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Rewind: 1970’s to 1990’s, Works from the MCA

by Liz Dyla

Rewind at the MCA Chicago

Before you enter Rewind at the Museum of Contemporary Art, you’re confronted with questions. You are asked: What does a work of art tell us about the time in which it was made? When does contemporary art become contemporary art history? You go to a museum to experience art history and it’s up to you to leave it with some answers. That’s how I felt crossing the threshold of this exhibition.

It begins with Mathew Barney, his pieces dealing with both physical and mental transformation, then going on to explore the relationship between language and art with Lorna Simpson’s work. The subject matter turns to social and political gender roles. Then we explore photo as social critique with Alfredo Ajaar. Alfredo Jaar’s Geography = War, 1991, the artist’s gift to the MCA, is a large installation. Duratrans, light boxes, fifty-five- gallon metal barrels and water in a dark room illuminate images of war that set the scene for work that speaks directly to the viewer’s conscience. One highlight of the show is Richard Long’s, Mud Circle, 1996. The piece is site specific, made for the MCA, and it’s the first time in 10 years since it’s been unveiled.

Geography=War, Alfredo Jaar

Constrained to the boundaries of its timeline, the exhibition is connected by material and concept. There is a strong push to contextualize modern art and put it into historical perspective. The only thing I didn’t like about this show is that it felt pretentious. It seemed to say ‘I’m the teacher and you’re the student.’ It’s not the job of a modern museum to make modern art more palatable for the general public but the way this exhibit was set up it felt like an art history lesson. If you’re going to do a retrospective, and make it feel somewhat like a teaching tool, at least let it make some sense to someone who knows nothing about modern art. A little boy, about 9 or 10 years old, and his dad were looking at Barney’s Cremaster 5. The dad looks at the boy, and very sincerely asks ‘What does it mean?’ the boy replies ‘Its just ‘art’ Dad’.

Positively, the focus is on major pieces from artists that have pioneered modern conceptual subject matter, and the first to introduce pop culture iconography into the contemporary art syntax. All works are from the MCA Collection and the entire roster of artists in the exhibition is: Mathew Barney, Lorna Simpson, Alfredo Jaar, Richard Artschwager, Tony Tasset, Richard Long, Vito Acconci, Richard Prince, Mike Kelley, Gillian Wearing, and Sharon Lockhart.

Rewind at the MCA Chicago

This was a good example of the MCA flexing their muscle as a progressive art institution. Using Rewind as an example, it seems the MCA’s credo is the progression of modern art history by examining and critiquing it through its artists. This is what the MCA is all about, challenging the public to define modern art and modern art history in their social and political contexts as well as today’s.

The Museum of Contemporary Art is located 220 East Chicago Avenue, Chicago, IL 60610. Rewind: 1970’s to 1990’s Selected Works from The MCA Collection runs March 13 – September 5, 2010. There are two curator’s tours for Rewind one on Tuesday April 6, 2010 at noon and the other on May 11, 2010 at noon. For general admissions questions (museum hours, admission fee) you can visit the MCA website.