The celebrated British artist
But though the galleries of the
Forget narrative. Forget dialogue. Forget voices. Most of the time, forget even place, space, beginning and end. Most of all, forget metaphor.
These absences won't shock anyone familiar with the history of video art or experimental film. But they feel like a big part of the challenge and the effect of McQueen's work, which can be mystifying despite its unstinting directness. In his films, things are what they are. But that doesn't make it easy.
What's left after the removal of all those cinematic elements depends on the individual work. "Current" paints a big, beautiful picture of a dappled river, half in shade, half in light. Something lies just under the surface of the water, causing the sun to glint in circles. Watch the subtle double slide projection long enough, and that thing materializes as an abandoned bicycle. Resolution demands a slowness of looking akin to actually staring at a river in sunlight.
The silent "Charlotte" presents an extreme close-up of the eye of veteran British actress
In "Static," the
"Static" was completed in 2009, and it belongs resolutely to a post-
What's striking about McQueen's foray into political portraiture is that it isn't political. There's no
Just as there's no identity politics in the black male bodies of early works like "Deadpan," a willfully serious, formal remake of a famous
Just as there's no partisan politics in "Illuminer," a video from 2001 showing the artist sprawled out on a hotel bed in Paris, his dark body brightened only by the light of a television set. A local news program blares a report on post-9/11 American military training. The occasional English phrase merges with the colors of the screen to paint a fuzzy picture of red, white and blue violence. Even in French, TV loudness hurts. McQueen's body at one point disappears into the sheets, and the twisted bundle becomes an abstract form of projected color, a mysterious sight for night-vision goggles.
This is a culture in which war is televised nightly, and without it the artist's body vanishes into darkness. That's grim, but it isn't particularly pointed, nor is "Queen and Country," McQueen's memorial to the British men and women killed during the
Despite the inescapably moving but ultimately neutral nature of McQueen's gesture, the Royal Mail has refused to issue the stamps.
"Steve McQueen" runs through Jan. 6 at the Art Institute of Chicago, 111 S.
Lori Waxman is a special contributor to