McQueen ‘moves’ audiences at Art Institute

By Contributing Writer

by Doug Pitorak, Contributing Writer

An exhibition featuring London-based moving image artist Steve McQueen debuted in the U.S. at the Art Institute of Chicago, 111 S. Michigan Ave.

The exhibit, which opened Oct. 21, is the largest collection of work by the artist in the U.S. and is located in the Modern Wing in Regenstein Hall. Thirteen of the installations are in the main room, and images with sound are played in small theaters. Just inside the exhibit’s entrance is an image of the Statue of Liberty shot by McQueen in 2009 through the window of a circling helicopter.

“[McQueen is] somebody that’s been really progressive in terms of the kind of work that he’s done over the last two decades with moving image,” said Lekha Waitoller, exhibition manager for contemporary arts. “He’s just a very important artist, so that’s why we think he’s worthy of having such a

prestigious exhibition.”

Waitoller credited the friendship between McQueen and James Rondeau, curator of the exhibit, with bringing the artist’s work to Chicago.

“[McQueen] does not have a big history of doing exhibitions with museums,” she said. “He’s mostly shown in galleries, so it really has been that friendship that allowed this to happen.”

McQueen and Rondeau began discussing a potential exhibit a decade ago, around the same time McQueen’s work was featured in the Art Institute’s focus series, according to Waitoller.

She said the content of the images isn’t all that matters to McQueen, adding that he takes a “holistic approach” to his work because he considers the viewing environment part of the experience too, which is why he helped design the installations. She said the clearest example of the custom-built approach to the exhibit is the 3-D triangle that almost stretches to the ceiling and displays a film on each side.

“[The installation is] a part of the art almost as much as what you’re seeing produced on the screen,” Waitoller said.

The 24-minute film “Western Deep” documents the TauTona miners’ two-mile plunge into the earth in full color and with intermittent sound. Waitoller said the audience can sense the vibrations of the South African miners’ descent as it watches the film in a tiny, dark theater. In “Static,” the percussive chop of an aircraft’s blades resonate through adjacent galleries.

McQueen first tested the waters of commercial cinema in 2008 with “Hunger,” a film about an inmate who organizes a hunger strike in an Irish prison. In 2011, he directed “Shame,” which chronicles the troubled life of a sex addict. He is now working on “Twelve Years a Slave,” a movie based on a book about a free black man who was captured in the North and enslaved.

Jay Seawell, a Columbia graduate student who also attended the exhibit, said that he was impressed by McQueen’s ability to make quality work for both a museum and a movie theater. He added that the show is worth visiting not just because of the images but for the installation itself.

“It’s not often that we really see a survey show installed in such a way,” he said. “The sense of space, how you can go into these rooms and come back out [and] can walk around the big triangle … it makes you feel more involved as a spectator.”

The exhibit runs through Jan. 6. A Steve McQueen symposium will be at the museum Nov. 30 from 10:30 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. and is included with admission. For more information, visit