Currently on show at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, through January 10, is an extensive exhibition of a size and significance previously unprecedented in an American museum, featuring British artist Liam Gillick. “Liam Gillick: Three perspectives and a short Scenario,” interestingly marks the final installment of an elaborate multi-part, multi-national project, in association with Witte de With in Rotterdam, Kunsthalle Zurich, and the Kunstverein in Munich, that represents this celebrated artist. Each location offered a unique, yet complementary, investigation into Gillick’s practice resulting in a rigorously comprehensive mid-career survey.
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Gillick’s oeuvre extends beyond conventional visual boundaries; it is thoroughly multi-disciplinary. With ease he engages with all the elements that make-up our cultural, social and political landscapes, including literature – both didactic and fictional – graphics, architecture, music and theatre, as well as the more obvious, painting. The key work in the exhibition is a beautiful installation in the ceiling of one of the galleries, where Gillick has replaced the 576 lighting panels with a glittering array of multi-colored transparent and opaque Plexiglas panels. It is successfully representative of Gillick’s object and installation works as a whole; in its referencing of architectural vocabulary and in its grand scale this work is evocative of public artworks similarly to his signature “platform” sculptures. Thus we get to the core of the “perspective” the MCA exhibition takes. Gillick’s objective – along with artists including Rirkrit Tiravanija, Jorge Pardo, Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, and Andrea Zittel – epitomizes what the critic Nicholas Bourriaud described as “relational aesthetics.” In other words, by engaging the public on the inclusive and participatory level of public art, Gillick attempts to revalorize notions of community and intersubjectivity. It is a counterbalance to our post-humanist, post-capitalist individualistic society; it runs against ego-centricity.
As a supplement to the exhibition, the MCA have also commissioned Gillick to guest curate their collection. The project, entitled The one hundred and sixty-third floor, in reference 162-floor Burj Dubai building which superseded the Chicago’s own Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower) as the world’s tallest building, implies the re-establishment of the city’s preeminence. Supposedly it is a reappraisal of the collection meant to strengthen its import. Yet, this part of the exhibition seems more to reflect Gillick’s ongoing attraction to the role of the museum and by extension the role of the collection housed within it. Gillick focuses on the inclusion of relatively lesser known artists within museum collections. He also makes efforts to reconsider the practical installation and display of the artworks, attempting to improve the use of wall labels by altering the choice of interpretation and description. In this way Gillick draws our attention to the subjective nature of curation within a museum and encourages the visitor to compare his view to the official, institutional view. What we thought, or hoped, was objective is thrown into question. Simultaneously, this exhibit provides a canonical context for Gillick’s own work.
What initially appears as a potent, almost political, commentary on the role of the artist and of the museum within society – reflecting on the discrepancies between a utopian idealism and reality, his manipulation of art for consciously social and public ends, combined with his assumption of the curator’s role – begins to appear as an elaborate device to add academic weight to his work. What is potential undermined is the aesthetic purity and beauty of the art works.