Thursday, July 26, 2007

Chicago: The Museum of Contemporary Art.

This was my last day in Chicago, and I had some decisions to make. I had a list of museums to consider, and I knew i wouldn't have time to see more than one (we got moving late this morning). I was certainly tempted by the description of the Museum of Surgical Science. Who wouldn't want to see a display of the torture devices doctors have used to pry open the various parts of the human body? But to be honest, that's more the type of thing you'd see if you had a full week in the city. The same goes for the Museum of Holography- it's sure to please even the most jaundiced eye. Indeed I don't know anyone that wouldn't enjoy watching a 3D rendering of Dr. Jekyl's transition into Mr. Hyde. But if I can only see one, I have to consider the major players. So the real choice was between the Art Institute or the Museum of Contemporary Art. I asked myself if I should see the established classics, or be adventurous and sift through the possible additions to the canon. Now I have to say that one of my favorite paintings is actually housed at the Art Institute- Edward Hopper's "Nighthawks". Yet my desire to research the work of living artists ultimately won out, and I chose the MCA.

Upon entrance to the art museum, I almost immediately questioned my decision. I discovered that this institution doesn't allow patrons to photograph anything at all. Of course the prohibition has to do with copyright concerns. Hey... I understand that artists have to get paid. But it certainly makes remembering the highlights difficult. To make matters worse, I didn't bring anything to write with. So it's awfully difficult to come up with a substantial recap of the work I saw. Even remembering specific artists is difficult. This means that the viewer is likely to mention only the artists he/she was already familiar with before the visit, and that likelihood does a disservice to lesser-known creators. It would be one thing if you could take home brochures for every exhibit on display. But that's not the case with the MCA. I felt only a bit better when I learned the admission price was "only" $10.

Nevertheless I ventured into the 2nd Floor (which was the level on which I entered). It featured "Escultura Social: A New Generation of Art from Mexico City". Sadly, I can't recommend this show. There was little that I found even remotely interesting. I almost busted my head open walking into a wall while trying to see a video installation that turned out to be footage of a big cat's roaring, glow-in-the-dark teeth. I saw sculpture made with "found materials"- flags protruding from empty 40oz. beer bottles. There were posters and paintings of iconic media personas tattooed with Mexican gangsta markings (by a certain Dr. Lakra). And there was a series of photo comparisons juxtaposing stills from the cult movie "The Warriors" with newspaper images of Mexico City gang members. I gave that the benefit of the doubt, since 'The Warriors" is a sentimental favorite of mine. Mind you, i am only mentioning the things that I wasn't bored by. There's got to be more art of value in such a large city... especially considering its people appreciate snuff magazines as much as the Japanese are fascinated by Michael jackson. I honestly expected better.

Fortunately my experience improved as I ascended the staircase. On the third floor there was another video installation. This one depicted the artist (Pipliotti Rist) swimming, alternatively besuited and naked, in clear sea-like waters. That footage was comlimented by a cloudscpe. It was all presented on two screens on adjacent walls, joined together and resulting in a symmetrical image. Rist accompanied the visuals with her version of Chris Isaak's "Wicked Game". For much of the song's length, she sang in a sultry manner. But for its latter part, she added a backing track of herself screaming the lyrics. This may sound ridiculous, but it worked. I was entranced and stayed for enough time to hear the song several times through.

On the top floor there was a collection of photographs called "MCA Exposed: 1967-2007". This was an extraordinarily well-curated selection of some of the most compelling works created in the medium. I generally make it a point not to look too hard at other people's photo-work. I'd like to retain my (purely self-held) image as a true "outsider artist". If I remain ignorant of the tradition I'm working within, I can continue to claim this trendily goofy appellation. So what the hell was I doing looking at that stuff? I was feeling pretty damned humbled. I'd like to be able to point you toward the many outstanding artists represented in this show. But I can't for the reasons I've already mentioned above. I can say that I got to see the work of Cindy Sherman and Larry Clark (co-director of "Kids") in person. I've been curious about the output of both of them for awhile. Having been satisfied by their photos, as well as the many other fine examples in "MCA Exposed", I can truly say that my decision to go to the MCA was ultimately validated. Once we were done looking, we took another long drive about town in search of our own photo subjects. If I thought that an account of our exploration warranted exposition, I'd stay up too late and contnue this post. But I don't, and I have a long drive tomorrow.

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