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

Wadsworth Jarrell, New Orleans–style group photo in painter Wadsworth Jarrell's backyard, c. 1968. Archival pigment print; 8 x 10 in. (20.3 x 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 x 17 in. (27.9 x 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 x 17 in. (27.9 x 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 x 26 1/2 in. (86.4 x 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 x 12 in. (30.5 x 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 1/2 x 199 x 123 in. (237.5 x 505.5 x 312.4 cm). Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery

Photo: James Prinz Photography
A vivid painting of a brick wall that is mostly obscured by mural-like overlapping text, designs, and faces.

Gerald Williams, Nation Time, 1969. Acrylic on canvas; 48 x 56 in. (121.9 x 142.2 cm). Johnson Publishing Company, Chicago

Photo: Geoffrey Black/Johnson Publishing Company
A painting of a geometric pattern features 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 x 92 in. (254 x 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 x 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 x 50 in. (88.9 x 127 cm). Collection of Jameela K. Donaldson

Photo: Mark Gulezian, Quicksilver Photographers
Multicolored banners with text are 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 1/2 x 22 in. (44.5 x 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 text are hung in pairs from the ceiling. Below, 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 1/2 x 22 in. (44.5 x 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 x 96 in. (121.9 x 243.8 cm). Courtesy of the artist

Photo: Adger Cowans
A portrait of a man playing saxophone is seen 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
A black-and-white portrait shows a dark-skinned man with a short afro 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

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 x 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 x 17 ½ in. (55.9 x 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

MICROSITE

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.