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The Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago opens first-ever museum exhibition of Amanda Williams
Amanda Williams, Pink Oil Moisturizer from Color(ed) Theory Suite, 2014–16. Courtesy of the artist and McCormick Gallery.

CHICAGO, IL.- The Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago presents the first-ever museum exhibition of breakout Chicago artist Amanda Williams, featuring a new addition to her highly acclaimed project, Color(ed) Theory, which debuted at the first Chicago Architecture Biennial. The bright, monochromatic houses painted as part of Color(ed) Theory bring attention to the overwhelming number of vacancies on Chicago’s South Side, reflecting Williams’ perspective that architecture serves as a microcosm for larger social issues. Together with new works such as A Dream or Substance, a Beamer, a Necklace or Freedom? -- where Williams invited Englewood-based collaborators to gild a room in imitation gold leaf in the same proportion of a Chicago lot, and then sealed off the room with just a small gap for viewing the gleaming interior -- Williams’ solo debut creates an experience that comments on race, class, and urban space. Chicago Works: Amanda Williams is organized by MCA Curatorial Assistant Grace Deveney and is on view from July 18 to December 31, 2017.

Raised in the Auburn-Gresham neighborhood of Chicago’s South Side, and trained in art and architecture, Williams painted unoccupied houses slated for demolition in vibrant colors chosen for their relation to African-American consumer culture, such as the red of the Flamin’ Hot Cheetos bag, the pink of Luster’s Pink Oil, and the teal of UltraSheen conditioner. In this ongoing series, Color(ed) Theory, Williams reveals the politics woven into the decline of certain neighborhoods and the underinvestment in black communities. The colors transformed the abandoned houses into sculptural objects with meaningful associations, sparking a candid conversation on vacancy and urban blight while creating a new narrative around the issue.

For her Chicago Works exhibition, Williams further addresses the questions of value that demolition raises. The installation includes documentation of the razing of the Color(ed) Theory houses through a commissioned video by the filmmaking collective Spirit of Space. In addition, some of her works for this exhibition are constructed from materials gathered from the houses featured in Color(ed) Theory.

Reliquary II: LOT 49 IN THE SUBDIVISION OF BLOCK 1 IN WRIGHT, EMBREE AND AYRE’S, A SUBDIVISION OF BLOCK 33 IN SCHOOL TRUSTEES’ SUBDIVISION OF SECTION 16, TOWNSHIP 36 NORTH, RANGE 14 EAST OF THE THIRD PRINCIPAL MERIDIAN, IN COOK COUNTY, ILLINOIS. C/K/A: NJ’s Toybox is a small sculpture that Williams created with a young person whose family is one of the last to remain on the block where Williams’ Crown Royal Bag house stood. The child had grown attached to the purple house, so the artist and child worked together to build a small toy box from those materials. The title refers to the name of the land parcel as it appears on the Cook Country Property deed. This act looks back to the history of the property while looking forward to the re-use of the transformed remains of the house into something new.

In another body of recent work, Williams uses gold as both a precious metal and a color charged with meaning, evoking the value and the history of the ‘gold standard.’ It’s a Goldmine/Is the Gold Mine? is a stack of bricks from a demolished house in Englewood that has been gold-leafed and displayed on an artist-made pallet. By gilding the bricks, Williams adds value to the humble building material, which had been defined as valueless in its previous context.

Likewise, with She’s Mighty Mighty, Just Lettin’ It All Hang Out, a golden brick wall blocks access to the one of the gallery entrances. The bricks were deemed worthless before they were salvaged from a house on the South Side. Williams’ works prompt viewers to consider if the bricks now have value as a part of an artwork, on view in a museum, pointing to the socio-political circumstances which led to the original valuation of these materials.

Amanda Williams has been named the “Designer of the Moment” by Newcity (2016); 3Arts Visual Arts Awardee (2014); and honored as the “Black History Month Profile” by NBC 5 Chicago (2012). Her notable recent exhibitions include Chicago Architecture Biennial, Glass Curtain Gallery, Columbia College, University of Illinois at Chicago, and Hyde Park Art Center. This year, she has also collaborated with artist Andres Luis Hernandez for PXSTL, a Pulitzer-organized design-build commission. Williams received a Bachelor of Architecture from Cornell University and was a Ford/Mellon Research Fellow at the University of California Berkeley.

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