The Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) Chicago presents the latest installment of the ongoing exhibition series featuring iconic works from the MCA Collection, MCA: DNA Chicago Conceptual Abstraction, 1986-1995, organized by MCA Curator Lynne Warren and on view May 18 to September 29, 2013. The broad range of works – from painting and photography, to sculpture and installation – use diverse modes of abstraction to convey complex ideas about art history, social issues, and identity. Taken together, the work of this generation of artists formed an important art historical movement, certainly the most distinctive since the work of the Chicago Imagists in the 1960s.

Chicago art-making had long been strongly figural and representational. The early 1980s marked a major change in the Chicago art scene as the city’s art schools began attracting students and artists from around the nation who had absorbed the lessons of the previous decades’ avant-garde and who were influenced by the theoretical writings of historians, philosophers, environmentalists, and literary critics. Chicago-based artists in the late 80s and early 90s were influenced by the Minimalist and conceptual art movements of the 1960s. During those years, the number of artists whose works were considered conceptual greatly increased.

This exhibition presents the work of a group of artists who were based in Chicago and worked in a variety of media. Sculptors Richard Rezac and Tony Tasset used simple forms to emphasize the expressive qualities inherent in their industrial materials; while Dan Peterman, a pioneer in exploring environmental and sustainability issues, used recycled materials to focus his conceptual and aesthetic concerns. Painters Julia Fish and Mitchell Kane abstracted nature to an almost unrecognizable degree to create their poetic canvases.

Using photography, Jeanne Dunning focuses on the landscape of the body, while Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle maps the DNA of twins, both resulting in abstract portraits. Anne Wilson harvested human hair to create her delicate yet disturbing Minimalist composition; while Gregory Green fashions a Minimalist grid out of saw blades in his kinetic installation. All of these artists employ the undeniable beauty of their materials and abstract compositions to exchange ideas and position their work in a broader social and cultural context.