Review: ‘Body Doubles’ at Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago

Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) premiered a new exhibition last Saturday, titled “Body Doubles.”  The exhibit’s focus is on the body and its shifting identity, calling to attention issues of gender, race, and class.  As per the labels, “Body Doubles” recognizes that the body is not fixed, but is rather in a perpetual state of flux and transformation.

The collection, organized by Michelle Puetz, explores the often-complicated relationships that the business of body-having creates.

“Multiple bodies can have one identity, and one body can have multiple identities,” the label maintains. “Body Doubles” plays along well with the MCA’s celebrated “David Bowie Is…” exhibit, each exploring the fluidity of gender and identity.

“Body Doubles” is organized around two contemporary American video pieces.  The first, Wu Tsang’s “Mishima in Mexico” (2012), is a 15-minute video that alternates between two narratives: one in which Tsang and collaborator Alexandro Segade go to a hotel to write the film’s script, and the other the film itself, each spliced into one another.  A red or green light in the back of the screening room signals the shift between reality and fiction.

Yukio Mishima was an iconic Japanese writer, and this work attempts to fuse the Japanese writer’s narrative of an affair between a high-society woman and peasant with stylistic elements of Mexican telenovelas. Tsang and Segade switch roles, creating a sense of ambiguity in dimensions of gender, sexuality and ethnicity.

“Desire is so depressing,” Tsang said in the film, sitting on a hotel bed storyboarding. “It makes me want to kill myself.”

Lorna Simpson’s “Chess” (2012) is a continuous video installation.  On one wall, Simpson is dressed in traditionally feminine clothing, engrossed in a solo game of chess.  Adjacent to this projection is Simpson dressed as a man, also playing chess alone.  Jason Moran is projected onto an opposing wall, playing the piano.  These scenes are fragmented into five mirrored reflections, referencing a famous photograph of Marcel Duchamp.  Simpson’s dual identities come with their own mannerisms: as time passes, the installation raises questions of gender and aging.

The rest of the exhibition is made up of painting and sculpture. Notably, a dual Richard Prince and Cindy Sherman photography piece features the two artists posed in the same suit, calling attention to the performative nature of gender.

Artists Jean Arp, Valerie Belin, Jeanne Dunning, Robert Gober, Rashid Johnson, Gülsün Karamustafa, Mike Kelley, Paul McCarthy, Bruce Nauman, Christina Ramberg, Collier Shorr, Xaviera Simmons, and Gillian Wearing are also featured.  When it comes to cultural diversity, the exhibit is true to its mission.  Body Doubles includes a wealth of narrative about gender, ethnicity and the body.

Michelle Puetz will deliver a talk about the organization of “Body Doubles” Nov. 18.  The exhibit will be at the MCA until April 19, 2015.