MCA Chicago

West by Midwest

Organized by Charlotte Ickes, Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Curatorial Fellow, with Michael Darling, James W. Alsdorf Chief Curator, West by Midwest tells a story about how contemporary art spreads and develops through the collaboration, competition, and friendship among artists. After serving as curatorial intern at the MCA, I had the honor of continuing to work with Charlotte Ickes as a research assistant on the exhibition and producing half of the object labels for the works of art. Knowing my interest in photography, Charlotte also trusted me laying out the installation of Hal Fischer’s Gay Semiotics.

Hal Fischer, American, b. 1950
Gay Semiotics, 1977/2014
Carbon pigment prints on Canson Photo Gloss Premium RC paper in handmade case with denim covering
Each sheet: 20 × 16 in. (50.8 × 40.6 cm)
Collection Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Gift of Albert A. Robin by exchange, 2015.12.1-28

An important project of Conceptual photography, Hal Fischer’s Gay Semiotics integrates photographic images with handwritten text to generate a “lexicon of attraction,” in the artist’s words, of the gay white male community in San Francisco’s Castro and Haight Ashbury districts. Influenced by semiotics—the study of signs and symbols—Fischer labels and qualifies street fashion, while placement and color of accessories are revealed to be cues that imply intimate power dynamics between partners in private. Mimicking the systematic documentation and interpretation of a subculture, Fischer produced a tongue-in-cheek anthropological photo-essay classifying gay archetypes. As a member of San Francisco’s gay community, many of the models in Gay Semiotics were friends of the artist. Fischer has said of the project, “There’s so much of the personal in this work, it’s my milieu, particularly the humor I used in it. I couldn’t have gone out to anyone else’s culture and used that humor.”