If they don’t come to the museum, then the museum has to go to them

CHICAGO — Projects of a collective and dispersed nature, with countless moving elements both human and artistic, are not new, but they are freshly embraced by the artistic establishment. The Art Institute of Chicago comes at just the right time with Floating museum: a lion for every housea community-driven business on view until October 17.

What lion? these lions. You can avoid them and the crowds by entering the museum through the Monroe Street gates.

In Floating Museum, the AIC has chosen the ideal partner. The collective was founded in 2014 by poet avery r. young, architect Andrew Schachman, artist and community organizer Faheem Majeed and sculptor Jeremiah Hulsebos-Spofford. As their name suggests, they basically exist to think outside the box on museums, and they’ve done it with equal glee and smarts all over Chicagoland – in traveling park facilities visible from CTA trains, even atop a river barge. Invited by the AIC’s photo and media department to tap into its holdings, they’ve greatly increased the typical response to such requests, which usually results in delightfully idiosyncratic collection display, as in the long-running MoMA. Artist’s choice series. What Floating Museum did instead was go after the art rental programs run by some colleges and museums (including, formerly, the AIC). They identified 10 hosts from across the city and offered each a choice of three reproductions of the collection to have in their homes; commissioned 10 local photographers to create national portraits of hosts and their loans; and incorporated the commissioned photos into a series of new sculptures. It seems unwieldy, but it’s awfully simple. Instead of asking people to come to the museum, bring them the museum and then bring everything back to the museum.

Installation view of Floating museum: a lion for every house at the Art Institute of Chicago

A lion for every house, of rare coherence and sobriety for a collectivist enterprise, begins with 10 large photo-sculptures arranged in a circle facing inward, like a group meeting. These photos feature the hosts with the loans, displayed in light boxes supported by elaborate metal armatures, supported by inscrutable arrangements of domestic light fixtures, a few of which resemble lamps seen in the illustrated scenes. It’s hilarious to find the borrowed artwork in these compositions; most hosts live with so many loved ones that one more fits in perfectly. That’s literally the case in Jonathan Castillo’s simple portrait of artists Roman and Maria Villarreal sitting on their sofa, surrounded by a densely hung collection of art, including a 1985 photo of the couple, a watercolor of a lion and Edward Weston’s 1941 image of self-taught sculptor William Edmondson’s open-air studio. It’s comically amplified in one of my favorite photos here: Guanyu Xu’s staging of Field Museum curator Alaka Wali resting contentedly at the center of a whirlwind of her private objects and photos. , along with Xu’s photos of her space and possessions, and, if you can find it, Lucas Samaras’ polka dot still life from her necklace collection. This is a total non-issue in the pose of Heather Miller, director of the American Indian Center of Chicago, by Monica Boutwell, outdoors amid tall grass, blue sky, slender forest and four Polaroids large format that make up the magic of Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons. take on birds, nesting and hair.

The exhibition raises and answers in its own way all kinds of questions about how museums can decentralize power, knowledge, property and privilege. These are deep-seated issues rocking art institutions right now – but not really what I was thinking as I stood at the center of this circle of hosts. What I wanted to know is why they chose the art they did, why they didn’t choose the other works offered, how they decided to display the loans in their homes and how it was to temporarily share the space with these new things. . Living with art has nothing to do with seeing it in a museum.

Installation view of Floating museum: a lion for every house at the Art Institute of Chicago

The exhibition invites reflection on all these points and more through its skilful organization. The next room features a salon-style hanging of the 20 works that weren’t shortlisted, and I’m pretty sure pictures by Indian photographers Gauri Gill and Dayanita Singh were suggested to hosts Shireen and Afzal Ahmad, founders of the South Asian Institute and longtime collectors of South Asian art. Perhaps Roman Vishniac’s study of a workman’s hand in the 1930s and Judith Joy Ross’s tender likeness of a schoolboy were offered to welcome Joann Podkul Murphy, a longtime history teacher and Community Archivist of Southeast Chicago. Again, maybe not. As for Kenneth Josephson’s clever collage of Chicago postcards or An-My Lê’s jungly Vietnamese landscape or Larry Sultan’s scene of his retired parents at their kitchen table – I really have none idea, but it was fun to think about and also just to see such a random group of excellent photographs hanging together.

In the room presenting the originals of the 10 chosen works, detailed information is finally available on these collectible works and their creators, as well as on the local hosts and photographers who made these joint portraits. Waiting until the third gallery was a nice, if unusual, gesture; it gives viewers permission to have their own feelings, to think their own thoughts, when they haven’t been told what’s what and who’s who yet. Here, everything comes out, and everything falls into place, on certain ace wall labels. We learn that West Side Cultural Arts Council director Levette Haynes chose a late 1960s print by freelance photojournalist Bob Crawford because she could imagine herself as the artist he was documenting: Myrna Weaver painting a section of the historic African-American community mural “The Wall of Respect. Naturally, Haynes’ portrait was painted by Nicole Harrison, whose LEGACY project fashions stylish images of Chicagoans from Great Migration families. It all ties together, likewise, Luis Medina’s bizarre photo of a tree covered in plastic sheeting for protection while the adjacent apartment building received a fresh coat of paint. Erika Allen, who runs urban farms on the South Side, chose it for its juxtaposition of plant life and city; Tonika Lewis Johnson, who portrayed Allen, created the Folded Map Projectwhich matches addresses at opposite ends of Chicago’s segregated geography.

The last of the exhibition’s four galleries provides insight into the personalities, undoubtedly considerable administrative effort and noise of a company like A Lion for every home. It presents a video with excerpts of online conversations between the hosts, the floating museum and the curators of the AIC. Everyone is interesting, but more is revealed about how art can make sense to a diverse group of individuals, and that’s thankfully brief.

Installation view of Floating museum: a lion for every house at the Art Institute of Chicago

Floating museum: a lion for every home continues at the Art Institute of Chicago (111 South Michigan Avenue, Chicago, Illinois) through October 17. The exhibition was curated by Floating Museum and Art Institute of Chicago curators Grace Deveney, Elizabeth Siegel, and Matthew Witkovsky.

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