The Freedom Principle: Experiments in Art and Music, 1965 to Now

Images

  • A black and white photograph of a crowd of men joyously playing all kinds of musical instruments on a porch while a young boy looks on
  • A swooping smear of orange paint overlaps a seeming diagram of green dash lines labeled with black numbers, equations, and geometric symbols
  • Vibrant letters and words in shades of yellow, red, orange, and purple create the impression of a singing person
  • A collage with a vivid, patterned background depicts a black-and-white group of men and women marching with their fists in the air, a golden semicircle that resembles the setting sun, and a text at the bottom that reads "Towards a walk in the sun."
  • Vivid painting of a brick wall mostly obscured by overlapping text, designs, and faces
  • Painting of geometric pattern with interlocking neon shapes in red, orange, blue, yellow, and teal
  • Colorful strands hung on a white wall spell out the phrase "We the People" in outlined letters that seem to drip.
  • A colorful image composed of geometric shapes and patterns reveals a camouflaged trio of musicians. One sings, one plays piano, and the third strums a string bass.
  • Multicolored banners with texts hung in pairs and wooden and fabric room separators run the length of a white gallery
  • Multicolored banners with texts hung in pairs and wooden and fabric room separators  run the length of a white gallery
  • In this multicolored painting, a quintet plays two saxophones, a drum kit, a string bass, and a piano on a two-dimensional background with repeating zigzags and circular targets.
  • The portrait of a man playing saxophone on a screen suspended from wires in the middle of a room
  • Black-and-white portrait of Stan Douglas playing the trombone
A black and white photograph of a crowd of men joyously playing all kinds of musical instruments on a porch while a young boy looks on
Wadsworth Jarrell, New Orleans–style group photo in painter Wadsworth Jarrell’s backyard, c. 1968. Archival pigment print; 8 × 10 in. (20.3 × 25.4 cm), Courtesy of George Lewis.
Art Ensemble of Chicago performance at MCA Chicago, 1979, Photo © MCA Chicago.
Anthony Braxton, Falling River Music (363h), 2004–present. Graphic score; 11 × 17 in. (27.9 × 43.2 cm), Courtesy of Anthony Braxton and the Tri-Centric Foundation.
A swooping smear of orange paint overlaps a seeming diagram of green dash lines labeled with black numbers, equations, and geometric symbols
Anthony Braxton, Falling River Music (366a), 2004–present. Graphic score, 11 × 17 in. (27.9 × 43.2 cm), Courtesy of Anthony Braxton and the Tri-Centric Foundation.
Vibrant letters and words in shades of yellow, red, orange, and purple create the impression of a singing person
Wadsworth Jarrell, Revolutionary, 1972. Screen print on paper; 34 × 26 ½ in. (86.4 × 67.3 cm), Courtesy of the artist.
A collage with a vivid, patterned background depicts a black-and-white group of men and women marching with their fists in the air, a golden semicircle that resembles the setting sun, and a text at the bottom that reads "Towards a walk in the sun."
Jamal Cyrus, The Dowling Street Martyr Brigade – Towards a Walk in the Sun, Pride Catalog #2235, 2005. Collage on paper; 12 × 12 in. (30.5 × 30.5 cm). Courtesy of the artist and Inman Gallery, Houston. Photo: Rick Wells.
Nick Cave, Speak Louder, 2011. Mixed media including black mother-of-pearl buttons, embroidery floss, upholstery, metal armature, and mannequins; installed: 93 ½ x 199 × 123 in. (237.5 × 505.5 × 312.4 cm). Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery. Photo: James Prinz Photography.
Vivid painting of a brick wall mostly obscured by overlapping text, designs, and faces
Gerald Williams, Nation Time, 1969. Acrylic on canvas; 48 × 56 in. (121.9 × 142.2 cm). Johnson Publishing Company, Chicago. Photo: Geoffrey Black/Johnson Publishing Company.
Painting of geometric pattern with interlocking neon shapes in red, orange, blue, yellow, and teal
Lisa Alvarado, Represencing, 2011. Acrylic, flash, and ink on banner (Canvas, fabric, wood, and fringe); 100 × 92 in. (254 × 233.7 cm). Courtesy of the artist. Photo: Tom Van Eynde.
Colorful strands hung on a white wall spell out the phrase "We the People" in outlined letters that seem to drip.
Nari Ward, We The People, 2011. Shoelaces; 96 × 324 in. (243.8 × 823 cm). In collaboration with the Fabric Workshop and Museum, Philadelphia. Installation view, Lehmann Maupin, New York, 2012. Courtesy of the artist and Lehmann Maupin. Photo: Gregory LaRico.
A colorful image composed of geometric shapes and patterns reveals a camouflaged trio of musicians. One sings, one plays piano, and the third strums a string bass.
Jeff Donaldson, Jampact and Jelly Tite (For Jamila), 1988. Mixed media on canvas; 35 × 50 in. (88.9 × 127 cm). Collection of Jameela K. Donaldson. Photo: Mark Gulezian, Quicksilver Photographers.
Multicolored banners with texts hung in pairs and wooden and fabric room separators run the length of a white gallery
Renée Green, Space Poem #3 (Media Bicho) for MoMA Media Lounge, 2012. Polyester nylon and thread, and 34 double-sided banners; each: 17 ½ x 22 in. (44.5 × 55.9 cm); overall dimensions variable. Collection Museum of Modern Art, New York. © 2015 Renée Green. Installation view, Museum of Modern Art, New York, Feb 29, 2012–Jul 8, 2013. Photo: Thomas Griesel, digital image © 2015 The Museum of Modern Art, New York.
Multicolored banners with texts hung in pairs and wooden and fabric room separators  run the length of a white gallery
Renée Green, Space Poem #3 (Media Bicho) for MoMA Media Lounge, 2012. Polyester nylon and thread, and 34 double-sided banners; each: 17 ½ x 22 in. (44.5 × 55.9 cm); overall dimensions variable. Collection Museum of Modern Art, New York. © 2015 Renée Green. Installation view, Museum of Modern Art, New York, Feb 29, 2012–Jul 8, 2013. Photo: Thomas Griesel, digital image © 2015 The Museum of Modern Art, New York.
In this multicolored painting, a quintet plays two saxophones, a drum kit, a string bass, and a piano on a two-dimensional background with repeating zigzags and circular targets.
Wadsworth Jarrell, AACM, 1994. Acrylic on tempered Masonite; 48 × 96 in. (121.9 × 243.8 cm). Courtesy of the artist. Photo: Adger Cowans.
The portrait of a man playing saxophone on a screen suspended from wires in the middle of a room
Stan Douglas, Hors-champs, 1992. Two-channel video installation with stereo sound; 13 minutes, 20 seconds (looped). Courtesy of the artist; David Zwirner, New York/London; and Victoria Miro, London. Photo: Stan Douglas.
Black-and-white portrait of Stan Douglas playing the trombone
Stan Douglas, still from Hors-champs, 1992. Two-channel video installation with stereo sound; 13 minutes, 20 seconds (looped), Courtesy of the artist; David Zwirner, New York/London; and Victoria Miro, London.

About

The Freedom Principle: Experiments in Art and Music, 1965 to Now links the vibrant legacy of the 1960s African American avant-garde to current art and culture. It is occasioned in part by the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), a still-flourishing organization of Chicago musicians whose interdiscliplinary explorations expanded the boundaries of jazz. Alongside visual arts collectives such as the African Commune of Bad Relevant Artists (AfriCOBRA), the AACM was part of a deep engagement with black cultural nationalism both in Chicago and around the world during and after the civil rights era. Combining historical materials with contemporary responses, The Freedom Principle illuminates the continued relevance of that engagement today.

The exhibition, which takes its title from a 1984 book by Chicago jazz critic John Litweiler, showcases the multifaceted world of the black avant-garde in Chicago during the 1960s alongside a selection of contemporary artists’ interpretations of this heritage. It includes works of music and art from, among others, AACM-founder, pianist, and painter Muhal Richard Abrams; Art Ensemble of Chicago bandleader Roscoe Mitchell; and AfriCOBRA cofounders Jeff Donaldson, Jae and Wadsworth Jarrell, Barbara Jones-Hogu, and Gerald Williams. Archival materials—brochures, banners, photographs, posters, sheet music, record covers—provide a rich context for the exhibition. Recent works by artists such as Terry Adkins, Nick Cave, Renée Green, Rashid Johnson, Lili Reynaud-Dewar, Cauleen Smith, and Stan Douglas present an ongoing intergenerational conversation about experimentation, improvisation, collective action, and the search for freedom. Working together across multiple platforms, Catherine Sullivan, George Lewis, Charles Gaines, and Sean Griffin are collaborating on an opera, to be presented on the MCA Stage, and on a related installation within the exhibition.

A listening station and an online microsite accompany the exhibition. The MCA has also published a fully illustrated catalogue that includes essays by exhibition curators Naomi Beckwith and Dieter Roelstraete, as well as by leading musicians, composers, artists, and scholars.

The Freedom Principle is organized by Naomi Beckwith, Marilyn and Larry Fields Curator, and Dieter Roelstraete, former Manilow Senior Curator, at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. It travels to the Institute of Contemporary Art at the University of Pennsylvania, September 14–March 19, 2017.

The exhibition is presented in the Griffin Galleries of Contemporary Art on the museum’s fourth floor.

Installation images

  • A bass drum surrounded by microphones on stands in front of brightly colored suspended backdrops
  • Mixed media installation with microphones planted among flowers and a geometric chalk drawing in the background, bathed in a rich blue light
  • Six colorful paintings featuring geometric forms in bright colors are hung in a cluster on a yellow wall.
  • A suede dress features hand-painted figures in bright colors on its skirt and flared sleeves
  • A multi-colored outline of Gothic-style letters spelling"We the People" is installed on a solid black wall. The letters appear to be dripping.
  • Two wall shelves display a group of illustrated album covers
  • Colorful banners hang in pairs from the ceiling. Each one features a text, for example, "THE MOTION OF LIGHT IN WATER," "lanquidity," "HIGH RISE," "the varieties of religious experience."
  • Several dozen brass cymbals are clustered together in a circle. Behind them to the left, two black-and-white paintings hang side by side, and to the right, two black panels are stacked vertically.
  • A feathered coat is displayed in the middle of a gallery, cymbals are in the foreground, and "We the People" is written on the black wall. To the left, colorful banners hang from the ceiling.
  • An eclectic array of percussion instruments fills a stage. Above them hangs a red banner featuring a pyramid and the words"Art Ensemble."
  • The bright yellow entry wall of an exhibition bears the floor-to-ceiling title, "THE FREEDOM PRINCIPLE." In the foreground of the image, stool-sized boxes in wood and paper appear; beyond the yellow wall, there is a light installation of the word "ME" stacked atop the word "WE."
  • A two-seat swing made of school chairs hangs from an arch constructed from found materials crudely patched together.
A bass drum surrounded by microphones on stands in front of brightly colored suspended backdrops
Installation view, The Freedom Principle: Experiments in Art and Music, 1965 to Now, MCA Chicago, Jul 11–Nov 22, 2015. Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago.
Mixed media installation with microphones planted among flowers and a geometric chalk drawing in the background, bathed in a rich blue light
Installation view, The Freedom Principle: Experiments in Art and Music, 1965 to Now, MCA Chicago, Jul 11–Nov 22, 2015. Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago.
Six colorful paintings featuring geometric forms in bright colors are hung in a cluster on a yellow wall.
Installation view, The Freedom Principle: Experiments in Art and Music, 1965 to Now, MCA Chicago, Jul 11–Nov 22, 2015. Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago.
A suede dress features hand-painted figures in bright colors on its skirt and flared sleeves
Jae Jarrell, Brothers Surrounding Sis, 1970 (left) and Gent’s Great Coat, 1973 (right). Courtesy of the artist. Installation view, The Freedom Principle: Experiments in Art and Music, 1965 to Now, MCA Chicago, Jul 11–Nov 22, 2015. Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago.
A multi-colored outline of Gothic-style letters spelling"We the People" is installed on a solid black wall. The letters appear to be dripping.
Nari Ward, We The People, 2011. Shoelaces; 96 × 324 in. (243.8 × 823 cm). In collaboration with The Fabric Workshop and Museum, Philadelphia. Courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong. Installation view, The Freedom Principle: Experiments in Art and Music, 1965 to Now, MCA Chicago, Jul 11–Nov 22, 2015. Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago.
Two wall shelves display a group of illustrated album covers
Installation view, The Freedom Principle: Experiments in Art and Music, 1965 to Now, MCA Chicago, Jul 11–Nov 22, 2015. Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago.
Colorful banners hang in pairs from the ceiling. Each one features a text, for example, "THE MOTION OF LIGHT IN WATER," "lanquidity," "HIGH RISE," "the varieties of religious experience."
Renée Green, Space Poem #3 (Media Bicho), 2012. Polyester nylon and thread; 34 double-sided banners; each 22 × 17 ½ in. (55.9 × 44.5 cm); overall dimensions variable. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Installation view, The Freedom Principle: Experiments in Art and Music, 1965 to Now, MCA Chicago, Jul 11–Nov 22, 2015. Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago.
Several dozen brass cymbals are clustered together in a circle. Behind them to the left, two black-and-white paintings hang side by side, and to the right, two black panels are stacked vertically.
Installation view, The Freedom Principle: Experiments in Art and Music, 1965 to Now, MCA Chicago, Jul 11–Nov 22, 2015. Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago.
A feathered coat is displayed in the middle of a gallery, cymbals are in the foreground, and "We the People" is written on the black wall. To the left, colorful banners hang from the ceiling.
Installation view, The Freedom Principle: Experiments in Art and Music, 1965 to Now, MCA Chicago, Jul 11–Nov 22, 2015. Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago.
An eclectic array of percussion instruments fills a stage. Above them hangs a red banner featuring a pyramid and the words"Art Ensemble."
Art Ensemble of Chicago, Banner and various instruments, including percussion cage, bass drum, counsel drums, horns, and assorted “little instruments;” overall dimensions variable. Courtesy of Roscoe Mitchell. Installation view, The Freedom Principle: Experiments in Art and Music, 1965 to Now, MCA Chicago, Jul 11–Nov 22, 2015. Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago.
The bright yellow entry wall of an exhibition bears the floor-to-ceiling title, "THE FREEDOM PRINCIPLE." In the foreground of the image, stool-sized boxes in wood and paper appear; beyond the yellow wall, there is a light installation of the word "ME" stacked atop the word "WE."
Interpretive installation by artist John Preus made in conjunction with The Freedom Principle: Experiments in Art and Music, 1965 to Now, MCA Chicago, Jul 11–Nov 22, 2015. Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago.
A two-seat swing made of school chairs hangs from an arch constructed from found materials crudely patched together.
Interpretive installation by artist John Preus made in conjunction with The Freedom Principle: Experiments in Art and Music, 1965 to Now, MCA Chicago, Jul 11–Nov 22, 2015. Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago.

Funding

Lead support for The Freedom Principle: Experiments in Art and Music, 1965 to Now is provided by Cari and Michael Sacks. Additional generous support is provided by the Pamela Alper Curatorial Fund, Dr. Anita Blanchard and Martin H. Nesbitt, Lester N. Coney and Mesirow Financial, Anne and Don Edwards, Denise and Gary Gardner, Vicki and Bill Hood, Jeanne and Kevin Poorman, Linda Johnson Rice, Desirée Rogers, Lloyd A. Fry Foundation, Nickol and Darrel Hackett, Connie and Ed Horner, Inman Gallery, and Shirley and Walter Massey.