BWW Reviews: Art Institute of Chicago Showcases Video Art, Film with Steyerl, McQueen Exhibitions
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by Raymond Hayen
Following its highly publicized summer Lichtenstein retrospective, the Art Institute of Chicago appears to be putting emphasis on video art and film installations during the fall season with two innovative new exhibitions - FOCUS: HITO STEYERL and Steve McQueen.
The exhibition from German artist Hito Steyerl, a part of the ongoing FOCUS series in the modern wing, includes six film installations: NOVEMBER, LOVELY ANDREA, IN FREE FALL, ABSTRACT, ADORNO'S GREY and GUARDS. Steyerl’s body of work often switches between serious, playful, and humorous; and her films focus on topics of sexuality, feminism, ethnicity, activism, and youthful experimentation.
One of the highlights of the exhibition is certainly the film LOVELY ANDREA, which documents Steyerl’s trip to Tokyo where she attempts to find a photograph of herself from 1987 in which she posed in bondage gear. LOVELY ANDREA is one of the more comical works in the collection, with cutaways to SPIDERMAN and the film FLASHDANCE as well as a soundtrack that includes “She Works Hard for the Money” by Donna Summer.
Yet, the film is also fascinatingly multi-faceted, as it looks at the past and present S&M scene in Tokyo, while also using the subject matter to inspire the viewer to examine societal norms by comparing the bondage of the S&M scene to the bondage of everyday life.
The exhibition from British artist Steve McQueen, in the Institute’s Regenstein Hall, features 14 video art installations and one sculptural piece. The exhibition is quite awe-inspiring, with Regenstein Hall being transformed into a dimly lit space that is occupied by large-scale video installations. The installations are mostly “in the round,” as many of them feature multiple sides that alter the viewer’s experience in sight and sound as they walk from one side to the next.
One highlight of the exhibition is ILLUMINER, 2001, which is installed in a separate gallery space within the exhibition. The piece features a man lying still on a bed in a dark room while he appears to be watching a television set. The separated installation of this particular piece makes it feel as if the viewer is face-to-face with the man in the bedroom, making the work off-putting and intriguing.
Overall, the exhibition is highly political in nature, beginning with the opening installation of a close-up aerial view of the Statue of Liberty. The video includes audio of a helicopter and shaky visuals that cause the image to appear almost frightening to the viewer. This overpowering and dynamic entrance to the exhibit is juxtaposed with the final piece, QUEEN AND COUNTRY, 2003-2009, which is a subdued and intimate wooden sculptural installation. The installation is composed of drawers that hold sheets of postage stamp-sized headshots of British soldiers that were killed in action during the Iraq War. The comparison of this beautiful and intimate final piece with the large and overpowering first video shows McQueen’s criticism of the U.K.’s involvement in the war, and causes the viewer to question the cost of war. The exhibit calls to attention the strange duality of war itself, of the humanity that is oftentimes overshadowed in the face of a colossal cause.
FOCUS: HITO STEYERL runs through January 27, 2013 and Steve McQueen runs through January 6, 2013. The Art Institute of Chicago is located at 111 South Michigan Avenue. For more information on either of these exhibitions, visit www.artic.edu/exhibitions.
Photos Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago