“Words At Liberty”

Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago (MCA Chicago)

“Words at Liberty,” an exhibition of 73 works on paper, demonstrates that for more than half a century visual artists have tried to reorient language for purposes of self-expression. Much of this work is impelled by the artist’s sense that language has often been devalued to the point of meaninglessness. It is therefore ironic that this exhibition is organized into “overlapping non-chronological categories” which are unintelligible, inadequate, misapplied, domineering, and/or confused.

For example, “words . . . that dominate the picture plane . . . and . . . become presences that revoke linguistic function” includes some works which actually give increased power to “linguistic function.” The Claes Oldenburg Ray Gun Poster (1961) spells out “ray gun” in letters that appear burned out of paper, provoking a mental image of how a ray gun acts, even though a viewer may never have seen one in

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