Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago

MCA Chicago

Institutionalized was a project conceived for the Museum of Contemporary Art of Chicago's winter artist in residency wherein Michael Genovese set up a studio in the museum for a 6 week program. The work included engaging the museum visitors and staff through language and text where different mediums combined with studio work reflected the voices of the public during a time of "Change." Participatory works involved translating American literature, automatic writing samples and social commentary into foreign languages that allowed for the interpretations to change and morph. The results were made into text based paintings, collaborative drawings on aluminum composite panels, and performances of solicitation. Other works included a push cart designed to provide museum visitors and staff with free fresh fruit and water.


MCA visitors participating by carving into aluminum panels.


Incised aluminum composite panels with baked enamel finish. Drawings and general commentary made in collaboration with MCA visitors and staff.


(Fig.1) "All my skin folk ain't all my kin folk"-Zora Neale Hurston, (Fig.2) "All my skin folk ain't all my kin folk"-Zora Neal Hurston translated by museum visitors into Korean and Urdu, (Fig.3) "We all we got", translated by museum visitors and staff into Spanish, French, Hebrew, Polish, German, and Korean. Sign paint on day-glo butcher paper and MDF with fluorescent lighting fixtures, 96 X 144 inches (2008)

Translations from the MCA community are incorporated into “All my skin folk ain’t all my kin folk," (titled after a quote from Zora Neale Hurston) as an ongoing painting pairing languages from a root source, often beginning with an American English dialect. The work begins to take shape as the voices and languages of the public are transformed into stylized signs. The various dialects paired with one another creates subject matter that is common, though expressed differently. My intent is to bridge cultures through written language and examine the tension between them.


(Fig.1) Frutas and Piraguas push cart detail, (Fig.2) Frutas and Piraguas push cart and "We all we got" translated into French on butcher paper, (Fig.3) Studio view (Fig.4) Suffocate, Letter pressed leather belts, lighting fixture and plastic bag.

Chicago Tonight
ARTS BEAT w/ Phil Ponce | MCA Chicago Winter Artist in Residence

“The Artist in Residence program was originated by the education department as a way to highlight the creative process to our general public. A lot of times people come into museums and see artwork in the form of the finished product but we were showing is the process that it took from idea to conception. A museum in Chicago is the kind of the place where many languages are spoken and for artist like Genovese that is particularly valuable. He uses his residency here to interact with people who in turn help him translate some of his texts. “Do you speak Hebrew? No? You don't know how to write Hebrew? A little bit? Can you see if you can translate something for me?” I basically bark at them and say ‘come on in’ as if it were a carnival game or circus (laughs) and engage them to interact with me and then it’s sort of a dance. 60% of the museum visitors are foreign, so working with language is how I’ve chosen to interact. Korean, Hebrew, Spanish, Polish and it's not only about the visitors it’s about the MCA staff, the people who wash the floors, the people who watch over me, security, and we’re constantly interacting and playing with language. “So, a Jewish man translated “We all we got” into Spanish, then his family translated it into Yiddish and then when it's read by other visitors, they're saying it doesn’t translate to what we thought was a proper interpretation. It’s very dynamic and interesting to me.”

The result is a truly interactive piece of art “We all we Got”, translated into Spanish, Korean and Hebrew on display in the exhibition area. “He took the residency to a different level he not only show the general public what it takes to create artwork but he is also showing them the more administrative side of artists too and although that's not as glamorous as some of the other parts it's very much a reality of the artist’s world.”-Sarah Jesse, MCA. Genovese also wanted to bring his to the community at large so he is donating one of his pieces from this exhibition to a street food vendor, fully stocked and ready for business. “It’s a a decision to serve the local community. When I see bodegas and fruit carts that don’t have proper signage, I approach them and offer to hand letter their cart for whatever they can afford and I examine this whole idea of when you try to give somebody something for nothing and all the preconceived ideas that go along with that. No one wants to accept anything for free because they think that they have give up something.”