Categorically Speaking


Bernd and Hilla Becher, Cooling Towers, 1983, Gelatin silver prints, 12 parts, each: 20 × 16 in. (50.8 × 40.6 cm), Collection Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Gerald S. Elliott Collection, 1995.31.a–l
Photo: © MCA Chicago, © 1983 Bernd and Hilla Becher


This focused grouping of works from the MCA Collection includes artists whose work alludes to classification and arrangement. Perhaps spurred by the general desire to seek order in a complex and chaotic world, artists across generations have created their own systems of organization through which they can present their ideas. The artists here tend to arrange their images or information within the rather neutral formats of the grid or the series, recalling museological or scientific practice as well as the favored formats of the minimalist artists of the late 1960s and seventies. These organizational schemes ask the viewer to look closely at each element [part] as well as at the larger collection of the images or objects [whole] in order to examine their relationships. In many cases, layers of meaning are hidden behind what seem to be very regular and methodical presentations of data.

Works range from the recent computer-generated video installation The Top 25 Grossing Films of All Time, 2 x 2 (2001) by Jason Salavon to Alfred Jensen’s mystical painting Let There by Light (1978) to Bernd and Hilla Becher’s photographic series Cooling Towers (1983).


This exhibition is generously supported by Jackie and Ed Rabin.