West by Midwest

Featured images

  • A black-and-white photograph of two men shaking hands is mounted to a light-colored piece of wood.
  • A messy white plaster form has been cleaved into two halves, like bookends.
A black-and-white photograph of two men shaking hands is mounted to a light-colored piece of wood.
  1. Long A black-and-white photograph with white borders is affixed to a small wood board with photo corners. The photo shows a scene in a supper club or restaurant. It features two fair-skinned, dark-haired men in suits standing, shaking hands. The man on the left holds a small box and the man on the right extends his left hand to receive it. In the foreground, two seated, light-skinned people with long dark glossy hair look up at the men from their table. The two men look directly at us. A date stamp reading "JAN 3 1968" appears in the bottom border of the photo. The ends of two knotted leather cords emerge above and below the photo on the left side of the wooden board, seemingly binding the board like a book cover. A signature reading "Edward Ruscha" appears on the board in blue ink below the image, and the initials "B.A.B." are signed and underlined in black on the wood above the mounted photograph.
Ed Ruscha and Billy Al Bengston, Business Cards, 1968. Offset on paper with business card and gold-backed paper stapled on final page; punched and tied with leather cord with silver gelatin print and photo corners adhered to wood-grained Bristol board; 7 1/16 × 5 9/16 in. (18 × 14 cm). Collection Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, gift of Robert L. Mollers, 2012.95. © Ed Ruscha and Billy Al Bengston
Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago
Senga Nengudi, R.S.V.P. Fall 1976, 1976/2017. Nylon mesh, sand, and pins; 41 × 19 ½ x 2 ½ in. (104.1 × 49.5 × 6.4 cm). Collection Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, gift of Irving Stenn, Bernard I. Lumpkin and Carmine D. Boccuzzi, and Jackson Tang in honor of Naomi Beckwith, 2017.17. © Senga Nengudi
Photo: Elisabeth Bernstein, courtesy of Lévy Gorvy Gallery, New York, and Thomas Erben Gallery, New York
A messy white plaster form has been cleaved into two halves, like bookends.
Bruce Nauman, Mold for a Modernized Slant Step, 1966. Plaster; installed: 18 ¼ × 14 ½ × 13 3/8 in. (46.4 × 36.8 × 34 cm). Collection Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Gerald S. Elliott Collection, 1995.70.a–b. © 2018 Bruce Nauman/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago
Catherine Opie, Fall, Winter, Spring, Summer (Lake Michigan), 2004–5. Chromogenic development prints; 4 prints, each: 49 ¼ × 39 ¼ in. (125.1 × 99.7 cm); framed: 51 × 41 × 2 in. (129.5 × 104.1 × 5.1 cm). Collection Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Joseph and Jory Shapiro Fund by exchange, 2006.1.a–d
Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago


Western art history is often viewed as a neat succession of individual artists and their singular masterpieces. This narrative runs parallel to the American story of westward expansion, propelled by the idea of individualism and independence. West by Midwest offers a messier alternative—one that illuminates the ways that contemporary art practices spread and develop by tracing the intersecting lives of artists who have migrated from the American Midwest to the West Coast since the mid-20th century. Lured by career opportunities, warmer weather, and the prospect of a better life promised by the postwar boom, artists in this exhibition attended art schools together, shared studios, exhibited work in the same galleries, collaborated on projects, engaged in activism, and dated. Following these crisscrossing lines of kinship, West by Midwest reveals social, political, artistic, and intellectual networks of artists and their shared experiences of making work and making a life.

Divided into five sections, West by Midwest presents more than eighty artworks in a wide variety of media, made by some sixty-three artists from the 1960s through the 2010s. Each section maps three overlapping forms of kinship: practice, or the ways that artists make and approach their work; place, or the spaces where artists congregate and exchange ideas; and people, or the manifold human relationships that compose artists’ personal and professional circles. Anchored by works in the MCA’s collection, West by Midwest eschews a definitive survey of individuals’ achievements to instead consider how artists move and make work within a larger field of relations.

West by Midwest is organized by Charlotte Ickes, Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Curatorial Fellow, with Michael Darling, James W. Alsdorf Chief Curator. It is presented in the Griffin Galleries of Contemporary Art on the museum's fourth floor.


Artists in the exhibition include:

José Antonio Aguirre, Terry Allen, Carlos Almaraz, José Alpuche, Garo Antreasian, Judith Barry, Larry Bell, Billy Al Bengston, Patrick Blackwell, Andrea Bowers, Vija Celmins, Judy Chicago, Bruce Conner, Jean Conner, Robert Cumming, Aaron Curry, Emory Douglas, Hal Fischer, Roy De Forest, Joe Goode, Anna Halprin, Lawrence Halprin, David Hammons, Richard Hawkins, Judithe Hernández, Dennis Hopper, Douglas Huebler, Jessica Jackson Hutchins, Jim Isermann, Suzanne Jackson, Stephen Kaltenbach, Barbara Kasten, Mike Kelley, Mary Kelly, Lynn Hershman Leeson, Cary Loren, Tom Marioni, Jerry McMillan, Rodney McMillian, Rebecca Morris, Bruce Nauman, Senga Nengudi, Kori Newkirk, Niagara (Lynn Rovner), Gladys Nilsson, Jim Nutt, Catherine Opie, John Outterbridge, Laura Owens, Jorge Pardo, Stephen Prina, Roberto (Beto) de la Rocha, Frank Romero, Amanda Ross-Ho, Sterling Ruby, Allen Ruppersberg, Ed Ruscha, Miriam Schapiro, Melanie Schiff, Jim Shaw, June Wayne, William Wegman, Charles White, William T. Wiley, Mason Williams, and Karl Wirsum.


Lead support for West by Midwest is provided by the Harris Family Foundation in memory of Bette and Neison Harris: Caryn and King Harris, Katherine Harris, Toni and Ron Paul, Pam and Joe Szokol, Linda and Bill Friend, and Stephanie and John Harris; Zell Family Foundation; Cari and Michael J. Sacks; Karyn and Bill Silverstein; and the Nancy Lauter McDougal and Alfred L. McDougal Exhibition Fund.

Major support is provided by Jennifer and Alec Litowitz.

Additional generous support is provided by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Postdoctoral Curatorial Fellowship program.