Artist interprets common forms for Contemporary Chicago exhibit

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By exploring the use of precast concrete drainage structures Biscuit (top, left) and Figurehead (top, right; above), MCA officials note, Alexandre da Cunha makes “artistic arrangements from the different sizes and shapes available to the construction trade.” Concrete Specialties adapted stock components to the artist’s specs.

Three ubiquitous concrete elements, one ready mixed and two precast, anchor a Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago plaza exhibit running through July 2016. Dubbed MCA Chicago Plaza Project Alexandre da Cunha, 2015, it features the Brazilian artist’s Mix (Americana), a painted mixer drum on loan from a New York gallery, plus Figurehead and Biscuit, two new “works” from Evanston, Ill.-based Concrete Specialties Co.

MCA Chicago profiles London-based Alexandre da Cunha as “a poet of found materials. Rarely making objects from scratch, [he] instead finds wondrously creative ways to repurpose already-existing items, revealing their inherent if overlooked form, beauty, and mystery. For the ongoing Plaza Project series, da Cunha presents objects of a more urban scale to address this particular site.

“Mix (Americana) is a full-scale mixer liberated from its typical location on the back of a delivery truck. Cleaned up and set on the plaza as an object of beauty, this red-white-and-blue, stars-and-stripes vessel is not only meant to inspire double-takes for visitors passing through the area, it also functions as a strange, quasi-kaleidoscopic viewing device: when viewers peer into its open end, complex shadows, forms, and the depth of the interior chamber are revealed as sunlight filters down into the barrel through a hole in the top.”

20 CSib 400The artful mixer drum rests on a platform overlooking the museum’s entry plaza, two blocks east of Chicago’s Magnificent Mile shopping district. At ground level are two elements da Cunha interpreted after a February 2015 visit to Concrete Specialties’ Elgin, Ill., plant: the 35-ft. high, 10-ft. diameter Figurehead, consisting of a manhole and two risers, all with various blockouts or penetrations; and, the 11-ton Biscuit structure, described by its fabricator as “a variation of a minimum depth cover.”

Concrete Specialties Vice President Al Nondorf hosted the artist and MCA Curator Michael Darling for a day in Elgin, enabling the guests to ponder large precast structures to augment Mix (Americana) for the plaza exhibit. After visiting the plant, MCA Chicago observes, “da Cunha was inspired to produce new work that continues his interest in repeating geometric forms. The tower-like Figurehead is made from sections of sewer pipe like those under the city of Chicago. Stacked vertically, [they] suggest a ready-made skyscraper. Similarly in Biscuit, da Cunha transformed a mundane sewer cap into a playful abstract composition simply by presenting it in an unconventional way. Through imagination and insight, da Cunha encourages new meaning from otherwise everyday objects and materials.”

A principal pipe, manhole and box culvert supplier to Chicago, northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin developers, contractors and agencies, Concrete Specialties adapted standard precast components to the artist’s specifications. In a profile of its contribution to the exhibit, the producer notes: “Alexandre da Cunha’s intention was that the viewer question what the object’s function is in real life and space. How is this structure used in the real world? How do the shapes and forms relate to the space it calls home?

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Mix (Americana) arrived at the CRG Gallery, New York, in 2013. It will remain perched at the MCA Chicago Plaza through next July.

“The crude materials are not perfect. The artist sees their imperfections as their beauty. He compares it to the ancient ruins in metropolitan cities throughout the world. The pieces will be changing with the climate changes of sunlight, wind, snow, ice and rain. The visual connection to the view is what the artist imagines.”

The da Cunha exhibit opened in July, shortly after the Figurehead and Biscuit pieces shipped. Announcing the unusual delivery, Concrete Specialties President Jim Nondorf observed, “All of our products are art and all of our best work is buried underground. It is exciting that we can display our product above ground to be enjoyed at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago.”