Michael Darling
Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago

2014 has come to close and it’s time for some reflection on the past year, and of course, end-of-year lists. The critics and writers from Chicago and beyond have weighed in and we’re sharing their selections here, but we will also share our audience’s picks in a later post. Leave your “Best of 2014″ MCA moment in a comment below for consideration in a subsequent post.

Michael Darling
—Chicagoan of the Year, Chicago Tribune

Unbound: Contemporary Art After Frida Kahlo
—Exceptional Art Exhibitions of 2014, Chicagoist

Elevator Repair Service, Arguendo
—Christopher Borelli’s “Favorite Things of 2014,” Chicago Tribune

ArguendoPublic Theater/LuEsther Hall
May_Tinker (2)
Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH

MCA-featured artists, exhibitions, performances, and programs all garnered notable mentions in Newcity‘s “Top 5 of Everything 2014″:

The Museum of Contemporary Art, especially during Family Day
—Top 5 Places that Aren’t Explicitly Tot-Oriented but Will in Fact Make Your Half-Pint Feel Right at Home

Isa Genzken: Retrospective
—Top 5 Bricolage Exhibitions

Anne Collier
—Top 5 Confrontations of the Male Gaze and Ugly Patriarchy

Wu Tsang, Mishima in Mexico
Shirin Neshat, Turbulent
—Top 5 Video Artworks Shown in Major Museums

William Pope.L
—Top 5 Gratifying Talks and Performances I Made It To

Maria Gaspar
—Top 5 Artworks as Activism

Lilli Carré, The Negotiation
—Top 5 Drawing Shows

William J. O’Brien
—Top 5 Subversively Conceptual Crafters

Miller & Shellabarger
—Top 5 Sweater Weather Artists

MCA Stage
—Top 5 Dance Venues of 2014

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Earthrise, 1968
Photo © NASA

With David Bowie Is closing on Sunday, January 4, we invited a scientist from the Adler Planetarium to share new insights and perspectives on the exhibition. Jeff Grube, a postdoctoral researcher at both the Adler and the University of Chicago, traces the influences and impact of Major Tom.

The space race and David Bowie are inextricably linked, even today.

In the exhibition David Bowie Is, a striking display featuring the first high-resolution photograph of the Earth as seen from the Moon’s orbit aboard the 1968 Apollo 8 mission draws the viewer in. This image is displayed alongside Bowie’s promotional material and sheet music from the breakthrough hit “Space Oddity.” In the song Bowie explores the isolation and uncertainty experienced by astronauts. Commenting on the inspiration for “Space Oddity,” Bowie explained: “here was the great blast American technological know-how shoving this guy into space, but once he gets there he’s not quite sure why he’s there.”

Still of James Burke in Apollo 11 studio Photo © BBC

Timed to coincide with the launch of Apollo 11, the popularity of “Space Oddity” skyrocketed when the song was used as background music during the British coverage of the moon landing. Yet, as Bowie pointed out, “I’m sure they [the BBC] really weren’t listening to the lyrics at all” considering Major Tom is stranded in space.

Buzz Aldrin, 1969 Photo: Neil Armstrong, &copy NASA

Since that momentous giant step for mankind in 1969, “Space Oddity” remains an inspiration for scientists. This is best seen in astronaut Chris Hadfield’s excellent 2013 rendition of the song, filmed on his final day aboard the International Space Station. Hadfield used his time in space to reignite enthusiasm for space travel and his final offering—the first music video in space—captures the wonders of space exploration.

Bowie’s response via Twitter encapsulates the song’s many layers and continued relevance: “Hallo spaceboy . . .”

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(View the John C. Reilly and Will Ferrell classic reinterpretation)

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A 'real-time data translator' machine converted a Mariner 4 digital image data into numbers printed on strips of paper. Too anxious to wait for the official processed image, employees from the Voyager Telecommunications Section at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, attached these strips side by side to a display panel and hand colored the numbers like a paint-by-numbers picture. The completed image was framed and presented to JPL director, William H. Pickering. Mariner 4 was launched on November 28, 1964, and journeyed for 228 days to the Red Planet, providing the first close-range images of Mars.
Photo: NASA/JPL/Dan Goods

With work currently on view in BMO Harris Bank Chicago Works: Sarah and Joseph Belknap we asked the artists to tell us about four things that they find inspiration in.

We find magic in these things.

Sarah and Joseph Belknap The thing that came back home, 2013 Digital archival print 6 x 4 in. (15.2 x 10.2 cm) Courtesy of the artists

METEORITES: They are so old. Most of them about 4.55 billion years old. You can hold something that is as old as or older than our Earth. Something from the beginning of our making. Hands tremble. The feeling is intense. Every day about 100 tons of meteoroids—fragments of dust and gravel and sometimes even big rocks—enter the Earth’s atmosphere.* They are glass on the floor you missed when sweeping up the glass you dropped, it is only until you step on a rogue chard that you are reminded that, at some point, something happened to create it. They are lost. They never had a chance to collide into a larger body and take part as a family (a planet, a moon). It is not until by chance they do fall to earth that we get to welcome them home.

Gas Pillars in the Eagle Nebula

LIGHT/OUR EYES: Our organism evolved with two cameras that work in parallel, save when a fly lands on your nose, then not so parallel. These cameras are amazing feats of biological engineering but they do have limits (technically 380 nm to 750 nm of the electromagnetic spectrum). This is where it gets very interesting. Many other species see different ranges of this spectrum. Some see a much broader range, for instance, the mantis shrimp has 12 color photoreceptors compared to our 3. This has not stopped human’s technological ability to understand and create new eyes that can visualize the spectrum in other ways. In 1965, JPL scientists hand drew and colorized the first images of Mars from data while impatiently waiting for all of the photographs. Pillars of Creation (1995), an image that opened our imagination, is a perfect example of this. Comprised of 32 images, including X-rays, wavelengths in near infrared and far infrared, it far surpasses our own spectrum. Scientists use this data and function as artists to re-create that which is imperceivable to the human eye. Can you imagine what your eye could see if we had evolved like the mantis shrimp?


TOUCH: Have you ever fallen asleep in an awkward position only to awake to an arm that has “fallen asleep?” It is an experience that can be a bit shocking. It is upon touching your body in this affected area that you can truly feel your own body. The nerve receptors do not register and your body is a new object.
Touch is an essential quality in the way that we approach art. As we look beyond what is perceivable, imagine time on scales almost unregistrable, touch provides an account of true absolute presence. The materials we work with, such as silicone, become waypoints of our own existence. While we carve, nestled up in steamy, full-face respirators, foam spraying in the air, preserved from the unnerving loud noises of air compressors and grinders, we imagine foreign landscapes and our bodies navigating these spaces. We imagine what the moon feels like, how the body changes weight in different gravities. We imagine we are explorers lost and finding our way through touch.

Jacopo Tintoretto The Origin of the Milky Way, c. 1575–80 Oil on canvas 58 × 65 in. (148 × 165 cm) National Gallery, London

ATMOSPHERE: We call it the sky. We call it looking up. A Chicago winter can seem claustrophobic because of it. As we write this, we sit in anticipation of a glimpse of the sun. It is our window into the past, present, and future. Humans have always looked up. We have hung upside down on monkey bars and imagined falling into the sky. It is our source of understanding and mythologizing. The Milky Way as strewn breast milk across the sky; comets as signs of war and famine; the moon as cheese. When it rises we see colors and a veil of blue, but all the stars, all the vastness, still remain just beyond that thin blanket allowing life.

*Credit: Science@NASA

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St. Vincent Rocks Our Bowie Tattoos

Posted December 18, 2014

St. Vincent 13

St. Vincent at the Chicago Theatre
Photo: Amanda Koellner

Rock artist Annie Clark, performing with her band as St. Vincent, was spotted wearing our David Bowie Is temporary tattoos during her concert at the Chicago Theatre by vigilant MCA staff members. Later, a number of photos featuring the tattoos appeared online including one from St. Vincent herself enjoying a drink, post-concert. We spot Clark wearing the David Bowie gold orb, the lips, and the eyes. Are there any we haven’t seen?



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Chicago, 1980

Kenneth Josephson
Chicago, 1980, 1980
Gelatin silver print
Pre-edition proof
Framed: 17 x 21 in. (43.2 x 53.3 cm)
Collection Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, gift of the artist, 2014.7
Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago

Last week thirteen works of art were displayed in our Kovler Atrium for acquisition consideration by our Collection Committee. Curatorial Assistant Steven L. Bridges highlights another work of art that was acquired earlier this year and reflects on the importance of collecting.

Few artists working today have expanded the conceptual parameters of photography as much as Chicago-based Kenneth Josephson. Born in 1932 in Detroit, Josephson first gained notoriety in the early 1960s for what became his signature style: playfully challenging established photographic codes, particularly the ardent belief in the veracity of the camera’s eye and its ability to document the world around us with “scientific” rigor. More often than not, the subject of his photographs is the medium itself, and his role within its process of creation.

Josephson’s conceptual approach to photography has persisted throughout his career, and he continues to explore the relationships between authorship, photographic processes, and the production of meaning. MCA Curator Lynne Warren organized Josephson’s first major museum retrospective at the MCA in 1983, and commented in her catalogue essay that, in Josephson’s work, “The photograph is revealed to be a photograph.” If this type of self-reflexivity seems commonplace today, it is very much the result of Josephson’s artistic legacy and his influence on the many generations of artists who passed under his tutelage—he taught at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago for more than 35 years, among many other notable colleges and universities.

This longstanding interest shaped the suite of four photographs that entered the MCA Collection in January 2014, which herald from the 1970s and early 1980s—a time when Josephson actively questioned the sanctity of the picture frame, often through his own physical interventions (as is the case with Chicago, 1980). The photographs in this group reveal different strategies the artist employed to interrogate the medium, expanding the conversation among Josephson’s works already a part of the collection—which now include eight photographs and one collage—and within the museum’s significant holdings of conceptual photography.

The MCA’s recent Josephson acquisition reflects its commitment to collecting works by important Chicago-based artists—and by artists with whom it has a meaningful history. (Josephson has exhibited at the MCA many times.) This acquisition also recognizes the artist’s role as a catalyst for developments in the field: at the core of Josephson’s work is a critical understanding of photography’s paradoxical nature—as both document and creative act.

This post first appeared in MCA Chicago (Summer 2014).

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It is my last week as a design intern at the MCA. For the past few months I have been working on a variety of projects—exhibition labels, wayfinding signage, exhibition ads, programs, all that good stuff. The majority of the design work is done on the computer so I began drawing on Post-its as a break for both my eyes and mind. I put a few of the drawings on the blank wall above my desk to personalize my space. Eventually the Post-its added up and people started asking me about the drawings. I didn’t think people would look at them because they are tiny drawings on 3 x 3 in. Post-its. I decided to develop these doodles because people were enjoying what I made. I didn’t consider this a project, but now I do and have decided to develop it. So far I’ve made a few animated GIFS out of some of these drawings. My next move for this project will take place on the museum’s Risograph printer, my favorite perk of this internship. I don’t want to give away too much, but prepare to see color.

Interns are valued members of the MCA team. Find out how you can intern at the MCA.














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David Bowie
Low album cover, 1977

Tonight at 6 pm the Lonesome Organist—the one-man band project of Jeremy Jacobsen—performs a selection of David Bowie covers at the MCA.

In anticipation of this performance, Michael Green, our developer of public programs, spoke with Jacobsen about his song selection, influences, and Bowie.

Michael Green: Can you let us know a few of the Bowie songs you’ve selected to cover for your performance?

Jeremy Jacobsen: Much of Low and also much of Let’s Dance, some other things as well.

MG: Why these particular songs?

JJ: Well, Let’s Dance is so familiar and my versions are super mutated from the original. I can let my style coast over the well-known songs. Also the tunes on both of these records are slightly simpler . . . a benefit to performing them as a one-man band, which you might guess is most challenging.

MG: Are there specific Bowie periods you are most drawn to?

JJ: Yes. The 1980s, Scary Monsters, Low, etc. But I love it all.

MG: Has Bowie influenced your own work in any way? Either as a musician or performer?

JJ: Yes, totally. I was listening to Low daily as I first began doing the Lonesome Organist back in 1996. I’m pretty sure no music on that record crept into my tunes but I am also sure that my idea of persona was solidified by Bowie’s many manifestations. I had hoped that the Organist would prove more malleable in terms of persona but at least my music achieves a certain variety.

MG: You played the 2002 Meltdown Festival that Bowie curated at the Royal Festival Hall in London. What was that experience like? Did you meet Bowie?

JJ: Bowie was having a baby at the time, so no, unfortunately for me I did not get the chance to meet him. It was just a gas to get called on to do it though.

MG: Were you surprised to get the call to participate in Meltdown? Were you aware that Bowie was a fan of your work?

JJ: I was totally surprised by the whole thing and was blown away that Bowie had heard something as low profile as my releases. It’s a credit to him that he is actively looking and listening for new music.

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Day Without Art 2014

Posted December 4, 2014


Monday, December 1, was both World AIDS Day and Day Without Art (or Day With[out] Art), each a powerful effort to spread awareness about AIDS and to encourage activism against the disease and any misconceptions that still linger about it. Led by the group Visual AIDS, Day Without Art first began in 1989 as a response to the way AIDS had affected the artistic community, suggesting in its name a future without artists and art.

Each year, artists, organizations, and institutions collaborate on projects for Day Without Art. This year, Visual AIDS commissioned a series of videos from artists under the title and idea ALTERNATE ENDINGS. According to Visual AIDS, “ALTERNATE ENDINGS highlights the diverse voices of seven artists that use video to bring together charged moments and memories from their personal perspective amidst the public history of HIV/AIDS. . . . They share tales of love and breakups, sing songs of defiance, celebrate action, and remember those whom we have lost. Through these diverse stories we are invited to reflect upon our complex past as we envision divergent narratives and possibilities for the future, because AIDS IS NOT OVER.” On December 1, the MCA joined Visual AIDS and other artists and organizations around the world, participating in Day Without Art by virtually blacking out our website (in the past museums have hung black cloth over artworks or removed certain pieces entirely) through a roll-over screen, which blacked out our homepage and directed people view ALTERNATE ENDINGS.

Today we share these videos again and give them a permanent home on MCA DNA. Although Day Without Art 2014 has passed, the struggle against AIDS, prejudice, and fear continues all year.







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In anticipation of her free public tour of Body Doubles at 6 pm this evening, Michelle Puetz reflects on one of the many treasures held in the MCA Archive—an excerpt from a 1993 interview with artist Lorna Simpson, whose work is featured prominently in the exhibition.

One of the things that has been such a joy about working both as a curator and on a number of research-based and archival projects during my Mellon Fellowship has been finding materials like this one, an interview with Lorna Simpson in 1993 on the occasion of her exhibition at the MCA, Lorna Simpson: For the Sake of the Viewer (Nov 21, 1992–Mar 14, 1994). While this is just a short excerpt of a much longer video, Simpson sharply articulates some of the major questions posed in her work—in particular the complexities she faces trying to explore black female identity without making sweeping generalizations based on race, gender, class, or sexuality.

Simpson is reflecting on works like 1991’s Flipside, which is a part of the MCA’s permanent collection and currently on view in Body Doubles, that combine fragmented body parts (which she refers to as “dissections”) with text. She explains that these juxtapositions are one of the ways she attempts to avoid objectification and humanize her work.

As I’ll discuss this evening in the public tour, Lorna Simpson is heavily represented in Body Doubles for a variety of reasons. I included Flipside as well as two newer and related works: the photographic series Summer ’57/Summer ’09 (2009) and a large-scale, three-channel video installation, Chess (2012) that emerged from the 57/’09 series. Simpson was one of the first female artists I felt a strong connection to, in large part because of her complex exploration of the stereotypes embedded in race and gender. Her more recent works, in which she uses her own body as a subject and performative tool, speak to the themes I’m interested in exploring in Body Doubles—specifically the variety of ways that artists have used the body to question the relationship of gender and sexuality to identity.

bell hooks (another extremely inspirational force in my life) put it best, stating that Simpson “wants us all to look again, to see what has never been seen, to bear witness. . . . Against [a] backdrop of fixed colonizing images, Simpson constructs a world of black female bodies that resist and revolt, that intervene and transform, that rescue and recover.”

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