ArtSpring 2023

Museum of Contemporary Art to Present “Garry Simmons: Public Enemy”

This summer, The Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago  will present Gary Simmons: Public Enemy, a survey of artist Gary Simmons’s work, organized by James W. Alsdorf Chief Curator René Morales and assistant curator Jadine Collingwood on view from June 10, 2023, through October 1, 2023. It will be presented in the Griffin Galleries of Contemporary Art. The exhibition is the most comprehensive look at Simmons’s work to date, covering 30 years of Simmons’s career and featuring approximately 70 works. 

“Gary Simmons is a foundational artist whose work we welcomed into our space over 20 years ago,” Pritzker Director Madeleine Grynsztejn said. “Gary Simmons: Public Enemy is a continuation of our relationship with this artist and his ever-relevant work. Gary’s art prompts powerful reflections on the social, cultural, and historical contexts in which we live, underscoring the MCA’s dedication compelling experiences and conversations inspired by contemporary art.”

Simmons addresses, exposes, and analyzes histories of racism that permeate American visual culture, drawing from a host of popular genres including hip-hop, sports, vintage cartoons, cult horror movies and science fiction. In this timely exhibition, audiences will gain a holistic understanding of the complex and profoundly moving work of this groundbreaking and influential artist.

“Simmons asks probing questions about collective memory,” said Alsdorf Chief Curator René Morales. “How is our shared past remembered, and what is at stake? Which histories have we been taught to forget and why? His work does not provide easy answers to these questions, but it shows us where we might begin to look, setting us up for a powerful emotional charge as it inevitably leads us back to ourselves.”

Works in the exhibition include Step Int0 the Arena (The Essentialist Trap), 1994, Lineup, 1993, and Marnie’s Nightmare, 2006, among others.

“Collaborating with the MCA Chicago to realize this exhibition feels like a homecoming, given the museum’s long-standing support and vision,” Gary Simmons said. “It’s an honor to work with them to share 30-years of work in the great City of Chicago.”

Gary Simmons: Public Enemy will also display a living artwork, Recapturing Memories of the Black Ark, 2014-ongoing, a sculptural installation inspired by the production studio of legendary record producer Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry. Built from materials found in the Tremé neighborhood of New Orleans after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, the sculpture serves as an open platform for conversation, music, and performance.

Gary Simmons: Public Enemy will be the second major, fourth-floor exhibition the MCA has presented in both Spanish and English. Through this bilingual initiative, the museum aims to offer unprecedented access for visitors through Spanish and English content including gallery didactics, website content, wayfinding, signage, captioning for programming, on-site Spanish-speaking visitor services associates, and more.

“Simmons emerged in the politically charged climate of the 80s and 90s, part of a generation of American artists who challenged the status quo by making work that confronted racial identity, cultural stereotypes, and the politics of representation,” Assistant Curator Jadine Collingwood said. “This exhibition affords an opportunity to reflect on the specificity of that watershed moment in American art history, while also considering how these issues continue to resonate in the present.”

Gary Simmons: Public Enemy is organized by the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago and the Pérez Art Museum Miami.