This summer, the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) Chicago presents The Freedom Principle: Experiments in Art and Music, 1965 to Now, a large-scale group exhibition that links the vibrant legacy of avant-garde jazz and experimental music of the late 1960s -- particularly within the African-American arts scene on the South Side of Chicago -- and its continuing influence on contemporary art and culture today. This exhibition coincides with the 50th anniversary of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), a collective of Chicago musicians who expanded the boundaries of jazz and still actively support the composing, performing, and teaching of experimental music. The exhibition is curated by MCA Curator Naomi Beckwith and former MCA Senior Curator Dieter Roelstraete.
The Freedom Principle combines historical materials with contemporary artistic responses to the tremendous heritage of the 1960s black avant-garde that created a distinctive new language that blurred the boundaries between art, music, and design; inspiring subsequent generations of visual artists. The powerful conversation they started about formal experimentation, collective action, improvisation, and the search for freedom continues among artists today.
The Freedom Principle exhibition provides a dual historical and contemporary focus, nodding to the AACM slogan ‘Ancient to the Future.’ While there are deep Chicago roots to this exhibition, it brings the achievements of South Side musicians and visual artists into dialogue with cutting-edge contemporary work from around the world. The AACM, as well as visual arts collectives such as AfriCOBRA (African Commune of Bad Relevant Artists), developed strong connections to New York City and throughout Europe, where many musicians toured and even lived for a number of years.
The exhibition takes its title from a 1984 book by Chicago jazz critic John Litweiler, and includes works of music and art from, among others, AACM-founder, pianist, and painter Muhal Richard Abrams; Art Ensemble of Chicago bandleader Roscoe Mitchell; and AfriCOBRA co-founders and early members Jeff Donaldson, Jae and Wadsworth Jarrell, Barbara Jones-Hogu, and Gerald Williams. Archival materials, such as photographs, posters, record covers, sheet music, brochures, and banners, provide a rich context for the exhibition.
Recent works by artists such as Terry Adkins, Nick Cave, Stan Douglas, Renee Green, Rashid Johnson, Lili Reynaud-Dewar, and Cauleen Smith present an ongoing intergenerational conversation about the main themes of the show: experimentation, collectivity, and improvisation. Working together across multiple platforms, Catherine Sullivan, George Lewis, and Sean Griffin are collaborating on an opera to be presented on the MCA Stage, and on a related installation within the exhibition.
As part of The Freedom Principle, regular concerts are performed in the museum’s fourth-floor lobby, activating an installation created by John Preus. Concerts feature local musicians, artists, and poets responding to the themes of improvisation, collaboration, and experimentation. A listening station and an online microsite accompany the exhibition.