I’ve had a Steve McQueen hangover for the past few days. My brain is clouded with several arresting, melancholy images from his 2011 film Shame—a number of which generously show Michael Fassbender in the nude—which screened at the Art Institute last Friday as part of the opening of Steve McQueen, the museum’s new survey show open through January 6, 2013. McQueen, a lovable Brit and petulant mumbler, introduced the film and offered some context to the film’s topic (sex addiction) and how the body functions as a site for both excess and self-destruction.
While I was completely absorbed in McQueen’s gorgeous storytelling in Shame, I had a less visceral reaction to the rest of the survey, a collection of McQueen’s short films which I toured afterward.
The exhibit space is a dark, immersive atmosphere that functions like a portal into McQueen’s world—a landscape that I found difficult to fully comprehend. McQueen’s art pieces are erotic, playful, and strange. They are also very hard to latch onto—as soon as you think you’ve identified a pattern or narrative arc, it seems to slip between your fingers. Steve McQueen is a show that demands more than one visit, especially for an American audience (myself included) who are less familiar with his work. I will certainly revisit the show—and watch Shame at least three more times.
Photograph: Steve McQueen, Queen and Country, 2007-2009/Courtesy of the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery