Polish artist Goshka Macuga’s Exhibit, A is in the final week of its tour at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. The work will be taken down on April 7.
Macuga employs cubist sculpture, photography, glass, steel installations, and found objects in her creations, giving the overall aesthetic a hugely variant yet cohesive appearance. Upon first glance into the initial room, one immediately notices the dominating Model for a Sculpture (Family), a polystrene, fabric mesh, and plaster sculpture. The sculpture depicts three stone-esque figures hunched together meeting in a tight circle on a raised dais. Viewers’ heads are forced up to inspect the sculptures and it is impossible to get a clear picture at first glance due to the limiting perspective.
Macuga’s Notice Board, a several foot-long bulletin board covered in leaflets, flanks the family powwow. A majority of the pamphlets are in Polish, and several have deep cuts and the thick black lines of censorship crisscrossing the text. However, the overall aesthetic of the piece is referential to a notice or a meeting board, giving the piece a distinct air of community despite the apparent censorship. Considering that nowadays, the most common places for notice boards are in community centers like coffee houses and libraries, Notice Board conveys a sense of a community that has grown slightly out of hand, one that a government or some kind of authority is trying to control. The feeling of a meeting or of coming together is a theme throughout the rest of the exhibit, with the strongest sense of this special community culminating in the third and final room of the exhibit, where lie a wool tapestry and a circular table surrounded by chairs.
Part of this piece, titled The Nature of the Beast, consists of a tapestry depicting Britain’s Prince William standing in front of a woven replica of Picasso’s Guernica giving a speech to the press. The tapestry overlooks a round wooden and glass table full of paraphernalia relating to Guernica’s notoriety over the years, but it most closely references the aftermath following the infamous speech concerning weapons of mass destruction by Colin Powell given in front of the covered and therefore censored woven replica of Guernica in 2003.
In Macuga’s representation of a press conference given by Prince William, the artist also hid a small portrait of herself thoughtfully placed in the left hand corner of the frame, looking away from the scene and facing the audience. She places herself in the scene, without making herself active in the event. From an art historical perspective, the choice of tapestry as a medium is interesting since tapestry is generally thought of as an old art form. There is no real modern image of the artist today hovering in front of a loom weaving away in the style of Penelope from Homer’s Odyssey. The use of tapestry also references the old halls and castles of medieval kings and thus creates a very odd dichotomy between this old art form and the obvious modernity of the image depicted – there is even an iPhone. The choice to keep the tapestry in black and white is another decidedly modern touch. Following a similar standard, the setting of the press conference could also be interpreted as an updated version of the role of the old town hall meeting as a place for people to come together to discuss the events and issues of the day.
The most compelling part of The Nature of the Beast, however, is not the tapestry itself, but rather the function of the table installation, which upon first glance is not immediately apparent as part of this multimedia installation. The table is circular and hollow with flyers, photos, press releases and other propaganda filling the table giving it the appearance of a shadowbox while allowing it to function as an archive, not unlike Notice Board. Groups are encouraged to hold meetings around the table giving a strong sense of assembly to the piece, which obviously references an overtly political occurrence. Since the piece is a clear criticism of Powell’s censorship of the Guernica replica, Macuga’s call to peace is the clearest message.
The fact that Macuga chose to use Prince William giving a speech as opposed to Powell himself in the tapestry is interesting and gives the piece a pop culture perspective since Prince William is a celebrity politician and a well-known public figure more so than Powell. Technically, Guernica was covered during Powell’s speech, but it could have been just a simple for Macuga to manipulate an image of Powell to include the uncovered Guernica, as it was to add her own likeness into the scene. By not directly referencing Powell in the central tapestry (although he does appear in several propaganda pieces in the collaged shadowbox table) Macuga is making a powerful statement about the relevance of American politics since Prince William could be seen as a counter to Powell as he stands with Guernica on full view behind him.
The Nature of the Beast is intended to implicate the public. Macuga’s work functions in the museum space alone, giving it a permanent home and forcing the public to come to the work and participate in order to have its fully intended effect.
Photos by Janice Janeczko.