top of page

The Freedom Principle: Experiments in Art and Music, 1965 to Now

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. TRAVEL SCHEDULE Institute of Contemporary Art at the University of Pennsylvania, September 14 - December 31, 2016. CATALOGUE To accompany the exhibition, the MCA has co-published a 264-page catalogue with the University of Chicago Press, The Freedom Principle: Experiments in Art and Music, 1965 to Now. Essays by curators Naomi Beckwith and Dieter Roelstraete, AACM member and historian George E. Lewis, art historian Rebecca Zorach, and gallerist John Corbett accompany color reproductions of work by artists such as Muhal Richard Abrams, Nick Cave, Rashid Johnson, and Cauleen Smith. A transcript of a roundtable conversation features Beckwith, Roelstraete, curator Hamza Walker, current AACM member and cellist Tomeka Reid, and scholar and curator Romi Crawford, with additional comments from poet and scholar Fred Moten. A chronology and curated playlist of AACM-related recordings is also included. RELATED PROGRAMS Roscoe Mitchell: Trios Sunday, September 27, 3 and 7:30 pm A participant in the AACM, and a founding member of the Art Ensemble Chicago, Roscoe Mitchell is a composer and multi-instrumentalist. Mitchell presents four jazz trios, each featuring himself and two other musicians. The two concerts are different, with two trios being presented at the 3 pm concert and two trios being presented at 7:30 pm. George Lewis, Catherine Sullivan, and Sean Griffin: Afterword: The AACM (as) Opera Friday, October 16 (7:30 pm), and Saturday, October 17 (7:30 pm) Afterword is an experimental opera that imagines the legacy and future of the AACM (Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians), the African-American musicians’ collective founded in Chicago in 1965. Composed by acclaimed composer and musician George Lewis, and conceived in collaboration with media/theater artist Catherine Sullivan and director Sean Griffin, Afterword departs from conventional opera to combine composed music, scores, and texts with parallel elements improvised in real time. The musicians include master reeds player Douglas Ewart and ICE (International Contemporary Ensemble), among others. The libretto is based upon the concluding chapter, also titled Afterword, in George Lewis’ 2008 book about the AACM, A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music. Four vocalists sing and perform spoken texts, along with taking on multiple roles during the course of the piece. William Pope.L: Cage Unrequited Saturday, November 21, 3 pm to Sunday, November 22, 4 pm Cage Unrequited is a 25-hour marathon reading of experimental composer John Cage's influential book Silence: Lectures and Writings (1961) organized by visual artist, William Pope.L. The performance a contemporary take on the texts through the voices and attitudes of a diverse Chicago community of over 100 invited readers. Tuesdays on the Terrace June 2 - September 29, 5:30-8 pm The MCA presents free live jazz concerts outside in the MCA Sculpture Garden every Tuesday during the summer. August 4: Ari Brown Quintet Multi-reedist and pianist, Ari Brown, a member of the Chicago avant-garde jazz scene, performs with his quintet. August 11: Douglas R. Ewart Douglas R. Ewart uses instruments that double as sculptures, and he creates music that combines the traditions of four continents with fresh inventions. August 18: Jason Stein Quartet Jason Stein focuses on the bass clarinet as a jazz and improvisational instrument, and he performs with his quartet that features a double-horn frontline. August 25: Tatsu Aoki: The Miyumi Project Tatsu Aoki works in a wide range of musical genres, from jazz to traditional Japanese music. The Miyumi Project features Mwata Bowden, Edward Wilkerson, Jaime Kempers, Kioto Aoki, and Coco Elysses. September 1: Corey Wilkes Acclaimed trumpeter Corey Wilkes approaches the mainstream repertoire of jazz standards while engaging contemporary hip-hop from the perspective of an MC. September 8: Chris Greene Quartet The Chris Greene Quartet uses funk and hip-hop, the music that saxophonist and band leader Chris Greene heard growing up, as a bridge between jazz and other genres. September 15: Ryan Nyther Quartet Trumpeter Ryan Nyther has performed with Wynton Marsalis and Roy Hargove. His quartet features Pete Benson, Junius Paul, and Marcus Evans. September 22: Joshua Abrams Quartet Composer and bassist Joshua Abrams draws from a diverse arrangement of genres, including jazz and avant-rock. His quartet features Jason Adasiewicz, David Boykin, and Frank Rosaly. September 29: Tomeka Reid, Hear in Now Cellist Tomeka Reid leads the string trio Hear in Now, performing original, jazz-tinged compositions. Reid is joined by Mazz Swift and Silvia Bolognesi. The Freedom Principle: Activations and Performances July - November As part of The Freedom Principle, periodic small-scale concerts are performed in the museum’s 4th-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. The schedule includes: Khari B and Deana Dean: Poetry Picnic Preview Saturday, August 8, 2 pm AACM Chairman, discopoet Khari B, and Deana Dean of the Chicago Poetry Alliance, co-host performances by poets whose words uphold the principles of the AACM: that art and community around spoken word and creative expression can uplift all people. Chicago Human Rhythm Project Saturday, August 22, 2 pm Rooted in improvisation, the music of the AACM, and percussive dance, this performance features bassist Junius Paul and three tap soloists: Starinah Dixson, Jumaane Taylor, and Martin Bronson. John Preus, New Material Saturday, September 12, 2 pm New Material performs improvised arrangements, often weaving together popular songs from folk, rock, jazz and classical music, using instruments built in artist John Preus’s studio. New Material consists of Mikel Avery, Leroy Bach, Tadd Cowen, and John Preus. Mikel Patrick Avery Saturday, September 26, 2 pm Established as a jazz drummer, Mikel Patrick Avery is commonly recognized for his orchestral and melodic style of drumming that involves the use of unconventional "non-musical" objects. For this concert, Avery assembles a group of musicians to improvise together. David Grubbs, John McEntire, and Rob Mazurek Tuesday, October 6, 6 pm David Grubbs (Gastr del Sol), John McEntire (Tortoise), and Rob Mazurek (Isotopes) are seminal figures from Chicago’s post-rock music scene that emerged in the 1990s. First they talk about avant-garde free jazz as their inspiration, followed by a short concert—their first time performing together. Ann Ward and the AACM School of Music Saturday, October 10, 2 pm Composer, vocalist, pianist, and African percussionist Ann Ward directs the AACM School of Music in a program of Great Black Music compositions by the school’s teachers, who are volunteers and members of the AACM. Ayako Kato: Art Union Humanscape Saturday, October 24, 2 pm Dancer/choreographer Ayako Kato and bassist/composer Jason Roebke of Art Union Humanscape (AUH) perform a duet that explores the spectrum of sound and movement in free jazz, accompanied by Kato’s experimental choreography. Kato and Roebke have performed together and with other musicians and dancers throughout the US, Japan, and Europe. The Bridge #3, with Hamid Drake and Harrison Bankhead Saturday November 7, 2 pm The Bridge is a cross-cultural experiment that brings together jazz musicians from Chicago and Paris who are inspired by the AACM. Joining Bankhead and Drake as featured guests from Paris are Benjamin Duboc and Ramon Lopez. # # # Image: Wadsworth Jarrell, Revolutionary, 1972. Courtesy of the artist. Image: Gerald Williams, Nation Time, 1969. Johnson Publishing Company (Chicago). Photo: Geoffrey Black/Johnson Publishing Company. Lead support for The Freedom Principle: Experiments in Art and Music, 1965 to Now is provided by Cari and Michael Sacks. Additional generous support is provided by the Pamela Alper Curatorial Fund, Dr. Anita Blanchard and Martin H. Nesbitt, Lester N. Coney and Mesirow Financial, Anne and Don Edwards, Denise and Gary Gardner, Vicki and Bill Hood, Jeanne and Kevin Poorman, Linda Johnson Rice, Desirée Rogers, Lloyd A. Fry Foundation/Amina Dickerson, Nickol and Darrel Hackett, Connie and Ed Horner, Inman Gallery, and Shirley and Walter Massey. The Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago is a nonprofit, tax-exempt organization accredited by the American Alliance of Museums. The museum is generously supported by its Board of Trustees; individual and corporate members; private and corporate foundations, including the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation; and government agencies, including the Illinois Arts Council, a state agency, and the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events. Museum capital improvements are supported by a Public Museum Capital Grant from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. The MCA is a proud member of Museums in the Park and receives major support from the Chicago Park District. The MCA is located at 220 E. Chicago Avenue, one block east of Michigan Avenue. The museum and sculpture garden are open Wednesday through Sunday from 10 am to 5 pm and Tuesday from 10 am to 8 pm. The museum is closed on Monday. Tuesdays are Community Free Days with free admission for Illinois residents. Suggested general admission is $12 for adults and $7 for students and seniors. Children 12 years of age and under, MCA members, and members of the military are admitted free. Information about MCA exhibitions, programs, and special events is available on the MCA website at or by phone at 312.280.2660

8 views0 comments
bottom of page