chicago artist group portrait 2015

Organized by Jason Lazarus
Photo Assistants: Aron Gent and Patrick Putze

On June 20, 2015, artist Jason Lazarus convened more than 500 Chicago artists on the front steps of the MCA to capture a historical record at this moment in time. Read some of his goals for the project in a post he wrote earlier this year. A couple of months after this photograph was taken, and after much postproduction editing, Lazarus released it into the public domain for anyone to print, display, or alter. You can read Lazarus’s thoughts on the project and download a high-resolution .TIFF file of the group portrait here.


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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Martin Creed: Work #1370: Chicago (2012)
12" vinyl record with hand-painted cover artwork
© Martin Creed

On an unseasonably warm Tuesday morning last March here in Chicago, British artist Martin Creed set himself up for the week at Soma Studios, a renowned (in certain circles) recording studio on Division Street (next door to the Rainbo Club in Ukrainian Village, as it happens) run by self-described “owner/engineer” John McEntire, to spend the week recording an EP. The resulting record, Chicago, was recently released by The Vinyl Factory, a British music label and actual vinyl factory: they are known for their high-quality vinyl produced on a Type 1400 press, which they inherited from the old EMI Records pressing plant in the west London suburb of Hayes (along with key staff from the plant to keep the machine running). Joining Creed from the UK was producer Andy Knowles, who, together with fellow Franz Ferdinand bandmate Nick McCarthy, forms the music production duo The Nice Nice Boys.

Soma has a certain legendary status not only due to the musicians who have chosen to record there (like David Grubbs, Jim O’Rourke, Radian, Red Krayola, Stereolab, Will Oldham, and famed local heroes Wilco) but also because McEntire himself is the drummer and multi-instrumentalist behind the Chicago bands Tortoise and The Sea and Cake, Gastr del Sol, and countless projects and collaborations of his own, not to mention the recording engineer and producer for albums by a number of the Soma guests listed above. Even though I only arrived in Chicago just over two years ago from London (via the Netherlands), I’ve followed McEntire’s work since the release of Tortoise’s seminal 1996 album Millions Now Living Will Never Die, an influential record for me at the time, on heavy rotation during my final year of graphic design undergraduate study in south London. Soma was therefore a slightly mythical place on my imaginary, pre-US-resident Chicago map, pinned on Google satellite view alongside such sites as the Newberry Library, Mies van der Rohe’s Crown Hall at IIT, Myopic Books, and Sol Lewitt’s Bands in Four Directions (right here in the MCA’s back yard and visible from space).

The centrepiece of Soma Studios is this classic Trident A‑Range console. (Via: Sound on Sound)
Studio photos: Saverio Truglia

Suffice it to say, for an EP titled Chicago, Creed was in as Chicago a joint as you could get. Add to that the record’s engineer Bill Skibbe (if not an actual Chicago legend, then at least a Midwestern one, with his equally famed [in certain circles] Benton Harbor, MI, recording studio The Key Club Recording Company, host to bands such as the Fiery Furnaces, Franz Ferdinand, and the Kills) and Creed’s backing singers for the week Dee Alexander and Yvonne Gage, who have worked with, among others, contentious Chicago cultural phenomenon R. Kelly, and you have, collectively, a rich psychogeographic map of Chicago and its hinterlands with streets converging at the corner of Division and Damen.

Creed was there, plugging in his guitar, testing the acoustics, in his capacity as MCA Chicago’s artist in residence for 2012. The result of his week at Soma was a recording—or, perhaps, a “work.” But what kind of work? An artwork? A piece of music? An art piece? If the record was the work, what were the four songs on that record? Pieces? If the songs are each considered discrete works, does that make the record an installation in which the works are housed? I suspect Creed himself doesn’t know. Or would say he doesn’t know. All of his works are titled as just that: Work. With a systematic number attached. The record we’re talking about is actually Work No. 1370. So it is indeed a work, with a capital W. But is it art or music? “I don’t know what art is,” Creed said to arts writer Charlotte Higgins last June, in a Guardian story on his Olympic project Work No. 1197: All the bells in a country rung as quickly and as loudly as possible for three minutes. “Martin Creed’s bad music is good art,” said critic Alfred Hickling, in a prior Guardian article, describing Creed’s Work No. 955, an orchestral composition by the artist performed by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra in 2008. “Music is art,” says The Vinyl Factory’s mission statement on the “About Us” section of their website.

Owada. Nothing. Compact Disc. Piano 508, 1997.

Funnily enough, my own discovery of Creed was through his music, specifically the album Nothing by his former band Owada (you can still track down CD copies on Amazon for around 10 bucks), released one year after Millions Now Living Will Never Die in 1997, at which point I’d graduated with my bachelor’s degree and started my master’s at the Royal College of Art. Nothing was just as influential to me as that Tortoise album while I was starting to decide whether I should work as an artist or a designer. The record included an instant favorite, “Circle,” with its concise pop-history documentation of the 1960s conceptual art scene:

Stephen Willats thought that /

Art & Language were ripping him off /

Art & Language thought that /

Joseph Kosuth was ripping them off /

Joseph Kosuth thought that /

Lawrence Weiner was ripping him off /  (etc.)

This was music and Owada was a band. A band that happened to have an artist as its singer/songwriter. Of course I later came across his neon typographic works (also appealing to a graphic design student) like EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE ALRIGHT, admired his deadpan, minimal 2001 Turner Prize–winning The lights going on and off , and my London studio even ended up being commissioned by Tate Britain to work on the design for Creed’s Work No. 850 project in 2008. This was definitely art and Creed was definitely an artist—an artist who was able to tell the Tate he wanted a continuous loop of runners sprinting down the Duveen Galleries every 30 seconds for four months, to which the Tate replied “OK” without batting an eyelid.

Detail of the Chicago 180 gram heavyweight vinyl, each with recording information handwritten by Creed himself.

Perhaps we should forget the art or music question and just listen to Chicago (the work, Work No. 1370, not the city—or the band). Although here’s where I should mention a slight snag: We are unfortunately not allowed to stream it for you (and actually I have to admit that I haven’t even heard it myself yet). That’s because it’s only available for $288 in the very special form of a hand-painted record sleeve containing four all-analog Soma-recorded songs on 180 gram heavyweight vinyl in a limited edition of 200 from the MCA Store or The Vinyl Factory.