Challenging the Color of a Nation
David Hammons, African-American Flag, 1990
David Hammons (American, b. 1943) re-creates the familiar pattern of the American flag using the colors of the flag for the Universal Negro Improvement Association (U.N.I.A), an early twentieth-century black nationalist organization The U.N.I.A. flag featured broad bands of red, black, and green as symbolic colors intended to unite all people of African origin under one banner. Hammons’s new version conflates the two flags, perhaps implying that a black nation resides within the United States or, conversely, that such a distinction is impossible. Hammons created African-American Flag for Black USA, a 1990 exhibition at the Museum Overholland in Amsterdam, which was the first exhibition of African American art to be organized by a European museum.
The Over Holland Foundation has pledged this important work of art to honor the legacy of President Barack Obama.
The Devil in the Details
Andy Warhol, Vote McGovern, 1972
As a relic of a moment in American history associated with chicanery and paranoia, this [work] is a bold assertion that truth lies on the surface. When Andy Warhol made a screen print to be sold in aid of the Democrats' presidential bid, he chose to do a portrait not of George McGovern but of his opponent. Warhol's poster image of Richard Nixon is not even a caricature; it is a portrait, derived from a photograph, not distorting Nixon's features except through color. Nixon's face is acidic green, colliding shockingly with an orange background, almost like classical Indian art in its chromatic intensity. It captures the way Nixon in the flesh looked like a cartoon, his head too big for his body. But that's all in the way of satire.
This is the opposite of the classic political cartoon in which the artist riffs on someone's features until they become ludicrous exaggerations. Warhol does not feel the need to distort his subject—he merely has to show him. This says: "The facts are looking you in the face. What more do you need? This is Nixon. Vote McGovern."
Given the secret undercurrent of American public life revealed in the Watergate tapes, Warhol's portrayal is uncanny. This image, which ought to be seen alongside Warhol's portraits of Jackie Kennedy as a Mater Dolorosa, reflects the diminution of American democracy after the murders of the Kennedys and Martin Luther King Jr. Warhol was a Catholic and this image is not political but religious. By making Nixon's face a lurid green, he implies the president is diabolic. Warhol wants to show us evil abroad in the land: Nixon is a devil.
Voters evidently failed to see what was before their eyes, even though Warhol's print added to the Democrats' campaign funds, reputedly by more than $40,000.
Text excerpted from Jonathan Jones's "Portrait of the Week," the Guardian, 2001 (August 2017)
A Rights & Images Intervention
Edward Krasinski, Interwencja (Intervention), 1983
The MCA’s basement-dwelling Rights and Images department is rarely called upon to answer last-minute installation questions days before the opening of an exhibition. Such was the case, however, regarding a recently acquired work, Edward Krasinski’s Interwencja (Intervention) (1983) in Above, Before & After (May 7, 2016–April 16, 2017).
Interwencja (Intervention) was jointly purchased by the MCA and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2014 and this would be its first time on view in the MCA’s galleries. Months prior to its May unveiling, I had sourced an archival image of the work for the wall label. The photo shows the piece as it was hung in the artist’s studio, directly above his bathtub. It is a literal arm’s length away from his kitchen sink and stove. Should he have felt so inclined, Krasinski could have put the kettle on for tea, admired his work, and washed the dishes—all from the lathery comfort of his bathtub.
This photo is a gem.
There is one detail in the image, however, that I didn’t take much notice of before exhibition installation began: the work’s orientation. Installation instructions and newer photos of Interwencja (Intervention) show the larger rectangle on the left side of the piece, counter to what the photo portrays.
A member of the museum’s design team caught this discrepancy and brought it to my attention. And with that, I sent an urgent email to the Foksal Gallery Foundation, the source of the bathtub photo and representative gallery of the artist, to find out which party was right: us or the photo. The Foundation informed me that Krasinski installed the work both ways and accepted either hanging.
The Rights and Images department deals largely in artwork reproductions (online, in catalogues, etc.). Seldom are we responsible for the subjects of the images we handle in person. Any number of factors can send an erroneously oriented photo to print: an inverted scan; incorrect hanging at the point of photography; or good old fashion human error (NB: this happens more than art museums care to admit).
Our rule of thumb: when in doubt, go to the source. Never, prior to this moment, had the source said: it’s up to you.
Selected by Bonnie Rosenberg, Manager of Rights and Images (September 2016)
1968.1: The First Accession
Marisol (Marisol Escobar), Six Women, 1965–66.
Marisol (Marisol Escobar, Venezuelan-American, b. France, 1930–2016) may have been “written out of history,” to quote this extraordinary artist’s obituary in the New York Times, but in Chicago she was never forgotten. Marisol holds a unique position in the MCA’s history: her gift of the wood and Formica Six Women (1965–66), featuring her own face on several of the figures, inaugurated the museum’s permanent collection. Since then we have included her work in numerous exhibitions including 2015’s MCA DNA: Warhol and Marisol which illuminated her friendship with Andy Warhol and featured her three-dimensional portrait of the Pop master.
In the 1950s Marisol had been associated with Surrealism—her Printer's Box from 1956 was recently on view in Surrealism: The Conjured Life. In the 1960s, she turned to innovative, bold depictions of family groups, women, and notables such as the Kennedys and was associated with Pop Art. Works like these gained attention in Chicago, where they were acquired by Pop Art collectors including MCA Life Trustee Buddy Mayer and Robert B. Mayer; Surrealist collectors Ruth and Leonard Horwich, Edwin and Lindy Bergman; and MCA founding President Joseph Shapiro and Jory Shapiro.
In 1968, Marisol decided to close her studio and travel the world. Six Women, however, was still in her possession; she had done minor repairs on it following a popular showing at her New York gallery, Sidney Janis. She contacted Joseph Shapiro and announced her intention to give the work to the museum founded by her Chicago collectors a year prior. Even though the MCA had not yet formally established a collection, the gift was gladly accepted!
Selected by Lynne Warren, Curator at MCA Chicago (May 2016)
Gertrude Abercrombie, The Courtship, 1949.
Gertrude Abercrombie's second husband Frank Sandiford was a cat burglar. In The Courtship, painted the year after the couple married, the artist depicted him in a mask, as if he were robbing her. "I was the last thing he ever stole," Abercrombie told her daughter Dinah (from her first marriage to Robert Livingston).
Abercrombie rarely painted men, although Abraham Lincoln made occasional appearances in her paintings. The Courtship includes many elements that the artist frequently used in her work: the moon, owls, shells, and lighthouses were common symbols, and she often included self-portraits. It is also rendered in her signature airless, austere style and carefully controlled palette—the red cloud matches her dress. The resulting work creates a mood that resembles more of a surrender than a wooing. She was crazy about Frank at first, and supported him, but later became disappointed in the relationship, and the couple divorced in 1966.
The Courtship and other works by Gertrude Abercrombie are on view in the exhibition Surrealism: The Conjured Life, through June 5, 2016.
Selected by Susan Weininger, Professor Emerita at Roosevelt University (April 2016)
The Faithfulness of Color
Kerry James Marshall, Untitled (Painter), 2009.
I've been asked to supervise the color reproductions for the MCA's forthcoming Kerry James Marshall catalogue. I’ve worked with Kerry's images in publications for many years for many museums across the country. His work presents a particular challenge because of the importance of the color black in his paintings. His blacks have variations in hue and richness—some are bluish, purplish, others are neutral. And though these differences are deliberate and very striking, it is a very difficult thing to reproduce with ink on paper. To prepare for this catalogue, I, as well as the designer and publishing team, have had the opportunity to see many of Kerry's works and have begun a process of experimenting and testing reproduction techniques to achieve the most faithful reproductions possible. This work, the artist's Untitled (Painter), is one of the first we looked at together, in the museum's art storeroom.