Art Institute curator James Rondeau calls British filmmaker Steve McQueen (Shame) “the most important artist of our generation working with the moving image.” On October 21 the museum will open the first major retrospective of McQueen’s artistic career, featuring film, video, still photos and one sculptural work. Here’s a sneak peek:
In this short, silent film two nude men wrestle, one of whom is McQueen. The point is intentionally ambiguous—is it a film about eroticism or naked aggression? In true McQueen fashion, he lets the viewer decide.
Presented in the exhibition as the full 16mm film, McQueen’s Charlotte features actress Charlotte Rampling’s eye enlarged to giant proportions. It becomes a provocative meditation on voyeurism; are we looking at the eye, or is the eye staring at us?
Girls, Tricky (2001)
Described by Rondeau as a “powerful, tough portrait of creativity in the extreme,” this piece is part of the Art Institute’s permanent collection. In the 14-minute video, McQueen captures the intensity of the creative process as British hip-hop artist Tricky (Adrian Thaws) rehearses a track in his recording studio—while smoking pot.
Powerful and poetic, Illuminer presents McQueen lying on a bed; the sole source of light is a television playing a documentary about Islamic jihad. Created just after 9/11, the film captures McQueen’s body as it literally reflects the light of violence.
Referencing Buster Keaton’s classic silent film Steamboat Bill Jr. (1928), McQueen stands silently (and remarkably still) as a building facade appears to fall on top of him. When he’s saved from injury by a window opening, the video becomes a metaphor for the individual triumphing over adversity.
“Steve McQueen” runs October 21–January 6 at the Art Institute of Chicago. Free with general admission, $18, students and seniors $12, kids under 14 free.