Upon an Ether Sea: Water and Ship Imagery from the MCA Collection


Jeff Koons, Lifeboat, 1985. Bronze; 20 1/2 x 87 1/4 x 62 3/4 in. (52.1 x 221.6 x 159.4 cm). Collection Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Gerald S. Elliott Collection,1995.56.a–c

Photo © MCA Chicago
A screen shows a projected image of an underwater scene with fingers in the center. The image is mirrored along the vertical plane.

Pipilotti Rist, Sip My Ocean (Schlürfe meinen Ozean), 1996. Audio/video installation; overall dimensions variable. Collection Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Bernice and Kenneth Newberger Fund and restricted gift of Carol and Douglas Cohen, 1996.39. © 1996 Pipilotti Rist

Photo © MCA Chicago


*A sloop of amber slips away

Upon an ether sea,

And wrecks in peace a purple tar,

The son of ecstasy.*

—Emily Dickinson

While by definition contemporary art is new and experimental, traditional themes and imagery are, at the same time, very common. One theme that is particularly attractive to today’s artists is that of water; another is the vessels that ply the oceans and lakes. In this exhibition, drawn primarily from the MCA’s Collection, the various ways vessels and water are utilized as subject matter and depicted in contemporary art are explored.

Leading contemporary artist and cultural provocateur Jeff Koons is featured with his “bronze-plated” Lifeboat, a commentary on form and material as well as on human folly. The Swiss artist Pipilotti Rist is represented with her haunting video installation Sip My Ocean, which explores the siren call of the sea through mesmerizing sound and languid imagery. Photography is well represented with American artist Lynn Davis’s stunning series of icebergs adrift on chilly waters; Brett Weston’s more abstracted view of ice and water; and Toshio Shibata’s breathtaking portrayals of US dams.

Other artists include Roy Lichtenstein, who employed plastics to refer to a seascape; H. C. Westermann’s extraordinary Death Ship; and Rafael Ferrer, who is featured with two works, including his corrugated steel Kayak #2:Norte.

The exhibition is curated by MCA Curator Lynne Warren.