Cuts and Beats: Cecil McDonald, Jr.

Sunday, Nov 15, 2020 – Mar 7, 2021

5020 S. Cornell
Chicago, IL 60615

The exhibition of predominantly lens-based work presents a collection of the artist’s most recent body of work birthed from his 2018 residency at the Art Center, which embodies photomontages to metaphorize the complicated histories between America and African Americans, and subvert the racist representation of Black artists from history. 

Through his art practice, McDonald explores the intersections of masculinity, kinship, and the artistic and intellectual pursuits of Black Americans, using photography, video, and text. Cuts and Beats, particularly, draws attention to the controlled conditions under which Black artists performed and built careers during the Vaudeville and Minstrel era. Using photomontage technique, McDonald combined manipulated historical images of Black artists publicized by the entertainment industry—vintage sheet music covers, theater advertisements, and artist publicity photographs—with contemporary photographs taken by the artist himself in dance clubs around Chicago. By blending generations, locations, and authorship, the artist wishes to subvert, not erase, the racist representations of Black musicians popularized in the late 1800s.

The process of cutting, altering, and blurring historical images and presenting them in relation to contemporary photographs, “acts as metaphors and symbols for music, dance, performance, and the complicated histories between America and African Americans,” says McDonald, who considers the new built images to “look back to often racist representations, and much like memory, recede to a current, self-possessed and subversive imagery, each influencing and dictating to the other, serving as a remix of past and present culture.” 

Cuts and Beats incorporates some of the imagery McDonald created for a larger body of work titled The Heat of the Cool, which refers to the idea that calm or coolness is a West African concept in which people mask intensity, stress, or pleasure with serenity, calmness, or spirituality. Driven by his belief in the transformative power of dance, the artist creates parties and dances in which participants (dancers) and collaborators (DJs and photographers) work with the artist to generate large-scale photographs in which the dancing bodies become a symbol for freedom. In these images, as seen in Cuts and Beats, McDonald emphasizes ideas about agency and ownership in one’s time, space, labor, and self.

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About the Artist

Cecil McDonald, Jr. (b. Chicago, 1965) studied fashion, house music, and dance club culture before receiving an MFA in Photography from Columbia College Chicago, where he currently works as an adjunct professor. Most recently he was a teaching artist at Nicholas Senn High School through the School Partnership for Art and Civic Engagement (SPACE) program at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. McDonald’s work has been exhibited nationally and internationally, with works in the permanent collection of The Cleveland Museum of Art, Northwestern Pritzker School of Law, Chicago Bank of America LaSalle Collection, and the Harris Bank Collection. McDonald was awarded the Joyce Foundation Midwest Voices & Visions Award, the Artadia Award, The Swiss Benevolent Society Residency, and a 3Arts Teaching Artist Award. In 2016, the first edition of his monograph InThe Company of Black was published and shortlisted by the Aperture Foundation for the 2017 First Photo Book Award. McDonald’s work was the subject of a major solo exhibition at the Chicago Cultural Center in 2019.


COVID-19-related safety protocols

Hyde Park Art Center views its community's safety as the number one priority and is utilizing the guidance from the City and State to inform its reopening procedures including the requiring of masks to be worn in the building at all times; instituting extra cleaning and disinfecting procedures; wide availability of hand sanitizer throughout the building; and the careful configuring of exhibition and school hours so as to help regulate the number of people and maintain proper social distance in the Art Center at one time.