Thursday, September 27, 2007

Rocking Art

The MCA takes an expansive look at art and rock ’n’ roll in its 40th anniversary exhibit

by Anthonia Akitunde

Music is always informing and inspiring the work of artists near and far, sometimes serving as a gathering point for collaboration between artists and musicians. Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) explores the intersection of contemporary art and rock music over the past 40 years in their latest exhibit "Sympathy for the Devil: Art and Rock and Roll Since 1967," just in time to kick off their official 40th anniversary and celebration, "40 Free Days."

Basic math aside, the exhibition explores the late ’60s because the volatile political and social issues of those times produced "a revolutionary spirit that led to the fusion of avant-garde art and rock music." Curated by MCA's Dominic Molon, the exhibit takes its name from the eponymous 1968 Rolling Stones' song, better known as the song many thought to have been playing during the tragic events of 1969's Altamont Speedway concert. "Sympathy for the Devil" represents the ties between art and rock music in New York, West Coast/L.A., the Midwest, United Kingdom, Europe and the world through visual art, music and film.

The exhibit is ambitious in its breadth of artists, musicians and pieces; museum patrons will receive the full benefit of "Sympathy's" scope. While preparing for the exhibit, Molon spoke to as many people as he possibly could who were “part of this dialogue between rock music and art," he explains. "From Colin Newman of the legendary punk band Wire, to curators and critics such as Diedrich Diedrichsen and Matthew Higgs, and artists such as Mike Kelley and Christian Marclay, I selected the show based on much of the consensus opinions I got about certain figures, as well as following my own inclinations and tastes. As much as possible, I tried to prioritize, including artists who’ve consistently worked in this area throughout their career."

One of the artists representing New York will be MCA frequent Andy Warhol; his Screen Tests films -- film portraits of famous and anonymous visitors to his Factory art studio -- will be screened. Artists Melanie Schiff and Josh Mannis are showing their work -- inspired by vintage rock ’n’ roll -- as well. Large-scale pieces, like Rita Ackermann's mural and a graphic collage by Brazilian artist collective assume vivid astro focus will awe viewers. Also make a note in your calendars to catch another collaboration between the arts and music Oct. 7; the MCA and Intonation (once responsible for bringing great music to Chicago's summer festival circuit) present an indie-rock concert. Located in the MCA's plaza, the free concert features Chicago music staples and up-and-comers like Califone, the 1900s, Cool Kids with DJ duo Flosstradamus, the Eternals, Headache City and Poster Children. Rock has come a long way, and MCA is documenting every new and old chord.

"I think we associate certain images with particular songs because of album covers, music videos and films that artists have created at the invitation of rock musicians," Molon says. "We don’t know the Beatles’ White Album by its real name (The Beatles) but by its nickname based on the distinctive design by artist Richard Hamilton. It’s also arguable that David Bowie’s inclination toward multiple personae would have been much different without Andy Warhol. I think artists draw a lot of inspiration from the intensity of rock music as well as its style, its attitude, its ability to more immediately affect the way people think about things politically. It’s one of the most affecting and defining forms of popular culture that we have, and it’s impossible to think about art made since its emergence without rock ’n’ roll being somewhere in the mix."

”Sympathy for the Devil” opens at the MCA (220 E. Chicago, 312/280-2660) Sept. 29;