Genius at Work: 29 MacArthur Fellows Show Their Art In Chicago


CHICAGO – On a sunny June morning, artist Mel Chin nearly hit his head as the massive steel frame hanging from a telehandler was being carried into place on the front steps of the building. Civil Arts Church on a quiet South Side block.

The crew grimaced, but Chin deftly bowed and looked unimpressed. He took the piece, which was a piece of art in the shape of an elaborate bank vault-style door, and helped push it into place. Request.

Perhaps one hallmark of being a genius – or at least the recipient of the “genius grant” as the MacArthur fellowship is colloquially known – is a high degree of spatial awareness along with a lack of fear.

Chin is one of 29 visual artist MacArthur fellows who have contributed to a biennial-style exhibition across this city that celebrates the 40th anniversary of the fellowship initiated by the Chicago-based John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation in 1981.

“Towards the Common Cause: Arts, Social Change, and the 40-Year-Old MacArthur Fellows Program” includes more than two dozen shows and custom-built installations.

Chin’s “Safehouse Temple Door” will join renowned painter and Chicago resident Kerry James Marshall’s upcoming field-specific work at community center BBF Family Services. At the DuSable Museum of African-American History, black hollow figures of Black Walker dramatically cover a circular wall on a circular wall.

“Towards the Common Cause” officially opens on Thursday, but exhibition start dates are staggered, with some already on display and others arriving in the fall.

Two of the main group exhibitions, Intelligent Art Museum at the University of Chicago and Stony Island Arts Bank, opening this week and featuring nearly a dozen artists each, including Nicole Eisenman, David Hammons, Trevor Paglen and Carrie Mae Weems.

The exhibition was initiated and funded by MacArthur with a $1.23 million grant to organizer partner Smart; Approximately $500,000 in additional funding and in-kind support came from other donors.

Chin’s Door is an example of the art of social practice, the core concept of the show. “When you do social practice, it’s about permission and engagement,” said the Asheville, NC-based artist.

In her case, she worked with the Sweet Water Foundation, an innovative nonprofit neighborhood development center a block away from the church. Among other projects, the foundation is transforming the artistic currency Chin calls “Fundreds” into a community design center where they will make hand-drawn versions of a $100 bill as part of a collaborative action to combat lead pollution.

While social practice is ubiquitous in the art world these days, it is rarely seen on this scale. “In a way, the show is a single social practice exercise,” said Don Meyer, MacArthur senior program officer for the fellowship program.

But organizing so many stakeholders has its challenges. “Partnerships are really tough,” said Abigail Winograd, the curator MacArthur hired to organize the show. “That’s why museums don’t normally do this – it’s insane.”

Physically, “Towards the Common Cause” extends not only to traditional gallery spaces, but also to housing projects and bus stops.

“We want to meet people where they are,” Winograd said.

Paradoxically, the exhibition of artists celebrated for their individual achievements is deliberately messy, collaborative, and community-focused, but fits that theme, an exploration of how resources can be shared.

“The 19th century idea of ​​solitary genius has disappeared, and collaboration is increasingly seen as important,” Meyer said.

Winograd ran with this idea and then some. “In a way, it’s crowdsourced curation,” he said. “I even left the control to the young people.”

Participants in the Smart Museum’s youth program learned about the posters created by the Los Angeles-based painter Njideka Akunyili Crosby, which are on both the exterior and exterior of her future home. National Mass Housing Museum As well as the Minnie Riperton Apartments, which are part of the Chicago Housing Authority.

“youth moved This project,” Akunyili Crosby wrote in an email, noting that they even did site exploration during their remote working relationship. After looking at some of his previous work, the teenagers decided on what he calls “intimate family moments and places.”

Akunyili Crosby stated that he knew he wanted to “partnership with Chicagoans” for foreign affairs that would last for months and said, “They should have a say”.

Tiffanie Beatty, director of arts, culture and public policy at the National Museum of Public Housing, said that given that many housing projects, such as Chicago’s Cabrini-Green, have been damaged, the museum’s goal is to ensure that “history and culture are not erased.” has been demolished in the last few decades.

“We love working with people like Njideka to tell the story of the house,” he added.

One of the many hurdles of the day for Winograd and his group was going back and forth between the Smart team and the Chicago Housing Authority over the type and size of fastener used to hang the banners on the facade of the Riperton Apartments.

“It all comes down to the difference between half an inch and three-eighths,” said Ray Klemchuk, Smart’s head assembler, dressed in practical overalls.

The scale and scope seemed to impress another fellow MacArthur contributor, Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle of Chicago, known for his community-focused projects, who appeared on Sweet Water while maintaining the Chin installation.

“I was actually surprised by this, given the epidemic. It all comes together,” he said.

Manglano-Ovalle’s contribution to “Common Cause” Part of the “Well” series, “Hydrant, 41°47’22,662” N — 87°37’38.364” W.” It is a functional hydrant built on the Sweet Water Foundation’s main property and used in part for the foundation’s extensive farming operation.

“The original well was a response to Conceptual land art like Walter De Maria’s.Vertical Earth Kilometers,’” Manglano-Ovalle spoke of his mostly clandestine, underground work. “What if this gesture turns into a benefit?”

Once the wells are installed, they become the property of their owners, but “wells cease to be works of art if any money changes hands for water,” he said.

The persistence of the hydrant is another fundamental aspect of many of the “Towards the Common Cause” installations.

“Part of the problem with the biennial model is that it happens and disappears,” Winograd said. “That wasn’t the point here. The idea was to use this art as a community resource.”

A few days ago, Rick Lowe was in Chicago to work on his piece “Black Wall Street Journey,” a title referring to the center of Black economic power destroyed in the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre in Oklahoma.

Lowe’s best known Project Row Houses In Houston, where he is based, he said the focus is on “reviving and rebuilding the commercial centers of black communities.”

To that end, it stood on 51st Street near the Green Line stop at El in the Bronzeville area, which was famous as the Black commercial and cultural center in the early 20th century.

Here’s one of Lowe’s three monitors showing information about his black wealth and entrepreneurship will be placed in the window Urban Junction, a Black community development nonprofit. (The other two will be at Smart and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.)

“The problem with most statistics on this is that they compare Black wealth to white wealth,” Lowe said. “By doing this you can’t get into the nuances of changes in the Black community.”

Lowe works with Urban Juncture to raise money to fund programs like entrepreneurial networking events will go beyond this exhibition. The ongoing programming “fits my idea of ​​social sculpture,” Lowe said. “In a way, it’s a performance.”

Lowe’s project, like many in the “Toward Common Cause,” focuses on Chicago’s South Side. But Wendy Ewald’s work “Everyday Life and Dreams in a Pandemic: A Project with the Centro Romero Youth Program” was based on a partnership with a North Side organization. Center RomeroProvides legal services and other assistance to immigrants, most of them Latino .

Ewald, who lives in New York’s Hudson Valley and is known for his photographic collaborations, noted that he has been dealing with social practices for over 50 years.

“What I was doing when I started was not considered art,” he said. “Over time, people understood this better.”

Collaborating with Centro Romero’s youth, first remotely and later personally, Ewald asked them to photograph and write about their lives. He scans and refines his work by combining images and text. The artworks revealed this fall will be on display at selected local bus stops and at the Weinberg/Newton Gallery in the River West neighborhood.

Ernesto Aparicio, 13, said he learned the term “still life” by working with Ewald.

Aparicio said, “The best thing I’ve ever gotten was a lot of stuff that represented my family and me.” Said. “There was a pot for making beans, a guitar, some chocolate we used, and a tablecloth that my grandmother brought from Mexico.”

Other students linked their experiences to the wider world, finding the common cause of the show’s name in events that moved millions. Also 13-year-old Marestela Martinez snapped a photo of a mural depicting George Floyd, the Black man killed by police in Minneapolis last year.

“It’s not just the photos, it’s the whole story and text around it,” Martinez said. “I wrote that George Floyd’s daughter will grow up to look after her father’s last moments.”


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