Using elements of oral history, performance, and public speaking, McMillian exposes the social and psychological consequences of economic inequality in the United States, the racism endemic to the country’s political and institutional landscape, and the failure to provide freedom and prosperity to all US citizens.
This program of three works in the Art Institute’s collection represents highlights from McMillian’s work in video. In Untitled (The Great Society) I (2006), he stages a performance in which he recites President Lyndon B. Johnson’s 1964 commencement speech at the University of Michigan. By narrating this speech—in which Johnson outlined his ambitious agenda for social welfare legislation aimed at ending poverty and racial injustice—McMillian raised questions about how history and politics are themselves consistently, and repeatedly, performed. A Migration Tale (2014–15) follows a masked, black-clad character traveling on foot and via subway, a contemporary reference to the Great Migration that millions of African Americans made during the first half of the 20th century. In Preacher Man (2015), McMillian sits calmly on a chair in an empty field and presents philosophical musings by the experimental jazz composer and musician Sun Ra.
The three videos play consecutively during museum hours.