Francis Bacon, Study (detail), 1949
In honor of the MCA / Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago’s 50th anniversary, the museum presents We Are Here, a major three-part exhibition drawn from the MCA’s significant collection of 20th and 21st century art. The multigenerational artists featured in the exhibition have lived and worked around the world and create works in a broad range of media, including painting, sculpture, installation, sound, film, and video. We Are Here reexamines these works from the vantage point of our present moment, declaring that art and culture have the power to change the way that we see and act in the world.
Huang Yong Ping, Pentagon, 2007
The exhibition overturns the traditional model of the anniversary exhibition, focusing instead on the relationship between artist and viewer. Museums’ collections and the knowledge and ideas they represent are not static. They are assembled over time, encapsulating the momentary interests of their curators, donors, and publics. The meaning of a work may shift based on a viewer’s perspective or the passage of time. To demonstrate this idea, three of the museum’s curators mined our collection to develop We Are Here in three sections based on themes that resonate with our time and relate to our inner, outer, and social lives.
Anne Collier, Untitled, 2009
I Am You, located on the museum’s second floor, gathers works that underscore how each of our unique social and natural landscapes shape a diverse cultural environment. It includes works by recognized artists such as Francis Bacon, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Marisol, and Shirin Neshat, as well as younger artists, such as Jonathas de Andrade and Lynette Yiadom-Boakye—all of whom rely upon personal experiences to illuminate the vastness of contemporary life. It presents our interior universe as part of a larger constellation of individuals.
Rashid Johnson, Glass Jaw, 2011
Two additional parts of the exhibition, You Are Here and We are Everywhere, open on the museum’s fourth floor. You Are Here examines how the role of the viewer has changed over time, especially since the 1960s, from passive onlooker to active participant. Artists such as Pierre Huyghe and Robert Morris forge a new physical relationship between the viewer and the art object. Other artists, including Huang Yong-Ping, explore representations of political figures and political power—specifically, how the body may be subjected to power.
Marisol, Six Women, 1965–66
We Are Everywhere, showcases artists who borrow from popular culture—soup cans, movie stills, neon signage, or floor tiles—to consider the ways that our social lives inflect our perceptions of the world around us. Artists such as Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg, and Bruce Nauman, as well as Chicago Imagists Karl Wirsum and Roger Brown, re-present and reveal social realities that may otherwise go unnoticed. Artists such as Stan Douglas, Cindy Sherman, Gillian Wearing, have engaged with new forms of media to extend the reach of their own viewpoints and experiences. Barbara Kruger and Lawrence Abu Hamdan further encourage us to think twice about the power structures in which we invest, be they the notion of the state or the corporation.
Together, these three independently curated yet interrelated “chapters” invite viewers to bring their own perspectives to the museum’s collection and to think about how to be active participants in the meaning of art and its making.
I Am You is organized by José Esparza Chong Cuy, Pamela Alper Associate Curator; You Are Here is organized by Naomi Beckwith, Marilyn and Larry Fields Curator; and We Are Everywhere is organized by Omar Kholeif, Manilow Senior Curator and Director of Global Initiatives, at MCA.