In May 1990 the Museum of Contemporary Art signed a ninety-nine-year, renewable lease with the State of Illinois for the use of the property presently occupied by the Chicago Avenue National Guard Armory. The lease enables the MCA to expand its ability to serve the Chicago, the national, and the international communities by constructing a new facility on what is, in fact, one of the most desirable sites in the City of Chicago. The new building will allow the museum to achieve exhibition, collecting, and education goals that simply are not possible in our existing, cramped building.
As we pursued plans for the new MCA, there developed the idea of using the armory as an exhibition space – turning this redundant structure into a kunsthalle in advance of its successor, thereby linking the site’s past with its future. This concept became a central metaphor for the exhibition and reversed the usual sequence of art exhibition production. Instead of an initial interest in a particular artist or specific art historical theme that persuasively ties together artists, we began with a singular space – actually, spaces – and decided to explore ideas inherent in those spaces.
Thus we began considering an exhibition of installation art – including works that function in harmony with the particulars of their sites, or in some cases, radically interact with and alter the spaces. We saw that many of the most interesting artists of the day were embracing installation work with such vigor and creativity that it seemed almost a new medium – although installations of one sort or another have been part of the art-viewing experience for centuries. We began to feel that an exhibition of installations in the armory would afford a rich sampling of one of the strongest art forms being made at this particular moment, and might lead to some significant insights about the driving concerns of the day.
It is in this spirit that we present “Art at the Armory: Occupied Territory,” in celebration of the museum’s twenty-fifth anniversary and its forthcoming new facility. It is appropriate that we celebrate this upcoming transformation of the armory site by the new museum with an exhibition focusing on the environmental power of art.
We are most grateful to the eighteen individual artists and groups featured in this exhibition. Their interest and cooperation have made possible the exhibition and accompanying catalogue. We would like to express our thanks to Beryl J. Wright, Associate Curator, Exhibitions, for her work as curator of this logistically and conceptually ambitious exhibition. We would also like to thank Staci Boris and Nadine Wasserman, Curatorial Assistants, whose work was vital to the success of “Art in the Armory.”
We are also grateful to Helen Dunbeck, Museum Administrator; Don Meckley, Head Preparator; Dennis O’Shea, Museum Technical Specialist; and Lela Hersh, Manager, Collections and Exhibitions; and their staffs for their tireless work transforming the building into an exhibitions space. In addition, we give special thanks to those who lent preexisting works for installation or adaptation in this space alongside newly commissioned work.
Finally I would like to express our deep appreciation to Sara Lee Corporation for their generous support, without which this publication and exhibition would not have been possible. We owe an additional debt of gratitude to American Airlines, official airline of the MCA; to Hotel Inter-Continental Chicago; and to the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency.
Kevin E. Consey