Martin Creed’s “Work No. 1092 (MOTHERS)” (2011) (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

CHICAGO — Since January, Scottish artist Martin Creed has been artist in residence at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago. As discussed previously on Hyperallergic, there are some unusual aspects to this arrangement: Creed is not resident in Chicago at all, but visiting the city for short periods to oversee the installation of his work; and the work, for the most part, has been shown in other places before, rather than being freshly created for this residency. There’s an argument to be made that with Creed’s sort of minimalist art, to take it from one site and place it in another is in some sense to recreate it. Personally I would like to see him create something new for the MCA, though I’ve heard that this might happen before the year is over.

Meanwhile, the latest piece by Creed has literally landed on the city. It consists of giant neon letters forming the word Mothers, mounted on a steel beam and spinning on a steel post that’s fixed into the ground in front of the museum. The piece is about 15 feet tall, and over 30 feet wide.

First exhibited indoors at a London gallery in 2011, it seems to blend in rather nicely with the contemporary architecture around it, and to fit neatly into the usually vacant space of the museum plaza.

Interviewed about the work, Creed has stated that it is a tribute to mothers everywhere, though what his own mum (as they say in Scotland) thinks about it is not exactly clear.

My own feeling is that, like much of Creed’s work, at first sight it comes across bluntly as exactly what it says, and then after a while other meanings slowly reveal themselves to you. Yes, it is drawing attention to the importance of moms by taking a single word, a simple noun, and making it very big. But it could also be slyly shouting at us that we, too, are all just a bunch of “mother(fucker)s”, in the now slightly outdated contraction of the swear word. Round and round it goes, day and night, speeding up a little every two minutes, then slowing down to a stately revolution, alternately celebratory and insulting.

This might be a metaphor for Creed’s brand of minimalism — teetering on the border between banality and profundity, positive and negative, image and word, a song and a snarl. But let me just issue this warning: if you walk past the MCA while the sculpture is there, just make sure to look up, otherwise Martin Creed’s “Mothers” might give you a big slap on the head.

Martin Creed’s “Work No. 1357” is installed on the MCA Plaza (220 E Chicago Ave, Chicago, Illinois) and continues until … we’ll get back to you since we’re not sure.

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Philip A Hartigan

Philip Hartigan is a UK-born artist and writer who now lives, works and teaches in Chicago. He also writes occasionally for Time Out-Chicago. Personal narratives (his own, other peoples', and invented)...