In works that range from intimate poetic objects to large-scale neon signs, Martin Creed (British, b. 1968) reevaluates the status of art with a generous sense of humor. As part of a yearlong residency at MCA Chicago, Creed brings his avant-garde sensibility to the building and the city. In each month of 2012, Creed unveils an artwork in a different space of the MCA, progressing upward through four floors of the building and extending his work outward to the sculpture garden and plaza and into the city of Chicago. Some works live as sculptures in the museum’s public spaces, and some projects are site specific—for instance, murals in the atrium and café. Others still, such as a work that takes the form of crumpled balls of paper placed in each of the museum’s public spaces, play with the notion of the carefully curated object. Extending his project beyond the MCA, Creed—who fronts a rock band—explores the city’s vibrant music scene as well.
The artist’s work and projects enliven the museum and the city and involve visitors in unexpected ways. As objects are presented throughout the building and city over the course of the year, Creed also gives several performances, building toward the US premiere of his first ballet, presented in the MCA’s theater in the fall of 2012. Martin Creed Plays Chicago connects this renowned artist to the MCA and the city of Chicago in ways that are as multifaceted as his practice.
Creed is one of the United Kingdom’s leading artists and winner of the 2001 Turner Prize. He lives and works in London and spends time in Alicudi, Italy. Creed’s work has been exhibited widely at a variety of international venues, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Moscow Museum of Modern Art; the Centre Pompidou–Metz, France; Tate Modern, London; and Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, the Netherlands.
To read more about the project, follow Martin Creed Plays Chicago, a blog documenting the residency as it unfolds.
To hear from Martin about the works in the exhibition, access the audio tour within the MCA’s stories page.
Work No. 845 (THINGS)—the first artwork by Martin Creed to be installed at MCA Chicago this year—makes a simple statement using one ordinary word. (THINGS) sets the tone for Creed’s subsequent interventions, which will appear throughout the building and the city each month of 2012 as part of the artist’s residency.
In the double-stacked video installation Work No. 405: Ships Coming In, the documentation of a ship leaving and returning to port offers visual manifestation of a cliché about waiting and anticipation.
The nine cardboard boxes in Work No. 916 are stacked on top of each other from largest to smallest to form a tower. The brand markings on the boxes indicate their original contents—various purchases ranging from a television to bottled water.
Creed’s paintings, whether they fill a small canvas or, as with Work No. 798 and Work No. 1349, a monumental wall, are often the result of predetermined logic or a few simple rules. The two large-scale paintings that cover the walls in the MCA’s lobby—one of them conceived specifically for this site—each comprise a repeating pattern in a single bold color.
In Work No. 1355, twelve nails of varying sizes extrude from the wall, evenly spaced in a line. Basic building materials like these nails are not usually visible, in keeping with their purpose, but in this work the nails appear half-exposed, progressing from largest to smallest.
Work No. 792 is built from everyday materials—a set of widely available toy Lego blocks—and is strongly keeping with Creed’s interest in formal structure. Here at the MCA, the sculpture acts as an homage to the skyscraper, a symbol of modern development and a notable presence in Chicago’s skyline.
Creed’s paintings are often the result of predetermined logic or a few simple rules. Like the paintings that cover the walls in the MCA’s Kovler Atrium lobby around the corner, Work No. 1351 in Puck’s café is the result of a basic pattern and a playful but systematic use of color.
This large neon sculpture by Martin Creed continues MCA Chicago’s commitment to blurring the lines between the inside and outside of the museum. Creed often uses language in his work, spelling out unassuming words or common phrases. As the word MOTHERS spins above the MCA plaza, it becomes a glowing presence that is both celebratory and imposing. The sculpture has to be large, Creed says, “because mothers always have to be bigger than you are” and because “it feels like mothers are the most important people in the world.”
This work is jointly presented as the MCA Chicago Plaza Project for 2012.
For this site-specific installation, Creed fills half the space of a room with balloons, giving tangible form to something that’s usually invisible: the air around you. This lively artwork is meant to be enjoyed as you walk through it and not just viewed from outside. In Chicago, the artist has installed four versions of this work in different neighborhoods throughout the city, choosing a different color balloon for each site to give the installations their own feeling.
In his works Martin Creed often uses ordinary objects, arranging them in eye-catching yet rigorous ways. Work No. 960 is a straight line of thirteen cacti from different species. Each plant is incrementally taller than the last, with the largest one rising above your head.
Work No. 190 was previously realized in a private home, where a crumpled paper ball appeared in each and every room. Reappearing at the MCA in every room that is open to the public, these paper balls play with notions of art as a valuable object and subtly disrupt the usual order of the space.
Work No. 1020 (Ballet), 2009 Theater show including ballet, talk, and music Shown in performance at Sadler’s Wells Theatre, London, UK, 2011
Fortified with a generous sense of humor, Martin Creed reevaluates the status of art in this virtuosic mash up of music and movement. For this performance, his first ballet, Creed plays lead guitar with his London-based band, joined by dancers from the original Sadler’s Wells production. Creed’s challenge—to compose a work using only the five core positions of classical ballet, each paired with a musical note—creates the conditions for a intriguing collision of structure and spontaneity.
Additionally, Creed produced eight small canvases, on view in the MCA lobby and café, while leading a painting workshop with students from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. These works result from a series of exercises, which included using chance operations, painting portraits without looking at the canvas, and establishing certain procedures to play with structure and color.
Martin Creed is as interested in sound and music as he is in visual art. Both a sculptural installation and a source of sound, Work No. 189 consists of 39 metronomes set to a different tempo or speed, one for every setting the device offers. Assembled like a chorus, the metronomes produces a percussive piece of music while also marking out time. As the final work in the artist’s residency project, this group of objects counts down the remaining moments of Creed’s presence in the museum.