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Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago presents The Way of the Shovel: Art as Archeology

The Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago presents The Way of the Shovel: Art as Archeology an exhibition on view March 9, 2014, a group exhibition tracing contemporary artists’ pervasive interest in history, archaeology, and archival research that has become a newly prominent feature in art produced in the past decade. Consisting almost entirely of work made after September 11, 2001, The Way of the Shovel re-imagines the art world as an alternative “History Channel” that is concerned with remembering, recording, and responding to historical events. Curated by MCA Manilow Senior Curator Dieter Roelstraete.

Many of the artists in the exhibition share a passion for history and a fondness for digging up the past. The title The Way of the Shovel is inspired by the tools of the archaeologist’s trade—the so-called shovel—and the exhibition reflects upon the act of excavating as one of the defining paradigms of much recent art. The more than 30 artists represented, from over a dozen countries, suggest that exploring archaeology is part of the artistic process in many contemporary cultures.

The exhibition is arranged according to several conceptual underpinnings. In the first strand, archaeology is considered metaphorically, with an emphasis on art that takes the form of historical, often archival, research. Most of this work is photographic in nature, much of it moving-image based, and explores art’s documentary powers. Key figures in this category include Phil Collins, Moyra Davey, Tacita Dean, Stan Douglas, Joachim Koester, Deimantas Narkevicius, Anri Sala, Hito Steyerl, and Ana Torfs, among others.

In the second strand, archaeology is considered more literally, in works that question the relationship between matter (stuff, things) and historical truth. This section features the sculptural work of artists such as Cyprien Gaillard, Daniel Knorr, Michael Rakowitz, and Simon Starling, as well as artworks that address the political dimension of archaeology by Mariana Castillo Deball and Jean-Luc Moulène. Two “exhibitions-within-the-exhibition” take a closer look at the towering figure of Robert Smithson, art’s quintessential searcher, and at psychoanalysis as an archaeology of the mind. In these subsections, we encounter the work of Jason Lazarus, Tony Tasset, Shellburne Thurber, and others.

Although broad in both geographic and generational scope, The Way of the Shovel also focuses on the history of its own location, Chicago. It is accompanied by a full-color catalogue featuring contributions from key critics and historians as well as from several of the participating artists.

Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago
220 E Chicago Avenue
Chicago, IL 60611