Behind the Scenes: Exhibition Loans to the MCA

Written by Christina Stavros

Behind the Scenes: Exhibition Loans to the MCA

The Museum of Contemporary Art curatorial team interested in exhibiting works from Intuit’s collection?

Curators Duro Olowu and Naomi Beckwith coming to look at Intuit collection highlights?

As Intuit’s registrar, I see many loan requests, and, while self-taught art is being embraced more and more by mainstream art institutions, this is not a request I receive every day. Ultimately, once Duro Olowu: Seeing Chicago was installed, I thought, “Who would have expected to see a Sister Gertrude Morgan painting juxtaposed with Yves Tanguy and René Magritte?” Once the MCA reopens, please experience this unexpected and enthralling exhibition, on view through Sept. 27, 2020.

Installation view of MCA exhibition
Bottom left: Thornton Dial, Sex in the City: Snoopy with the Ladies, 1993. Pastel and Charcoal on paper, 44 ½ x 30 in. Collection of Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art, gift of Phyllis Kind, 2006.17.3
Installation view of MCA exhibition
Top right: Sister Gertrude Morgan, Chart of Revelations 10, 11, 12, 13, c. 1970. Pen and paint on poster board, 22 x 28 in. Collection of Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art, gift of Susann Craig, 2002.4

The Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago opened one of its largest exhibitions in the Griffin Galleries of Contemporary Art on Feb. 29, 2020, including more than 300 artworks. Duro Olowu: Seeing Chicago provides a wide breadth of artworks representing the diverse art and aesthetics found in Chicago institutions and collections. Duro Olowu, internationally recognized Nigerian-born British designer, was invited by the MCA to guest curate an exhibition that would bring the intricacies of Chicago collections together.

In their exploration of this city, Olowu, Manilow Senior Curator Naomi Beckwith and Curatorial Assistant Jack Schneider approached Intuit with interest in the museum’s collection. After an energetic meeting with Olowu, Beckwith, Schneider, Intuit Chief Curator Alison Amick, Intuit Executive Director Debra Kerr and me, we were excited to receive a formal loan request for seven artworks by six artists. The artists include Sister Gertrude Morgan, Thornton Dial Sr., Max Romain, Mr. Imagination, Willie White and Purvis Young.

As registrar at Intuit, I worked with MCA Registrar Emilie Puttrich to prepare these loans for installation at the MCA. For readers who may be unfamiliar with the duties of a registrar as regards outgoing loans, we are responsible for managing the movement, safety and security of the art objects. This includes checking the condition of each artwork prior to shipping, ensuring proper packing and transportation, knowledge of the borrower’s facility and installation plans, and ensuring any necessary security needs.

Art packing shot
Packing detail: Mr. Imagination (Gregory Warmack). Untitled (dress), 2007. Wire and red enamel on wooden stand, 18½ x 11 x 9 in. Collection of Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art, gift of Dorianne and John Venator, 2010.9.1
Art packing shot
Packing detail: Mr. Imagination (Gregory Warmack). Prehistoric Fish, 2007. Ceiling tin and wire, 10 x 43½ x 8 in. Collection of Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art, gift of the artist, 2007.8

Mr. Imagination’s Untitled (dress) and Prehistoric Fish posed quite the challenge for packing and installation. Both works are comprised of found objects, mostly metal in this case, and are very fragile. Untitled (dress) is a red wire mesh dress balanced on a thick flexible wire attached to a base. Due to this flexibility, the dress sways with any movement of the base. Puttrich and I decided, in addition to displaying the dress in a vitrine for the exhibition, Untitled (dress) and Prehistoric Fish would need new soft-packed crates built for safe transportation. Working with Terry Dowd, Inc., foam core crates were constructed with archival materials for these works, which, along with the other loaned works, were safely shipped to the MCA.

After preparing these loans for exhibition, it was a joy to experience artworks from Intuit’s collection installed in conversation with works from other institutions and collections in Chicago. The exhibition, compartmentalized into cascading sections of the museum’s fourth floor, weaves the viewer through the gallery spaces, with Intuit’s works scattered throughout. My favorite grouping in the exhibition was the Lost in Space section, which included Sister Gertrude Morgan’s Chart of Revelations 10, 11, 12, 13 and Thornton Dial’s Sex in the City: Snoopy with the Ladies. These works were integrated with works by other artists such as Ed Paschke, Jim Nutt, Yves Tanguy and René Magritte.

Each section of the exhibition includes audio of Olowu explaining his process and journey to arrive at the works he chose for the exhibition, with clips from Beckwith and some of the exhibited artists. The audio powerfully added to the sensory experience of viewing the powerful displays.

Although the museum is temporarily closed due to COVID-19 as of this writing, the exhibition audio can be found here on the MCA website.

“Conceiving the idea behind the show, I was overcome by a need to make the show something that visitors would remember for the right reasons, not necessarily for the names of particular artists, not even necessarily because the show brought together so many different genres and ideas about art, but more because the show is a celebration of what art and museums can be in a community. And the show is really to remind people in Chicago what is there for them to see, to visit, revisit, in all their institutions—and to feel very proud of.”
—Duro Olowu from Power to the People clip in Duro Olowu: Seeing Chicago Audio Experience