Chicago Photo Tribute #6: Art from a Present Century for a Change

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:

[This coming] weekend is the fourth annual Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo (that “C2E2″ thing I won’t shut up about) at Chicago’s McCormick Place convention center, which my wife and I will be attending for our third time. As a tribute to this fascinating city, and an intro to C2E2 newcomers to provide ideas of what else Chicago has to offer while they’re in town, a few of this week’s posts will be dedicated to out experiences in the Windy City when we’re not gleefully clustered indoors with thousands of other comics and sci-fi fans.

Today’s feature presentation: our visit to Chicago’s own Contemporary Museum of Art, a refreshing, sometimes challenging change of pace from other, more congenial museums. Missing are the ancient masters, the rock stars of previous centuries, the aging artifacts from long-ago-and-far-away B.C., and those nice Presidential portrait painters who weren’t paid the big bucks to confront your assumptions or distort your horizons.

Well before you reach the entrance, the MCA draws your attention with looming, whirling significance.

Mothers, MCA, Chicago

That’s not a sign for a restaurant called Mothers. America has more than enough home-cooking establishments anyway. Martin Creed’s giant-sized “Work #1357”, a.k.a. “Mothers”, rotates in a deliberate pace over your head, allowing its one-word message to dominate the airspace above your head. For value-added fun, stand next to it and tell people it’s your word balloon.

Patient observers can wait for “Mothers” to rotate another 180°, at which point its hidden meaning is revealed:

Mothers in reverse, MCA, Chicago

Unfortunately, deciphering the “Eh, Tom?” at the end was child’s play, but the meaning of “SR” eludes me. So many interpretations, so few concrete clues.

Martin Creed had more work inside the museum. “Work No. 792” argues that art can be constructed from a variety of media, not just a preapproved schoolroom art-supply list. While some might perceive overt symbolism here, I like to think that sometimes a Lego is just a Lego. Notice the foreboding “OM” lurking in the window corner, subliminally inviting the visitor to meditate on the ambiguity.

Work No. 792, Martin Creed, MCA, Chicago

Past the front desk, suspended from the ceiling was Monica Sosnowska’s sculpture “The Fire Escape”, a rare example of art that required neither floors nor walls to reach you.

Monica Sosnowska, The Fire Escape, MCA, Chicago

One of the special exhibits on site during our visit was a collection of work by Jimmy Roberts, a European multimedia artist. One of the more striking items was this setting for a performance-art piece that wasn’t being acted out live that day, though a video recording incorporated into the piece itself gave us the general idea. At least, I thought the recording was part of the piece itself. I failed to examine it closely enough to confirm if the recording of the piece continues playing while the piece itself is being performed behind said recording. One has to wonder if you can peer deeply enough into the recording to see the recording within the recording, and the recording within that recording within the recording, and so on. Potentially infinite art, as it were.

Jimmy Robert, performance art, MCA, Chicago

This isn’t the neglected drawing table of a temperamental slob. The entirety of this is three-dimensional non-traditional art, whose name I’d relay if I hadn’t lost my notes. The strewing and dishevelment evoke themes of art’s sometimes temporary nature, its fragility, and its potential disposability…all qualities that happen to be mortal enemies of the average art museum.

Jimmy Robert, MCA, Chicago

Even if you find the art bewildering or simply not to your taste, few would deny the visual power of their mesmerizing staircase. Seen from the bottom floor, it’s an M.C. Escher migraine.

MCA staircase, Chicago

Standing at the top, you can gaze into the koi pond below. If a particularly rude or uncultured patron looks down their nose at this angle, I bet the koi start burbling, “Jump! Jump!”

MCA staircase, koi pond, Chicago

Later that evening, I captured one final image in transit from the dark, obscured confines of our tour bus. While our bus driver lapped the neighborhood several times in search of an exit, “Mothers” lit up the night, giving us a handy marker for counting the laps.

SREHTO, MCA, Chicago

Everything about this photo is incorrect from just about every conceivable technical standpoint. I realize that much even with my complete lack of formal shutterbug training. In terms of achieving my goal, the shot works in its own way — embodying Chicago’s sheer vibrancy in the blurring imagery as huddled figures cruise through the night, spent from their day-long strolling, hunched and wavering as their energy levels plummet and crash to near-catatonic levels.

Sure, it may be flawed. To me, it’s art.

5 responses

  1. Pingback: Martin Creed in Hull – an interview with the Turner Prize winning artist | Art Yorkshire

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