Polish-born, London-based artist Goshka Macuga embarks on a yearlong project as the museum’s 2013 artist in residence. Macuga’s residency project begins with the history of the MCA and relies heavily on the social fabric of the MCA community to excavate some of Chicago’s lesser-known histories, forgotten folktales, and best-kept secrets.
This collection of locations, photos, and written records traces Macuga's creative process as her project—titled A Chicago Comedy—unfolds. Both the Chicago Comedy and its Preparatory Notes take their cue from the work of the Hamburg-born renegade German Jewish art historian Aby Warburg (1866-1929), who has been a dependable source of inspiration for Macuga for a number of years. Warburg’s unpublished play Hamburg Conversations on Art: Hamburg Comedy, 1896, about the struggles between Hamburg’s avant-garde and art traditionalists, provides one lead of many throughout the artist's residency at the MCA.
Goshka Macuga (above) – The Artist.
Dieter Roelstraete (below right) – The Curator.
Michelle Puetz (below left) – The Researcher.
Nathan Keay (bottom left) – The Photographer.
On May 29, Preparatory Notes for a Chicago Comedy debuted at the 8th Berlin Biennial for Contemporary Art to great critical and public acclaim. The hour-long play is a free-form, irreverent homage to the life and work of the pioneering German-Jewish art historian, Aby Warburg. Two actors take turns giving voice to his tormented life,… Read more
In October, Goshka Macuga and Dieter Roelstraete spent a week inside the archive of the Warburg Institute at the University of London. There, they were able to study the Hamburg Comedy written by Aby Warburg in the winter of 1896—the year of the eccentric German art historian’s widely publicized travels to the American Southwest (a… Read more
Dieter Roelstraete, Dmitry Samarov, and Goshka Macuga pose in front of a statue of Alexander von Humboldt, after whom Humboldt Park (the first station of a string of parks Dmitry drove us through that day) was named. The park was planned in honor of the centennial of Humboldt’s birth in September 1869. Humbolt was a… Read more
The Calumet Fisheries on East 95th Street in Chicago’s Far South Side has been a family-run operation since 1948; eaters of the joint’s excellent smoked fish look out at monuments of Chicago’s industrial past that already then must have looked seriously rusty. Here, Goshka can be seen photographing the lift railroad bridge spanning the Calumet… Read more
Former Chicago cabbie (now full-time artist and writer) Dmitry Samarov’s lower left arm features a tattoo depicting the central scene of Pieter Bruegel’s The Blind Leading the Blind from 1568, now in the Museo di Capodimonte in Naples, Italy. We did not ask him about the specific motivation for choosing this particular scene; browsing Dmitry’s… Read more
In September, Chicago-based artist and writer Dmitry Samarov took the residency team on a tour of the city’s lesser known sites. The drive was guided in part by suggestions from the MCA’s online audience. When Abraham Ritchie emailed from the MCA to ask if I’d be interested in giving their artist-in-residence a tour of Chicago,… Read more
This is a view of the former Sears Merchandise Building, part of the (now abandoned) Sears, Roebuck & Co. Complex on 900-930 South Homan Avenue in the Lower West Side. Founded in 1886, the company moved into this complex in 1906; it was the largest mail-order business in the world at the time, occupying the… Read more
Going to California, in Chicago, typically means going to Cook County Jail on California Avenue between 26th and 31st streets. It is certainly an incongruously busy corner, or string of corners, in the family oriented neighborhood of Little Village. Cook County Jail is apparently the largest jail in the US—really the “largest (96 acres) single-site… Read more
Monday’s Dmitry-guided ride concluded in the fascinating microcosm of Pullman, the famous company town founded by railroad car manufacturer George M. Pullman in 1880 (the actual Pullman works closed definitively in 1981 after building its last ever car for Amtrak). A mural commemorates that railway century—now definitely a thing of the past. Pullman’s greatest contribution… Read more
As the theatrical ambitions of Goshka’s project come into focus ever more sharply, we decided that a model of the MCA’s Edlis Neeson Theater would be a useful thing for her to have around the studio. Here she is shown inspecting the model, expertly built by MCA preparator Araidia Blackburn. Goshka has especially fond memories… Read more
Five pictures snapped during a sunny Sunday afternoon in Oak Park, where we took Goshka to see the finest offering of Frank Lloyd Wright houses in the world. Visiting his house and studio, where this photograph of the master architect’s typewriter was made, was especially inspiring—the history of design has long been a source of… Read more
One of the dependable rituals of Goshka’s residency here at the MCA involves her being taken in for in-depth questioning by an indefatigable platoon of homeland security personnel every time she enters the country. The reason? Two Afghan visa stamps in her passport, reminders of her time in Kabul on the occasion of Documenta 13… Read more
After peeking into the lobby of Louis Sullivan and Dankmar Adler’s grand Auditorium Building, which, on its completion in 1889 was the tallest building in the city of Chicago, we made our way west to another not-to-be-missed architectural landmark, Holabird & Roche’s Marquette Building. One of the earliest steel frame skyscrapers, the Marquette Building’s hexagonal… Read more
On our way to visit the Fine Arts Building we walked past the MCA’s former building, located at 237 East Ontario Street. Built in 1915 as a bakery and later home to the corporate offices of Playboy Enterprises, the Ontario Street structure which housed the MCA until 1996 was redesigned by architect Daniel Brenner and… Read more
Laszlo Moholy-Nagy is one of the undisputed greats of 20th century avant-garde art—why is the stone marking his final resting place in Graceland Cemetery so small, so hard to find? Moholy-Nagy, who was instrumental in directing the Bauhaus back to its original utilitarian goals—in his best-known portrait, he is shown donning an austere-looking overall of… Read more
After a series of exploratory trips to the places and spaces that contain traces of Chicago’s history, it seemed only fitting to shop for articles of clothing that may or may not have been a part of Chicago’s past (Goshka is an avid collector of outrageous vintage clothing items). We made a quick stop at… Read more
New Deal-era murals created throughout the city of Chicago as a part of the WPA’s Federal Art Project in the 1930s were inspired by the murals of Mexican artists including “los tres grandes” —Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco and David Alfaro Siqueiros. The spirit of community activism and belief that art is a socio-political instrument… Read more
Another half-forgotten marvel on the South Side—the Pilgrim Baptist Church on the corner of South Indiana Avenue and 33rd street, originally built by Adler & Sullivan in 1890 as the Kehilath Anshe Ma’ariv Synagogue, home to Chicago’s oldest Jewish congregation (Dankmar Adler’s father had been its rabbi from 1861 to 1883). Known as the birthplace… Read more
What is now Meyer’s Ace Hardware Store, on the corner of East 35th street and Martin Luther King Drive in the historic heart of Bronzeville, was once home to the Sunset Café or Grand Terrace Café, one of Chicago’s foremost jazz clubs. Throughout the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s it hosted the likes of Louis Armstrong, Bix… Read more
We spent the day exploring the social geography of the city under the guidance of one of Chicago’s most knowledgeable guides, Don Davis. We learned about Don from MCA curators Julie Rodrigues Widholm and Steven Bridges after he took Colombian artist Doris Salcedo on a tour of Chicago in June of 2012 that focused on… Read more
At the Newberry Library, one of the country’s finest research institutions—its curator of maps, James Akerman, generously guided us through the Library’s vast holdings of cartographic material. Some of these maps tie in with the institution’s focused research interests, such as the history of nineteenth-century westward expansion along the growing network of railway lines (we… Read more
One of the great perks of visiting Crown Hall, widely considered to be Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s crowning achievement in modernist architecture, is that it continues to be used as a workspace for the aspiring architects of tomorrow—its interior is anything but a sacrosanct minimalist affair, but a charming mess of stools and tables… Read more
Over the course of a short walk through downtown Chicago on a rare sunny afternoon, the city’s pioneering modern architecture and distinct mix of styles is immediately evident. Gleaming glass and steel towers loom over the city’s first modern skyscrapers, built in the wake of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Elaborate and stately buildings… Read more
Although Ludwig Mies van der Rohe received the commission for this building (really one of a group of buildings that together make up the Federal Center complex) in 1959, the iconic Post Office on the corner of West Adams and South Clark Streets was only finished in 1974, a full five years after the modernist… Read more
The roof of the MCA warehouse (not normally accessible to visitors) offers a sweeping panorama of the city, including some less familiar sights such as a giant disused railroad bridge now serving the sole purpose of holding up a set of traffic lights for oncoming Metra traffic. Seen from here, Chicago’s skyline looks somewhat unreal,… Read more
For an artist known for her quasi-archaeological explorations of the institutional histories embedded in museum archives, collections and libraries, it seemed only fitting that Goshka Macuga’s first visit to Chicago in the framework of the 2013 MCA artist-in-residency project should have started in the MCA’s warehouse in the city’s Near West Side—where some of the… Read more
Lead support for this residency is provided by Helen and Sam Zell.
Additional generous support is provided by Sandra and Jack Guthman, and David Herro and Jay Franke.
Official Airline of the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago