With my tenure at the History Museum ending in a matter of weeks, I've been doing my best to squeeze in as many free museum visits as possible. Though our trip to the Field Museum with Abel and Sinead was about as spur-of-the-moment as the rest of their visit, our recent foray to the Art Institute and today's visit to the Museum of Contemporary Art had been on my summer to-do list for a while. Like the Lichtenstein exhibit, the MCA has an exhibit called "Skyscraper: Art and Architecture Against Gravity" that is ending soon, and I'd been keen on seeing it.
After all, what is more iconic to Chicago than the skyscraper? The architectural form was practically born here, with the construction of the Home Insurance Building in 1885, widely considered to be the world's first skyscraper, though its ten-story height would put it firmly in mid-rise territory today. Today, our skyline includes such icons as the Sears, ahem, excuse me, Willis Tower, the tallest building in the United States, and it's near twin, the Hancock Building. The Trump Tower has made its presence known in the past few years, but there are architectural gems to be found in Chicago from practically every decade since the 1880s.
With the MCA's focus on art, as opposed to architecture, I was curious to see what they would bring to the table with their exhibit on the subject. Not to be anti-intellectual, but their exhibits are often too cerebral for me. I often come away from there with the feeling that their offerings are like the raw kale of the museum world -- I know it's good for me, but it takes a very specific palate to appreciate it.
Hence, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I actually really enjoyed "Skyscrapers." There was a good mix of pieces that were totally "out there," and ones with an obvious connection to the theme. For every bicycle-operated machine erecting an enormous red and white penis painted on multiple panels, there was a clever sculpture playing on the ideas of grids and verticality.
I was especially moved by the inclusion of a room that dealt with our changing relationship to high-rises in the wake of 9/11. In particular, I was fascinated by a mammoth installation of 151 newspaper front-pages from September 12th, the day after the attacks. It was interesting to see how much space was dedicated to the topic, how this varied by country, which images seemed to be most popular with the press, and the various headlines that were used to describe the tragedy. The whole room made me hunger for an exhibit solely dedicated to art inspired by 9/11. Now that we're a decade removed from the events of that day, I think the world is ready.
The exhibit had a notable Chicago bias, which I didn't mind, given that I have a Chicago bias myself, and the skyscraper is inextricably linked to our city. I'm not sure how well it would play in a different city, but it was a perfect exhibit for the MCA, and one that surely attracted a broader audience for them. It was certainly the only time I've ever been tempted to buy an exhibition catalog for anything I've seen there, and if the MCA continues to host exhibits like "Skyscrapers," I may make a point of returning there in the future, even if I have to pay for the privilege.