Art Letter


9/28/07

Damn. I want to like Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art, and I sure wanted to like their new show Sympathy for the Devil (named for a Rolling Stones' song.)

Yet this show is just another unfortunate example of "curator as artist."  What a wrong idea.  I'm seeing it way too much.  With all the hyperbole in the artworld, curators want to be stars too.  Bad!  Curators should perform a service to artists and connoisseurship.  Plain and simple, curators are servants.

Well that's not what's happening in Sympathy for the Devil.  Curator Dominic Molon delves into remote, inaccessible references, using art in ways not intended by the artists to make a point that invariably does a disservice to the artists and their artwork.

Oh, the point is there all right: that art and rock 'n roll are intertwined, but so many others have explored the relationship of music to art so much better previously, so much more didactically and beautifully. like
the Joint Show from long ago or the Hyde Park Art Center's recent Sun Ra exhibition

This MCA show is the kind that leaves me feeling insufficient, like I'm supposed to comprehend Molon's arcane, indulgent references, when the fact is that it is the show that is insufficient.

Upstairs the MCA is presenting highlights from their collection acknowledging their 40th anniversary celebration. There are some great pieces owned by the MCA. And a lot of them have been paraded out so often I gather that there are a lot of holes.  Yes, there are a few pieces by Chicago artists, but the ratio of great local art shown here does not correspond to the amount of great art made here. One thing that is particularly illuminating is that all the didactic wall text for this show is in the artists' own words.  Now that's innovative and relevant. Bravo.

I want to like the MCA.  I want them to be exemplary. (I do like that they are having
free admission the next 40 days as part of their celebration and are also having scads of Chicago artists on site just about daily.) I bet I've seen every exhibit and been to the museum every month for going on 3 decades. I donated lots of money, pushed them for thirteen years before they began the 12 x 12 series and funded it for the first 2 years. They have some great curators there and they've presented some great shows.  Yet going forward they need to do better, much better.

What is it about government that makes it think it can act in its own self-interest - or for that matter even have a self-interest?

Let's just speak locally and keep it art related. After the insult of the City's public art ordinance that effectively removed the public from public art, we now have the Chicago Park District contending with a lawsuit generated because it trashed a long standing Chicago work of art. 

I'm talking about
Chapman Kelley's wildflower painting, sculpture, garden that has graced Grant Park since Harold Washington was Mayor.  How dumb is it for the Park District to ignore the law and arrogantly alter the art?

Chapman Kelley sued. Chapman Kelley won.  The Park District stands to lose $1.5 million. So many people are trying to do so much to benefit art in Chicago and all by itself Chicago screws the arts again.  Damn.

Paul Klein