The start of a new year brings reflection on the past year and rightly so. 2014 was so packed it almost felt like two years rolled into one. The best MCA exhibitions, programs, and performances have been left to the critics. This list features instead some of the MCA moments that may not quite fit into those categories but are nonetheless highlights from the year for their own more subtle, more quiet, reasons. I have also selected my top three moments of 2014, leaving the other “best ofs” equal.
2014 marked the year that the State of Illinois extended the right to marry to all couples, regardless of sexual orientation. When the legislation passed we knew we had to do something special to celebrate, so a core group of staff at the museum got together and quickly arrived at an ambitious idea: make the museum available for weddings all day, for free. We partnered with Equality Illinois for the event and sent out an open call for couples to participate. The response was overwhelming; filled with stories of couples who had long been in love but were not allowed the right to marry their partner until now. On June 2, we opened our galleries for 15 spectacular weddings spanning all traditions, cultures, and kinds, and hosted a free reception for each couple on our terrace in the back. Even with a little rain, it was a beautiful day.
Given that unofficial title by artist William Pope.L, the talk upended any expectations of what panels and discussions on diversity are supposed to be like when the panelists, Pope.L, Zachary Cahill, and Lisa Yun Lee, joined Romi Crawford on stage in full animal costumes—an idea from collaborator Wolfie E. Rawk. The costumes obfuscated all identities and physical appearances (so much so that it took some time to figure out who was who) and added some unexpected levity to the talk. As Pope.L wryly noted, diversity conversations often become divisive among potential allies, so an undoubted high point was when the artist-dressed-as-rat asked the packed house to check under their seats for the lyrics to “America the Beautiful.” As the audience sang the chorus, “America! America! God shed His grace on thee/And crown thy good with brotherhood/From sea to shining sea,” it was an inescapable realization that, in this moment of togetherness-by-song, we were describing a nation we are still working to better.
Working with the community is a major and amazing part of the work that the MCA does every single year, but because it isn’t hanging on the walls of our galleries, many people don’t know about our partnerships with Chicago schools. This year we began sharing stories of our work—how we’re bringing students to the museum, working with the teachers to develop new modes of teaching and art-inclusive curricula, and how we’re enabling Chicago artists (above) to work with students in order to build their understanding of art and their own creativity—on social media and our blog, with more stories to come.
On a related note, we also shared Analú Maria López’s recent archival discovery of a grainy slide featuring Keith Haring, evidence of how far back the MCA’s collaboration with Chicago Public Schools goes. This led to additional discoveries in the museum’s archives about the 1989 collaboration between the MCA and Chicago Public School students. The next time you walk the passageway between the Orange Line trains and Midway Airport and think, “Hey, those panels look like a Keith Haring!” you’re right. They’re by Haring and CPS students, a collaboration we helped organize in 1989.
Rappers in museums
“A hip-hop concert inside a museum—not too many places are doing this you all,” remarked Hologram Kizzie, aka Psalm One, during her set for “The Language of Hip Hop,” a Word Weekend hip-hop showcase cocurated by Fake Shore Drive that also featured The Boy Illinois and Saint Millie. If you’ve been following us on Twitter, you may know that Lupe Fiasco is a regular visitor (often bringing his family to exhibitions). Looking to feed a growing curiosity about contemporary art, he asked curator Naomi Beckwith, in early 2014, for a more intensive study of our exhibitions. And David Bowie Is brought in even more hip-hop stars, including Usher and Chicago’s Chance da Rapper.
Official David Bowie Day in Chicago
Speaking of David Bowie Is, it was pretty amazing that Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel issued an edict declaring the opening day of the exhibition, September 23, officially to be David Bowie Day in Chicago. If only we could have actually gotten him to wear the Ziggy Stardust makeup.
Civic pride for David Bowie Is wasn’t just limited to official offices, of course. Museum staff and visitors were completely surprised by the unplanned David Bowie flash mob that took place on the MCA Plaza during the excitement of opening day. For about 10 minutes, around 25 David Bowies performed a choreographed dance routine to a medley of Bowie songs, then just as quickly as they appeared, they vanished, leaving behind only wonder and joy for those that witnessed it. Fortunately it was captured on video, and in this digital age anyone can enjoy it.
Amanda Ross-Ho’s Proud Father
Artist Amanda Ross-Ho’s sculpture THE CHARACTER AND SHAPE OF ILLUMINATED THINGS graced the MCA Plaza from 2013 into 2014. Near the end of the exhibition we received the above review from Ruyell Ho, Amanda Ross-Ho’s father, on the MCA’s Facebook Page, proving that you’re never too old or too successful for your parents to be proud of you. Hopefully this makes you smile as much as it has made me smile.