This fall, the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) Chicago presents The Way of the Shovel: Art as Archaeology, a group exhibition tracing contemporary artists’ pervasive interest in history, archaeology, and archival research that has become a newly prominent feature in art produced in the past decade. Consisting almost entirely of work made after September 11, 2001, The Way of the Shovel re-imagines the art world as an alternative “History Channel” that is concerned with remembering, recording, and responding to historical events. Curated by MCA Manilow Senior Curator Dieter Roelstraete, this exhibition is on view November 9, 2013 to March 9, 2014.

Many of the artists in the exhibition share a passion for history and a fondness for digging up the past. The title The Way of the Shovel is inspired by the tools of the archaeologist’s trade -- the so-called shovel – and the exhibition reflects upon the act of excavating as one of the defining paradigms of much recent art. The more than 30 artists represented, from over a dozen countries, suggest that exploring archaeology is part of the artistic process in many contemporary cultures.

The exhibition is arranged in two major conceptual frameworks. The first grouping is a more metaphorical view of archaeology, with an emphasis on art that takes the form of historical research. Most of this work is photographic, or film or video-based, and explores art as it relates to documentation. Key artists in this section include Phil Collins, Moyra Davey, Tacita Dean, Stan Douglas, Joachim Koester, Deimantas Narkevicius, Anri Sala, Hito Steyerl, and Ana Torfs, among others.

In the second grouping, archaeology is taken more literally with artworks that question the relationship between matter (objects, people) and historical truth, or the politics of archaeology itself. This section features the work of artists such as Cyprien Gaillard, Daniel Knorr, Michael Rakowitz, Mariana Castillo Deball, Jean-Luc Moulène, and Simon Starling.

In addition to these groupings, The Way of the Shovel has two “exhibitions-within-an-exhibition” which take a closer look at Robert Smithson, art’s quintessential searcher known for his land art projects, and the notion of psychoanalysis as an archaeology of the mind. The exhibition also includes work by seven Chicago artists including Jason Lazarus, Tony Tasset, Michael Rakowitz, Rebecca Keller, and David Schutter. The exhibition debuts Chicago-based Pamela Bannos’ Shifting Grounds: Block 21 and Chicago’s MCA. For this project, Bannos is investigating the history and transformation of the MCA and the grounds that it currently occupies.