Turning the Building Inside Out

1980s Artists Exhibitions

Judith Kirshner describes two exhibitions by artists who thought outside of the box.

The first exhibition Martin Puryear ever did in a museum was here at the MCA. I invited him—he was then teaching at UIC before I was there, and I invited Martin to come and do a site-specific piece for the facade of the museum. And that’s another point. My interest was to, if you will, explore the potential of the museum in the same way that Dan Flavin or Christo had explored before; to take this kunsthalle and use it as the sort of means to fabricate new art. And Martin Puryear was the perfect example of a sculptor who instead used that space as a kind of showcase for a piece called Some Lines for Jim Beckwourth, and there were lines of rawhide and wood that he assembled to cross the facade. So it was metaphoric; some lines that one could read, but then also very abstract. And in the middle of that space was a mound, a very typical, how should I say, irregular geometric form that Martin built that was covered with earth, and the earth was seeded with grass seed. So that was a moment when the guards and curators had to water the art to make sure that the grass grew and flourished in this window, commemorating the memory of this Native American-African guide to the American West, Jim Beckwourth. Another wonderful opportunity.

Vito Acconci used that space so brilliantly, too. I think that was 1980, and had a giant camouflage series of bicycles, male and female, that visitors could ride across the facade. So there was an emphasis on how we sort of turn the building inside out to be whatever those artists wanted to really do with it.

Options II: Martin Puryear, MCA Chicago, Feb 1–Mar 11, 1980, Photo © MCA Chicago.

Options II: Martin Puryear, MCA Chicago, Feb 1–Mar 11, 1980, Photo © MCA Chicago.

Options II: Martin Puryear, MCA Chicago, Feb 1–Mar 11, 1980, Photo © MCA Chicago.

Options II: Martin Puryear, MCA Chicago, Feb 1–Mar 11, 1980, Photo © MCA Chicago.

Installation view, Vito Acconci: A Retrospective 1969–1980, MCA Chicago, Mar 21–May 18, 1980. Photo © MCA Chicago.

Installation view, Vito Acconci: A Retrospective 1969–1980, MCA Chicago, Mar 21–May 18, 1980. Photo © MCA Chicago.

Installation view, Vito Acconci: A Retrospective 1969–1980, MCA Chicago, Mar 21–May 18, 1980. Photo © MCA Chicago.

Installation view, Vito Acconci: A Retrospective 1969–1980, MCA Chicago, Mar 21–May 18, 1980. Photo © MCA Chicago.

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Video still, Behind the Scenes at an Art Museum. © MCA Chicago.

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