12 x 12 x 100: An assessment of the MCA’s emerging artist series

January 3, 2011 · Print This Article

Jessica Labatte: The Brightness, 2010. Courtesy the artist and Golden Gallery, Inc.

Jessica Labatte’s just-closed exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art marked the 100th artist featured in the MCA’s long-running “12 x 12” series, which focuses exclusively on emerging Chicago artists. The series, which was launched in the Fall of 2001, has been going strong for almost a decade now (for more on the history of the 12 x 12 series, see here) . Even a cursory glance at the MCA’s 12 x 12 archive makes it clear that it has showcased some of the best young artistic talents currently working in Chicago (some of the best, but certainly not all of them). Indeed, at times it almost seems like a 12 x 12 show is an inevitability for any Chicago artist who hangs around long enough, though I know that there are plenty of artists still waiting patiently for their 1/12th slice of the MCA pie. After all, who doesn’t want a Museum exhibition on their resume?

And that’s the problem that I have with the 12 x 12 series as a whole. It’s too much about giving every artist their turn, and not nearly enough about ambition, innovation, and critical expansion of an artist’s practice (and an audience’s understanding of it). I’ll be even more blunt: 12 x 12 shows rarely feel special. The work by artists that is exhibited in this smallish gallery off the MCA’s main entryway is no better, and more often than not it’s significantly less good, than the work that that same artist has shown at a local gallery. Take Labatte’s exhibition. I’m a fan of Labatte’s work, and have written positively about it elsewhere. But her MCA show was a bit of a letdown. The exhibition consisted of two large-scale photographs, one of which was exhibited in her recent gallery show at Golden and another large-scale work that to my knowledge hasn’t been exhibited before. Mostly, however, the show was comprised of a large series of smaller-scale photographs that were, in essence, variations on a single idea. Significantly, selections from this same body of work were displayed concurrently at GOLDEN’s solo booth at NADA Miami Beach.

I saw Labatte’s MCA show last weekend, and since then I’ve been trying to parse through why I was so underwhelmed by it – and why I’m not all that surprised at the fact that I was. I don’t think the disappointing aspects of Labatte’s show are due as much to the work itself (which was fine, if not, in my opinion, some of her best). Instead, I think Labatte’s show exemplifies a growing failure on the MCA’s part to think big when it comes to showcasing local artists.

The 12 x 12 series has grown programmatically automated in spirit. It’s as if the MCA believes they need to do little else than place their institutional stamp of approval on the groundwork that Chicago’s gallerists and indie cultural producers have already laid. I have no idea what kind of budget each 12 x 12 project receives but I’ll bet it’s pretty small. This is fitting and often necessary for a Museum project series – up to a point. But in my opinion a museum show by a local artist whose work — let’s be honest — is already well-known to the local art community should be a step beyond the normal gallery fare. A Museum show–even a smaller-scale project-type show–should strive to be ambitious in some way, a knock-your-socks off occasion for the artist to create something that would not otherwise be possible without the museum’s support. I think an important correlary to this last idea is that a 12 x 12 artist should be given the institutional freedom to make a project that is not necessarily the kind of thing that their dealer would want to show (i.e., not easily sellable to collectors).

Jessica Labatte. Surface Effects #2 2010 14 x 17" Archival inkjet print. Golden Gallery, Chicago.

A brochure prepared for every 12 x 12 exhibition would be another step in the right direction. Take the beautifully produced 3-fold brochures for the Hammer Museum’s Project series as an example. The Hammer’s brochures are produced cheaply. They contain full-color illustrations of the artist’s work and, most importantly, each one includes an engaging critical essay written by a museum curator, another artist, or a well-known writer or cultural figure. So not only do Hammer Projects artists get a show, with a curatorial mandate to “think big,” but they get something that lives on afterwards – an essay written about their work that helps expand critical awareness of their practice.  I think the MCA should be doing this too. What if the MCA were to invite emerging, local-area writers and curators to occasionally pen brochure essays for its 12 x 12 artists? Not only would the artist receive lengthy critical assessment of their work, our local writers (many of whom also fall into the “emerging” category) would receive the obvious benefits (and honorarium) of having their work published by a museum. It’s a win-win situation for everyone involved.

If budget is an issue, I think the MCA should cut down on the number of 12 x 12s it does each year (12 is already far too many, in my opinion). Why not do 6 x 6 and up the budget for each show? That way, each exhibition can be more ambitious in scope, include an accompanying brochure/essay, and have more of a lasting impact on the artist and the museum’s audience.

I’m not sure if I would have written these comments at all if an MCA staffperson hadn’t called me at home one evening several weeks ago, shortly before Labatte’s exhibition opened. The staff person asked me if I would be interested in writing about Labatte’s show and/or the fact that it also marked the 100th artist in the 12 x 12 series. So, you know, here you have it, here’s what I think. The MCA staff person was extremely nice and I always welcome such calls, but I couldn’t help thinking that, to a certain extent, the Museum was asking me and other local arts writers to do their interpretive work for them. Those little wall labels provided for each show, which are invariably written in bland museum-ese and which seem to boil every artist’s concerns down to the same three or four issues, are not sufficient. In many ways they do a disservice to artists who have worked so hard to “earn” their MCA slot and are justifiably thrilled at the opportunity to exhibit in one of the country’s top contemporary art institutions.

The MCA needs to do more to make this opportunity count. 100 shows and almost 10 years is long enough to prove the Institution’s commitment to emerging local artists. Now, I think it’s time for the MCA to expand that commitment into something more lasting and meaningful by taking a long look at how they allocate their resources and at what they, and more importantly what their artists, truly want and need from a 12 x 12 exhibition.




Bad at Sports Hosts Cabinet of Curiosities Tuesday Night at MCA

April 19, 2010 · Print This Article

Photo by Greg Stimac

Tuesday April 20th (tomorrow!) at 6pm Bad at Sports hosts this month’s Cabinet of Curiosities at the MCA, an ongoing “grab bag of ‘un-lectures'” presented by different groups from around Chicago. Bad at Sports has curated an evening on the subject of Magic. Stephanie Brooks will speak on the Magic of Language and Love. Industry of the Ordinary (Mat Wilson and Adam Brooks) will explore the magical through an investigation of God, football, and extra-marital conduct. Elijah Burgher will give a talk on Sigil Magic, a system of spell-casting outlined by early 20th century occultist, Austin Osman Spare, and popularized more recently in occult movements such as Chaos Magick and Thee Temple of Psychic Youth. Ross Moreno will perform magic! And John Neff and Ivan Lozano will explicate the magic of materialist magic – presented immaterially.

Participant Bios:

Stephanie Brooks is a conceptual artist living in Chicago.  She has exhibited her work nationally and internationally including exhibits in Berlin, Brooklyn, Chicago, Denmark, London, Los Angeles, New York, Vienna, and Phoenix, AZ.  She is an adjunct professor in the Sculpture department at The School of the Art Institute. Her work is included in the collections of Whitney Museum of American Art, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, Microsoft Corporation, and Philip Morris/Altria. Her recent publication “Love is A Certain Kind of Flower” is published by Green Lantern Press; and upcoming exhibitions include Peter Blum, New York and Portable, Atlanta.

Industry of the Ordinary were formed in 2003. The two artists who make up this collaborative team, Adam Brooks and Mathew Wilson, have long histories as visual and performative artists. They bring complementary sensibilities to their activities.Their projects exist in temporal terms but have also been conceived to function on the web site associated with the collaboration, www.industryoftheordinary.com. They have had solo shows at the MCA and NEIU Gallery and performed at the opening of the Modern Wing of the Art Institute, as well as making work for a wide variety of private, semi-private and public settings. They will have a survey of their practice at the Chicago Cultural Center in 2011.

Elijah Burgher is an artist and writer based in Chicago, IL.  He has most recently exhibited in a solo show at Shane Campbell Gallery in Oak Park, IL and a two-person exhibition at Peregrine Program in Chicago, IL.  He will exhibit work in group shows at Johalla Projects in Chicago and Envoy Enterprises in New York this summer.  He maintains a hybrid studio wall/magick diary blog at http://ghostvomit.blogspot.com/.  Burgher co-founded and co-edited the now-defunct art publication BAT.  He has written reviews and essays for ArtUS and several small art publications in Chicago, as well as contributed writing to Art:21’s guest blog.  He received an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2004, and a BA from Sarah Lawrence college in 2000, where he split his credits amongst Literature, Visual Art, and Cultural Anthropology.

Ross Moreno earned a master’s degree in sculpture from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2005. It was during this time he developed a passion for hotdogs, and he has been living and working professionally in Chicago ever since. Ross’ is a member of the Chicago Chapter of the Society of American Magicians and recently completed the International House of Pancakes Balloon Twisting Training Program. Ross can be seen performing his unique blend of performance art, stand-up comedy, and magic at different venues all over the city. More information about Ross can be found by visiting his website at www.rossmoreno.com.

John Neff produces works of art, organizes exhibitions and practices critical writing. He lives and works in Chicago.

Ivan Lozano is a (mostly) video artist currently working on an MFA in Film/Video/New Media at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. In another life, while living in Austin TX, Ivan was the programming director for the Cinematexas International Short Film Festival, and an arts writer for various publications.




Episode 220: Liam Gillick

November 15, 2009 · Print This Article

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Liam Gillick. That is right, the man whose imagination can take him anywhere. A transparent master of the question of Modernity? Cat lover? Designer/author/theorist/artist/architect? The son Donald Judd never wanted? Enigma cloaked in riddle? Relational Aesthetic celebrity? All these things and more… We at Bad at Sports try and get to the bottom of Liam’s magic in this hour-long interview.

The last element in Liam Gillick’s 4 part global retrospective, “Three perspectives and a short scenario” will run through January 10th at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art.

Accompanying that exhibition, Gillick has produced “The one hundred and sixty-third floor: Liam Gillick Curates the Collection,” which is also be on view.

Liam Gillick emerged in the early 1990s as part of a re-energized British art scene, producing a sophisticated body of work ranging from his signature “platform” sculptures — architectural structures made of aluminum and colored Plexiglas that facilitate or complicate social interaction — to wall paintings, text sculptures, and published texts that reflect on the increasing gap between utopian idealism and the actualities of the world.

His work joins that of generational peers such as Rirkrit Tiravanija and Philippe Parreno in defining what critic Nicholas Bourriaud described as “relational aesthetics,” an approach that emphasizes the shifting social role and function of art at the turn of the millennium. Gillick’s work has had a profound impact on a contemporary understanding of how art and architecture influence, and are themselves influenced by, interpersonal communication and interactions in the public sphere.

This exhibition is presented in association with the Witte de With in Rotterdam, Kunsthalle Zurich, and the Kunstverein in Munich. It is the most significant and comprehensive exhibition of Gillick’s work in an American museum to date, comprising a major site-specific installation in the gallery ceiling as well as a presentation of his design and published works, and a film documenting projects from the entirety of his career. The MCA is the only American venue for the exhibition. Read more




Episode 219: Jeremy Deller and Esam Pasha

November 9, 2009 · Print This Article

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Jermey Deller

Jeremy Deller. That’s right, this week we have one of the world’s most interesting contemporary artists talking about “What It Is,” a show and tour he has worked on, that appeared at The Hammer, the New Museum and now, Chicago’s MCA, featuring a car that was bombed-out during the Iraq war. He is joined by artist Esam Pasha to talk about “What It Is”

Deller’s work often challenges our assumptions about what “is” and “is not” art and uses the banner term “art” to gain access to, extend, push, and develop local cultures. Deller is also the first Turner Prize-winner to appear in the 230 hours of the Bad at Sports show.

Schedule of Participants at the MCA
Jeremy Deller
Esam Pasha
MCA Release about the show




BAS Halloween Watch: See Frankenstein Performed by The Hypocrites at the MCA

October 12, 2009 · Print This Article

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Ah, bloody ladies and their fucked-up bloody baby dolls. I’m still counting down the days to Halloween, and if I can find a babysitter of my own, I am so going to see this woman (actually, Stacy Stoltz as Elizabeth) up close and in person when The Hypocrites perform their version of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein at the MCA Chicago from October 21 – November 1. It will be enacted “in promenade,” which means that performers intermingle with audience member on the same stage. Blurbs the MCA:

Just in time for Halloween, acclaimed Artistic Director Sean Graney and The Hypocrites take on Mary Shelley’s classic novel for an adventurous retelling of Frankenstein. Graney’s world-premiere production is performed in promenade, which places the audience onstage amidst the actors, and combines his inventive and poetic adaptation with the famous 1931 film starring Boris Karloff.

Inspired by the vast scope of Shelley’s novel and the ideas of inventors like Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Edison, and J. Robert Oppenheimer, Graney draws from a variety of literary sources for his adaptation, including Macbeth, Prometheus Bound, Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe, and ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore by John Ford. Graney’s adaptation combines several historical versions of the gothic tale to craft a contemporary literary monster that captures the pure horror and chilling philosophy of creation carried out in the name of human advancement.

It’s like a high art version of Tony & Tina! But seriously, it’s always fun when audiences get a chance to wander around onstage while the performers do their thing–although I always wind up feeling weirdly embarrassed for the actors when I stand too close to them.  At any rate, you can watch a video of Hypocrities founder and Frankenstein director discussing his ideas about how theater relates to Frankenstein below; tickets are $20-25, for MCA members they’re $16-20, and the student rate is $10.