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Review> Homecoming
Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago explores how artists make art about home in Homebodies exhibition.
Martha Rosier, Beauty Rest, 1967-72.
Courtesy Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago

Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago
220 East Chicago Avenue
Through October 13

MCA Curator Naomi Beckwith acknowledges that, while the theme of Homebodies—which explores how artists make art about home and working from home—isn’t completely original, most exhibitions of this kind focus on the home as a commodity. Here, it’s her intention for observers to look at home as a concept. And if there’s anything that’s abundant in Homebodies, it’s concept: the show includes any number of conceptual works that astutely reflect the contemporary art movement’s strengths and failures.

The connection of art to home is a natural: most artists work at home, at least at the beginning, and domestic scale ends up dictating the size and dimension of much artwork. That said, the most compelling pieces in this show make allusions to that very sense of scope and reach, making us mull over the myriad elements that define space and space making.

The show offers photography, painting, assemblage, video, and work on paper along with some very impressive installation pieces. It is always a treat to see work by luminaries like George Segal, Barbara Kruger, Robert Gober, and Marina Abramovic, but it’s the work by artists either emerging or at mid-career that’s most worthwhile here.

Views of the exhibition.

The flashiest piece in the show has to be Imperial Nail Salon [my parents’ living room], the re-created living room cum nail salon that Dzine created to capture the memory of his childhood home in Chicago’s Humboldt Park, where his mother made a living as a manicurist. As a conceptual work, it exemplifies how so much contemporary art is archly, aggressively autobiographical; here, we are led to conclude that it is his mother’s fanciful approach to extreme nails which influenced the sequined and bedazzled “cruisemobiles” that have made him such a central figure at the last few Art Basel Miami fairs. (During certain Saturdays of the exhibition’s run, real nail technicians have provided service at the space—just one of the clever accompanying programs MCA has organized to embellish the show.)

Quiltmaker Abigail Anne Newbold’s remarkable construction Making Home literally divides work and home. Neatly laid out like a diorama, it depicts both her homespun-style living space and her quilt-making workshop, offering a look at a work-in-progress. Both evince a kind of Spartan industriousness: It is no coincidence that the pattern of the quilt under construction is “Building Blocks.”

Left to right: Doug Aitken, House (I don't Know), 2011; Jan Smaga and Aneta Grzeszykowska, "Plan," Composition #7, Plac Inwalidow 20/6, 2003; Francesca Woodman, It must be time for lunch now, New York, 1979.

Rachel Whiteread’s Untitled floor [Thirty-six]—a cast-aluminum floor piece—illustrates one of the biggest challenges facing those who experience much conceptual work. The observer doesn’t know what to make of it until he learns that it’s a casting of floor tiles from a German synagogue decimated during World War II. It is all valid enough, but it really raises the issue of what it is worth if it requires accompanying text to explain it.

Contrast that with Do Ho Suh’s beautiful and haunting Wieldandstr. 18, 12159 Berlin, which delineates in diaphanous green fabric stretched on a wire frame an apartment where the artist once lived in Berlin. While knowing that fact helps you to identify it, even without that knowledge it is easy to intuit that this is the re-creation of a real space. But its presentation offers layers of meaning, both obvious and subtle. It is about the wandering life of the nomad, the ironic impermanence of the built environment, and the peculiar conundrum of installation art itself, which is so often site-specific—yet here, this is a “place” that is easily collapsed and re-erected in another venue. It is a fitting centerpiece to a rich, provocative show.

Philip Berger

Philip Berger is a frequent contributor to AN.