Chicago is having a moment

Posted by Elly Fishman on Mon, Mar 12, 2012 at 2:00 PM

Hamza Walker

It’s an exciting time for Chicago’s contemporary art scene. At least Hamza Walker, curator of the Renaissance Society and recipient of the 2010 Ordway Prize, thinks so. “This is a moment for Chicago,” says Walker. “Madeleine Grynsztejn has become the Phil Jackson of museum directors. She’s assembling her all-star team: Michael Darling, Naomi Beckwith and Dieter Roelstraete.” While the new curatorial team at the Museum of Contemporary Art has garnered a lot of attention, the art world has also migrated here to see three significant exhibitions that have charged Chicago with new energy.

“Helen Molesworth’s show, 'This Will Have Been: Art, Love & Politics in the 1980s,' is the kind of show that makes me feel like Chicago is connected on a national and international scale,” says Walker. “It is the first show to really historicize the 1980s with a deliberate sense of pastness.” Taking on the 1980s is a daunting task. Molesworth, who is chief curator at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, has been celebrated for the sheer breadth of the exhibition. "This Will Have Been" manages to illuminate the political and cultural significance of a decade often reduced to kitsch and bad hair.

Like “This Will Have Been,” Matt Witkovsky’s “Light Years” at the Art Institute is the first survey of conceptual photography and its role as an amalgamate medium (using techniques from painting, film, and sculpture) during the conceptual art movement. “The scope and ambition of the Helen and Matt’s complimentary shows are carving out a really nice presence in Chicago,” says Walker. Walker also mentions FEAST: Radical Hospitality in Contemporary Art at the Smart Museum as another main-stage exhibition that has attracted national attention. FEAST is a group show (with artists like Theaster Gates, Michael Rakowitz, Laura Letinski, and Rirkrit Tiravanija participating) that elaborates on tradition, cultural practice, and hospitality. While the show, curated by Stephanie Smith, is rooted at the Smart Museum, it also extends beyond the gallery walls with site-specific dinners throughout the city. Smith’s city-as-canvas approach challenges the common complaint that Chicago’s art community is entirely decentralized. FEAST not only introduces new cultural practices, but also unexpected, eccentric, parts of Chicago.

The three exhibitions exemplify Chicago’s assertion as a significant player in contemporary art discourse. And it’s about time. “These are the kinds of shows we should all be talking about,” concludes Walker. “And I take this moment as a sign of things to come.”

Comments (4)

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Great post! NB: Laura Letinsky, not Letinski.

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Posted by Fan on 03/12/2012 at 4:22 PM

How interesting Walker fails to mention the reigning expert on Chicago art among curators at the MCA -Lynne Warren or another major member of that team Julie Widholm Rodrigues. But of course, that's not the first time when it comes to Lynne, he has made this omission......Walker is right though, things are indeed changing. Another sign of things to come is people leaving -(retiring) from positions of power -at 'The Ren' for is to that august institution finding a competent, politically uncompromised new director, not tied to or involved in promoting any educational institutions agenda -meaning faculty or, students. A person of integrity and real rigor who will arrive with a deep and serious background in aesthetics -as opposed to being yet another dedicated follower of fashion.There is always hope.

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Posted by Wesley Kimler on 03/13/2012 at 12:48 AM

wow Wesley Kimler, you never cease to suck.

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Posted by Ello Diarh on 03/13/2012 at 10:54 AM

whoa! the wrathful rebuke of an angry anonymouse! Fear the minion with no name!

Hopefully this thread will each out to artists in the art world here -and not merely art world operators -as the real change here along with everywhere else is how these people are no longer as necessary or, viable-. I am always happy to give credit where its due -yes the curators mentioned here are all relatively new -however, key components at the MCA were also kept in place to create the team that now exists. Politeness you would think would dictate that they also be mentioned. But of course that, is not the case.

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Posted by Wesley Kimler on 03/13/2012 at 11:46 AM
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