Critics’ Picks

Basim Magdy, Expanding the Universe, 2008, acrylic, spray paint, and gouache on paper, 15 x 20".

Chicago

Basim Magdy

Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago (MCA Chicago)
220 East Chicago Avenue
December 10 - March 19

Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago (MCA Chicago)
220 East Chicago Avenue
December 10 - March 19

Basim Magdy’s retrospective at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago is the Egyptian artist’s first large-scale exhibition in the United States. Collecting a number of his psychedelic films, drawings, and photographic works from the past decade, the show offers a view into Magdy’s career-spanning fascination with dystopia, hope, and visions of futures that never came to be. From the strangely subdued neon hellishness of his early drawings to his newer experiments with “film pickling,” the artist’s term for submerging his photographs in chemicals to achieve riotous color effects, the works on display impart a cohesive if jangling stylistic approach and worldview. The drawings especially, which are exhibited in a visual heap on a large fluorescent wall painted a crepuscular pink, provide an oblique and disturbing portal into an alternate dimension of sociotechnological waning where antiquated technologies exist alongside fantastical creatures and strange extraterrestrial forces. Equal parts futuristic excess and outmoded disrepair, these small works represent a world in perpetual dusk that is occupied by spacecraft (some resembling giant squid) and weird, unidentifiable machines.

Magdy’s newest work shows a shift toward serial photography. An Apology to a Love Story that Crashed into a Whale and An Island Recalls the Tangled Details of Its Past Life as a Poem of Solitude and Unrecorded Events, both 2016, dominate two walls of the exhibition with grids of brightly hued images and blocks of text. Like his films, these series tell dreamy narratives snarled with revolution, violence, death, and the potential for hope amid dystopian times. That Magdy is able to present these apocalyptic tales with such prismatic color and effervescent charm comes as a small miracle.