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MCA Chicago: field notes

Yesterday on my first foray into the city of Chicago I found myself at the doorstep of the Museum of Contemporary Art. Like most contemporary art museums I’ve visited it isn’t very large. It had a few focused exhibits on individual artists, such as Andy Warhol, as well as a collection of works focused on the city of Chicago. The most interesting exhibition, however, was the exhibition on the top floor The Way of the Shovel: Art as Archeology. 

Field Guide Cover

Cover for “The Way of the Shovel” by Mark Dion

A recent trend in contemporary art has been to examine the intersection of art, history, archeology, and just about everything else that could brush against those themes. The curator, Dieter Roelstraete, did an admirable job selecting works that flowed through different themes. Some of the most striking subjects were Sigmund Freud, Colonialism, and Archives. More on these subjects in a later post.

Summary from the Curator.

Summary from the Curator.

Despite all of the actual art in the exhibition the object that pulled at my attention over and over was the Field Guide. It was not well marked as an item one could take at the beginning of the exhibit but I noticed it and took one. It was craftily constructed with perforated pages that revealed deeper messages and detailed graphs for greater understanding of the exhibit. It included quotes that leant meaning to various ideas woven throughout the works of art. And it had a place for me to keep notes and questions as I myself wandered through.

Map from within perforated pages.

Map from within perforated pages.

In some ways it captured my favorite theme of contemporary art that none of the curated works had- audience interaction. I was encouraged to rip the perforated edges of the pages which shattered the expected silence of the gallery. I was lead to make my own connections beyond the ones printed on the walls next to the art. I was given a map and charts and a book that I could flip through to enhance my experience overall. And it did! My only complaint was that I didn’t see more people exploring The Way of the Shovel with a field guide in hand. I am excited to be able to revisit my thoughts the next time I want to reflect on a piece of art from the collection, as well as have other source material from the curator and artists alike.


My notes and questions from the exhibition.

I intend to revisit The Way of the Shovel before it leaves the MCA: Chicago in March.

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