The MCA’s current show, Phantom Limb: Approaches to Painting Today (on view through October 21), argues that “despite periodic laments over the past century that painting is dead . . . this genre of art making is very much alive and well.”
Curated by MCA James W. Alsdorf Chief Curator Michael Darling, Phantom Limb refers to the medical condition experienced by amputees. The sensation that a missing limb is still attached to one’s body cheekily encapsulates this show’s exploration of artists who question and depart from the historical belief that the handmade is a mark of genius. The phantom limb that is the hand in post-war and contemporary painting no longer plays the integral role in painting that it has historically.
The exhibition begins in the 1960s with a pair of paintings by Robert Rauschenberg and Andy Warhol, Retroactive II (1963) and Jackie Frieze (1964), respectively. These early works relied on the silk-screen process—taken from the advertising world—in order to question long-held notions of innovation and genius. These two works, along with Darling’s opening text, set the stage for a show that investigates the skepticism toward the painterly gesture that emerged in the 1960s and continues today.
This is the second show in a row where Darling has heavily relied on the MCA’s permanent collection, connecting it to contemporary practices. Much like he did in The Language of Less, Darling reaches into the institution’s history to curate a show and, ultimately, inserts himself into that history. Darling and Phantom Limb inherently become a part of the museum’s history (and, perhaps more broadly, the history of painting) as Darling actively (re)interprets the legacy of post-war painting for a 2012 audience.
One thing that remains sadly unchanged, according to the artists presented in this exhibition, is that painting appears to remain largely the prerogative of white men. But in spite of this, Phantom Limb is an excellent show presenting a number of spectacular works. This is a great opportunity to see a vast swath of the MCA’s collection of post-war and contemporary paintings, alongside some of Chicago’s own painters.