"Whenever someone mentions Chicago to me these days, whenever someone just says the word 'Chicago,' literally the first thing I think of are carpet ads," cartoonist Daniel Clowes said this week from his home in Oakland, Calif. "Magikist signs, Mohawk ads. Especially that 'HUdson 3-2700' jingle. That's lodged in my head. And that's my Chicago. I don't even remember the '90s, and I don't accept Millennium Park or The Bean. Chicago 1972 to 1979 is what I remember, and so I figured that's the Chicago that I'd give them."
His Illinois, trapped in ink.
The large-scale retrospective "Modern Cartoonist: The Art of Daniel Clowes" opens Saturday at the Museum of Contemporary Art, and in addition to drawings from his seminal '90s comic "Eightball," a sampling of his celebrated New Yorker magazine covers and sketches that led to "Ghost World" (which later became an acclaimed film, earning Clowes an Oscar nomination for adapted screenplay), there will be a pair of new works. Neither were part of the show when it debuted last year at the Oakland Museum of California.
With good reason.
California probably wouldn't appreciate old carpet-advertising kitsch the way Chicago would. And so, flanking the ends of two MCA galleries will be a pair of enormous murals: on the east wall, Clowes' vision of Chicago facing east, looking out on a Lake Michigan teeming with alewife fish and tour boats, the old WFLD traffic helicopter flying past. And on the west wall, Clowes' jumbled childhood image of Chicago facing west, a riot of Near North skyscrapers towering over a Loop full of billboards for Vienna Beef and Garfield Goose.
Clowes is 52, and though he's spent the past two decades in Oakland, if you haven't figured it out, he grew up here in the 1960s and 1970s, a native of Hyde Park. "Modern Cartoonist" runs until Oct. 13, after which it travels to the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., then the Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus, Ohio. But only Chicago will see these large, insider-reference-stuffed works, or as Clowes put it, "Chicago the way Chicago seems in my head." What we have here is a preview, the mural for the MCA's west wall.
How many Chicago references can you spot?