Art Institute of Chicago Announces Major Contemporary Acquisitions

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Art Institute of Chicago Announces Major Contemporary Acquisitions
View of the exterior of the Art Institute of Chicago. Photo courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago

CHICAGO.- The Art Institute of Chicago, preparing for the opening of its Modern Wing in May 2009, is pleased to announce two major acquisitions in the field of contemporary art: Robert Gober’s definitive installation Untitled (1989–1996) and Donald Judd’s Untitled (1976), the only triangular indoor sculpture created by Judd. With the acquisition, earlier this year, of Charles Ray’s monumental Hinoki, the contemporary galleries of the Renzo Piano–designed Modern Wing are close to assuming their final form.

“The Modern Wing affords the Art Institute, for the first time, the requisite space for significant contemporary installations and sculpture, such as the works by Gober and Judd,” said James Rondeau, Frances and Thomas Dittmer Chair of Contemporary Art at the Art Institute. “We are looking forward to displaying the contemporary collection in galleries specifically designed for contemporary art, with generous light and space. The two recently acquired works will join an already rich collection and will be featured along with installations devoted to Gerhard Richter, Bruce Nauman, Eva Hesse, Philip Guston, and other leading contemporary artists.”

The acquisition of Gober’s Untitled was made possible by a generous gift from the Stefan T. Edlis and H. Gael Neeson Foundation and through prior gifts of Mr. and Mrs. Joel Starrels, and Fowler McCormick.

“We have watched the contemporary art collection of the Art Institute of Chicago grow over the years, and we are very excited to be a part of building an already superior collection into a truly renowned collection for the Modern Wing,” said Stefan T. Edlis. “We have always supported the museum’s commitment to contemporary art and feel that Gober’s Untitled will be a centerpiece of the collection and new installation. A work as simultaneously poignant and fearless as Gober’s will no doubt be recognized as one of the signature works of our era.”

The acquisition of Donald Judd’s Untitled is made possible through a prior gift of Adeline Yates.

American artist Robert Gober is known for his insistently handmade and deceptively simple objects, which are themselves copies of existing objects that Gober has remade to resemble the real. The new acquisition, Untitled (1989–1996), first presented at Paula Cooper Gallery, remains his most important early statement, at once announcing the end of the excesses of the 1980s and inaugurating the coolly critical, identity-based art of the 1990s. It is comprised of ten separate works, including Wedding Gown (1989), a recreated dress made of silk, satin, muslin, tulle, and welded steel; Hanging Man/Sleeping Man (1989), a silkscreened wallpaper with alternating images of a white man sleeping in bed and a lynched black man hanging from a tree; and Untitled (1989/1996), eight sculptures of kitty litter made out of cast hydrostone plaster, vinyl acrylic paint, ink and graphite. The installation is approximately 800 square feet.

Arranged in an otherwise bare room, the upright, rigid, and empty wedding gown takes center stage. The wallpaper is installed on three walls, and the kitty litter bags are arranged on the floor, leaning against the walls. Together, the elements suggest a contemporary allegory of gender and race, brought together in Gober’s suggestive and enigmatic idiom. Untitled is a work of symbols jarred by juxtaposition.

In a faux-naïve style, reminiscent of 1950s commercial illustration, the wallpaper creates ambiguous sets of meanings. Does the sleeping white man dream in ignorance, or suffer from a haunted nightmare? What sort of collective troubled sleep does Gober reference?

Within this ambiguous framework, Gober places the figure of the bride in the middle of the room, so strongly suggested, or conjured, by her absence from her gown. Whether the costume serves as an empty vessel waiting to be filled or as a failed container, the dress stands firm, immoveable, and detached. Gober has indicated that the relationship between the bride and the sleeping man in the wallpaper is that of husband and wife, prompting the inclusion of the kitty litter bags with their explicit function of hiding or absorbing waste. In this way, the litter serves as a symbol for the absorption of the mess of a couple, the guilt of a shared history, the crimes of discrimination, and the dark side of commitment. A visualization of collective anxiety, Gober’s Untitled is totally inventive, profoundly enigmatic, and lastingly haunting.

Though Gober bases his sculptures on commonplace items, his uncannily accurate, detailed re-creations of material facts from the everyday world are, to varying degrees, discomfiting and functionless versions of their originals. The net effect of these objects, which are neither convincingly genuine nor entirely false, is one of symbolic interpretation, leaving the viewer to ponder coded symbols of memory and loss, mystery and regret, and humor and pathos.

This installation joins other Gober works in the Art Institute’s permanent collection: Untitled (1994/1995), Untitled (1998-2004), Untitled (2000-1), Untitled [New York Times] (2000-1), Untitled [Cat Sitter] (2000-1), and Untitled [New Yorker] (2000-1). It will be prominently featured in the museum’s Modern Wing, adjacent to a gallery devoted to individual works by Gober, including both the museum’s existing holdings and loans of promised gifts from local collectors.

Donald Judd, a pioneer of the minimalist movement, was one of the most innovative and influential sculptors in postwar America. Concerned with imbuing contemporary art with the timeless quality of perfect geometry and the integrity of material truth, Judd found one of his most productive forms to be the humble box, free of symbolic connotation, emotional suggestion, and capable of sustaining infinite variation.

The acquisition Untitled (1976) shares the same formal vocabulary of many of Judd’s works: a rectinlinear three-dimensional geometric shape enlivened by internal structural play. Unlike the majority of Judd’s work, however, Untitled was not produced as a serial. It is the only indoor triangular work in Judd’s entire oeuvre.

“Judd’s anomalous Untitled is truly one of a kind,” said Rondeau. “It is refreshing and instructive to see a work that is so unusual by an artist so closely associated with repetition, impervious materials, and the cube form. With this acquisition, we are now able to tell a more complex story about a distinguished artist.”

Untitled was produced four years after Judd first began working with unpainted plywood and well into his process of having his works made in a factory to assure a perfect and precise finish. Judd had been working, earlier in his career, with painted wood and had moved on, in 1964, to industrial materials such as brass, copper, and stainless steel. He returned to wood, specifically unpainted plywood, in the early 1970s. The material allowed a certain flexibility while maintaining the lack of “touch” perpetually important to Judd and his search for essence and objectivity rather than contingency and expressive form.

While Untitled exhibits the same divisions of internal space crucial to Judd’s “specific objects,” the form of the triangle is not as prevalent in his oeuvre as that of the cube. The triangular form, combined with the fact that this is a piece made for an interior, makes it utterly unique in Judd’s production.

Untitled (1976) will join Untitled (1968; stainless steel and acrylic) in the museum’s permanent collection.

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