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MCA Curator Lynne Warren Talks 12 x 12
Exhibiting Chicago's emerging art stars each month.
Saturday May 13, 2006.     By Joanne Hinkel
Centerstage Chicago Nightlife City Guide Arts

photo: Courtesy of MCA Chicago.
There's nothing more exciting than discovering a rising star! Record-breaking television ratings for American Idol prove the currency of such an excitement, or obsession (can't believe Chris Daughtry was eliminated). Since launching the 12 x 12 series in the fall of 2001, the Museum of Contemporary Art has been bestowing the honor of a museum show on emerging, virtually unknown visual artists living in Chicago.

Named to reflect the fact that a new artist will be featured each month in this one-room space, the 12 x 12 series continues to thrive in its fifth year. MCA Curator Lynne Warren, the main administrator for the 12 x 12 series, took a break from installing artwork (the Chris Ware show, to be exact) to chat with me on the phone.

Why did the MCA start the 12 x 12?
We were really looking to satisfy several needs. The First Fridays had already been launched and we wanted to have something for that audience that was exhibition-related. I don't know if you went to any of those events but they tended to be very focused on the socializing and having a drink, and not necessarily looking at art.

That was one of the ideas and then another was to look at the local community, to somehow exhibit local artists.

What are your criteria for choosing the artists for this exhibit space?
It's very specific. It has to be an artist who's very new on the scene, getting out of school, or producing a new body of work. It doesn't have to be a young artist chronologically. It's just not for established artists. This really should be the first museum exhibition that the artist has had.

It feels important to have a space at the museum specifically reserved for Chicago artists. How did you come to the decision to make this for Chicagoans?
When we mulled over ideas for this program, we thought 'what can we do for Chicago?' A lot of emerging artists are showing in their studios, artists' apartments, in edgy spaces, but most of them haven't experienced a professional treatment. [With this experience] you get your name up on the wall; you get press releases going out. You've got your major curators and dealers who are liable to see your show. This exhibit space is an opportunity to help young artists to get to another level. We've had a lot of artists go on to get gallery representation after showing in 12 x 12.

Is there a common thread that holds together all the artists that show in the series?
We really try to find people who have an original voice coming through what they're doing. We are interested in all media, from performative works to very traditional photography to painting to extremely elaborate installation work to video installation.

Installation by Mike Andrews
photo: Courtesy of MCA Chicago

What is the process for finding the artists for 12 x 12?
The ration of submissions that we accept is pretty small. We do accept some people who submit slides. We're also out there going to galleries, getting recommendations from artists who are professors around town. We also talk to younger colleagues coming up to find out who we should look at.

Since there are a few curators on the MCA stuff is there one of you who determines the 12 x 12 series?
No, we all make studio visits; we all compare notes. Then we sit down as a group and make a group consensus decision. We really do want to have the series supported by all of us. It's not about each of our individual tastes or interests as curators. It's about trying to bring in artists that speak for themselves.

Being in 12 x 12 can make an artist's career! The MCA has such authority in the art world that being granted this show is like giving an emerging artist a stamp of approval.
We certainly hope that our artists can be supported, many of them have gotten dealers after their show, or thereafter made arrangements with a gallery. It's certainly exciting to see that happen.

May 12 x 12 features Mike Andrews (through May 31). His webbed sculptures and "yarn monsters" make up a fantastical installation; the photos used in this article represent his work.