Museum of Contemporary Art replaces UBS 12x12 with Chicago Works
The MCA's UBS 12x12 program has launched the careers of dozens of local artists. But its demise could be a good thing.
Molly Zuckerman-Hartung, the third “Chicago Works” artist, believes the new series provides more insight into an artist’s whole practice than UBS 12x12 did, because it’s “giving more time, giving more space, making some kind of brochure, having something that lasts.” The 36-year-old artist, who studied with Grabner at SAIC, tends to make abstract paintings informed by literature and philosophy. She already has an extensive exhibition record, teaching gigs at SAIC and Northwestern University, and three years (and counting) of experience codirecting Julius Caesar Gallery in Garfield Park. Zuckerman-Hartung isn’t sure what her May show will entail, but she hopes to share her artistic process with visitors as well as her finished paintings. Presenting incomplete pieces would be “much harder in a gallery,” she explains, “because there are expectations that you might sell the work.”
UBS 12x12 was also meant to be “a place for risk-taking,” Widholm says. That series’s most visible alum arguably is Chicago native Rashid Johnson, who has exhibited his photographs and installations all over the U.S. and Europe, including at the 2011 Venice Biennale. Johnson will have a major solo exhibition of his work, which explores black identity, at the MCA in April.
Reached by phone in New York, where he now lives, the Columbia College and SAIC graduate remembers his 2002 UBS 12x12 show as “the biggest thing I’d ever done. I mean, it was at the museum. My parents came.” A decade ago, “there was nothing comparable,” he says. “I don’t think there were any young artists looking at the Art Institute saying, ‘There’s an opportunity for me here.’ ”
Johnson isn’t the only UBS 12x12 success story. Recent Whitney Biennials included photographs by former 12x12 artists Melanie Schiff and Curtis Mann. Cody Hudson created the Magic Numbers installation at the Red Line’s Sox/35th stop. Siebren Versteeg speaks at the Chicago Humanities Festival Saturday 5. Alums including Jason Lazarus, Deb Sokolow and Brian Ulrich have become mainstays of the Chicago art world and beyond, represented by respected galleries and reviewed in publications ranging from Artforum to The New Yorker. But other UBS 12x12 artists remain obscure. Even Johnson isn’t sorry to see UBS 12x12 end: “As successful as it was for so many people, [it had] the potential to start just seeming like grad thesis shows.”
Grabner, for one, isn’t worried that UBS 12x12’s demise will damage her students’ and other emerging artists’ careers. “Most of them are just creating their own spaces, showing their own work,” she says. It’s doubtful, however, that most Chicagoans will venture into the city’s DIY, artist-run galleries. When asked if the MCA is leaving young artists in the lurch, Widholm says she’s confident the museum will continue to support them through its new “convergent” programming. The museum plans to recruit local artists for performances and lectures, Tuesday-night workshops in the museum café, and the Coffee and Art exhibition tours (UBS 12x12 alum Oli Watt leads one Saturday 5). “We’re always looking at artists for special exhibitions and our collection shows,” she says. “So, hopefully the message is that we’re so committed to Chicago-based artists that we want to do it right. We want to make it really meaningful.”