This exhibition is the first survey of work by Polish-born, London-based artist Goshka Macuga. Macuga’s work interweaves two strands that have helped define contemporary art in the last decade: artists’ increasing tendency toward historical and archival research and their growing interest in strategies of display and the dialogue between artistic and curatorial practice. Many of Macuga’s large-scale, research-intensive projects have been collaborative, with the resulting installations often incorporating the work of other artists. Initially, many of her projects tapped into overlooked traditions in art history, but in more recent years her work has taken a political turn, frequently featuring post-Soviet Poland or the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 as a backdrop. The exhibition features a selection of works that vary in size, content, and context, emphasizing the medium of collage, both two- and three-dimensional.
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Color Bind: The MCA Collection in Black and White investigates the museum’s rich permanent collection through one of art history’s basic formal lenses: the use of the colors black and white. In doing so, the exhibition considers how color can be used literally, formally, and metaphorically in art and reveals how apparently formal considerations are often rooted in social issues. With dozens of works in all media, Color Bind muses on the ways the English words “black” and “white” evoke both simple formal notions and metaphors for race, politics, and historical movements. Set to coincide with the recent US presidential election, this exhibition calls attention to the ways seemingly neutral formal terms assume moral dimensions that, in turn, complicate and politicize the very works assumed to be neutral.
Jimmy Robert Vis-à-vis is the first major solo museum exhibition in the United States of work by Brussels-based artist Jimmy Robert. Working in a range of media—including photography, film, video, sculpture, and collaborative performance—Robert gently breaks down divisions between two and three dimensions, image and object. Extending into the space of the gallery, Robert’s sculptural photographic works create a relationship to the viewer’s body, while their materials underscore a sense of impermanence. Robert’s films and videos, broadly inspired by the French New Wave and work by feminist filmmakers such as Marguerite Duras and Chantal Akerman, convey a sense of the ordinary in their scale, subject, and material. Of a similarly intimate register, Robert’s dance and performance works value gesture and chance over elaborate choreography, referring to Fluxus and the Judson Dance Theater.
Skyscraper: Art and Architecture Against Gravity examines contemporary works of art that take as their subject the form, technology, myth, message, and image of that iconic building structure, the skyscraper. While the exhibition has particular relevance to Chicago, the city that is widely known as the birthplace of this architectural type, artists throughout the world—in addition to authors, filmmakers, poets, and undoubtedly architects—have been enthralled by the human desire to build farther and farther into the sky, testing technological limits while embodying a yearning for spiritual connection to the heavens. Artists’ endeavors to explore this desire have taken many forms, from video and film to sculpture, painting, and photography.
Despite the periodic ringing of the death knell for painting, this genre of art making is alive and well. An important reason for this is its continued evolution. Painters are bound to the traditions they inherit and know that in order to keep painting alive, push it forward, and agitate for its legitimacy, they must find ways to connect it to our times. The artist’s hand—the central protagonist in modern gestural painting—has become a primary reference point for many artists intent on rethinking painting. Artists from Robert Rauschenberg to Christopher Wool have fostered skepticism about the role of the hand-made as an indicator of artistic genius or authenticity, a doubt that has found an outlet in a wide variety of paintings and artistic practices since the 1960s. This ambivalence toward the hand inspired the title of this exhibition, Phantom Limb, which brings together a wide cross-section of painterly activity by artists who are defining the terms by which we understand this tradition today.
James W. Alsdorf Chief Curator Michael Darling examines key works in the exhibition.
MCA Chicago presents Chicago-born, New York-based artist Rashid Johnson’s first major solo museum exhibition, surveying the first fourteen years of his career. Deftly working in a range of media—including photography, painting, sculpture, and video—Johnson incorporates commonplace objects from his childhood into his work in a process he describes as “hijacking the domestic.” The artist transforms these everyday materials—such as plants, books, record albums, photographs, shea butter, and soap—into conceptually loaded and visually compelling works that challenge entrenched ways of thinking about the black experience and emphasize its plurality. Johnson investigates the construction of identity in a practice that is steeped in individual experience while invoking shared cultural references. Throughout his work, he enters into dialogue with black American creative and intellectual figures whose impact has transcended race, extending their legacy. Message to Our Folks, Johnson’s first major solo museum exhibition, examines how this work has developed over the first fourteen years of his career.
This Will Have Been: Art, Love & Politics in the 1980s covers the period from 1979 to 1992. During this era, the political sphere was dominated by the ideas of former US President Ronald Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, the music scene was transformed by punk and the birth of hip-hop, and our everyday lives were radically altered by a host of technological developments, from the Sony Walkman and the ATM to the appearance of MTV and the first personal computers. In the United States, the decade opened with an enormous anti-nuclear protest in New York’s Central Park and closed with mass demonstrations against the government’s slow response to the AIDS crisis. This exhibition attempts to make sense of what happened to the visual arts in the United States during this tumultuous period.
The artists represented in This Will Have Been belong to the first generation of artists to grow up with a television in the home. They came of age in a culture saturated with images designed to promote desire—desire for objects, for lifestyles, for fame, for conformity, for anti-conformity. So too the majority of these artists lived through the heady days of the 1970s feminist movement and witnessed that broad-based social movement’s demands for equality in all areas of life—work, family, and intimate relationships. It became the task of the 1980s to assimilate these powerful social forces—the rise of television and movements for social justice—as they converged.
For many of the artists represented in this exhibition that meant grappling with complex questions: In a world increasingly filled with mass-media images, what is the role of the visual arts? How can artists make images that either compete with or counter the powerful images produced by advertising and Hollywood? In a society struggling for increased equality, how do historically marginalized people—women, people of color, and gays and lesbians—find their public voice? Toward the end of the decade, as the rise of HIV/AIDS created a growing political and medical crisis in the United States, these questions increased in urgency. This Will Have Been features a wide range of artworks, made by a diverse group of nearly one hundred artists, demonstrating the decade’s moments of contentious debate, raucous dialogue, erudite opinions, and joyful expression—all in the name of an expanded idea of freedom, long the promise of democratic societies.
In works that range from intimate poetic objects to large-scale neon signs, Martin Creed (British, b. 1968) reevaluates the status of art with a generous sense of humor. As part of a yearlong residency at MCA Chicago, Creed brings his avant-garde sensibility to the building and the city. In each month of 2012, Creed unveils an artwork in a different space of the MCA, progressing upward through four floors of the building and extending his work outward to the sculpture garden and plaza and into the city of Chicago. Some works live as sculptures in the museum’s public spaces, and some projects are site specific—for instance, murals in the atrium and café. Others still, such as a work that takes the form of crumpled balls of paper placed in each of the museum’s public spaces, play with the notion of the carefully curated object. Extending his project beyond the MCA, Creed—who fronts a rock band—explores the city’s vibrant music scene as well.