MCA 50th Anniversary : Reviewed
By Grace Gay
The Museum of Contemporary Art in Downtown is currently celebrating its 50th anniversary with a new three-part exhibit. Each part takes pieces from within the museum’s collection in order to develop a theme. Divided into three sections (“I am You”, “You are Here” and “We Are Everywhere”) “We Are Here” samples from the extensive collection of 20th and 21st century art.
“I am You” focuses on identity and performance of the self in art. “You are Here” features an exploration of the usage of space in relation to the viewer. The last section, “We are Everywhere,” is a survey into pop culture and art through the lense of the Chicago Imagists movement.
A few notable, powerful pieces include large hanging wall pieces, such as “Glass Jaw” (2011) by Rashid Johnson. “Glass Jaw” hangs in the beginning of the second section, made of geometrically cut mirrors and interlaid shelves, the work is splattered with black soap. The shelves contain books, oyster shells, a radio and a Charles Mingus album cover, all meant to consider the African American identity in relation to the viewer. The violence, beauty, strength and reflection all contained within the piece made it one of my favorites at the exhibition and one of the most interesting sculptures I’ve seen.
In many way, “Glass Jaw’s” spiritual twin is the work “Untitled” (1966) by Jee Bontecou. A vision of Klimt’s art work in three-dimensional mountains, the bright colors evoke the desert’s harsh strength. There’s masculine passion interlaced in the dark, curving lines and yellow tints, as well as warmth radiating from it, due to the lights behind the fiberglass, bits of red, and the robust movement its network of shapes imply. All this creates an outstanding contrast to the seeming bulk of it hanging on the wall. Since Klimt’s work is a favorite of mine, this piece delighted me and I spent a long time considering it, dramatically lit against a black wall. Located in “I am You”, the warm strength of this artwork is a must-see.
Interspersed throughout the displays are pieces of every media of art, one for every taste: short films, next to sculptures, and paintings. Andy Warhol is featured in the final sections, as is photographic work examining the performative roles in modern society.
In the first collection, “I am You,” there were two performing artists, a man and woman, playing out scenes of intimacy on the display floor. Fully clothed, without speaking, and moving in slow motion, they kissed, stroked each other, rolled around, and held each other, all without looking at the patrons glancing their way.
Overall, the exhibition is enjoyable, as you get to see an eclectic combination of artists from years of museum curation side by side. Because of the depth and complexity each piece brings, I would highly recommend a walkthrough of perhaps two hours, to allow from consideration of each of the pieces. But the most interesting part of the exhibit was not one of the museum's.
While most seemed particularly uncomfortable with indulging in voyeurism and watching too closely, there was something spellbinding about the performance: a consideration of the most vulnerable moments of intimacy on display for the general public. Whether these performers are regulars at the museum or not, the experience of art, and consideration of the forms of self, is well-constructed and worth your time.