Museum of Contemporary Art debuts three new exhibits

With the turn of seasons comes a new rotation of exhibits for Chicago’s art scene, and the Museum of Contemporary Art is on board with three new exhibits that all opened May 18.

Theaster Gates’ “13th Ballad”

Theaster Gates’ “13th Ballad” is hard to miss, but easy to overlook. The bulk of the exhibit is in the atrium of the museum, just beyond the front entrance. However, museum visitors might mistake the rows of church pews for museum equipment or event seating.

As is so often the case in modern art museums: determining what is and what is not art can be deceiving. A closer look reveals that the atrium has been deliberately arranged as a chapel by the artist to compare museums to churches as places of contemplation and reverence.

Gates’ materials have an interesting history. Most of the scrap wood and household items in the exhibit originate from the reconstruction of neighborhood homes on the South Side of Chicago. Some of the building materials from this Chicago project were repurposed for the restoration of a historic home in Kassel, Germany and an exhibit called “12 Ballads for Huguenot House.”

“12 Ballads,” and its reworking in “13 Ballads,” explore migration and marginalization in two very different communities: the African American community on the South Side of Chicago and French Huguenots who fled Catholic France to Protestant Germany in the 16th and 18th centuries. 

The MCA exhibit consists of arrangements of building materials from these projects, supplemented by video and audio installations located on the fourth floor. The exhibit will also feature three events titled “The Accumulative Affects of Migration 1-3” June 30, Aug. 11 and Sept. 22.

“13th Ballad” runs through Oct. 6.

“Think First, Shoot Later”

Moving through the atrium into the museum, the first exhibit on the left is another newcomer titled “Think First, Shoot Later: Photography from the MCA Collection”. This exhibit is a curated collection of photographs from the 1960s forward that explores a period in the history of artistic photography in which artists moved away from the spontaneity and dedication to the truth of previous decades in favor of a more critical approach.

Artists featured in this exhibition deal with the mass media and the idea of infinite industrial reproduction. They question the assumption that photography represents objective truth. Through photography, the works range widely in subject and form from staged portraits, extreme close-ups and fabricated optical illusions. Each work intends the viewer to question the veracity of its content.

“Think First, Shoot Later” runs through Nov. 10.

“MCA DNA: Chicago Abstraction, 1986-1995”

Move to the fourth floor to explore the third new exhibit titled “MCA DNA: Chicago Abstraction, 1986-1995.” While “13 Ballads” represents the vision of a single artist, and “Think First, Shoot Later” is united around a common genre and theme, “Chicago Abstraction” is united not by content, but by style, place, time and a close-knit social circle.

These various links are not immediately apparent in the exhibit. In fact, a quick glance will not reveal why the works are grouped together. The museum’s choice to display these works together is based on the social bonds that have developed among this group of Chicago-based artists, most of whom graduated from the School of the Art Institute.

Accompanying the exhibit is a table full of pamphlets and flyers that present a history of the galleries and exhibitions organized and participated in together by the group of artists. Working independently, but living proximally to each other, the MCA identifies this group of artists that includes Jeanne Dunning, Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle, Dan Peterman and Tony Tasset as pioneers in Chicago’s abstract art scene.

“MCA DNA: Chicago Abstraction, 1986-1995” runs through Sept. 29.