Art Institute of Chicago,
Through Jan. 6

There’s strikingly little politics in the works of the celebrated British artist Steve McQueen, said Lori Waxman in the Chicago Tribune. Best known on these shores for two feature-length films—2008’s Hunger and 2011’s Shame—McQueen has spent most of his 20-year career making short films and videos that give viewers few of the things we expect from cinema—including narrative, dialogue, and endings. Charlotte is an extreme close-up of an actress’s occasionally blinking eye. Current is a “big, beautiful” moving picture of a river, its sun-dappled surface partially obscuring a submerged bicycle. Even Western Deep, a “terrorizing, claustrophobic” film that shows us the South African laborers who work in the world’s deepest mine, doesn’t urge a viewer to take a side. McQueen’s eye is remarkably neutral. “In his films, things are what they are.”

Really? I’d have sworn the films were about identity, said Franck Mercurio in Time Out Chicago. Take Deadpan—“one of the most engaging and poetic” of his works—a 1997 black-and-white film in which McQueen, re-enacting a Buster Keaton trick, stands motionless and untouched as the façade of a house falls to the ground around him. Clearly, he’s illustrating the challenges that a black artist faces “working in a largely white art world.” Even the opening work, a series of “dizzying” long shots of the Statue of Liberty taken from a circling helicopter, asks us to ponder America’s traditional identity, and how it’s changed. The piece is called Static, and its effect is “hypnotic.” You’re “left to wonder what ‘static’ means here,” said Sam Worley in the Chicago Reader. “Because the video is anything but.”