It wasn’t officially open to the public yet, but last Thursday, the Rolling Stones’ Mick Jagger and Ron Wood took time out of their busy Zip Code Tour schedule (specifically their June 23 stop at Summerfest in Milwaukee) to get a preview of the “The Freedom Principle: Experiments in Art and Music, 1965 to Now” exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art.
The dynamic duo was extremely gracious during their visit, according to a museum spokesperson, checking out all that the museum offers and posing for a photo with the exhibit’s curator, Naomi Beckwith.
‘The Freedom Principle: Experiments in Art and Music, 1965 to Now’ When: July 11 – Nov. 22 Where: Museum of Contemporary Art, 220 E. Chicago Admission: Free with museum admission, $7-$12 Visit: mcachicago.org
The exhibit, which officially opens July 11, looks at the history and legacy of Chicago’s black art collectives, specifically the avant-garde jazz and the experimental music of the late 1960s within the African-American arts scene born on Chicago’s South Side, and how they continue to influence contemporary visual artists around the world.
“In developing ‘The Freedom Principle,’ we recognized three key principles linking aesthetics and everyday life in 1960s Chicago: experimentation, improvisation and collectivity,” explains Beckwith in the exhibit’s catalog.
Taking its name from the 1984 book by Chicago jazz critic John Litweiler, the exhibit coincides with the 50th anniversary of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), founded in 1965 in Chicago by pianist-composer Muhal Richard Abrams, pianist Jodie Christian, drummer Steve McCall and composer-trumpeter Phil Cohran. The organization, which redefined the way music was played not only in Chicago but around the world, became a musicians/composers’ collective dedicated to performing and recording serious, original music — or as the AACM itself proclaims: Great Black Music.
“It’s a contemporary show, made up of artists from the last 10 or 20 years, whose main source of inspiration are a number of collectives found on the South Side of Chicago, including the AACM,” said Dieter Roelstraete, the co-curator of the MCA exhibit. “It was an influential collective that ultimately redefined the shape of jazz. This exhibit is an homage to the founding fathers of the AACM.”
Many of the artworks incorporate music within their respective installations, while others use music as a soundtrack to a particular work. Featured artists include Terry Adkins, Nick Cave, Stan Douglas, Renee Green, Rashid Johnson, Lili ReynaudDewar and Cauleen Smith, among others. In conjunction with the exhibit, the MCA is hosting a series of small-scale concerts featuring local musicians, artists and poets in the museum’s fourth-floor lobby.
“In each of our artists’ video installations, for example, you’ll see and hear the musicians talk about music,” Roelstraete said. “There’s another part of the show where you can stroll through an iPad and peruse a digital jukebox, if you will, so you can listen to the records being referenced in the exhibition. In another area … we have, for example, a selection of paintings by two musicians from the AACM, Richard Abrams and Roscoe Mitchell [saxophonist for the Art Ensemble of Chicago], two world-renowned jazz musicians who also paint. Their paintings are known to jazz lovers around the world from their great jazz album covers.”
“This is very much about living traditions, a living movement,” Roelstraete said. “It’s easy to look at an exhibit such as this as a chapter from music in the past. But it’s not the case. It’s still a very active collective, deeply committed to bringing their ideas to younger musicians and students. On a personal level, when I moved to Chicago in 2012 to take a job at the MCA, one of the reasons I was excited had to do with the musical history of this city, especially the AACM. It’s incredibly exciting to actually meet these artists and experience their generosity in sharing that history. There are other exhibits, such as the one at the DuSable [Museum of African American History], celebrating the anniversary of the AACM, but never one that looks at what they did as something that has repercussions and impact in the realm of visual arts, until this exhibit at the MCA.”
For a full schedule of the fourth-floor lobby concerts visit mcachicago.org. Museum admission is free to Illinois residents from 10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. July 11.