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First US museum exhibition of Egyptian artist Basim Magdy opens in Chicago
Basim Magdy, An Apology to a Love Story that Crashed into a Whale, 2016. Installation view, Deutsche Bank KunstHalle, Berlin. Image courtesy of the artist and Deutsche Bank KunstHalle.

CHICAGO, IL.- The Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago presents the first US museum exhibition of Egyptian artist Basim Magdy on view from December 10, 2016 to March 19, 2017. Trained as a painter, Magdy began experimenting with colorful works on paper and canvas before moving into photography and cinema. In a process he dubs “pickling,” the artist applies household chemicals to analog film and photographic material. The results are sumptuous, spectral photographic visions of landscapes, presented as large-scale prints, slide projections, and film. His works across media, which evoke a pop sensibility in contrast to their grim titles, such as They Endorsed Collective Failure as the Dawn of a New Renaissance and The Bitterness of What Could Have Happened and What Ended Up Happening, speak to the collective ambition for a utopian future and the inherent failure of this human aspiration. This presentation includes rarely seen and newly commissioned works for the MCA. The exhibition is organized by the Deutsche Bank KunstHalle in Berlin as part of the Deutsche Bank “Artist of the Year” program, and its Chicago presentation is curated by Omar Kholeif, MCA Manilow Senior Curator.

At the center of all of Magdy’s works are structures of seeing, remembering, and archiving. Many of his works, which are based on observations of reality, are akin to surreal tales full of cryptic humor. With paintings and assemblies that boast psychedelic-looking colors, the artist investigates collective ideals and formulates his doubts in dogmas and ideologies. At the same time, he appeals to the viewer’s imagination and reveals alternative realities and social blueprints. “Maybe I’m more interested in issues that are not particularly pleasant,” Magdy says about his artistic production, “but I have to say that my favorite reaction to the work I make is when people look at it and smile or laugh.”

This essence can be found in one of his most well-known works, the 2012 installation A 240 Second Analysis of Failure and Hopefulness (with Coke, Vinegar and other Tear Gas Remedies). The double projection with 160 slides shows different stages of a large, unidentified construction site in a city – the razing of old building structures and the construction of a new building. But Magdy manipulated the slides of diggers, cranes, and construction work with unusual means such as Coca-Cola or vinegar, laying the films in them. The chemical reaction colors the material in nostalgically blurred cyan, pink, or green. The substances also serve as a remedy against tear gas—an allusion to the recurring cycles of collective aspiration, action and defeat that have been manifesting themselves throughout history.

Magdy also implements the artistic practice of what he calls “film pickling” in Super 8 and 16 mm filmic works such as 13 Essential Rules for Understanding the World (2011) and The Dent (2014). Like many of his works, The Dent revolves around the absurdity of life, people’s inability to learn from mistakes, and the perpetual repetition of the same old thing. In this sense, past, present, and future are overlaid in Magdy’s work, with shifts in the different levels questioning the reality depicted.

This principle of layering occurs in his films as well as in his brightly colored works on paper and paintings. He constructs his frames when filming based on the same principles of constructing a painting.

The layers in his works on paper with spray paint, collaged elements, gouache, acrylics, and watercolors, respond to one another in a suggestive way. Like his films, his works on paper seem strangely placeless and timeless, dispensing with conventional notions of time, space, and cultural identity.

Basim Magdy: The Stars Were Aligned for a Century of New Beginnings is the latest in the MCA’s acclaimed Ascendant Artist Series, which features exhibitions that present the most relevant new artists working today.

Basim Magdy was born in 1977 in Assiut, Egypt, and now lives in Cairo and Basel, Switzerland. He has participated in numerous international group exhibitions, including the Sharjah and Istanbul Biennials in 2013 and La Biennale de Montreal and MEDIACITY Seoul Biennial in 2014. He was featured in the New Museum Triennial 2015 in New York and the exhibition Lest The Two Seas Meet at the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw. He was awarded the Deutsche Bank Artist of the Year 2016 on the recommendation of the Deutsche Bank Global Art Advisory Council which consists of the renowned curators Okwui Enwezor, Hou Hanru, Udo Kittelmann, and Victoria Noorthoorn. The award goes to a contemporary artist who has created an artistically, as well as socially relevant, body of work, one integrating the media of paper and photography—the two main areas of focus of the Deutsche Bank Collection. A comprehensive catalogue, presenting an overview on Magdy’s oeuvre, as well as an exclusive limited artist edition, was published.

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