The Chicagoist will be launching later but in the meantime please enjoy our archives.

Go 'The Way of The Shovel' At MCA

By Marielle Shaw in Arts & Entertainment on Nov 12, 2013 10:10PM

Installation view, What it Does to Your City, Schinkel Pavillon, Berlin, 2012. © Cyprien Gaillard. Photo: Jens Ziehe, courtesy of the artist and Sprueth Magers Berlin London.

We admittedly weren’t sure what we’d unearth when we first heard about The Way of the Shovel: Art as Archaeology at the Museum of Contemporary Art. While the relationship between the two disciplines seemed obvious, we weren’t sure if the archaeological aspect would lend itself to a clinical feeling rather than an emotional one.

Walking through the exhibit showed us the heart of the matter. Right away we were drawn in by Pamela Bannos’ work, which looks at the history of the MCA site, going from lake to armory, and the early years of the museum itself. Dieter Roelstraete, MCA Manilow Senior Curator, led a tour of the exhibit last Friday and several of the artists featured were in attendance.

It’s clear that this was something Roelstraete approached with great thought and passion. We had the benefit of listening to artists like Susanne Kriemann tell the story of a picture that drew her in and led to her work, "A Silent Crazy Jungle Under Glass." When she saw the picture of the quarry she’d later travel to, she was reminded of a stack of books; her subsequent photos illustrate the ever eroding force of time on both the literal place and her imagining of it.

We think that The Way of the Shovel was curated so carefully that the story would easily unfold even without the help of these things. One of the things that became clear was that archaeology reveals as much about the people who strive to uncover the past as what they discover in their digs. This was particularly meaningful in relation to the work of Rebecca Keller who wanted to stand where Freud stood and understand psychoanalysis as a means to dig into the mind.

Another stand-out was Michael Rakowitz's "The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist" which simultaneously follows the story of the excavation of the Ishtar Gate and mourns the loss of over 8,000 priceless Iraqi artifacts which were stolen from the National Museum of Iraq in 2003. Pieces are recreated from scraps and parts of newspapers, punctuated by descriptions of the things that they represent and reactions by the global community to the loss.

There is no lack of stories or emotion in The Way of the Shovel and we found it had a flow that made sense and provoked quite a bit of thought. Spend some time with this one and see what you uncover.

The Way of the Shovel runs through March 9 at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago (220 E. Chicago Ave.). Visitors can enjoy monthly talks with Pamela Bannos on the history of the MCA site or attend a Gallery Talk with artists David Schutter and Tony Tasset on Saturday, Nov. 23. For more information on these events, visit the MCA website.