New “Centerfield” Post on art:21 blog | Protest Songs and Lullabies: Susan Philipsz in Chicago

March 29, 2011 · Print This Article

Our latest “Centerfield” post is up on Art:21 blog today. This time, I write about the multiple presentations of Susan Philipsz’ works on view right now in Chicago at the MCA and the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum. An excerpt from the piece follows; click on over to read it in full.

…My husband and I realize that it’s kind of weird to sing our kid to sleep with a song about men dying of silicosis, but then again the lyrics to “Rock-a-Bye Baby” are pretty disturbing too. Still, the question of why someone would sing a protest song as if it were a lullaby was very much on my mind during several recent encounters with the work of Scottish artist Susan Philipsz. She has three installations on view right now in Chicago: We Shall Be All and Internationale at the Museum of Contemporary Art and Pledge at the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum on the University of Illinois, Chicago campus. The winner of this year’s Turner Prize, Philipsz is widely acclaimed for her use of sound — and more specifically of voice — in works of art that engage the history and culture of protest. Almost all of Philipsz’s installations rely on her own, untrained vocals to weave densely allusive tapestries that commemorate the experiences of those struggling for a better world — something we don’t normally associate with the soothing nature of lullabies.

Commissioned by the MCA, Phillipsz’s We Shall Be All references Chicago’s labor movement and its legacy of social reform in the context of worldwide struggles for worker’s rights. I think it’s partly the fact that public-sector labor unions are so much in the news nowadays, due to the efforts of numerous GOP legislators to quash the collective bargaining power of those unions (or even its mere visual representation) that lends such a sharp sting to Philipsz’s Chicago presentations. Consisting of several speakers and a projection screen arranged within a completely darkened room, We Shall Be All takes its title from Melvyn Dubofsky’s We Shall Be All: A History of the Industrial Workers of the World. This book provides the definitive history of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), the Chicago-born labor association whose influence was especially strong during the years before World War I. In particular, Philipsz’s piece alludes to the 1886 Haymarket Massacre in Chicago, whose anniversary is commemorated on May 1st of each year in honor of International Workers Rights.

(Read more).

 




MCA Talk with Michael Darling, Michelle Grabner, and Lane Relyea

December 7, 2010 · Print This Article

Can I just say once again how grateful I always feel to people and organizations who post videos and/or audio of their panels, talks, conversations, etc. online? For near-agoraphobes like me, it’s a lifesaver. This talk happened locally at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago–although I fear it’s just another variation on the old ‘what does it mean to be a Chicago artist’ chestnut, hopefully it’ll be of interest to many of you who live outside our fair city as well:

Home Base: Michael Darling, Michelle Grabner, and Lane Relyea in Conversation
What does it mean to characterize an artist by where they live and work? And similarly, what does it mean for a collection to be of a place — to reflect a museum’s history and artistic community, to be shaped by the dynamics of a city, to be used by and be seen as part of the locale where it lives? The MCA’s new James W. Alsdorf Chief Curator Michael Darling, artist and writer Michelle Grabner, and critic Lane Relyea delve into these questions, looking at examples from the United States and internationally.

The MCA just made it available on their “MCA Interactive” page (where–I love this–they provide a helpful answer to the question ‘What is a Podcast’?). The talk is available in two forms – MP3 download and/or streaming media. Click here to access the download. There are a ton of other MCA talks and walk-thru type discussions on the download/streams page for you to peruse, as well.




Center Field on art:21 blog: Interview with Derek Chan

October 26, 2010 · Print This Article

Our latest post for our Center Field column on art:21 blog is up! This week, Martine Syms talks to Derek Chan, whose 12 x 12 exhibition at the  Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago opens on November 6th. A brief excerpt:

Derek Chan and I have been friends for a little over four years. We both moved from Los Angeles to Chicago in the Fall of 2005. We had several mutual friends and emailed back and forth a few times but never met up. I spent that summer in Los Angeles and unknowingly started talking to Derek at a party. Inevitably, our conversation turned to Chicago and I laughed when I realized that this was the guy I’d had so much trouble making time for. Since then we’ve stayed close, meeting often to check in with each other, share food, and hang out.

One of Derek’s large abstract landscapes, Eclipse, was stored at my house for a year. I was happy to look at it every day. While works like Eclipse captured autobiographical moments with grand gestures, Derek has since focused his attention on the quotidian. During his residency at Theaster Gates’ Dorchester Project in South Chicago, Derek began making daily ink drawings to document his thoughts and share them with his fellow residents. All 260 images are available for download on Derek’s website. As part of the Whitney Biennial, Derek presented Being/Becoming, a durational performance that included ink drawings and temporary interventions to the Whitney’s courtyard. Derek developed a system of marks, influenced by Tibetan rituals, to record the passage of time and his interactions with museum visitors.

Derek Chan, “Being/Becoming” at the Whitney Biennial, 2010. Courtesy the artist.

Cries and Whispers from the Salt Song Trail is a continuation of this practice. This forthcoming book chronicles his recent journey to the Four Corners region of Arizona through drawings and writings about the sacred places he visited. Golden Age, the project space I run in Chicago, is publishing Cries and Whispers in conjunction with Derek’s upcoming exhibition Derek Chan: A Way of Life at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago (November 6 – 28, 2010). Continue reading.




Interview with Caleb Lyons: Piracy and ‘Abstraction in the 21st Century’

July 27, 2010 · Print This Article

Chicago artist Caleb Lyons, who was interviewed way back when on Episode 95 of our podcast, recently had a solo exhibition at the MCA Chicago as part of the Museum’s 12 x 12 series. Lyons and his partner in life and crime Kathryn Scanlan are the forces behind Old Gold — the latter now continuing operations with new presentations at Heaven Gallery in Wicker Park. Caleb also co-directed the late great artLedge with Brandon Alvendia, and is involved in so many ongoing projects that I could never list them all in full here. The following interview focuses solely on his own, recent artworks, which include paintings, a video (of the nude artist, surrounded by potted plants, offering himself up as a readymade artist’s model), and a mixed media installation of various cactii potted in handcrafted pipe-pots (or, um, pot-pipes? ANYWAY). It was a smart and provocative show, but unfortunately I was only able to catch it the last week it was on view, hence the un-timeliness of the following interview. Lucky for all of us, Lyons’ paintings are now on view at  Golden’s new auxilliary space, located at 3319 N. Broadway Ave, Chicago. (I also found some excellent pictures of Caleb’s work in situ at Golden on Strange Closets blog, so go check it out the excellent photographs on that blog and then head on over to Golden and see the actual works of art in person!).

The wall text for Lyons’ MCA show described him as a kind of Jack of All Trades, an artist whose practice “encompasses a diverse range of activities–gardening, DJing, and working collaboratively with other artists–reflecting his interest in the idea that ‘everyone is an artist’ and that everything can constitute an artwork.” Yet Lyons’ MCA show was called, somewhat ironically (and then again, somewhat not), “Abstraction in the 21st Century,” a title that was clearly designed to provoke a certain amount of bemusement and even incredulity on the part of viewers, given the relatively short history of 21st century painting in general. This provocative title was the first thing I asked Caleb about during our written exchange about his show, which was conducted several weeks ago while Lyons was on residency at The Philadelphia Art Hotel (Bad at Sports’ SF correspondent Patricia Maloney also happens to be on residency there this summer). I’m tremendously grateful to him for taking time out of his very busy schedule to answer my questions with such thoughtfulness and care.

Installation view of Caleb J. Lyons' exhibition at the MCA Chicago.

Claudine Ise: “Abstraction in the 21st Century” is a ballsy title for an exhibition – at least for an exhibition by an individual artist at a major contemporary art museum. I really like the way this title appropriates the language of the encyclopedic museum (more specifically, the language that this type of museum would use to introduce its gallery exemplifying Abstraction in art), but here it’s used to frame a solo show by an emerging artist. I am also intrigued by the fact that such a title implies the promise of a representative sampling of artists – which of course it doesn’t. So can you tell me a bit about why you chose this title for your MCA solo exhibition?

Caleb Lyons: Well I do have balls, or a pair of testicles–they were on exhibit in my nude video: The Artist Is The Model: Do It Yourself, Still Life, Amateur Hour, Idiot Box, which was riffing on the ego and vulnerability of the artist, as well as the idea that through our immediate technologies everyone has become a producer, the “artist” has become the “model citizen” for exploitation.

I am interested in the way museums and other institutions feel the need to categorize and define genres for the public. It becomes generic. I use the generic as a catalyst in my own work –– as in, ‘this is what an American abstract painting is supposed to look like’. I wonder why we feel like we need themes so badly. Will we really find it that hard to make connections otherwise? If museums didn’t try so hard to define things, would the public be confused or would the public figure it out for themselves?

The presumptuous title also suggests that the work will be heroic in scale and intention, and I find it funny that the work is very modest, handcrafted and is both abstract and representational. There is no abstraction without representation and no representation without abstraction.

Caleb Lyons. Untitled document, from "Real Pirates."

I think it is a symptom of our time (with best-of lists, and our need to categorize and rate the arts), the idea that abstraction would be surveyed only ten years into the century. The title also attempts to allude to our society’s growing disconnect with reality, and our increasing (as far as I can tell) loss of power and freedom. There is something attractive and deceptive about the anonymity of abstraction. Maybe in such an audacious title for a small solo exhibition some viewers will find the absurdity in genre-defining elsewhere, or maybe they will just think I am a pretentious asshole; either way, I’m happy. Read more




MCA Appoints Michael Darling as New Chief Curator

April 29, 2010 · Print This Article

The MCA Chicago announced today that Michael Darling, modern and contemporary curator at the Seattle Art Museum, will be its new James W. Alsdorf Chief Curator. Darling will leave the Seattle Art Museum, where he’s worked since 2006, in July. Before that Darling worked at L.A.’s Museum of Contemporary Art. Here’s an excerpt from the MCA’s press release:

Madeleine Grynsztejn, Pritzker Director of the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA), Chicago, announced today that Michael Darling has been appointed the new James W. Alsdorf Chief Curator, concluding a comprehensive international search. Darling is currently the Jon and Mary Shirley Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Seattle Art Museum (SAM) and plans to assume his new responsibilities at the MCA on July 12, 2010.

“Michael Darling is the perfect creative leader to evolve the MCA as a preeminent contemporary art destination in terms of reputation, influence, relevance, and visibility,” said Grynsztejn. “I am looking forward to joining with Michael to realize a compelling new vision for the MCA. We share the same goal to forge an artist-activated platform that engages audiences by producing art, ideas, community, and conversation around the creative process. His exhibitions and acquisitions are always innovative and relevant, yet grounded in a larger art historical framework, and fueled by his distinctive passion, knowledge and integrity.”

Darling said, “I am honored to lead the MCA’s curatorial team and to build on the museum’s momentum. I look forward to actively participating in the cultural community of Chicago — a world-class city with a long-standing appreciation for the vanguard — and balancing a local perspective with a global outlook. I am excited to advance the MCA’s tradition of groundbreaking exhibitions and programming into a 21st-century multidisciplinary museum model.”

And so on, blahbity blahbity press release so on. Although I think this is a fairly boring, business-as-usual kind of pick on the MCA’s part, my view was ameliorated somewhat by reading the glowing praise that respected arts writer Jen Graves of The Stranger has for Darling. She writes:

What distinguished Darling from the others was his genuine commitment to exploring and revealing the connections between here and abroad. He was seemingly at every opening, and his exhibitions and acquisitions reflect that he did not simply live and work here, he thought here.

Grave’s assessment strongly suggests that Darling will not be another “Chicago curator” in name only who dials it in from elsewhere. I’m sure he’ll be good at his job (what constitutes ‘failure’ when it comes to museum curation anyway?), but I find myself caring less and less about who holds what position at big institutions lately. In the three years that I’ve been living in Chicago, I’ve become way more interested in the curatorial programs of Chicago’s college and university spaces and nonprofit art centers, and in the plans and activities of the (relatively) unsung curators and administrators who work there. There’s just more room for interesting failures and fresh insights in those spaces (although they, like any organization, require increased funding, donations, membership and public support to keep doing good work). Maybe it’s just the mood I’m in but…my whole take on the “big news” of today is one big meh.

Michael Darling. Photo by Julian Calder.