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“The Freedom Principle” MCA Exhibit Review – Art You Can Hear, Music You Can See

By Amy Munice

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Wadsworth Jarrell, Revolutionary, 1972. Courtesy of the artist

 

Album cover art evokes the times. Jamal Cyrus, The Dowling Street Martyr Brigade - Towards a Walk in the Sun, Pride Catalog #2235, 2005. Courtesy of the artist and Inman Gallery, Houston. Photo: Rick Wells

 

In the year when Malcolm X was murdered a half a century ago, an association was born on the South Side of Chicago that was devoted to expanding the boundaries of jazz. 

 

The Freedom Principle: Experiments in Art and Music, 1965 to Now, MCA Chicago. July 11-November 22, 2015. Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago

 

Wadsworth Jarrell, AACM, 1994. Courtesy of the artist. Photo: Adgar Cowans

 

If you aren’t wont to think of jazz as being bound or restrictive, you’re especially in for a mind-opening treat when you visit the MCA’s homage to the 50th Anniversary of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), an exhibit called “The Freedom Principle Experiments in Art and Music, 1965 to Now”. 

 

There was much crossover between visual art and music spawned by AACM. This is a detail of the AACM percussion stand. The Freedom Principle: Experiments in Art and Music, 1965 to Now, MCA Chicago. July 11-November 22, 2015. Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago

 

Gerald Williams, Nation Time, 1969. Johnson Publishing Company (Chicago). Photo: Geoffrey Black/Johnson Publishing Company

 

With the slogan “Art You Can Hear, Music You Can See”, this exhibit showcases the cross-fertilization of music and art explorations that were rooted in the Black cultural national movements of the ‘60s and ‘70s.   

 

AACM percussion. The Freedom Principle: Experiments in Art and Music, 1965 to Now, MCA Chicago. July 11-November 22, 2015. Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago

 

Wadsworth Jarrell, New Orleans-style group photo in painter Wadsworth Jarrell's backyard, c. 1968/printed 2015. Courtesy of George Lewis

 

Bring your civic pride Chicagoans, because this is a local story.

 

At the opening, AACM founder Phil Cochran played a set on a thumb piano and harp, accompanied by his son. Photo by Peter Kachergis

 

Co-Curators Naomi Beckwith and Dieter Roelstraete, along with several of the artists whose work is on display, led a short tour of the exhibit at the opening. Photo by Peter Kachergis

 

During the opening tour event, co-curator Naomi Beckwith, who grew up in this Chicago milieu of avant garde expression put into motion by AACM and parallel visual arts collectives such as AfriCOBRA (African Commune of Bad Relevant Artists) pointed out the political references of the times that the exhibit showcases, such as a “mute” drum set dressed in black leather evoking the Black Panther movement. 

 

In one installation, Black Panther jacket clad "mute" drum set. The Freedom Principle: Experiments in Art and Music, 1965 to Now, MCA Chicago. July 11-November 22, 2015. Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago.

 

Beckwith said, “On the South Side in the ‘60’s musician were making visual art and many artists were also making music… multidisciplinary arts were a big part of the scene.”

 

Selected AACM members' works. The Freedom Principle: Experiments in Art and Music, 1965 to Now, MCA Chicago. July 11-November 22, 2015. Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago

 

Jeff Donaldson, Jampact and Jelly Tite (For Jamila), 1988. Photo: Mark Gulezian, Quicksilver Photographers.

 

Walk the halls of this exhibit, not overly large, and you are transported to the look, times and feel of that era and the breach with mainstream white culture that infused the spirit of AACM.    

 

French artist Lili Reynaud Dewar created this installation in remembrance of her father's record shop with its vast jazz collection. The curators used this piece to mark the transition between the historic part of the exhibit to the contemporary section. Photo by Peter Kachergis

 

Better yet, the exhibit wends into very recent and contemporary pieces, as though showing how the ideas cultivated by this root system of an earlier time later flowered.

 

The exhibit moves from historic to contemporary works. The Freedom Principle: Experiments in Art and Music, 1965 to Now, MCA Chicago. July 11-November 22, 2015. Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago

 

Nick Cave's "Speak Louder". Photo by Peter Kachergis

 

For some of us, the crown jewels of this exhibit are the newly imagined musical scores framed as the art pieces that they are—

 

Calder-like musical score. Photo by Peter Kachergis

 

Anthony Braxton, Falling River Music (368d), 2004-present. Courtesy of Anthony Braxton and the Tri-Centric Foundation

 

some evoking a Calder feel as much as the real one a short gallery hop away at the MCA,

 

Anthony Braxton, Falling River Music (363h), 2004-present. Courtesy of the artist

 

some having the whisk and whoosh of Chinese brush strokes,

 

Anthony Braxton, Falling River Music (367c), 2004-present. Courtesy of Anthony Braxton and the Tri-Centric Foundation

 

all seeming to epitomize the AACM spirit of seeking ways to break any chains that would hold art or music in one place and instead push it, breathe it, birth it onto new terrain. 

 

Anthony Braxton, Falling River Music (363h), 2004-present. Courtesy of Anthony Braxton and the Tri-Centric Foundation

 

While many art exhibitions hope to convey the zeitgeist that informed the artists’ times few succeed as well as the MCA’s “The Freedom Principle”.  Bravo!

 

Detail of the AACM percussion suite. The Freedom Principle: Experiments in Art and Music, 1965 to Now, MCA Chicago. July 11-November 22, 2015. Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago.

 

Like the Bowie exhibit last year, there are also performances on the MCA stage that accompany the exhibit.  For more information on the exhibit and performances visit the MCA website.  Here you can listen to Phil Cochran's performance on opening day--

 

 

 

As part of "The Freedom Principle" regular concerts are performed in this lobby outside the exhibit. The Freedom Principle: Experiments in Art and Music, 1965 to Now, MCA Chicago. July 11-November 22, 2015. Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago

 

Now through November 22, 2015.

 

Museum of Contemporary Art

220 East Chicago Avenue

Chicago, Illinois

 

312 280 2660

Published on Jul 16, 2015

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