As part of Martin Creed’s yearlong residency at the MCA, the museum has partnered with Chicago venues to present Creed’s Half the air in a given space—an installation that fills half of a room with balloons. With this work, Creed gives tangible form to something that’s usually invisible: the air around you. This artwork is meant to be enjoyed as you walk through it and not just viewed from outside.

The first presentation is at Hyde Park Art Center and can be experienced Tuesday through Sunday, 12 pm to 5 pm. Additional venues for this project are planned, check back for more information as it becomes available.

Martin Creed. Work No. 1190, Half the air in a given space, 2011. Installation at Hyde Park Art Center, 2012. Courtesy of the artist and Gavin Brown’s enterprise, New York.

Molly Zimmerman-Feeley works at the MCA.

Martin Creed: “Work No. 1355,” 2012. Courtesy of the artist and Gavin Brown’s enterprise, New York.

“My first reaction was to tell my husband to watch out because these nails protrude.”

“It’s in a perfect place next to the elevator. And it’s also a play on symmetry.”

“It’s weird.”

“Can I hang my purse here? Ask the artist that.”

“It reminds me of when I nail in hangers for paintings.”

“Are these nails? And what are nails anyway? That’s the question.”

“I don’t know. Is that a trick? Has it been made by one of the museum employees or is it a real installation?”

“I thought it was part of the elevator, part of the elevator’s mechanism.”

“A pretty nice coat rack. We could make that at home. Pretty cute. Like it.”

“I think it is the path to infinity.”

“I like it from the side best. It’s a ladder to heaven from here.”

“I think it’s birth to death. Just don’t know which end is which.”

“It is art. I see that. I just can’t explain it.”

“Well, different nails in different sizes, right? It’s a horizontal thing.”

“I think if the artist did more, it would be cooler. It’s just like, really? What?”

“The piece is independent. I’d rather use it than view it though.”

“Reminds me of a caterpillar. That’s what I see.”

Martin Creed phones it in: Work No. 1355

Posted September 4, 2012

Martin Creed phones it in: Work No. 1355 from MCA Chicago on Vimeo.

Martin Creed phones it in: Work No. 792 from MCA Chicago on Vimeo.

Drawings of Martin Creed

Posted August 21, 2012

Teen Creative Agency Members meet weekly at MCA Chicago to explore themes of critical interpretation, public speaking, and cultural participation.

Teen Creative Agency members met with Martin Creed during his recent visit to the MCA. Together they engaged in an open dialogue as he prepared paintings for his upcoming record release. As the teens reflected on their interaction later, they clearly remembered the content of the conversation (mostly, they talked about boxes) but had trouble coming to a consensus about what Creed looked like. So, from memory, they each drew pictures of Creed—does he have a mustache? Is he tall or short? Everyone agreed that his hair was memorable.

Martin Creed phones it in: “Work No. 798″ and “Work No. 1349″ from MCA Chicago on Vimeo.

Abraham Ritchie works at the MCA and is an art critic and historian.

If you walked past the MCA plaza sometime in the last few weeks you may have noticed some construction work going on. In early August, the pace accelerated and Martin Creed’s Work No. 1357 MOTHERS quickly took shape.

Here is the story in photos.

All images: Martin Creed: Work No. 1357, MOTHERS, 2012 (MCA Chicago Plaza Project, install in progress). White neon, steel. 22.4 x 47.6 feet (6.8 x 14.5 m). Courtesy of the artist and Gavin Brown’s enterprise, New York. Photo: Abraham Ritchie, © MCA Chicago.

Dan Gunn is an artist, writer, and educator working in Chicago.

Martin Creed: “Work No. 798,” 2007. Courtesy of the artist and Gavin Brown’s enterprise, New York.

Mr. Creed tends to make small gestures. These two wall paintings Work No. 798 (2007) and Work No. 1349 (2012) must first have had a hidden existence as a few lines of text on copy paper, possibly printed out from an e-mail. Following this map a museum installation crew carefully laid out the diagonal lines with a ruler and a pencil. Then later they filled them in with a paint roller while standing on a ladder or a pneumatic scissor lift.

Given their origins as “work-to-be-done,” the black lines in No. 798 and the red squares in No. 1349 are painted so as to be painfully matter of fact. The sparse construction of the work gives little evidence of Mr. Creed personally. In fact I’ve seen sponge painting in truck-stop bathrooms that provokes more empathy from me. But it’s not about that. To criticize these in terms of aesthetics would be like complaining that the concrete sidewalk is gray. Sure, you could do it, but what would be the point?

The patterns themselves are too simple to be revelatory. Again, this is not interior decor. What the patterns are is visually disorienting. In Michel Pastoureau’s book on the cultural history of stripes, The Devil’s Cloth, he notes that the medieval association of stripes with the devil drove their use to mark heretics, the diseased, and prisoners. Later, the artists of the European avant garde adopted the stripe again for those same rebellious connotations. Stripes themselves still have a complicated social meaning.

Again from Pastoureau,

To stripe a surface . . . serves to distinguish it, to point it out, to oppose it or associate it with another surface, and thus to classify it, to keep an eye on it, to verify it, even to censor it.

[but . . .]

In the stripe, there is always something that resists enclosure within systems, something that brings with it distress and confusion, something that “makes disorder.1

These two works are not about Mr. Creed’s emotional state, nor are they about some other metaphor, and they are decidedly not aesthetic. In all of his interventions Mr. Creed flirts with blankness, with artworks that are so sparse as to not seem like art.

Mr. Creed’s stripes or boxes do not extend to touch the edges of the wall, the ceiling, or the floor. Nor do they interrupt the wall labels, light fixtures, exhaust registers, or donor lists. The pattern politely pushes at the edges of the wall. Mr. Creed’s intervention is about filling space—the visual activation of a two-dimensional wall space for no other reason. These works mark a familiar, anonymous space with a hint of disorder.


1 Michel Pastoureau, The Devil’s Cloth: A History of Stripes, trans. Jody Gladding (New York: Simona and Schuster, 2003), 89–91.

Abraham Ritchie works at the MCA and is an art critic and historian.

The London 2012 Olympics are under way and Chicago joined friends in the United Kingdom in ringing in the games with Martin Creed’s participatory Work No. 1197: All the bells in a country rung as quickly and as loudly as possible for three minutes.

Here at the MCA, we lacked a physical bell so we set our computers to ring digitally at 2:12 am so we would be ringing at the same time as those in the United Kingdom.

Further to the south, University of Chicago’s Rockefeller Chapel rang their bells too, sounding out “God Save the Queen.”

The project seems to have gone off without a hitch. Well maybe there was one problem, but at least no one was hurt.

Or, if you prefer, the disco remix version.

Abraham Ritchie works at the MCA and is an art critic and historian.

With the London Olympics under way, the United Kingdom and Martin Creed rung in the games with Work No. 1197: All the bells in a country rung as quickly and as loudly as possible for three minutes performed precisely at 8:12 am on July 27.

The Independent recently wrote an insightful profile of Creed, detailing his personal life, musical interests, and art, not all of which are easily separated.

On his inspiration to become an artist: “They [my parents] are Quakers and I grew up being taught that art and music were the highest things you could do.”

On his motivation to make art: “Often I wake up with a horrible feeling, like a nightmare carried into the day. Trying to make something that someone else might like makes me feel better.”

Read the whole profile from The Independent.