Jump to content

Art For Windows

Window installation inspired by Wolfgang Tillmans

April 2020. Photo: David Downs

by Jeremy Kreusch and Grace Needlman


Wolfgang Tillmans, German, b. 1968 Window Caravaggio, 1997 Chromogenic development print Sheet: 82 ½ × 54 ½ in. (209.6 × 138.4 cm); framed: 86 5/8 × 58 ½ × 2 ½ in. (220 × 148.6 × 6.4 cm)

Collection Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Joseph and Jory Shapiro Fund by exchange, 2006.13 Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago

In these times, windows are some of our only regular points of contact with the world outside our rooms. Inspired by the photograph by Wolfgang Tillmans titled Window Caravaggio, how can we reimagine and find new joy in our spaces?

In this photograph, Tillmans has created a simple still life inside his window. A still life is an arrangement of objects, most often everyday things. This one includes a flower in a glass of water and some reproductions of paintings by another artist, Caravaggio. Artists have been making still lives for thousands of years. When artists arrange objects in a still life, they think about how the objects tell a story together and how they make a picture together with different colors, shapes, and textures.


1. Get inspired.

Take another look at Window Caravaggio by Wolfgang Tillmans.

Can you imagine why Tillmans might have chosen these objects? What kind of story do they tell?

Do the objects complement the window and the cityscape outside? (One thing complements another thing when it completes it or adds something special to what is already there. For example, frosting complements cake. Fudge sauce complements ice cream.)

Does the scene bring up any emotions or personal memories for you?

2. Photograph a window still life of your own.

  • Choose a window in your home as a starting place. Take a few minutes to just sit and observe the scene, before you create your still life. Stay quiet, listen to the sounds of the space, and take several deep breaths.
  • Think about what’s beautiful or interesting about the view already. What do you have that might complement it?
  • Think about how you feel when you’re in this spot or when you’re looking outside. Do you have any objects or pictures that might show that feeling?
  • Gather some objects and arrange them on your window sill. Play with them for a little while until it looks just right. Wolfgang Tillmans photographed a variety of things — tall things, short things, natural things and human-made things. Consider trying to find a pleasing balance between several different shapes, sizes, and kinds of objects.
  • Take some photos of your window still life. Try a few different angles.
  • Consider leaving it for a few hours, and taking another shot when the light is different.
  • Choose one photograph that you like best. Share it with us by posting it to instagram and tagging #MCAFamilyDay

Window installation inspired by Wolfgang Tillmans

April 2020. Photo: Anna Showers-Cruser

3. Show and Tell.

Join us on Saturday for a Show and Tell on Facebook of window photographs from members of the MCA community.

Window installation inspired by Wolfgang Tillmans.

April 2020. Photo: Gus Fuentes


Art For Windows video still

Watch a recorded conversation between members of the MCA Learning community sharing their responses to this prompt.

Jeremy Kreusch: Hi, my name is Jeremy. I am Manager of School Programs at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago.

Grace Needlman: And I'm Grace. I'm the Manager of Family and Youth Programs.

Jeremy: During the shutdown, we're excited to connect you with Chicago artists and inspire you to find ways of bringing the questions and processes of contemporary art into your homes. We hope these challenges are playful and engaging for everyone, regardless of whether you call yourself an artist, and flexible enough to be done with whatever materials and space you have.

Grace: Today we have three awesome artists who have done our first challenge with us, and they are going to be talking with us in a minute about what they made. We hope that you are inspired by this video to make your own version of this prompt, and you can share a photo of what you make with us by following the instructions posted along with this video. We're excited to see it! For this week's challenge, we asked artists to make still lifes inspired by an artwork in the MCA Collection. It is a photograph by Wolfgang Tillmans. If you want to create your own still life inspired by this prompt, you can find the full prompt posted along with this video.

Jeremy: Hi everyone! It's nice to see you all. Um, let's introduce ourselves. We should say our names, say our preferred pronouns, and let's say one object in the home that you would be right now, if you could be an object. So your name, your preferred pronouns, and an object in the home that you would be. And I will elect Gus to go first.

Gus Fuentes : My name is Gus. I use he/him pronouns, and my object that I want to be is more of a collection. It's my collection of beans that I have that I have been eating for the past month.

Jeremy : Amazing, amazing. David?

David Downs: My name's David and if I were—I go by he and him—and if I were to pick an object in my house, I would probably pick my guitar. It reminds me of playing in a punk band and stuff that I used to like to do.

Jeremy : Awesome, nice to meet you David. And Anna?

Anna Showers-Cruser: Hi y'all, I'm Anna, this is Elby. We both use they/them pronouns. And if I were an object in my home, I would have to be this sparkly, lavender unicorn rainbow tape dispenser, because why not? [laughs]

Jeremy : Of course! Why not? And Grace?

Grace: I am Grace. I use they or she pronouns. The object that came to mind when you asked that question was this great multitool that I have for the garden. It's got like a spade on one end and a fork on the other, and I like it because it helps things grow.

Jeremy: Yeah, and I'm Jeremy. I use he/him pronouns, and . . . gosh, I think I would be—I have a lot of things behind me, and I think I would be a clamp, right now. Just trying to hold it together, I guess! [laughs] Great! So that's all of us. We are going to talk a little bit about a few artworks. Everyone here had the creative challenge to create a window still life, and that challenge was based on an artwork in the MCA's collection by Wolfgang Tillmans called Caravaggio. I'm going to pull it up right now. [Image on screen changes] There it is! Can everyone see it OK? Awesome. So um, I'm wondering as you're looking at this photograph, what's something about it that stands out to you, what's something that sort of sparks your attention or imagination, and did you take any inspiration from this photograph when you did your own version, your own window still-life? So take a second, take a close look, and think about those two questions. What's something that sparked for you, what's something that stood out, and did you take any inspiration? And I'll invite Gus to go first.

Gus: I think my biggest inspiration from this photo was the flower, because it's just like, it's so tall, and even though it's in the muddy water it still looks so pretty. And I think what stood out to me most was like, again, the flower and how well lit it was, because that's something that I struggled with, and how, how just well lit the whole photo is.

Jeremy: Gus do you ordinarily have flowers in your life?

Gus: I used to, but then I got a lot of cats (laughs), and the cats started eating all the flowers, so I didn't have any, but now that I don't live with all my cats, I'm starting to bring—so what happened was, I took all the plants that I used to have and I gave them to my grandma, so now that I don't live with my cats, I'm bringing all my plants back from my grandparent's house . . . slowly.

Jeremy: Awesome, thanks Gus! What about you David? What stood out to you? Did you take any inspiration?

David: Yeah, something that really stood out to me was that industrial background out there, with all the buildings, and even the windows feel like they are part of a warehouse. Um and I took some inspiration in looking at the outside and the inside, and how cool and blue everything was outside, but how warm and yellow and orange everything on the inside was.

Jeremy: David, have you ever lived in an area that had a lot of like, warehouse buildings or is this something totally different for you?

David: Yeah, I used to live in Queens, New York, and just visiting with friends living in Brooklyn and stuff like that, and a lot of us lived in like, warehouse spaces, and it kinda felt like that. [laughs]

Jeremy: Awesome, thanks David. How about you Anna? What's something that stood out and did you take any inspiration?

Anna: Yeah, so with this photo, I was struck immediately by how beautiful I thought it was. I thought it looked like a great studio, but I really noticed the difference or contrast between how— like you were saying—the industrial, cool background is with, compared with the warm, kind of sunny inside of the studio. But I particularly liked how different the photos of the people were, and it felt very warm and homey with the flowers and the people—so signs of life. So I tried to incorporate kind of what shows us that there's life and care around us in my photo as well.

Jeremy: Anna, you said that it looks like a good studio—I'm hearing like home and care. What makes a good studio, other than those things?

Anna: Ooh, I would have to say a good studio has proximity to hot tea or coffee [Jeremy laughs] and a good studio dog to be there with you and encourage you.

Jeremy: Of course. Thanks y'all! Now we're going to take a look at your still-life photographs that you made in response to this. That looks like yours, David.

[Image on screen changes]

David: Yeah, so, this is my image. And one of the main focal points, main things to look at in this image would probably be the two jars. My 5-year-old son and I are doing an experiment right now, growing crystals in jars using sugar in one and salt in the other and trying to see which one grows bigger or faster. And so I wanted to put those in the window.

Grace: Awesome. How does this idea, sort of experimenting—did that shape the other items that you chose to add into your window artwork?

David: Yeah, so I was thinking about science, and I was thinking about things that we might think of with science. So if you look around, there's a compass telling the direction, one that an explorer might use. You'll also see some found, fossilized coral pieces that I got from the ocean. There's also, in front of that, there's two little coyote teeth that I found, walking around in the woods, that a coyote had lost. And I thought that that would be kind of neat. You know, parts of the ocean, parts of animals, science experiments—all together. So it felt like maybe this was the window of somebody's science lab.

Jeremy: Awesome!

Grace: Awesome, thank you.

[image on screen changes]

Gus: This is my photo. So there's two main elements to this. The first one is all the borrowed objects from my grandparents' house. like I was saying. This is the first of many plants that I'm going to take back and rightfully claim as mine. So the plant is from my grandma, but also the film that you see right there in the cup. My grandpa used to take a lot of film photos, but he only took them on positive rolls of film instead of negative rolls, so when you would actually develop it the colors would be like small photos instead of like, the opposite colors. And I took a lot of those from him, because I really have nothing else better to do right now. [Laughs] So it's just cool to have these big photo albums, but just like 36 photos on one page. It's been fun to look through. But then the other thing is that I did observe my window and I was . . . for the whole time I've been in this room, I've noticed that it was pretty noisy and windy. And so as I was sitting here observing it, I noticed that it just doesn't close all the way. So that's why the candle is there, because even though it's still windy and noisy, the candle is like how cozy my room still is, in spite of all the odds, you know? Yeah, that's about it.

Grace: That's awesome! So, you say, oh, you know, "I'm checking out my grandfather's old photos, because I don't have anything better to do." But I'm curious, like, it kind of sounds like there's more inspiration and connection there. Do you find inspiration in your grandparents and your family often?

Gus: Yeah. Well, I take a lot of film photos as well and the camera that I use is my grandpa's. He didn't really do . . . he used it more for documentary purposes just so that we have these memories that he can give to me and I can look through in a time like this. So I definitely take inspiration from using photography as like a diary or a time capsule, almost. And yeah, that's exactly how I use it.

Grace: Awesome, that's lovely.

[Image on screen changes]

Anna: Yay! Anna here, this is my window that I'm looking at right now. So, this is my office window at my home here in Pilsen. I thought a lot about how, kind of, intimate we are with our neighbors and how there's so many families around me. And I took inspiration from the photo, the titled Caravaggio photo, when thinking about kind of comparing what's outside to what's inside, and I really felt like the photos that were shown within that photo were really filled with life. And you had people that were warm, that were interacting, and then you had the warmth and life of the flower. And people, and plants, and animals all care for each other. So I put objects that reminded me of caring for my fellow artists. There are a lot of things here that were given to me by my fellow artists, friends, and loved ones. There, for example, is a leaf that looks like a real leaf but it's actually carved wood with little drops of resin on it to look like water. And that was made by my friend Raul, who is also an artist who used to live in Chicago. So just having something that reminds you of life and springtime and the outdoors when you're actually looking at a just a brick wall felt like a really nice moment. And then it's also about care and this is my neighbor's window and so I'm hoping that they might look out and see things and feel a little bit like we're collaborating almost, like the photo was kind of collaborating with Caravaggio in a way.

Grace : That's really lovely. If you're up for sharing, I'm curious how you're taking care of yourself in this time. Is there something that you're doing? You know, these objects represent care, but what's one way that you're taking care of yourself?

Anna: That's great. So, I'm trying to spend a lot of time outside when I can, just kind of watching things pop up even in the tiny garden that we do have. And also just trying to still move around, doing lots of yoga and just being silly and playing with my dog. Just kind of doing those things, that kind of I know that people of any age like to do to feel better. Especially basking in the sunshine.

Grace: Awesome, yes! Love doing all of those things.

Jeremy: Thanks everyone, those were awesome! I hope you had fun and have a nice afternoon. [waves]

David:[waves] Bye, thank you! Bye everyone! [laughs]

Anna:[waves] Thank you!