortem photography. We ended up fast friends because I, too, have a penchant for the bizarre, though for me, the bizarre was more firmly rooted in cabinets of curiosity and 18th-century phantasmagoria.

Long story short, this friendship led to my introduction to the work of Joel-Peter Witkin. This guy is just bizonkers. For me, his work is the intersection of a 1920s traveling circus and a mad-man’s cabinet of curiosity. When I look at his works, I am transported to a tiny room in the back of an immaculate Victorian house. Past the silver. Past the stuffed, much beloved hunting dog. Past the creepy family portrait of a long-dead, little-loved aunt. Past the library. Behind the heavy wooden door. Here I find a room bursting with photographs of dismembered and reattached people. Photographs haphazardly hanging from the walls by nails next to others delicately framed, or laying stacked one on top of the other, waiting patiently to be catalogued like the others . . . you see it too, right? Or, maybe I just have watched too much TV during my formative years.”

 

Author in front of Ivan Albright, Into the World There Came a Soul Called Ida, 1929–30. Collection Art Institute of Chicago. Photo: Diamond Stingily

Author in front of Ivan Albright, Into the World There Came a Soul Called Ida, 1929–30. Collection Art Institute of Chicago. Photo: Diamond Stingily

Hiba Ali, Visitor Services Associate: “When I first saw Ivan Albright’s Into the World There Came A Soul Called Ida (1929–30) I was in high school. To this day, I remember the haunting image that was etched into my memory. The painting is meant as a reminder that life is impermanent. It also reminds us that dramatic lighting can completely change the way one is perceived. When we look at each other in the daytime we don’t see the shadows under and around our skin, these blotches that Albright outwardly depicts. Ida Rogers—the woman portrayed in this painting—looks into the mirror, recalling her beauty. She prompts us to think about the weight of time, its effects on the body, and the impermanence of life.”

 

Katharina Fritsch, Monk, 1997–99. Collection Art Institute of Chicago. © 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

Abraham Ritchie, Social Media Manager: “‘An encounter with [Katharina’s Fritsch’s] imagery, whether a single sculpture such as Monk or group of assembled objects, can be startling and disturbing.’ This description of Monk by the Art Institute was proved absolutely true when I first experienced the life-size, all-black artwork in the mid-2000s. Cleverly installed at the time on a plinth by the bottom of a staircase in the back of the Morton Wing, the closed-eyed monk silently stood to startle any unguarded visitor descending into the gallery—I think I jumped about a foot into the air when I turned and saw it.

Also, for anyone that saw Stephen King’s IT when they were too young, Bruce Nauman’s Clown Torture needs no theoretical explanation for the reaction it provokes in nearly everyone and its excruciating affect on the body. It is not, contrary to the recommendation given by one guard years ago, an artwork for kids.” (Joseph Goins also nominated this work via Facebook.)

 

Duane Hanson, Janitor, 1973. Collection Milwaukee Art Museum. © Estate of Duane Hanson/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

Ruth Suttie Gauss, via Facebook:Janitor at the Milwaukee Art Museum was so realistic, it would really bother me to be in the same space with him!”

 

National Veterans Art Museum, via Facebook: “Derek Brunen’s Plot, six hours of a man digging his own grave—quite chilling!”

 

Honorable Mention


Tony Oursler, Big Eyes, 2003

Molly Fitzharris, via Facebook: “Tony Oursler pops up in my nightmares quite a bit”

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Comparative frame grab from David Katzive’s 16mm film

With the conclusion of National Archives Month at the end of October, Curatorial Fellow Michelle Puetz shares the details of a conservation project that she has been working on for some time with a number of insights into conservation practice for archivists, librarians, and conservators.

When I began my Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Curatorial Fellowship in February 2012, one of the first projects I proposed emerged directly from the work that the MCA’s Library and Archives staff had been doing to organize, archive, and digitize materials related to the museum’s exhibition history. The project I’ve been working on is collaborative at its core, and illustrates the close connection between curatorial work and the various archival projects taking place in the MCA Library and Archives.

Currently unnamed (I refer to it as plainly the “MCA Exhibition History Project”), this collaborative effort will make the MCA’s exhibition history prior to 2000 available in a dynamic format on the museum’s website. In anticipation of the museum’s 50th anniversary in 2017, I’ve been working closely with the Library and Archives staff, as well as a couple of curatorial interns, to compile a comprehensive list of the museum’s exhibitions, write exhibition descriptions, and locate photographic documentation in the museum’s archives.

For a historian and researcher like myself, the museum’s exhibition files and ephemeral material are a real treasure trove. There are few things more exciting than working with primary materials and original documents, and the MCA’s exhibition records often contain notes and correspondence that complicate the more straightforward narratives published in exhibition catalogues.

When I was working on my PhD, I spent a lot of time doing primary research at a variety of film and museum archives including MoMA, the Burchfield Penney Art Center in Buffalo, and Anthology Film Archives in New York. I was always thrilled to locate audio or moving image documentation of the artists I was writing about. Hearing an artist speak about their work to an audience, answer questions during an informal chat with curators, or introduce a screening all provide invaluable insights into their work, influences, and thinking at the time of the recording. I was incredibly excited to discover that the MCA has a long history of interviewing exhibiting artists, and that many of these tapes have survived and are now housed in the archive.

Because I have a background in film archiving and preservation, one of my concurrent and connected projects has been to gradually start digitizing these artist interviews, most of which were mastered onto ¾” Umatic tape, a videotape stock that is rapidly deteriorating. The interviews—with artists including Nam June Paik, Sol LeWitt, Magdalena Abakanowicz, Jeff Koons, Alice Aycock, and Max Neuhaus, among many others—are fascinating portraits and documents of the MCA’s early exhibitions. When the project is completed, these digitized interviews will be made available to researchers and integrated into the MCA’s online exhibition history. Check back for future blog posts containing excerpts from some of these video interviews!

With the hope of locating more documentation of the museum’s early history, the Library and Archives staff and I made a few trips to the MCA Warehouse last spring. (For more information on the visits and discoveries made there, read page 13 of the MCA Magazine online PDF.) We were specifically looking for two cases of audio cassette tapes that contained artist interviews and recordings from performances and lectures in the 1970s and 1980s, as well as 16mm film footage that we heard included documentation of the MCA’s earliest exhibitions. We were incredibly excited to find both the audio cassettes and the 16mm film, and quickly started the process of inventorying the collections and preparing them for digitization.

The weekend following our discovery, I spent a day inspecting and making very minor repairs to the film reel, which was covered in dirt and dust.

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The film was on a rusty 16mm metal reel that had not been stored inside a can, so it required a lot of gentle surface cleaning and careful handling.

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Because the film was loosely wound around the reel, it was torn and damaged in a few spots.

It was clear that the reel was a composite of many films spliced together—some of the footage included title sequences and soundtracks, some appeared to be documentation of exhibitions both in the installation process and on view, and others were creative responses to the exhibitions (one really remarkable example of this is a single-frame animation sequence created using the individual panels of Warhol’s famous Flowers piece [1964]).

Mary Richardson, the MCA’s Library Director, and I were able to determine that David H. Katzive, the museum’s first curator, shot almost all of the footage on the composite reel. Katzive was not only a talented curator, but a very astute filmmaker. Some of the footage was fairly straightforward documentation of early exhibitions (dating from 1967–1970), but the reel also contained two complete films that Katzive made and distributed through Chicago’s Center Cinema Coop: Christo–Wrap In–Wrap Out, which documents Christo’s legendary 1969 wrapping of the MCA, and Concrete Traffic by Wolf Vostell, which captures the process of creating Vostell’s concrete sculpture in 1970. The reel also includes a short film made by Jerry Aronson and Howard Sturges that documents the participatory art exhibition Options, which was on view in the fall of 1968. In addition to these completed films, the reel contains documentation of the museum’s earliest exhibitions including 1967’s Pictures to Read/Poetry to be Seen; 1968’s Made with Paper, George Segal: Twelve Human Situations, Robert Whitman: Four Cinema Pieces, and Tom Wesselman: The Great American Nude; 1969’s Art by Telephone; and 1970’s Andy Warhol Retrospective.

Our archiving and preservation of the film consisted of multiple stages, and has taken eight months to complete. First, I inspected the film on a rewind bench to identify the content as best as possible.

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This was followed by a gentle cleaning and minor repairs made to torn perforations and old splices.

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After this initial work was completed, we had a quick telecine made of the entire reel, which allowed us to see a low-quality transfer of the film. I can’t even begin to explain how excited I was to see everything that the reel, almost an hour in length, contained. Because I spent years working at the Chicago Film Archives with unique 16mm film material, specifically amateur and home movies, I knew that the film reel was not only irreplaceable (it is the only extant copy), but that it was essential to quickly make plans to preserve both the original film and make access copies available to researchers.

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MCA panel discussion in conjunction with Art By Telephone, Nov 13, 1969
Photo © MCA Chicago
Pictured, from left to right: MCA Director Jan van der Marck, participating artists Jack Burnham and William Wegman, and Robert (Robin) Glauber, art curator for the Illinois Bell Telephone Company

Continuing National Archives Month, Librarian Sarah Wade shares the MCA Library’s research on the 1969 exhibition Art by Telephone and an unexpected arrival.

Traces of forgotten events from the museum’s past are sometimes uncovered in our everyday work of processing the museum’s archives and facilitating research, leading us to fun rediscoveries. Last year, Library Director Mary Richardson came across a WTTW press release related to the exhibition Art by Telephone while she was consulting the archival materials for a different exhibition, the museum’s 1970 Roy Lichtenstein retrospective.

Art by Telephone, a controversial exhibition at the time, included conceptual artworks by such artists as John Baldessari, James Lee Byars, Claes Oldenburg, Richard Serra, and Robert Smithson. Each of the 39 participating artists phoned in instructions to MCA staff members, who then created the works on behalf of the artists.

WTTW

Press releases for the Art by Telephone program, both 1970

The press release describes a 30-minute special that aired on WTTW in March 1970, featuring the works from Art by Telephone and local students from Harlan and Von Steuben high schools in conversation with MCA staff members Jan van der Marck and David Katzive, respectively the museum’s first director and first curator.

Thrilled by the possibility of seeing early MCA staff and local students interact with this exhibition, Mary and Michelle Puetz, the MCA’s Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Curatorial Fellow, began an eager quest to locate a copy of the footage of the WTTW program. Unfortunately, neither the MCA’s nor WTTW’s archival collections contained copies of the film. After inconclusive WorldCat searches and correspondence with various film repositories such as the Museum of Broadcast Communications and the Chicago Film Archives, it seemed that footage of the program would never be found and that a piece of the MCA’s history was lost forever.

Then, in June of this year, an unexpected package arrived at the MCA addressed from David Katzive. To everyone’s surprise and delight, it contained a film reel and a digitized copy of the WTTW program. Library and Archives staff celebrated the serendipitous arrival by immediately watching the program, reveling in the intelligent and earnest dialogue between the students and the MCA staff as well as the fantastically hip fashions and hairdos of the 1970s.

Below are some of the highlights.

High school students offer their reactions as they walk through a piece by Guenther Uecker with the exuberant Director Jan van der Marck. Students liken the wood posts to a jail cell, while van der Marck suggests the work could also be reminiscent of an orchard.

A young student asks van der Marck if artists are more interested in their work or the audience’s reaction to their work. Van der Marck asserts that the intent of the artist is to provoke and stimulate audiences.

Curator David Katzive and students explore a piece by George Brecht in which the artist proposes moving various countries across the earth’s surface to new locations. One student smartly proclaims that the artist is conveying a story visually.

The students question Katzive about the work of Claes Oldenburg. Katzive calls Oldenburg “probably the most brilliant artist alive today.” When the students wonder what makes this artist so special, Katzive humorously tries to clarify by stating that Oldenburg makes “these giant soft hamburgers.”

In the program’s final discussion, one student emphatically challenges Katzive’s interpretation of a work by Bernar Venet.

All clips taken from the film reel of WTTW program Art by Telephone, 1970. MCA Archive. Gift of David Katzive

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Remembering Hudson (1950–2014)

By

Posted October 21, 2014

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Hudson
Photo: Judy Linn
Courtesy of Feature Inc.

Lynne Warren is a Curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago.

In the spring of 2013 I was busy researching MCA DNA: Chicago Conceptual Abstraction, 1986–1995, for the MCA’s ongoing “DNA” series devoted to featuring iconic works from the collection, and Hudson—the performance artist and curator turned pioneering gallery owner—was very much on my mind. Hudson had been an essential part of Chicago’s art community in the 1980s, opening his gallery, Feature, in 1984, after working in the nonprofit realm, most notably with the now-legendary Randolph Street Gallery.

The art world in the mid-1980s was a very different place: pre-internet and very recently post–“Neo-Expressionist” painting (read Julian Schnabel, Anselm Keifer, David Salle, etc.), which had trumpeted a “return to painting” after decades of conceptually based and minimalist work. There were few art fairs or biennials at which to see emerging work and even so, people just did not travel as much. For Chicago’s art community, Feature gallery was a revelation. It was the place in town to see emerging national figures of the generation that came to be called, variously, “Neo-Geo” and “The Pictures Generation”—Jim Isermann, Jeff Koons, Mike Kelley, Sherrie Levine, Richard Prince, Jim Shaw, and Charles Ray, among others. Hudson also showcased many of the emerging conceptually informed Chicago artists who have gone on to national and international fame, including Tony Tasset and Kay Rosen.

Exhibition announcement, Post Production: Modern/Conceptual/Pop, Feature, Chicago, c. 1985. Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago Archive.

Exhibition announcement, Post Production: Modern/Conceptual/Pop, Feature, Chicago, c. 1985. Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago Archive

Those lucky enough to make their way to Hudson’s gallery space on Huron Street received quite an education. He was always present, ready to talk if you wished, but also willing to leave you alone to look. So it was quite a shock to learn, only a few months after Chicago Conceptual Abstraction had closed, that Hudson had died. He was only 63.

Hudson was also a donor to the MCA Collection. He never had deep resources, even after his gallery relocated to New York and he was insightful enough to represent such highly successful artists as Tom Friedman, whom he had met in Chicago. He once spoke of his modest lifestyle and how he ran Feature as his “move against stardom and a push for pluralism and multiplicity.” His commitment to his ideals and the art he championed resulted in gifts to museums of significant early works by many of the artists he represented, works he could have sold for a tidy profit.

David Robbins  Talent, 1986 Gelatin silver prints Ed: 59/100 18 parts, each: 10 5/8 x 8 5/8 in. (27 x 21.9 cm); Part f: 8 5/8 x 10 5/8 in. (21.9 x 27 cm) Collection of the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, gift of Hudson, 1997.10.a-r © 1986 David Robbins  Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago

David Robbins. Talent, 1986. Gelatin silver prints. Ed: 59/100 18 parts, each: 10 5/8 x 8 5/8 in. (27 x 21.9 cm); Part f: 8 5/8 x 10 5/8 in. (21.9 x 27 cm). Collection of the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, gift of Hudson, 1997.10.a–r. © 1986 David Robbins. Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago

In 1997, the MCA was the recipient of 14 such works, including the now ironic Talent (1986) by David Robbins that features the “art stars” of the 1980s in their youth. That fall, an exhibition featuring Hudson’s gifts was mounted with the provocative title, Fake Ecstasy with Me (suggested by Hudson). While the donation included such notable names as Robert Mapplethorpe and Raymond Pettibon, as Hudson explained in his correspondence about the gift, the art “was collected for display in a small apartment” and the works had been selected by him based on his “regard for the individual work, not for its integration into a collection or the artist’s career.”

This “regard” shines through in a number of the gifts. The Robert Mapplethorpe photograph, Sebastian and Nda (1981), is a charming portrait of two boys stage playing a smack across the face. Now a well-known image, the photo isn’t what commonly comes to mind when thinking of Mapplethorpe, best known for his homoerotic and explicitly sexual work. But that would have been typical of Hudson’s sensibilities: collect the best, but maybe not the most obvious “best” work.

Jim Isermann’s “Neo-Geo” Flower Painting (1986) is another strong example of Hudson’s collecting eye. While the work might initially come across as merely decorative, Isermann, a Los Angeles–based artist who trained at the prestigious California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) along with others who put their stamp on art of the waning years of the twentieth century, including Mike Kelley, David Salle, and Jim Shaw, slyly reinterpreted the aesthetics of the psychedelic 1960s “flower power” imagery onto enamel-on-wood paintings. One critic aptly described them as “remembrances of our overextended imaginations.”

Jim Isermann Flower Painting, 1986 Enamel on wood 48 x 48 x 2 in. (121.9 x 121.9 x 5.1 cm) Collection of the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, gift of Hudson, 1997.5 © 1986 Jim Isermann Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago

Jim Isermann. Flower Painting, 1986. Enamel on wood. 48 x 48 x 2 in. (121.9 x 121.9 x 5.1 cm). Collection of the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, gift of Hudson, 1997.5. © 1986 Jim Isermann. Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago

Mondo Cane (1985), another colorful and deceptive work, was the creation of General Idea, a pioneering Canadian art collective consisting of AA Bronson, Felix Partz, andJorge Zontal. First active in the 1960s, the group created installations, posters, and artists’ books and magazines. A silkscreen version from a series of paintings featuring the neon bright outlines of poodles, the playfulness of the imagery belies the fact that the poodles are presented in various sexual positions and stand in for the three members of the collective, two of whom succumbed to AIDS–related illnesses in the 1990s. The title Mondo Cane (A dog’s world) refers to a 1962 Italian documentary that consists of travelogue vignettes of cultural practices that would have been unknown or shocking to the European and American film audiences of its day. With dry humor and considerable grace, the members of General Idea brought attention to the fact that many in the 1980s and 1990s were shocked and disturbed by the idea of homosexuality, and found the AIDS crisis a problem of “the other” and not of the entire society.

These are just a few of the 14 works Hudson donated to the MCA Collection. He was a rarity in today’s international art world, and is deeply missed. His legacy, however, will live on in the MCA’s exhibition history and collection.

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