Art Seen: Chicago

S, M, L, XL // MCA CHICAGO

by S. Nicole Lane

Sculpture in relation to the establishment—the blank space, the rectangular confines of the gallery, and the pedestal—have been challenged over the last five decades by artists whose interests lie increasingly in the physical interaction and phenomenology of objects in space. S,M,L,XL, curated by Michael Darling and currently on view at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, presents five works by three artists, aestheticizing passing experiences, chance, indeterminacy, and the exploration of anti-form [1]. The title of the exhibition is partly derived from the book, identically titled S, M, L, XL, by Rem Koolhaas and Bruce Mau. Critical essays, photos, personal stories, and fables, complete the book, which focuses on contemporary architecture—analogous to the exhibition, the books contents are presented in order of size, with accordance to scale.

Kris Martin, T. Y. F. F. S.H., 2011. Collection of the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, gift of Mary and Earle Ludgin by exchange. © 2011 Kris Martin. Photo: Nathan Keay.

Kris Martin, T. Y. F. F. S.H., 2011. Collection of the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, gift of Mary and Earle Ludgin by exchange. © 2011 Kris Martin. Photo: Nathan Keay.

The antiestablishment proclamation of the exhibition begins with unorthodox requests: “sit down on it!”, or more familiarly, “please remove your shoes, and “only one person at a time”. While the importance of formlessness, in relation to the walls and architecture of the gallery space are soberly observed, the exaggerated actions of the viewers is clear, and close in proximity [2]. The exhibition begins with Robert Morris’ piece, Portal (1964), which frames a void with two vertical columns and a lintel. By traveling through this narrow structure in order to arrive at the “nothingness” which greets you on the other side, Morris connects the viewer to his curiosity in arriving at zero—a minimalist concern—and his attentiveness in creating a fissure in the process of art is subjectively displayed.

To the left of Portal is a slice in the wall—a dark space which leads down a hall with little light. The piece, entitled Passageway (1961), is the second sculpture included by Morris. The determinate space leads viewers one-by-one through a narrow, dim, hallway, which eventually curves and closes in on the gallery-goer. The impassable nature of the piece, in comparison to the accessible Portal, accelerates the understanding of the physical and psychological space that Morris ardently explored.

Robert Morris, Portal, 1964. Collection of the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, gift of Mrs. Robert B. Mayer. Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago. © 2014 Robert Morris / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Robert Morris, Portal, 1964. Collection of the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, gift of Mrs. Robert B. Mayer. Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago. © 2014 Robert Morris / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

In an interview with Simon Grant, Morris explains his mentality during Passageway:

In these years my large insecurities are guarded and held closely. Perhaps they are the sources and engine driving my capacity to create. Never again will I lose myself in such blind and self-sufficient spaces. Never after am I as unhappy and as exhaleated as in these years [3].”

To the right of Morris’ work is a piece by Austrian artist, Franz West, Blue (2006). West—who previously created “Adaptives”, which were sculptures meant to be worn, fondled, and carried—began creating room-like settings where visitors were invited to relax and recline in the early 1980s [4]. Corroborating Auguste Rodin’s sentiments on sculpture, West has mastered the hole and the lump. His works, largely biomorphic and organic, celebrate the chunks, knots, and bulges, through tangibility and humor. The piece, Blue, made from papier-mâché, foam, wire, and resin, is a rewarding and intimate space due to the privacy and comfort in the stillness. Spiraling into the sculpture, viewers are greeted by a blue seat placed below several light bulbs, scattering the same monochrome blue light faintly against the walls.

Franz West, Blue, 2006. Collection of the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, gift of the William J. Hokin Family. Courtesy of the Estate of Franz West and the Franz West Privatstiftung Archiv. Photo: Florian Kleinefenn.

Franz West, Blue, 2006. Collection of the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, gift of the William J. Hokin Family. Courtesy of the Estate of Franz West and the Franz West Privatstiftung Archiv. Photo: Florian Kleinefenn.

The highlight of the exhibition is the Belgian artist Kris Martin’s sculpture, which fills up the gallery space by utilizing a hot air balloon and electric fans. Thank You For Flying Sies + Höke (T.Y.F.F.S.H.) is boundless yet contained; its shape bulges from the sides through an open space cut into the gallery wall. Entering the hot air balloon is dream-like; unreal. It almost feels wrong. The piece succeeds in transforming the gallery and rebelling against the establishment—its domination dwarfs the neighboring pieces, making the small smaller.

Making a full circle back to Passageway is an enclosed display table, presenting a correspondence between John Cage and Morris in 1961. In the letter, Morris writes Cage, “all of what does happen is in everybody’s mind”, in response to Cage stating that “most of what happens never was in anybody’s mind” [5]. This subjective statement begs us to view his work, and much of the exhibition, through a phenomenological direction. Only in my worst nightmares did I think I would travel into a room where the walls closed in. Only in my childhood dreams did I believe I would whimsically glide into the womb of a hot air balloon; where a baby blue cochlear made of delicate material was my only line of vision. The iconoclastic disposition of the exhibition laughs in the face of “Do Not Touch” signs and rather, very beautifully, breaks the boundaries of tradition and invites us to come in, take off our shoes, and stay a little while.

Kris Martin, T. Y. F. F. S.H., 2011. Collection of the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, gift of Mary and Earle Ludgin by exchange. © 2011 Kris Martin. Photo: Robert Wedemeyer. Courtesy of the artist and MARC FOXX, Los Angeles.

Kris Martin, T. Y. F. F. S.H., 2011. Collection of the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, gift of Mary and Earle Ludgin by exchange. © 2011 Kris Martin. Photo: Robert Wedemeyer. Courtesy of the artist and MARC FOXX, Los Angeles.





S, M, L, XL at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago runs through October 4th, 2015.

Nicole Lane is an artist and writer based in Chicago.


[1] Continuous Project Altered Daily: The Writings of Robert Morris, Chapter 4, Anti-form

[2] Robert Morris and John Cage: Reconstructing a Dialogue, Branden W. Joseph,       

     Volume 81 (Summer, 1997)

[3] Tate Etc., issue 14 (Autumn 2008) Interview by Simon Grant

[4] Art in America: Opus Posthumous, by Faye Hirsch (2013)

[5] Robert Morris and John Cage: Reconstruction a Dialogue, Joseph, (Summer, 1997)

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