Art and Architecture Against Gravity Review - A Sight to Behold at Museum of Contemporary Art

Chicago is known for its architectural splendor. Its skyscrapers are a site  to behold.  If you have wondered how these tall buildings influence art, mold our urban culture, and affect politics of terrorism, the current show Skyscraper: Art and Architecture Against Gravity at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) Chicago June 30 - September 23 is sure to provide valuable insight. 


The intersection of architecture, art, and society is vividly exposed in this exhibition of varied perspectives by more than fifty artists who come from more than a dozen different countries including Republic of Congo, Puerto Rico, and Lebanon as well as US and Europe.   Michael Darling, MCA James W. Alsdorf Chief Curator, and Joanna Szupinska, MCA Marjorie Susman Curatorial Fellow have assembled  paintings, sculpture, photography, video, and installations to produce a provocative show.


A steel structure resembling a crumbling fire escape hanging in the museum’s four-story atrium immediately captures visitors’ attention and serves as an appropriate introduction to an exhibition which not only celebrates architects’ achievements, but also explores the often grim consequences of high rise habitation.  The MCA commissioned Monika Sosnowka, a renowned Polish artist, to create a piece for this show.  It’s titled The Fire Escape, but also might aptly be called No Escape.  


Human aspiration to “touch the stars” has spurred design of ever taller structures, which have transformed skylines from Chicago and New York to Shanghai and Dubai, where Burj Khalifa shown in an exhibition copy of a photo by  Ziad Antar holds the record (almost twice the height of Willis Tower).  Chris Burden’s Eitech toy model of the elegant Chrysler Building 1911 dominates an area dedicated to Verticality.  Nearby Jennifer Bolande’s Appliance House features an arrangement of Duratrans  photos  in light boxes  stacked to resemble Lever House.


Vulnerability is acknowledged in several works memorializing terrorist destruction. Jonathan Horowitz’s  Recycling Sculpture (World Trade Center Memorial) connects their empty outline with the current moment during the exhibition by stacking daily newspapers at their base.  This image overlooks Exploded City 2009 by Ahmet Ogut, an installation of maquettes of two dozen other terrorist targets.



Pausing to watch Fikret Atay’s “Tinica” video of an itinerant  drummer performing on a ledge overlooking bleak apartment blocks in Batman, Turkey gives visitors time to adjust to low light to view Untitled (skyline), 2007.  Turkish artist Kadia Attia adorned discarded refrigerators with mirror tiles to reflect the glitter of high-rise skylines in this installation.  


The exhibition concludes with a series of soft sculptures of Portable Cities  by  Yin Xiuzhen, who uses textile fragments to produce miniature replicas.




Film video works featured in the show include Andy Warhol's iconic 1964 film Empire -- a continuous, static shot of the Empire State Building - and the multi-screen video projection High Wire by Catherine Yass depicting the terrifying attempt of high wire artist Didier Pasquette to walk among three of Glasgow's Red Road high rise tower blocks, and Cyprian Galliard’s Desniansky Raion, 2007. Jan Tichy’s Installation No. 3, 2007 is worth the nine minutes required to watch the digital video projection “come alive” with moving figures among the light and shadow.


The Museum of Contemporary Art

20 East Chicago Avenue, Chicago, IL 60611.

Hours 10 - 5 Wednesday-Sunday

            10 - 8 Tuesday 

                        Free Admission

            10 - 5 Wednesday-Sunday

                        General Admission $12.00                       

                        Students, Seniors   $7.00



Photos: Dorothie Shah



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