Among its many accomplishments, the pioneering movement known broadly as Conceptual Art succeeded in bringing photography definitively into the mainstream of contemporary art. Artists such as Ed Ruscha, Bruce Nauman, John Baldessari, Eleanor Antin, and Sigmar Polke took up the production of new photographs—as opposed to using found images from mass media and consumer culture like the Pop artists—and placed photography firmly on an equal basis with avant-garde painting and sculpture. They did this by exploiting the photographic image in every way possible: in books, slides, canvases, films, and room-size installations. The results were liberating for all the arts and made it possible for contemporary art to become a field without a medium.
Light Years is the very first museum exhibition to examine the pathbreaking role photography played in these critical years. More than 140 works by 57 artists will fill Regenstein Hall in an exhibition that will only be seen in Chicago. Bringing to the fore work from the Italian group Arte Povera as well as artists from Eastern Europe who are rarely shown in the United States, Light Years also includes many pieces that have not been seen in decades by such major artists as Mel Bochner, Tony Conrad, Michael Heizer, Gordon Matta-Clark, and Emilio Prini.
As befits this innovative presentation, a special opening event is planned for Friday, December 9. Beginning at 6:00 p.m., the Art Institute will project Andy Warhol’s 1964 film Empire—a single, eight-hour-long nighttime take of the Empire State Building—from the museum’s Bluhm Family Terrace across Millennium Park to the upper stories of the Aon Center. Warhol’s work thus sets the stage for the artists featured in Light Years who redrew the boundaries of both photography and
Catalogue: An extensive catalogue accompanies the exhibition, with a lead essay by Matthew S. Witkovsky, curator and chair of photography at the Art Institute, and further contributions by Mark Godfrey, Robin Kelsey, Anne Rorimer, Giuliano Sergio, and Joshua Shannon, as well as artist Allen Ruppersberg.
Sponsor: Major funding for this exhibition is generously provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art and the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. Additional funding is provided by the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation; the Mondriaan Foundation, Amsterdam; and the Glenstone Foundation. Major funding for the catalogue is generously provided by the Lannan Foundation with additional funding provided by Sotheby’s. The outdoor screening of Andy Warhol's Empire is presented with a grant from the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts. Generous support is also provided by the Exhibitions Trust: Goldman Sachs, Kenneth and Anne Griffin, Thomas and Margot Pritzker, the Earl and Brenda Shapiro Foundation, Donna and Howard Stone, and Melinda and Paul Sullivan.