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Art That Goes Bump in the Night

A gigantic cat skeleton stands with its back arched and tail pointed straight up in the air.

Maurizio Cattelan, Felix, 2001. Oil on polyvinyl resin and fiberglass; 26 x 6 x 20 ft. (7.9 x 1.8 x 6.1 m). Collection Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, the Edlis/Neeson Art Acquisition Fund, 2001.22. © 2001 Maurizio Cattelan

Photo © MCA Chicago


While Felix, our giant, household cat, created by Maurizio Cattelan, may not strike fear into your heart, in anticipation of Halloween we asked MCA staff members and the public for suggestions on artworks that make their skin crawl. Below are our top picks.

Janet Wolski, Assistant to the Director

American Horror Story: Freakshow has got nothing on us!”

Joseph Seigenthaler, The Couple, 1993. Acrylic on ceramic on fiberglass and steel, fabric, and ottoman. Collection Museum of Contemporary art, restricted gift of Walter F. and Dr. Mary Pullig Schatz, 1993.12.a–e

Photo © MCA Chicago

Leah Singsank, Assistant Registrar

“I discovered this artist through a friend from grad school—a photo specialist interested in post-mortem photography. We ended up fast friends because I, too, have a penchant for the bizarre, though for me, the bizarre was more firmly rooted in cabinets of curiosity and 18th-century phantasmagoria.

Long story short, this friendship led to my introduction to the work of Joel-Peter Witkin. This guy is just bizonkers. For me, his work is the intersection of a 1920s traveling circus and a mad-man's cabinet of curiosity. When I look at his works, I am transported to a tiny room in the back of an immaculate Victorian house. Past the silver. Past the stuffed, much beloved hunting dog. Past the creepy family portrait of a long-dead, little-loved aunt. Past the library. Behind the heavy wooden door. Here I find a room bursting with photographs of dismembered and reattached people. Photographs haphazardly hanging from the walls by nails next to others delicately framed, or laying stacked one on top of the other, waiting patiently to be catalogued like the others . . . you see it too, right? Or, maybe I just have watched too much TV during my formative years.”

Joel-Peter Witkin, Feast of the Fools, Mexico City, 1990

Hiba Ali, Visitor Services Associate

“When I first saw Ivan Albright's Into the World There Came A Soul Called Ida (1929–30) I was in high school. To this day, I remember the haunting image that was etched into my memory. The painting is meant as a reminder that life is impermanent. It also reminds us that dramatic lighting can completely change the way one is perceived. When we look at each other in the daytime we don't see the shadows under and around our skin, these blotches that Albright outwardly depicts. Ida Rogers—the woman portrayed in this painting—looks into the mirror, recalling her beauty. She prompts us to think about the weight of time, its effects on the body, and the impermanence of life.”

Author in front of Ivan Albright, Into the World There Came a Soul Called Ida, 1929–30. Collection Art Institute of Chicago

Abraham Ritchie, Social Media Manager

“'An encounter with [Katharina's Fritsch's] imagery, whether a single sculpture such as Monk or group of assembled objects, can be startling and disturbing.' This description of Monk by the Art Institute was proved absolutely true when I first experienced the life-size, all-black artwork in the mid-2000s. Cleverly installed at the time on a plinth by the bottom of a staircase in the back of the Morton Wing, the closed-eyed monk silently stood to startle any unguarded visitor descending into the gallery—I think I jumped about a foot into the air when I turned and saw it.

Also, for anyone that saw Stephen King's IT when they were too young, Bruce Nauman’s Clown Torture needs no theoretical explanation for the reaction it provokes in nearly everyone and its excruciating affect on the body. It is not, contrary to the recommendation given by one guard years ago, an artwork for kids.” (Joseph Goins also nominated this work via Facebook.)

Katharina Fritsch, Monk, 1997–99. Collection Art Institute of Chicago

© 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

Ruth Suttie Gauss, via Facebook

Janitor at the Milwaukee Art Museum was so realistic, it would really bother me to be in the same space with him!”

Duane Hanson, Janitor, 1973. Collection Milwaukee Art Museum

© Estate of Duane Hanson/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY


National Veterans Art Museum, via Facebook:* “Derek Brunen's Plot, six hours of a man digging his own grave—quite chilling!”

Art That Goes Bump in the Night video still


Honorable Mention

Molly Fitzharris, via Facebook:

“Tony Oursler pops up in my nightmares quite a bit”

Tony Oursler, Big Eyes, 2003