MCA: Contemporary Art after Frida

Earlier this week, I stopped by the Museum of Contemporary Art to see “Unbound: Contemporary Art after Frida Kahlo.” I rather enjoyed it. It’s an interesting collection of artists including some old favorites like Cindy Sherman and Felix Gonzalez-Torres. I was happy to note that many are from Latin America.

The exhibition starts off with two lovely pictures by Frida Kahlo herself. I’ve always been a fan of Frida Kahlo. I’ve been drawn to her surrealist tendencies (not that she would describe them that way) and her imagery of Mexico. Even without knowing about her life, her pictures reveal such longing and loneliness. It’s really incredible how well she conveys these emotions. Also, I love her detail. These two pictures were simply exquisite. One was a self-portrait with her head on the body of a deer pierced with arrows. The other showed night and day and Frida sitting in one of her indigenous dresses next to a naked, bleeding curled up person. The sitting Frida holds a sign of her favorite song lyrics “Tree of Hope, sustain me.”

The exhibition brought together many artists whose work dealt with many themes that Frida had dealt with. One section dealt with the female nude. My favorite pieces actually came from this theme. I like Cindy Sherman a fair deal but I don’t know much about her. The photo was Cindy Sherman dressed as a woman who was found dead. Her face is lightly covered in dirt with unseeing eyes. So unsettling. It really was a powerful comment about violence against women. There were some photos by Cuban artist Ana Mendieta that dealt with the relationship of the body to the earth. There is this one really unsettling photo of a red imprint of her body in a niche. Again, really unsettling but wonderful. I had heard about her work before in graduate school but I had never seen her work in person. Sadly, I can never forget the fact that she was killed after falling out the 34th floor of an apartment building in NY. Her death remains a mystery.

I was pleased to discover a new artist named Celia Alvarez Munoz. She had a piece composed of five photos of an apple getting eaten. Below the photos, she narrates a story about an incident in her childhood involving shame at her body. It’s funny but potent. The last photo shows a photo of a snake, making a clear reference to the story of Adam and Eve.

The last piece I’ll mention was “She” by Lorna Simpson. There were four large photos of a person in a suit sitting down. The photo was cut just above the mouth to midleg. On top was a little sign that said, “Female.” At first, I realized that I had made the assumption that the sitter was a man, an inadvertent assumption based on the suit. Then I started to consider: “Is the chin masculine or feminine?” or “What is the cut of the suit?” I loved how it challenged my assumptions of what “indicates” gender.

So all in all, I really enjoyed this show at the MCA. I just wish it were bigger and there were more Frida Kahlo paintings. But I’ll take it.

On a completely  different note, Let’s Get Working: Chicago Celebrates Studs Terkel starts today until Sunday at the University of Chicago. It’s going to be an awesome weekend of Studs Terkel. You should go!

That’s all!

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