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Voting Early and Often, Chicago Style

The Society for Contemporary Art (SCA) was founded at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1940 to promote a better understanding and appreciation of the art of our time. Monthly SCA programs provide access to an exciting roster of leading national and international artists, dealers, critics, historians, and curators, as well as visits to distinguished private collections and major art centers within the United States and abroad. On an annual basis, the members of our volunteer-based acquisition committee review a carefully selected group of contemporary works and present them as an exhibition in the museum. Our membership then votes to purchase one or more objects on behalf of the museum. In past years, the SCA has acquired works by artists such as Josef Albers, Alexander Calder, Joan Mitchell, Jasper Johns, James Turrell, Dan Graham, Leon Golub, Reinhard Mucha, Lorna Simpson, Guillermo Kuitca, Tacita Dean, Larry Clark, Doug Aitken, Wolfgang Tillmans, Rudolf Stingel, Rosemarie Trockel, Matthew Monahan, and Nancy Spero.

This year’s acquisition selection is installed throughout the contemporary permanent collection galleries in the Modern Wing and includes  two paintings, one by Daan van Golden (Dutch, born 1936) and one by General Idea (Canadian, 1969–1994); a sculptural installation by Ree Morton (American, 1936–1977); a video by Christian Marclay (American, born 1955); and a sculpture by Isa Genzken (German, born 1948).

Members will vote on these works at the annual meeting on May 18, 2010. If you’re in the galleries, be sure to stop and view these pieces. Below are short texts about the works and their gallery locations. Come on in and take a look! For more information about the Society, please visit www.scaaic.org.

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Ree Morton, Devil Chaser, 2nd version, 1975–76. Wire and enamel on Celastic; acrylic on plywood. Dimensions variable.

Gallery 293B

During her brief career, Ree Morton created a personal and poetic body of work that expanded definitions of painting, sculpture, and installation and foreshadowed the Pattern and Decoration movement of the late 1970s. In 1974 Morton began utilizing Celastic, a plastic compound used in stage sets, to add decorative elements such as bows, roses, banners, and drapery to her pieces. In Devil Chaser, 2nd Version, coils of wire are wrapped with this bright material to embody the eponymous Saint-John’s-wort, an unruly plant that—according to Neltje Blanchan’s Wildflowers Worth Knowing (1917), the artist’s source for this piece—was hung in windows on St. John’s Eve and believed to “to cure demonics, to ward off destruction by lightning, to reveal the presence of witches.” Known at this time for a sentimental form of feminism that playfully critiqued stereotypes of women’s work, Morton adorned this wild natural healer with roses and garlands, and encircled the dynamic form in a ring of sculptural letters.

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General Idea, White AIDS #3, 1993. Gesso on canvas. 60 x 60 inches.

Gallery 291A

For 25 years, the collective General Idea forged a single, mythologized identity in which the artists worked as a collaborative unit that presented self-conscious parodies of the art world and consumer culture. In response to an invitation to create work for the Art against AIDS benefit, in 1987 General Idea appropriated the colors and design of Robert Indiana’s widely quoted LOVE (1965), reconfiguring his image to read “AIDS.” Producing wallpaper, stamps, public sculpture, posters, and billboards, General Idea spread its AIDS logo throughout art institutions and transportation systems in the United States and Europe. AA Bronson explained, “We want to make the word AIDS normal. . . . By keeping the word visible, it has a normalizing effect that will hopefully play a part in normalizing people’s relationship to the disease—to make it something that can be dealt with as a disease rather than a set of moral or ethical issues.” In contrast to the traditional color-saturated logo, the letters in White AIDS #3 are obscured by layers of white gesso, a reference to modernist abstraction. Here the ghostly appearance of the message, covered up and hidden below the surface, is a haunting, somber reflection on the epidemic that would take the lives of two of the three members of the group.

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Isa Genzken, Luke, 1986. Concrete, steel. 82 x 20 x 20 inches.

Gallery 299

Since studying in the late 1970s at the Düsseldorf Academy of Fine Arts, Isa Genzken has become known for an uncompromising practice consisting of dramatic aesthetic and formal ruptures that result in a constant reinvention of her working methods and materials. Luke belongs to a series of poured-concrete sculptures that Genzken created from 1986 to 1990. Utilizing wooden molds, she layered the material, leaving imprints, fissures, and unfinished edges, and at times smashing the forms with a hammer. Placed on custom-made steel stands, these pieces reference the materiality of modern architecture. In fact, many are named after architectural components, and a few specifically allude to architects such as Mies van der Rohe and Marcel Breuer. The title of this piece, Luke (meaning porthole in German), refers to the small opening in the upper corner. One of the more elegant works by Genzken from this period, it reveals horizontal grooves, layers that emphasize the chance irregularities of the material. The slightly imposing scale and height establish an elevation—both literal and conceptual—that defies the weight and fragility of its construction.

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Christian Marclay, Guitar Drag, 2000. DVD projection; 14 minutes.

Gallery 295C

Christian Marclay creates playful, and at times socially and politically charged, artworks that explore the intersection of the visual and the sonic in art and popular music. Guitar Drag, in which Marclay pulled a Fender Stratocaster by its neck across the fields and highways of Texas, investigates the relationship between image and sound. Tied to the back of a pickup truck and plugged into an amplifier, the guitar bounded along the country roads, accompanied by the sound of its own destruction. Marclay explained: “I wanted to see how it would react to the different textures. It is almost like the needle scraping against different kinds of grooves, amplifying the ground. I think of it as being a piece about the landscape as well because it goes through these textures. It has a sense of place.” While Guitar Drag references Fluxus performances by artists such as Nam June Paik and the destructive tendencies of musicians Pete Townshend and Jimi Hendrix, the video’s action and setting refer to the horrific murder of James Byrd in 1998. In a violent, aggressive exploration of noise and destruction, the guitar stands in for the African American man who was tied by his ankles to a pick-up truck and dragged to his death outside of Jasper, Texas.

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Daan van Golden, Study Pollock IV/IV (detail), 2006. Oil on canvas. 76.75 x 55 inches.

Gallery 291 D

Study Pollock IV/IV is part of Daan van Golden’s silhouette series, in which he isolates details from fabric or well-known artworks. Begun in the late 1980s, his Pollock Studies are created by projecting slides of a section from one of Pollock’s gestural paintings onto a primed white canvas, tracing the outlines of the drips in pencil, and then filling in the outlines with paint—typically red, black, or blue. In his close studies of Pollock’s paintings, Van Golden finds narrative, figurative components, explaining, “I see it as a mystery. If you look carefully, you see something that Pollock absolutely didn’t intend. Yet it’s there all the same.” The result is a seamless cropping and enlarging of Pollock’s drips painted in a deliberate, graphic manner. Drained of the materiality and emotion of its source, Van Golden’s process does not reflect criticism, but respect and even homage.