Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago
Chicago, IL

MCA Building exterior at night. Photo: Peter McCullough, © MCA Chicago

Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago
220 E Chicago Ave
Chicago, IL 60611
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Chicago Works:Deborah Stratman
Through July 26, 2020
Ed and Jackie Rabin Gallery (Third Floor, North Side) and Dr. Paul and Dorie Sternberg Family Gallery (Third Floor, North Side)

Chicago Works: Deborah Stratman is centered on the artist’s celebrated film The Illinois Parables, which chronicles the history of the region through 11 chapters addressing everything from the ‘resettlement’ of the Cherokee people, to the invention of the nuclear reactor at the University of Chicago, to the deadly police raid of Chicago’s Black Panther headquarters. In the film, Stratman travels to the charged locations where these events occurred and discovers the ways that belief, force, technology, and government mark the land, and how the landscape in turn marks those who call it home.

On the occasion of the exhibition, Stratman created an extension of the film—a twelfth chapter—in the form of a recreation of Studs Terkel’s WFMT radio booth and an accompanying audio program of the oral historian's interviews.

The exhibition is organized by Jack Schneider, Curatorial Assistant. It is presented in the Dr. Paul and Dori

February 29 - May 10, 2020

This February, the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago presents a special exhibition, Duro Olowu: Seeing Chicago, curated by the internationally acclaimed Nigerian-born British designer Duro Olowu, best known for his award-winning womenswear label. For this exhibition, Olowu curates a major exhibition drawn from the public and private art collections of Chicago, anchored by the MCA’s art collection, that reveals his creative process imagining relationships between artists and objects across time, media, and geography. Moving away from traditional exhibition formats, Olowu combines paintings, sculptures, photographs, and films in layered and textured scenes that also incorporate his fashion. The first exhibition of its kind, Duro Olowu: Seeing Chicago is inspired by Chicago’s deep and emotional investment in the arts, something that Olowu cites as a distinct and dynamic aspect of the city’s incredible cultural heritage. Duro Olowu: Seeing Chicago is on view at the MCA from February 29 to May 10, 2020, and is organized by MCA Senior Curator Naomi Beckwith.

Olowu’s fashion design work is characterized by unique fabrics and evocative patterns in his impeccably constructed garments that speak to a cosmopolitan sensibility informed by his international background and curator’s eye. Throughout his career, Olowu has forged personal relationships with artists across the world and has especially advocated for voices outside of the context of Western Europe and North America. Olowu’s multicultural viewpoint has translated into popular platforms and projects from his Instagram posts to his innovative museum and gallery curatorial projects in London and New York. This global perspective translates to all of Olowu’s work where his dynamic arrangements give context to his designs, and position him at the transcultural crossroads of art, culture, and fashion.

For this exhibition, Olowu engaged with numerous institutional and private collections in Chicago and selected artworks that reflect mutual ways of seeing, selecting, and acquiring across the city. Inside the MCA galleries, Olowu will place this diverse array of Chicago art holdings to reveal unexpected connections, patterns, and common interests between Chicago collections of various sizes and scales. With an artist’s sense of experimentation, Olowu will take the approach of installing the works ‘salon-style,’ using vertical wall space and playful combinations to place works in surprising conversations with one another. Olowu organizes the show to prioritize aesthetics and the visual experience of the visitor, with wall colors including saturated shades of orange, purple, and teal – inspired by the exhibition.

Works of different movements and historical contexts are presented alongside one another, capturing the breadth of Chicago collections through the lens of a curious observer or visitor from another place. The exhibition features a diverse and inclusive roster of artists ranging from turn-of-the-century innovators Henri Matisse and René Magritte to contemporary artists Dawoud Bey, David Hammons, Barbara Kruger, Simone Leigh, Kerry James Marshall, Ana Mendieta, and Fred Wilson. A special emphasis is given to Chicago-based artists and movements originating in Chicago, such as AfriCOBRA and the Chicago Imagists, in addition to works that capture the city’s signature spaces and architecture.

Olowu’s invitation to audiences to join him in a sustained look at new arrangements of objects propels Seeing Chicago. The exhibit is a sampling of Chicago collections—both institutional and private—many of which were the product of the singular visions of the collectors and curators. And while these visions are altogether unique, Olowu recognized a striking familiarity in their ways of seeing and selecting. Olowu’s idea of the “second look” has become a model for spending respectful time with an object and giving attention to those objects that are either overlooked or even hypervisible to the point of not offering any more discoveries. A second look is the mode by which Olowu was able to visit Chicago and offer a new connection and meaning into the city’s collections.

Chicago gained a reputation as a stellar collecting city by the 1980s. It became an important center for art fairs, and local collectors played advisor and mentor to budding collectors from all over the country. Some of the star collectors were founders and supporters of the MCA, some were artists that supported their contemporaries, while many collected to support their cultural community. Olowu recognized a certain independent streak among Chicago collectors, who, as a whole, amassed an eclectic, significant holding of works of great diversity.

Olowu made many visits to Chicago as a curator, and spent time learning about art exhibitions, institutions, movements, and galleries in Chicago, including the art holdings in museums and private homes. Works for the exhibition were loaned from public collections such as the Art Institute of Chicago, Block Museum of Art, South Side Community Art Center, and Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art; artists’ collections including Richard Hunt, and the Estate of Archibald Motley, Jr.; and individual Chicago collectors who have made major, selfless contributions to many cultural institution around the city.

Born in Lagos, Nigeria, to a Nigerian father and Jamaican mother, Olowu’s first eponymous collection in 2004 was a critical hit with the fashion world and sold out internationally. It featured the now signature "Duro” dress, hailed by both British and American Vogue as the dress of the year in 2005. That same year, he won the prestigious New Designer of the Year Award at the British Fashion Awards.

Olowu was also awarded TopShop’s ‘NEWGEN’ sponsorship, and in 2010, he was named Best International Designer at the African Fashion Awards in South Africa and was one of six finalists for the Swiss Textiles Award in Zurich. Alluring silhouettes, sharp tailoring, original prints juxtaposed with luxurious fabrics in off-beat yet harmonious, combinations became Olowu’s signature. His collections are a reflection of his interpretation of an international style that is timeless and relevant. His curatorial projects "Material" in 2012 and "More Material" in 2014 at Salon 94 Gallery in New York met with critical praise by the art world.

Olowu’s last museum exhibition, “Making and Unmaking” at the Camden Arts Centre in London in 2016, also garnered high critical curatorial praise and is regarded as a landmark exhibition both for the scale and range of artists included as well as the deftly original installation he designed for the show. He lives between London and New York.

Published to accompany the exhibition, Duro Olowu: Seeing shows the life and creative process of the designer and curator, highlighting the global and integrative perspective that has guided his practice. Naomi Beckwith’s essay explores Olowu’s curatorial process, driven by an appetite for contemporary art and culture. Ekow Eshun examines Britain’s black and Afro-Caribbean creative community as a frame through which to view Olowu’s creative development. Valerie Steele situates Olowu’s designs within the contemporary fashion world. Lynette Yiadom-Boakye creates new fiction and poetry that speak to the themes of the exhibition. And Thelma Golden interviews Olowu about his work as designer, curator, and chronicler of culture and style. Considered together, the text and images of this volume spotlight the mind of a critical luminary whose transcultural approach to design, curation, and art is revelatory.

The MCA Store will include a shop with 30 exclusive products designed especially for the exhibition with prints designed by Duro Olowu. These Items include home goods, stationary, and accessories such as a silk scarf, a bespoke patchwork dog, and other novelty items. A limited edition tote bag by MZ Wallace will be available for pre-order in the store. Proceeds from the sales of the tote bag will be donated to the MCA.

Water After All
Dec 14, 2019–Jun 14, 2020
Sylvia Neil and Daniel Fischel Galleries Second Floor, North Side

Water After All reveals a glimpse of the many connections between humans and water.

Primarily featuring works from the MCA Collection, this exhibition is centered around our recent acquisition of Ghana-born British filmmaker John Akomfrah’s Vertigo Sea. Presented in a spellbinding, three-screen installation, Akomfrah uses archival images, nature cinematography, and staged recreations; crossing time and space to reveal the poetic awe and horror of humanity’s relationship with water. The artworks surrounding Vertigo Sea expand the exhibition’s thematic focus, diving deeper into our reliance on, exploitation of, and contact with our precious environment, including works by Catherine Opie, Guillermo Galindo, John Gerrard, Alfredo Jaar, William Kentridge, and others.

To emphasize the timeless connection of humans and water, exhibition curators selected literary quotes that explore aquatic themes. These excerpts greet visitors in the galleries in preparation for viewing the beautiful and traumatic works featured in the exhibition.

“Naturally men are drowned in a storm, but it is a perfectly straightforward affair, and the depths of the sea are only water after all.”
Virginia Woolf

Vertigo Sea contains graphic images of animal hunting and suffering as well as human trauma from the slave trade and immigrant crossings, all taken from archival footage or recreations of historical events.
Curatorial Credit line

The exhibition is organized by Bana Kattan, former MCA Barjeel Global Fellow, and Nina Wexelblatt, former MCA Curatorial Assistant, with Jack Schneider, MCA Curatorial Assistant. It is presented in the Sylvia Neil and Daniel Fischel Galleries on the museum's second floor.

Lead support for Water After All is provided by The Pritzker Traubert Collection Exhibition Fund.

Atrium Project:Ad Minoliti
Through Jun 7, 2020
Kovler Atrium Second Floor

Ad Minoliti’s (Argentinian, b. 1980) colorful geometric artworks challenge us to see and think differently, beyond gender identifications and human forms. For the MCA Atrium Project, Minoliti has designed a dynamic, site-specific mural which is displayed on a grand scale.

Minoliti’s work questions our natural inclination to clearly identify the things we see and confronts our desire to find recognizable figures and objects in her geometric compositions. Minoliti’s arresting use of color and abstract shapes elicits an emotional and physical response in viewers and offers a seductive invitation into the museum.

Drag King Mural is part of a larger series of Minoliti’s work that engages feminist and queer theory and features compositions of simple geometric planes and blocks of color inspired by graphic design of the 1970s.

The exhibition is organized and curated by Carla Acevedo-Yates, MCA Marilyn and Larry Fields Curator.

Becoming the Breeze: Alex Chitty with Alexander Calder
Nov 16, 2019–Apr 20, 2020
McCormick Tribune Gallery - Second Floor, North Side

Artworks by Alexander Calder are often asked for by name at the MCA—understandable as they have frequented spaces in the museum for more than 25 years. For this exhibition, we invited Chicago-based artist Alex Chitty to interject in the display of Calder’s work. Here, Chitty proposes a reframing for how we look, think, and interact in both museums and the world at large.

In Becoming the Breeze: Alex Chitty with Alexander Calder, Chitty challenges the conventions of museum display by directly engaging with Calder’s modern artworks. Working in close collaboration with the museum staff to produce this exhibition, Chitty’s interjections evoke the same playful spirit the modernist sculptor brought to his own practice. Much like the breezes that activate Calder’s mobiles, the visible and invisible forces that drive exhibitions—how artworks are stored, who chooses them, and more—are revealed in ways that allow us to see Calder’s work anew.

Becoming the Breeze: Alex Chitty with Alexander Calder is organized by Raven Falquez Munsell, independent curator, and Jack Schneider, MCA Curatorial Assistant, in collaboration with Alex Chitty and with the support of MCA staff.

Generous support for Becoming the Breeze: Alex Chitty with Alexander Calder is provided by the Orbit Fund.Installation view, Alexander Calder: A Retrospective Exhibition, MCA Chicago. October 26 – December 8, 1974
Photo © MCA Chicago, © 2019 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Commons Artist Project:blkHaUS studios
Nov 12, 2019–Mar 1, 2020
The Commons: Second Floor, East Side

Human beings are natural collectors, be it of souvenirs found on vacations, heirlooms passed down from grandparents, or birthday cards received over the years. The items we hold on to reflect our social, cultural, and personal values. Likewise, museums tell stories by presenting all kinds of collected objects, which reflect the way they prioritize different social and cultural values.

In this Commons Artist Project, Folayemi Wilson and Norman Teague’s Chicago-based, socially focused design studio blkHaUS studios asks if understanding the stories of personal collections can transform the priorities of museums in forming their collections.

Historically, collections in contemporary art museums have preserved and revealed specific art historical lineages. These stories, however, are ultimately influenced by the social and political context in which museums collect. Over the last few years, some have deaccessioned works—a practice of collection care where some objects are routinely removed from their collections—with the specific intent to make room for works by artists whose ideas and art have been left out of the established canon, especially artists of color.

Over the course of the exhibition, blkHaUS brings together Chicago community members and local museums. Through thoughtfully constructed interactive experiences they collate and assess patterns of collecting, inviting audiences to share their personal objects and narratives in the Commons and take part in dialogues around their modular artwork the commons table, focusing on key questions regarding collecting, archives, and museum practice. At the end of the project, the artists share their findings with representatives from the MCA and other local museums to provide tools for museums to better reflect the communities with which they share space.

This exhibition is organized by January Parkos Arnall, Curator of Public Programs, with Christy LeMaster, Assistant Curator of Public Programs.

Routes and Territories
Nov 2, 2019 – Apr 19, 2020
Turner Gallery, Fourth Floor, Southwest Side

Human migration takes place across the world, but its stories and circumstances vary. The experiences of people who have left their country of origin to establish a new life elsewhere are rooted in longstanding—and myriad—histories of displacement. Routes and Territories brings together three works from the MCA Collection that address human migration by focusing on a particular region, Latin America, where colonialism and the forced movement of entire cultures have deeply affected communities.

The exhibition is divided into two rooms. Panorama Catatumbo (2012–16) by Noemí Pérez (Colombian, b. 1962) fills the interior gallery space with vast canvases that transport the viewer to Colombia’s lush Catumbo jungle—and centuries-old politics. Pérez’s long, horizontal landscapes recall the “panoramic painting” that sixteenth-century Spanish colonizers used to document and romanticize unfamiliar territories of the American continent. Meanwhile, tucked into the verdant vegetation, scenes of present-day activities outside the law, such as smuggling and paramilitary activity, reflect the current societal complexity of the area between contemporary Colombia and Venezuela, where political and economic struggles take place within the countries’ alluring natural environment.

Fragments of Latin America’s fraught past, both distant and recent, also appear in the additional two works in the exhibition. To make Guamán 1 (2016–17), Andrés Pereira Paz (Bolivian, b. 1986) excerpted images from an illustrated manuscript written in the 1610s by Felipe Guamán Poma de Alaya, a nobleman who documented the brutal treatment of Andean indigenous peoples by Spanish settlers. To recreate the disturbing images, Paz molded wire into the shape of kicking legs, pushing arms, and hands holding a whip and rock. In Las cosas vividas antes de nacer (The Lived Things Before Being Born) (2017), Noé Martínez (Mexican, b. 1986) films his mother and father as they return to the land in Mexico where they once lived. When Martínez’s parents were young adults, changes in governmental policy forced them to migrate to Mexico City and displaced their indigenous community, called Calmecayo, to a neighboring location. For Martínez, excavating this lost history meant investigating his family’s roots. Over the course of the video, we see the couple visit the former site of Calmecayo to reconstruct their memories of their life and indigenous language.

Personal, social, and political dynamics can turn a territory into a site of controversy and loss—and shape individual identity. By constructing a critical interpretation of displacement and migration in Latin America, these artists explore the ways that land retains history and memory, and cultures forge new routes across boundaries.

The exhibition is organized by José Esparza Chong Cuy, former Pamela Alper Associate Curator, with Nina Wexelblatt, former Curatorial Assistant. It is presented in the Turner Galleries on the museum's fourth floor.

The Shape of the Future
Oct 19, 2019–Apr 5, 2020
Carol & Douglas Cohen Gallery: Fourth Floor, North Side

The Shape of the Future features works from the MCA permanent collection that reckon with the dubious dream of a universal design language. Coinciding with the 2019 Chicago Architecture Biennial, the exhibition explores global modernism as a framework for utopia and speculative world making, marked by traces of labor, political fantasy, and cultural turmoil. Highlighting the histories and ideologies embedded in the built environment, these artists reveal the complexity—and at times absurdity—of the modernist project as a collection of disasters and reveries.

The exhibition is organized by Nina Wexelblatt, Curatorial Assistant. It is presented in the Cohen and Stone Family Galleries on the museum’s fourth floor.

Mika Rottenberg: Easypieces
Oct 2, 2019 – Mar 8, 2020

Using absurdist satire to address critical issues of our time, Mika Rottenberg (Argentinian, b. 1976) offers subversive allegories for contemporary life. Her videos and installations interweave documentation with fiction, and often feature protagonists in factory-like settings who manufacture goods ranging from cultured pearls to millions of brightly colored plastic items sold wholesale in Chinese superstores. Presenting several recent projects including Rottenberg’s newest video installation Spaghetti Blockchain (2019), which explores ancient and contemporary ideas about materialism, the exhibition traces central themes in the artist’s oeuvre, such as labor, technology, and the interconnectedness of the mechanical and the bodily.

The exhibition is organized by Margot Norton, curator at the New Museum, New York. The MCA’s presentation of the exhibition has been coorganized by Bana Kattan, Barjeel Global Fellow. It is presented in the Bergman Family Gallery on the museum’s second floor.

Lead support is provided by the Harris Family Foundation in memory of Bette and Neison Harris: Caryn and King Harris, Katherine Harris, Toni and Ron Paul, Pam Szokol, Linda and Bill Friend, and Stephanie and John Harris; the Margot and W. George Greig Ascendant Artist Fund; Zell Family Foundation; Cari and Michael Sacks; and Julie and Larry Bernstein.
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Chicago Works: Assaf Evron
Jul 23, 2019–Jan. 6, 2020

The MCA is pleased to present the first solo US museum exhibition of work by Assaf Evron (Israeli, b. 1977). Running concurrently with the Chicago Architecture Biennial, the exhibition features new and recent works that dwell at the interstice of architecture, ornamentation, place, and image. A former photojournalist, Evron applies what he calls a “photographic logic”—his camera’s capacity to simultaneously document the resolutely volumetric world in all its plentitude and flatten it into an image—to subjects ranging from skyscrapers to underground quarries. Through acts of translation between three and two dimensions, the artist explores how built and natural environments are used as surfaces for projections of cultural, political, and economic ideologies and expressions of power.

This exhibition includes new works based on the artist’s photographs of structures and spaces in both Israel and Chicago that feature the meander, a ubiquitous decorative motif derived from the natural curves of rivers and streams. Untitled (Kikar Rabin, American Accents) (2019) references the Greek key motif, a type of meander, used on the stone pavement of Tel Aviv’s Kikar Rabin (Rabin Square)—the seat of city hall and the site of political protests, state-sponsored rituals, and former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination. Evron’s sculpture meditates on how the Greek key serves as both a surface announcing democratic ideals around civic assembly (associated with ancient Greece) and an urgent reminder of what the artist considers to be democratic failures in Israel. For a series of related photographs, Evron trained his lens on some of Chicago’s iconic skyscrapers, including the southern and eastern facades of the Monadnock Building, the world’s largest office building at the time of its construction in 1893 and an early testament to the technological ingenuity and capitalist ambition during a period of rapid modernization and urbanization. Evron invites viewers to compare the historic and continued significance of the Greek key and other decorative surfaces that meander and meet as images across the world, accruing new significance in each encounter.

The exhibition is organized by Charlotte Ickes, Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Curatorial Fellow. It is presented in the Dr. Paul and Dorie Sternberg Family Gallery and Ed and Jackie Rabin Gallery on the museum’s third floor.

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