From November 7, 2020 until January 21, 2021, the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago presents The Long Dream, a major exhibition inspired by the current moment that gives shape to issues heightened by the pandemic and social unrest. The exhibition features over 70 Chicago artists collaboratively selected by the museum’s diverse team of curators and programmers with different backgrounds and specialties, ranging from the visual arts to performance and public practice. It includes work by Chicago-based, Dutch artists Kirsten Leenaars and Jeroen Nelemans.
Named after a novel by renowned author Richard Wright, The Long Dream is part reflection on the state of the world after the arrival of COVID-19, and part celebration of Chicago artists and creatives. Blending work by emerging voices with established artists in Chicago, The Long Dream presents many never-before-seen works, along with labels written in collaboration with youth groups and civic practitioners, honoring a multiplicity of perspectives from the community. The final section of The Long Dream is a live arts event that takes place online on the exhibition’s closing weekend. The Long Dream is overseen by MCA Senior Curator Naomi Beckwith with Chief Curator Michael Darling and Interim Senior Curator January Parkos Arnall.
The Long Dream explores the critical importance of bringing art and artists to the forefront of social issues facing our city and country today. Building this exhibition, the MCA curatorial team reflected on its commitment to and support of Chicago artists and the arts community, and the ways artists have played important roles in actions that advance social justice and racial equity throughout history. The goal of The Long Dream is to advocate for artists’ voices and work in a city grappling with anxiety and social unrest, and to empower them to make an impact during a time of social change. Through the eyes of artists, The Long Dream engages visitors around several core themes: how artists make work in the studio or at home with available materials; the psychological effects of uncertain times; structural inequities in society; and our dreams for a more inclusive future.
The exhibition features a diverse mix of new voices in the Chicago artist community, as well as recognized art leaders in the community who have shaped discourse around arts and creative practices throughout their careers. Well-known Chicago artists such as Dawoud Bey, Nick Cave, Julia Fish, Jim Nutt, William Pope.L, and Amanda Williams contribute timely works that speak to the core themes of the exhibition, including Cave’s Arm Peace (2020) and Williams’ Black Studies (2020). Meanwhile, the artist collective Floating Museum presents their Monument Reassembly (2020), addressing a topic that has surfaced in both mainstream and social media as a crucial piece within the larger context of confronting historical and systemic injustices.
In selecting the roster for The Long Dream, the cross-disciplinary curatorial team tapped into the longstanding relationships the museum has cultivated with artists over time. Visitors recognize artists from previous exhibitions and programs, including Brendan Fernandes, Edra Soto, and Sadie Woods. Another example is the collective Open Television (OTV), that will premiere their new video work Queer Pandemic TV (2020) that was developed in response to current social conditions. Similarly, Alberto Aguilar presents Quarantine Regimen (2020), a set of drawings produced during shelter-in-place that feature his friends and family members, including a portrait of Aguilar drawn by his child. The Long Dream organically developed a focus on representing the work of artists of color, artists of varying abilities, and especially women artists, with works by Candida Alvarez, Kirsten Leenaars, Tonika Lewis Johnson, Riva Lehrer, Claire Pentecost, Cheryl Pope, and Rhonda Wheatley, among others.
Live art and events
The Long Dream engages a variety of artists working in live arts and performance with in-gallery representation of their work, theater residencies, commissions, and collaborative events. The museum provides residencies throughout November, December, and January to three local artists – Joanna Furnans, Derek McPhatter, and Darling Shear – to highlight their working processes to audiences and to provide support for the development of their work. For these performance residencies, the museum offers space for the artists to rehearse and produce new works in the museum’s Edlis Neeson Theater, in addition to participation in the museum’s Virtual Studio Visit series to present their evolving work to MCA audiences. Also a part of this exhibition, the museum commissioned local artist and sensory illusionist Jeanette Andrews for Invisible Museums of the Unseen, an interactive performance accessible through a downloadable digital app that explores the invisible forces in the world, from the physiological to the sociological.
Several collaborative events take place as part of The Long Dream, kicking off with a free virtual talk on the opening day of the show. Other highlights include Chicago composer Eduardo F. Rosario performing a commissioned open-form, orchestral composition inspired by the Puerto Rican independence movement of the 1970s and 80s. The museum presents musician and makeup artist Cae Monae in its Virtual In-Progress series, providing space for feedback on their new music and video work and highlighting their role in shaping a new generation of makers in beauty, fashion, and music.
The Long Dream culminates in a live virtual performance event on the exhibition’s closing weekend that involves artists in the exhibition performing their work live for viewers online, with space for conversation, participation, and interaction between artists, audiences, and the exhibition’s curators.
Finally, the museum’s popular Family Day program takes place the second Saturday of each month and takes inspiration from The Long Dream while the exhibition is on view. With free admission for families, Family Day features artist-led activities for families that directly engage works and themes from the exhibition.
Throughout the exhibition, there are wall labels written by Chicago youth and community leaders. The MCA is partnering with two respected youth organizations, Marwen and 826CHI, to mentor the next generation of creative professionals and amplify youth voices. Their perspectives offer unique insights into the place of art in the daily lives of young Chicagoans, and reflect the museum’s commitment to presenting the ideas of a multiplicity of voices across generations, disciplines, races, and economic status. Contributions by local civic leaders reveal how the artists in this show are connected to one another — as friends, neighbors, collaborators, and kin — through networks that span the city.
Founded in 1987, Marwen provides access to free after-school and weekend arts programming to young people from underserved neighborhoods in Chicago. Marwen educates and inspires youth through visual arts programs, including pre-college and career workshops, led by a team of highly skilled teaching artists. Students represent 54 out of Chicago’s 57 zip codes, with 93% considered low income. Marwen serves more than 1,000 young people each year.
826CHI is a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting students ages 6 to 18 with their creative and expository writing skills and to helping teachers inspire their students to write. With free workshops for Chicago Public Schools students and underserved youth on topics ranging from storytelling and bookmaking to memoir writing and poetry, 826CHI serves to amplify the voices of Chicago youth through the power of writing and self-expression.