In January, the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago
presents the exhibition Prisoner of Love which explores the heights and depths of human experience, featuring works from the MCA Collection with a focus on new acquisitions. The centerpiece is artist Arthur Jafas masterwork Love Is the Message, the Message Is Death, a film that celebrates the African-American experience in the 20th and 21st centuries, set to the soaring, gospel-infused song Ultralight Beam by Kanye West. The exhibition captures the intensities of love, fear, and grief, as well as other extremes of human emotion. On view from January 26 to October 27, 2019, Prisoner of Love is curated by MCA Senior Curator Naomi Beckwith.
Jafas work is a turbulent montage that reveals intense emotions about the black experience in America today through a non-linear story of trauma and transcendence. Rather than follow a single narrative, this multilayered, seven-minute film finds a visual rhythm in found footageranging from Civil Rights-era clashes to recent acts of police brutality; from Notorious B.I.G. freestyling to Barack Obama singing Amazing Grace; from James Brown performing on stage to Beyoncé dancing in viral YouTube videos; and numerous sporting eventsinterspersed with original imagery by Jafa. The work speaks in the languages of contemporary life: montage, media, vernacular culture, and popular music.
Jafas video is accompanied by three rotating installations of powerful works of art that engage the visual vocabulary that Jafa uses to such great effect. The show opens with a striking neon sculpture by Bruce Nauman that proposes a neon cycle of stark opposites: life and death, love and hate, and pleasure and pain. These pairs form the thematic basis of the rotating installations in the gallery, featuring selections from the MCA Collection. Highlights include Kerry James Marshalls Souvenir I, Michael Armitages The Flaying of Marsyas, Deana Lawsons Sons of Cush, and Glenn Ligons Untitled (Study #1 for Prisoner of Love), a work quoting Jean Genets groundbreaking novel of the same name, which is also the inspiration for the title of the exhibition.