As Madeleine Grynsztejn takes over as Director for the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago (MCA), their ongoing exhibition series "Artists in Depth," perhaps signals the new course that the museum is taking. After showing a "greatest hits" exhibit ("Highlights from the Permanent Collection") this series thoughtfully examines the work of several major artists that the museum has large collections of. This allows the variety of an artist's output to be displayed, so that one gets a sense of the artist, the artist's interests, and can see the way the body of work changes over time. While tourists won't get a chance to see token Warhols, everyone has a chance to become familiar with a few major artists, their major works and even think and learn about them. While Grynsztejn may not have been directly involved in the curating of this exhibition, one hopes that this is a model that the MCA will continue to pursue in the upcoming years.
For me, the unquestionable highlight of the exhibition were the galleries devoted to the artwork of Bruce Nauman. Featuring work from a wide spectrum of media (appropriate to the varied output of the artist) this exhibition functioned as a mini-survey, ideal for introducing people to Nauman's work. There were works in photography, video, neon, plaster and granite to name a few of the varied media. Throughout most of the works, the use of language played a prime role often linking otherwise disparate seeming pieces. Another linking factor was their donor, Gerald S. Elliott, from whose collection most of the pieces on display have come from. Elliott's Stones (1989) was a piece commissioned by and produced specifically for the collector, indicating how important he was in collecting Nauman's art and in supporting the artist through those purchases. Chicago and the MCA are lucky to have received his collection when he passed away in 1994.
I was excited to find on display Nauman's Good Boy, Bad Boy (1985, shown above via YouTube) a work I first experienced at the Centre George Pompidou in Paris as a teenager in high school. I hadn't had much real experience with contemporary art before going to Europe, but when you are there you have to, especially if museum trips are required for class. I very clearly remember standing in front of the video monitors as the actors spoke identical scripts of Nauman's phrases in four variations, for example, "I am a good boy. You are a good boy. We are good boys. This is good." My passing glance turned into standing for many minutes, watching the actors repeat the phrases. Their moods and delivery changing from indifferent, to knowing, to sly, to angry, to shouting. The identical scripts at times synced up, then out, sometimes relating to each other and sometimes not. At some point during the viewing I realized the subjectivity of their feelings and my own, as well as emotions transitional nature. A simple truth, but profoundly realized and arrived at, in the way that only the best art can accomplish. In a foreshadowing of the future, I chose to write on that piece for a college entrance essay.
"Artists in Depth" generally, and the Nauman galleries particularly, exemplifies an opportunity for real learning inside a museum. With the pressures of tourism, ticket sales and the bottom line, many museums across the nation embrace breadth in exchange for depth, often at the expense of their educational mission. Sometimes it feels like there checklist curating going on, something by Warhol, Lichtenstein, Picasso and then an abstract expressionist, Pollock, if you got 'em. Fortunately for us in Chicago, the MCA is currently very clear and obvious in their programming regarding this. Last year they had the highlights, this year it's about learning more. It's still an encouraging start to Grynsztejn's tenure, I hope to see this kind of smart and enriching programming continued.
(Top image : Bruce Nauman, Life, Death, Love, Hate, Pleasure, Pain, 1983. MCA Collection, Gerald S. Elliott Collection. © 2008 Bruce Nauman/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.)
The website will be permanently closed shortly, so please retrieve any content you wish to save.