Photo: Peter McCullough © MCA Chicago

Dear All Chicago Artists,

You are all warmly invited to stand in a group portrait, rain or shine, on the steps of the MCA at 11:30 am on Saturday, June 20!

I want to ask impossible questions by attempting a photo like this: What does the Chicago art community look like? What kinds of communities make up this group? Who identifies as a Chicago artist? What can a group portrait tell us about artists in 2015? What might we learn from this image 10 years from now? How about 50?

With these in mind, I am thrilled to invite any and all of you to stand for a group portrait, rain or shine, on the steps of the MCA at 11:30 am on Saturday, June 20!

And for those artists who can’t come?

“All those absent giants of jazz, and others too numerous mention, are nonetheless felt somehow to be present—represented by musicians who played with them, and who inspired and were inspired by them. Like with any family reunion, its absent members are with us in spirit.”
—Ian Patterson, on those missing from the epic 1958 group portrait A Great Day in Harlem

I am inviting artists, if they choose, to bring a photo-of-a-face or head-cutout of someone who can’t make it to the photo shoot if they like. They would be asked to hold it right next to their head so as not to obstruct others:


There is a charming precedent for this seen on the lower left:

Dada Group, circa 1922. From left to right, back row: Paul Chadourne, Tristan Tzara, Philippe Soupault, Serge Charchoune. Front row: Man Ray, Paul Éluard, Jacques Rigaut, Mme Soupault, Georges Ribemont-Dessaignes. Photo by Man Ray

Dada Group, c. 1922. 5 2/5 x 10 1/5 in. (13.7 x 26 cm). Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris (acquired in 1987). From left to right, back row: Paul Chadourne, Tristan Tzara, Philippe Soupault, Serge Charchoune. Front row: Man Ray, Paul Éluard, Jacques Rigaut, Mme Soupault, Georges Ribemont-Dessaignes. Photo: Man Ray

To honor this collective moment, I will submit the high-res image into the public domain for anyone to print, alter, and distribute as they see fit (as this seems to happen anyways in our image culture) . . . the image will live in the public where I think it belongs and we can watch it move around, mutate, and engage a greater audience (and multiple histories). Everyone is welcome to download, print, and hang the image as they see fit, publish it in a book, or make it part of their own creative project.

And last, a passage by Karl Oove Knausgaard I’ve been recently inspired by that I think resonates with the upcoming portrait:

The most powerful human forces are found in the meeting of the face and the gaze. Only there do we exist for one another. In the gaze of the other, we become, and in our own gaze others become. It is there, too, that we can be destroyed. Being unseen is devastating, and so is not seeing.


RSVP via the Facebook event or find more information about the event here, arrival and check-in is 11:30 am–12:30 pm with the photo shoot starting promptly at 12:30pm.

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Views from Our #Instameet

Posted June 11, 2015

Heidi Parkes (June winner)

Heidi Parkes.

Last month, we were honored when around 40 of Chicago’s committed Instagrammers joined us for an evening of photography at the museum. We were thrilled and inspired to see the museum through their eyes as they framed shots in creative ways, applying their art as skilled photographers to the art on view in the museum. Even the building through their lenses looked different. We’ve highlighted some of our favorite examples here, or you can see them all by checking #igMCA on Instagram.

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Following his curatorial research trips to Vienna, Antwerp, and Copenhagen, Dieter Roelstraete takes us on the second leg of his curatorial journey researching and preparing for Kerry James Marshall, with stops in Barcelona, Madrid, and London.



A banner outside the Fundacio Antoni Tapies in Barcelona announces the Kerry James Marshall show within—this is the closing chapter of the European tour of Kerry James Marshall: Painting and Other Stuff. Named after a leading Catalan painter-sculptor, the foundation is one of Spain’s most important contemporary art spaces. And its outgoing director, Laurence Rassel, is in many ways the person who got the ball rolling behind this particular exhibition project—Kerry James Marshall: Painting and Other Stuff really started out with a hand-written letter to the artist posted by Rassel back in the spring of 2007.


This glorious view of the Fundacio’s main space highlights Club Scene, a major new painting by Marshall that was finished just in time for the European exhibition tour. In front of it lies the giant-sized stamps that were at the heart of Mementos, Kerry’s exhibition held at the Renaissance Society in Chicago back in 1996—they now reside in a prominent private collection in Vancouver, Canada.


Opposite Club Scene, we encountered Garden Party, a painting I first saw unfinished in Kerry’s studio during my maiden voyage to Chicago in 2011. Indeed, it holds the distinction of having been worked on longer than any other painting in the artist’s illustrious corpus. Frequent visitors to the Art Institute of Chicago, like ourselves, cannot help but see in it an artist’s homage to that museum’s iconic pointillist masterpiece, George Seurat’s La Grande Jatte.


Occupying a third wall in the Fundacio’s main space, we found The Art of Hanging Pictures in yet another constellation. At the time of writing, it had been decided that this installation, which was included in Kerry’s show at the MCA in 2003, will not be on view in the MCA chapter of the 2016–17 survey show; it will be installed, however, in the exhibition’s iterations at both the Met in New York and LA MoCA.


Unable to attend the opening of the Barcelona chapter of Kerry James Marshall: Painting and Other Stuff, we chose the second-best date to travel to Spain—a day in early October 2014 when the Fundacio hosted a conversation between the artist and Paul Gilroy, the London-based doyen of postcolonial studies and author, most notably of The Black Atlantic and the aptly titled There Ain’t No Black in the Union Jack. Clearly, Kerry’s work continues to inspire today’s most perceptive cultural critics.




The Spanish leg of Kerry’s exhibition tour spanned two cities: Barcelona and Madrid—and in the latter, there was no better place to see Kerry’s work up close than in the stunning Palacio Velazquez, a satellite space of the capital’s Reina Sofia museum, which some would argue is the best contemporary art museum in the world—and who are we to disagree? Marshall and Velazquez—a long-overdue rendezvous.



Here are three different views, highlighting the spectacular architecture of the Palacio Velazquez, of two paintings that together make up a triptych first seen on this tour in Vienna (see our earlier post): an impressive welcome to this crystal palace in a sun-soaked city park.





Chicago meets Madrid in more ways than one: this painting on view in Madrid, representing Kerry’s take on the mythical tale of the wishing well, belongs to Chicago-based artist Nick Cave. I remember first seeing it on the wall of Nick’s home in Chicago when I went to visit him with an invitation in hand to another exhibition at the MCA. Curating—it moves in mysterious ways.




A week after traveling to Barcelona and Madrid, we had the pleasure of attending the opening of Kerry’s debut at David Zwirner’s newly opened London gallery space in Mayfair. The exhibition was simply titled Look See—a reference to the artist’s enduring interest in the politics of looking and seeing, of being seen and looked at (or, more poignantly in the case of the black figure in western art: of not being seen, of being overlooked). This painting, Beauty Queen, was one of the show’s standout pieces and half an hour after taking this photograph, a Zwirner gallery attendant managed to snap a portrait of none other than Beyonce posing in front of her painted counterpart—a meeting of queens.

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Layers of fading posters announcing upcoming shows or standing as a kind of historical record of those that have come and gone provided the inspiration for what we’re calling the “gig poster” for The Freedom Principle. Inspired by the way these posters live and die in the public eye, we’ve covered parts of our facade with them to announce the upcoming exhibition, which opens July 11 with a free day of activities and music.

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Keren Cytter, Something Happened

Posted June 2, 2015

Prior to her exhibition at the MCA, Keren Cytter invited exhibition curator, Jacob Fabricius, director of the Kunsthal Charlottenborg, and Marilyn and Larry Fields Curator Naomi Beckwith, who coordinated the exhibition at the MCA, to read and review her scripts. Their work resulted in the exhibition’s catalogue, The Best and the Worst of Keren Cytter. So, over the next few months, we invite you to do the same. Just watch the video above, leave your rating and comments below, then check back for the next video to review soon!

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21Minus, May 17, 2014
Photo: Cooper Chambers-Hines, © MCA Chicago

In anticipation of 21Minus this Saturday, Mia Neumann, a first-year Teen Creative Agency member, reflects on her experience both designing the event and collaborating on her project.

I first heard about the Teen Creative Agency when my best friend, Gracee Wallach, told me she was proposing a project for an event called 21Minus. She was ecstatic about the opportunity to show her art, which was very powerful and personal, even though she did not consider herself a practicing artist. The guidance that she was given, along with the incredible platform the TCA provided, was unmatched.

Watching Gracee and the other artists that day inspired me; and my curiosity about the teens running the event led me to search for information about the program and how to join. I knew I needed to be a part of whatever had made something as magical as 21Minus happen and I couldn’t wait to learn more about it.

The day I was accepted into the Teen Creative Agency, now almost a year ago, was also the day I came up with a concept I wanted to explore and bring to the 21Minus festivities.

I was sitting in my room embroidering poetry into old T-shirts for a series I was working on called “Hanging Up My Dirty Laundry” and the idea of creating this same process for the masses came to mind.

I wanted to create a space where barriers are broken down between strangers, and where tensions can safely be released due to the anonymity and the openness of the experience. So, I proposed the idea of creating a therapeutic public art installation titled Dirty Laundry for 21Minus. In my series, this mechanism for sharing thoughts was really moving for me. By inviting the audience to “air out” their covert thoughts through a transcription of their baggage onto fabric, I hope to create an environment where the audience can appreciate each other, participate in a therapeutic process, and dissipate the stress that secrets can have on their conscience.


21Minus, May 17, 2014. Photo: Gillian Fry, © MCA Chicago.

Dirty Laundry will be presented alongside 24 others works by young artists who answered the TCA’s call to collaborate for 21Minus. With the support of my fellow TCA members, we have worked to refine these ideas and I’m excited to see all of them brought to life on May 30, after seeing this intense process unfold. The passion that flows through the members of the TCA and the artists in preparation for this event could only mean that the final product will be unimaginable.

Working behind the scenes to create the event as a TCA member while also developing a project as a collaborator provides an interesting lens. As both a curator and a creator I am able to help shape the backbone of this remarkable coming together of young artists. At the same time, I am also discovering what it means to bring your ideas as an individual artist to a larger, group effort.

Besides the lifelong friendships I’ve formed with people I met only eight months ago, the opportunities and experiences I’ve gained from the Teen Creative Agency are truly unforgettable.

Members of TCA Photo:

Members of TCA. Photo: Mikayla Delson, © MCA Chicago

Come, be inspired, and see every artistic collaboration this Saturday, from 2–6 pm.

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Planning 21Minus


Posted May 26, 2015


21Minus, May 17, 2014
Photo: Gillian Fry, © MCA Chicago

21Minus, the Teen Creative Agency’s annual festival of art created by people under 21, is this Saturday. TCA’s aim is to make the MCA a platform, workshop, laboratory, and performance space for teens and their biggest way to do this is through programs such as 21Minus. Below, Ria Sylva, a first-year member of TCA, describes the TCA’s process of making this event.

The preparation for 21Minus has been filled with an abundance of great ideas, organizing, and planning—lots of planning. It is a major collaborative effort that involves the 25 TCA members, many steps, and many months of work.

Step 1: Put out the call to artists and select collaborators

Earlier this year, we put out a call to other young artists to submit proposals that would activate and engage the museum and its visitors with a fresh, young voice. We reviewed all submissions and accepted our finalists. Altogether, we are developing 25 projects by over 50 young artists that will be featured at the event.


Colead artist for TCA, Lyra Hill, at TCA planning event, December 13, 2014. Photo: Mikayla Delson, © MCA Chicago

Step 2: Curate and refine projects

Organizing the proposals of wildly different and creative artists was the most difficult aspect of planning. The first thing we did was break into five “curatorial teams” that would be responsible for developing one part of the event: Plaza Spectacle has been working with welcoming, attention-grabbing projects on the plaza; Audience Activated has been handling interactive experiences; Conceptual Performance has been working with performance art; Theater Team has been overseeing performances/workshops in the MCA’s Edlis Neeson Theater; and my group, Classroom of the Future, has been handling a set of projects around nontraditional learning. Each team has taken on four or five projects and a big part of our work so far has been to shape and refine those projects with the artists to make them the best they can be.


TCA planning 21Minus. Photo: Lauren Miller, © MCA Chicago

As a curatorial team we also had to figure out how each project related to one another. My team’s projects range from aluminum foil sculpting to zine-making to a #BlackLivesMatter discussion, making this goal a bit difficult. So we went through each project and rattled off what made them different or what the project wanted to achieve. This exercise made us realize that every group just wanted to show that anyone can be a teacher and everyone is always a student. Because of this, the Classroom of the Future’s overall goal is to experiment with the teacher-student dynamic in a way that does not happen in a traditional classroom. While it seemed difficult at first, all it took was figuring out the connecting thread from each group to the Classroom’s goal to make them all fit perfectly. This was the process almost every team went through to form an overall “pitch” and a more specific theme for each proposal in their group.


21Minus, May 17, 2014. Photo: Abraham Ritchie, © MCA Chicago

Step 3–5: Figure out the nuts and bolts

After we figured out our overarching themes, we needed to figure out the minor details. This planning has been way more in-depth: where each person, art work, band, workshop, and discussion would be located in the museum and at what time; how much staff is necessary; what materials are needed. Most of the planning days have been long, but they drew us closer to the final decisions for each project.


TCA planning for 21Minus. Photo: Lauren Watkins, © MCA Chicago

Step 6–9: Put it all together

As the ideas and logistics for our team’s projects were finalized, we all came back together to see the big picture of what 21Minus would actually look like and how it would flow overall. Hearing every team’s progress and final decisions made 21Minus seem real, not just in planning. We got one step closer to having everything in place for 21Minus. One step closer to having all our planning come into actuality when all of these amazing projects come together.


21Minus, May 17, 2014. Photo: Cooper Chambers-Hines, © MCA Chicago.

Step 10: Join us!

Come and see how all of our planning has taken shape at 21Minus on May 30 from 2 to 6 pm.

Want to be part of the 21Minus planning process for next year? Applications for the TCA are open. Apply now!

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Installation view, Doris Salcedo, MCA Chicago
February 21–May 24, 2015
Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago

With Doris Salcedo’s retrospective closing on Sunday, Editor Michael Kramer compares the work of Salcedo and Keren Cytter, who is currently featured in our Ascendant Artist series. At first, it may seem that these artists and their artwork have little or nothing in common, but Kramer digs into their work a little more deeply to reveal how each artist responds to social problems and violence through their art, though in different ways.

Something has gone terribly wrong.

This is where the art of Doris Salcedo and Keren Cytter begins. From there, the work of these two artists, who currently have exhibitions at the MCA, diverges. Salcedo focuses narrowly on specific historical moments of political violence committed against the underprivileged or oppressed; Cytter roams expansively across the vibe and feel of cosmopolitan life in the media-satured worlds of relatively affluent urban dwellers. Salcedo’s tone is somber and earnest; Cytter’s is loopy and irreverent. Salcedo’s materials are mostly sculptural and tangible, even when they reach to outline the contours of the vanished, the lost, the remembered, the murdered. Cytter’s materials are largely intangible. With Salcedo, we experience wooden furniture, cement, cloth, dirt, grass. With Cytter, we experience spliced video, cheap computer effects, recycled movie scripts and plots, doodles on paper.

It is worth noting that as with Salcedo, murders occur in Cytter’s work too. Violence skims across the surface of much of her artworks while, by contrast, it does something more like haunt Salcedo’s sculptural installations from deep within. Cytter reminds us how numb to violence media’s stale narrative techniques can make us—how unreal media can make violence feel. Her art evokes Susan Sontag’s argument that photography and other forms of media may seem to publicize violence, but in doing so, they generate apathy more than outrage (or sometimes an apathetic mode of outrage and an outrageous level of apathy). Salcedo’s art, in comparison, seeks to pierce through this numbness, to make real even what can never be recovered after political violence: lost love ones, safety and security, bodily and material wholeness. Her work trims away at the excess in search of an intensified core of loss, which in order to be experienced as loss, must also be experienced as survival. Keren Cytter adds and adds to her work in search of an intensified feeling of eerie absurdity. Her videos move, skitter, jump nonsensically. They have action, but the action ultimately seems to be about paralysis, the ways in which plots move forward but we, the spectators, stay in place. Couch potatoes to a killing.

Keren Cytter, Still from Something Happened, 2007

Keren Cytter, Still from Something Happened, 2007. Digital video (color, sound), 7 minutes. Courtesy of the artist and Nagel Draxler, Berlin; Pilar Corrias, London; and Galleria Raffaella Cortese, Milan.

Salcedo’s work is also about nonsense, the nonsense of political violence, but it attempts to recover some kind of meaning, some register of understanding in the face of slaughter. If Cytter wants to remind us that our normality as dictated by TV shows, films, and digital media barely masks madness, Salcedo suggests that even our most material and basic things—tables, chairs, dressers, shoes, dolls, shirts—terrify but also bring us back to the sanity of the real in the face of the untenably horrible. Both artists ask us to look, and most of all not to look away, in the aftermath of traumas big and small; to sense senselessness; to be a spectator while also questioning what spectatorship involves—and what it demands.

Doris Salcedo Plegaria Muda, 2008–10

Doris Salcedo, Plegaria Muda (detail), 2008–10. Wood, concrete, earth, and grass; 166 parts, each: 64 5/8 x 84 1/2 x 24 in. (164 x 214 x 61 cm); overall dimensions variable. Installation view, Doris Salcedo, MCA Chicago. Inhotim Collection, Brazil. Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago

These are exhibitions that project extremely different tones and put the viewer in almost opposite moods. To get to witness them together at the MCA is a reminder both of how widely very different styles of art can range across shared themes—and also how sometimes they converge on one compelling topic, in this case the pressing issue of how we respond to violence in the modern world.

Spring at the MCA

Posted May 19, 2015


All drawings by Kristen Kaniewski

After a long winter, spring is always a welcome change in Chicago, though this spring has been a little cooler and more variable than one may like; the sun and 80 degree weather yesterday has given way to clouds and temperatures in the mid-50s. To celebrate the change of the season—and the change it brings to MCA programming like the farmers’ market, which begins in two weeks—we invited Kristen Kaniewski, our Visitor Services Manager, to create and share some of her drawings populated by her signature creatures.




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Following the passing of Chris Burden on May 10, we wanted to celebrate his life and work by sharing artworks by Burden in our collection. This is a small sampling of his often challenging oeuvre in which he constantly questioned the realities and limits of art and life.