Constellations: Paintings from the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago Collection

Constellations: Paintings from the MCA Collection explores various approaches to painting represented in the MCA Collection — from the 1940s to the present — that focus on how painting communicates ideas about life and art. On view from July 25 to October 18, 2009, Constellations is arranged in a series of “constellations,” or groupings, that are related under the vast universe of painting, that includes works that range from non-objective formalism to figurative representation; and generationally from the Surrealists to emerging artists; with content that represents a myriad of subjects, while highlighting the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago particular strengths in this medium.

Lari Pittman
Lari Pittman, Untitled #14, 2003. Collection Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago. Joseph and Jory Shapiro Fund by exchange. © 2003 Lari Pittman

The long history of painting as an artistic medium, which dates back to the pre-historic cave paintings at Lascaux, necessitates that contemporary artists have an awareness of the past while working in the present to create something significant for the future. For centuries, humans have created ways to understand the universe around them through pictorial representation. One of the earliest examples of this was the creation of astral constellations by farmers, poets, sailors, and others, to more readily find their geographic position in the world in relationship to the stars. This impulse remains, as we continue to question and seek answers about contemporary life through painting, an ancient yet vital art form, that is, to many, the quintessential art form.

Within the exhibition, the constellations aim to make connections between works across generations through the various interests, positions, styles, and histories that artists address within their approach to painting. The five constellations are: New Approaches to Traditional Subjects: the Landscape and Figure; A Faux Naïve Style; The Painting as Object: A Critique of Illusion in Painting; The Phenomenon of Form and Color, Appropriation and Collage in Painting; and In-Between Representation and Abstraction. All of the works in this exhibition are united by the use of paint, a brush, and a support to emphasize the complex and varied manner in which artist’s use similar materials. This is not an exhibition that seeks to redefine what can be considered a painting, but rather examines how painting endures as a vibrant art form, more than one hundred years after it was proclaimed “dead” at the advent of photography.

Augmented by major works from important private collections, the work of approximately 75 of the most important artists of the last 60 years featured in this exhibition includes: Chuck Close, Andy Warhol, Gerhard Richter, Jasper Johns, Luc Tuymans, H.C. Westermann, Josef Albers, Rene Magritte, Francis Bacon, Brice Marden, Caroll Dunham, Thomas Scheibitz, Jean Dubuffet, Sherrie Levine, Jules Olitski, Kenneth Noland, Max Ernst, Sigmar Polke, Rebecca Morris, Roberto Matta, and Yves Tanguy, among others. Featured Chicago artists include Kerry James Marshall, Judy Ledgerwood, Scott Reeder, Marie Krane Bergman, and Vera Klement.

This exhibition is organized by Julie Rodrigues Widholm, Pamela Alper Associate Curator. A documentary film produced by Rodrigues Widholm shares artists’ responses to the question, “Why paint?” Many of the interviewed artists are part of Constellations including Kerry James Marshall, Judy Ledgerwood, Marie Krane Bergman, and Scott Reeder.