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Fabricating Fashion: Textiles for Dress, 1700–1825
Through July 26, 2020
Galleries 57–59

In 18th-century Western Europe, prior to the Industrial Revolution, textiles were constructed entirely by hand, making them much more highly valued than the machine-made fabrics of today. Clothing from the period was also assembled by hand, either by specialist tailors or by the wearers themselves, making fabric selection the first—and arguably most important—decision.

The wealthy patrons who bought or commissioned these delicate fabrics chose what to purchase based on several factors, the most important being the quality of the design, technical execution, and type of material. The rest of the population could not afford to buy fine textiles, yet they had a great deal of firsthand knowledge about techniques and materials, as up to one-third were involved in making fabric. This labor-intensive process spanned all levels of society and included many steps—from raising sheep for wool, growing flax for linen, and spinning and dyeing threads to designing patterns, making lace, weaving, embroidering, and block printing—all of which had to be done before the fabric could be sent off to merchants and markets to be sold. The collaborative nature of making fashionable textiles also extended to the global trading network that brought silk from China and cotton and cashmere from the Indian subcontinent.

In the early 18th century, the most fashionable men’s and women’s ensembles were made of richly colored silks and translucent lace, but by the early 1800s lighter cotton textiles, both plain and printed, became more common. The increase in Europe’s taste for cotton textiles gave rise to intense international competition for technical innovation and control of worldwide markets, which produced a wide variety of beautiful fabrics.

In a portrait by Jean Baptiste-François Désoria, Constance Pipelet wears an elegant gown similar to a white cotton muslin dress from about 1800 (above), both simple garments that belie the complex global networks necessary to supply Europeans with imported fabrics like Indian muslin or Chinese silk. Drawing upon the Art Institute’s permanent collection, Fabricating Fashion illuminates the artistry that enabled the creation of these intricate textiles and garments. Presenting these works alongside portraits and prints from the period, this exhibition highlights the rich legacy of their mostly anonymous creators and tells a fuller story of the people who made and wore fashionable textiles in Western Europe between 1700 and 1825.

Malangatana: Mozambique Modern
Through July 5, 2020
Galleries 182–84

Painter, poet, and revered national hero Malangatana Ngwenya (1936–2011) eludes singular definition, and yet he was commonly known by a single name—Malangatana.

Born in Mozambique, this pioneer of modern African art developed his unique painting style early in his career, an aesthetic defined by a dense assembly of figures; phantasmagoric depictions of animals, humans, and supernatural creatures; and a palette of both bright and dark colors. His work embodies the new artistic vocabularies that arose in Mozambique in tandem with the struggle for a liberated nation, much as they did in other parts of the African continent.

Though largely self-taught, Malangatana took painting classes in the late 1950s at the Industrial School and the Art Club of Mozambique—the latter a center of artistic activity in the capital Maputo (then Lourenço Marques). In this period, he became active in the cultural milieus of Maputo and found his first teachers and sponsors in artists and architects João Ayres, Augusto Cabral, and Pancho Guedes. While his first paintings show traces of the European modernism he encountered in his art education and through his mentors, Malangatana quickly established his own aesthetic. Simultaneously he honed his distinctive allegorical approach to depicting daily life in Mozambique, mixing symbols and motifs culled from his experience of local craft, Christianity, and the folklore of the culture he belonged to, the Ronga.

The changes in Mozambique’s political history during the 1960s and 1970s significantly impacted Malangatana’s life and work. A Portuguese colony until 1975, Mozambique was among the last African countries to gain independence from colonial rule. As the quest for liberation grew with the formation of the Front for the Liberation of Mozambique (FRELIMO) in 1962 and the armed resistance against the Portuguese in 1964, a strong anticolonial sentiment and a need for new artistic and cultural forms emerged. Malangatana had touched on social and political themes in earlier work, but from the mid-1960s through the 1970s he articulated them more explicitly, while always retaining an allegorical tendency in his approach.

This presentation is both the first survey of Malangatana’s early work since his death and the first solo exhibition of a modern African painter at the Art Institute. Bringing together over 40 key paintings and drawings, the exhibition highlights the years between 1959 and 1975 as a period in which Malangatana embarked on bold formal experiments and painted the rapidly changing world around him, inviting us to consider his development as an artist part and parcel with the emergence of modern African art.
A skeleton in the center of the canvas is surrounding by variously colored figures, many missing limbs and spewing blood.

Major funding for Mozambique Modern is provided by Sylvia Neil and Dan Fischel and the Alfred L. McDougal and Nancy Lauter McDougal Fund for Contemporary Art.

Additional support is contributed by the Miriam U. Hoover Foundation.

Members of the Exhibitions Trust provide annual leadership support for the museum’s operations, including exhibition development, conservation and collection care, and educational programming. The Exhibitions Trust includes an anonymous donor; Neil Bluhm and the Bluhm Family Charitable Foundation; Jay Franke and David Herro; Karen Gray-Krehbiel and John Krehbiel, Jr.; Kenneth C. Griffin; Caryn and King Harris, The Harris Family Foundation; Josef and Margot Lakonishok; Robert M. and Diane v.S. Levy; Ann and Samuel M. Mencoff; Sylvia Neil and Dan Fischel; Anne and Chris Reyes; Cari and Michael J. Sacks; and the Earl and Brenda Shapiro Foundation.

Toulouse-Lautrec and the Celebrity Culture of Paris
Through September 20, 2020
Gallery 243

Welcome to Montmarte—an outlying Parisian neighborhood known for its cabarets and dance halls—where a flamboyant nightlife exploded in the late 19th century. Among the artists, performers, and ambitious entrepreneurs who called this bohemian quartier home was painter and printmaker Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, who made a career depicting its most colorful personalities using the relatively new advertising medium of large-scale posters.

This focused installation of his works comprises posters, paintings, and painted objects. Dynamic and instantly recognizable, Lautrec’s images filled the streets of Paris and helped catapult his clients to fame. Through cutting-edge experiments in lithography, Lautrec emphasized the distinctive traits of singers and dancers such as Jane Avril, Aristide Bruant, and May Milton, as well as actors, writers, and cabaret owners, to distinguish them from their competition. Even as he helped make celebrities of others, Lautrec himself became a celebrity of sorts through the popularity of his posters and paintings, notable for their singular style and unconventional materials and techniques

Intimate Modernity
Through September 20, 2020
Gallery 242

In the 1890s, a new generation of artists emerged who came of age after the height of Impressionism and pioneered a variety of different artistic styles. Unified primarily by their close personal friendships with each other, many of these artists became known as Intimists, named for their generally smaller-scale works and intimate subject matter. Unlike the Impressionists, who often portrayed landscapes, outdoor gardens, or city streets, these artists focused instead on interior scenes as a way to experiment with color, form, pattern, and atmosphere, populating their domestic spaces with relatives, friends, or employees.

The paintings, prints, and pastels in this focused installation were mostly intended for display in private spaces, where they would become a part of the viewer’s everyday life. The artists envisioned that by bringing innovative art into the home—a place typically reserved for “craft”—they would erode the distinctions between art and life and produce psychologically intimate, art-filled spaces for reflection.
Scenes of Everyday Life

Intimists created smaller-scale works about intimate subject matter.

El Greco: Ambition and Defiance
March 7–June 21, 2020
Galleries 211–15
  • March 7–May 9: $7 exhibition ticket
  • May 10–June 21: $10 combination ticket that also includes “Monet and Chicago”

This major exhibition charts the career of the artist known simply as El Greco. Over 57 works from across the world trace not only the development of his distinctive style but also the astounding ambition that drove him to relentlessly pursue success.

Born in Crete as Domenikos Theotokopoulos (1541–1614), El Greco trained in the traditional manner of Byzantine icon painting. He moved to Venice in 1567 to learn a new artistic approach, absorbing developments in Venetian Renaissance painting through the lens of artists such as Titian and Tintoretto. The works El Greco painted during his time in Venice, however, reveal both his embrace of and struggles to fully adapt to this manner of painting.

Following this transformative period, El Greco went to Rome, probably in an attempt to attract patronage within the papal circle. There his acceptance into the elevated circle of Cardinal Alessandro Farnese brought a close association with the painter Giulio Clovio and the erudite historian and collector Fulvio Orsini. El Greco’s portraits, allegories, and religious paintings between 1570 and 1577 reflect these relationships as well as his complicated engagement with Michelangelo and other artistic luminaries of the 16th century.

With no major commissions in Rome, El Greco moved on to Spain in 1577. He quickly earned a major commission for the altarpiece for the Church of Santo Domingo el Antiguo in Toledo, the result being the monumental The Assumption of the Virgin (1577–79). Of a scale and format that he had never previously attempted, The Assumption became a showpiece for the artist as he attempted to mold a new career for himself in Spain.

Despite this success, El Greco was unable to secure commissions from the powerful authorities of Toledo. He turned instead to carving out a private clientele, finding enthusiastic patronage among the local intelligentsia and developing a flourishing career as a portraitist. Alongside paintings of theologians, writers, and attorneys, he was commissioned to decorate a series of private altars and family chapels.

Since El Greco’s death, writers, critics, and other observers have struggled with how and where to situate him. Was he a Byzantine icon painter transformed by the artistic revolution of the Italian Renaissance? A social climber desperately seeking noble patronage? A devout believer swept up by fervent mysticism? A proto-Modernist? Was he Greek, Italian, or Spanish? El Greco: Ambition and Defiance looks to his works themselves for answers. By charting the development of his remarkable style across 57 artworks, including large-scale canvases and more intimate panel paintings and sculptures, the exhibition reveals El Greco as a socially and artistically ambitious striver who expected his immense talents to be appropriately acknowledged and rewarded.

Noda Tetsuya: My Life in Print
Feb 29–Jun 21, 2020
Gallery 107

In the late 1960s, Japanese artist Noda Tetsuya began a series of prints that continues to this day, over 50 years later.

The prints, each titled Diary followed by a date, capture the large and small moments of the artist’s life, from the intimate and personal—his Israeli-born wife and their children and simple gifts from friends—to the public and far-reaching, such as young environmental activists in 1970s New York or the devastation that followed the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

Each of these moments Noda depicts in prints are created through a unique and multilayered method he himself developed. He begins by selecting a photograph, taken on the day of the title, that he manipulates in various ways. First he adds drawn elements—such as lines or shading—and whites out other aspects of the image. The altered photo is then scanned in an old-fashioned mimeograph machine, a process that creates a stencil of the image. Next Noda takes a sheet of handmade Japanese paper which he uses for all of his prints and applies subtle color through traditional woodblock technique. Finally he silkscreens his manipulated photo over the top and adds his signature, his name along with an inked thumbprint. The resulting images feel both eerily familiar and hauntingly distant, seemingly capturing the impermanence of time and the faultiness of memory.

Today Noda’s Diary images number well over 500, and he has become renowned as one of the most innovative Japanese print artists working today. This exhibition—the largest presentation of the artist’s work in North America—brings together key works from across his career: recent acquisitions to the Art Institute’s collection as well as those lent by the artist and local collectors.

Learn more about the artist and his process in this video.

PHOTOGRAPHY + FINE ART: Material Meanings—Selections from the Constance R. Caplan Collection
Feb 22–Jul 5, 2020
Gallery 289

The fourth and final installment in the collection-driven series that pairs photography with other creative domains, Material Meanings brings 30 outstanding works to Chicago for the first public showing of the private collection of Constance R. Caplan.

A resident of Baltimore, Caplan has been a keen student and steward of modern and contemporary art for more than 30 years, taking classes in art history and serving on and leading major museum boards—all in the service of art and the public trust. Her choices in 20th-century decorative arts, photography, and, above all, painting and sculpture, make an exquisite whole. Caplan is drawn to works with great presence, as she discusses in a conversation published in the accompanying exhibition catalogue; she is also moved by art that tells us something new about history and our perceptions of the world. Speaking admiringly of postwar European artists such as painter and sculptor Lucio Fontana and abstractionist Blinky Palermo, she confesses, “I just wanted to understand: what were they doing? They were dealing with materials that were on the streets, and I don’t think anybody thinks that what they did then was pretty. It wasn’t pretty. It was what they could find and what they were thinking about in the aftermath of war.”

Green-blue overlapping lines and squiggles fill almost the entire composition, except for the top right corner, of this abstract work by Cy Twombly.

Caplan herself practiced photography briefly and has collected the work of photographers interested, as she is, in the history of decorative or fine arts: Louise Lawler, Sherrie Levine, Christopher Williams, and others. She has researched and pursued works across a variety of historical periods and art forms, and the works on view in this presentation accordingly range from a Vienna Secession vase made around 1910 to an abstract photograph from 2012 by American artist Liz Deschenes.
A photography by Cindy Sherman of a young woman wearing a collared shirt and a straw hat. The shirt is red, white, and blue with gold stars, and the woman smiles at the camera and has short blonde hair. Her arms are crossed in front of her.

Mirroring the spirit of learning that has driven Caplan’s collecting, the exhibition’s descriptive wall texts draw from the catalogue’s essays, many of which were written by students or faculty members of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. This educational emphasis, along with an exceptional selection of objects, makes Material Meanings a singularly affecting and enriching encounter with modern and contemporary art.

Signs and Wonders: The Photographs of John Beasley Greene
Feb 8–May 25, 2020
Galleries 1–3

John Beasley Greene. Untitled (Ramesseum, with the head from a colossus of Ramesses II), 1854–55. Collection of Richard and Ronay Menschel.

In 1853, when John Beasley Greene first visited Egypt with his camera, archaeology and photography were still very new.

Over the course of his exceptionally brief career—he died at the age of 24—Greene made an extraordinary body of pictures that advanced both archaeology and photography and continues to offer insight into the central concerns that shaped the two fields.

Born in Ingouville, France, to American parents, Greene grew up in a well-connected merchant-banking family. This financial and social standing enabled him to pursue his twin passions: photography and Egyptology. In the early 19th century, Europeans developed a voracious drive to acquire and systematize knowledge about ancient Egyptian culture—an intellectual enterprise tightly bound to Western economic and colonialist interests in the region. After studying in Paris, Greene twice traveled to Egypt, where he used the camera to record hieroglyphic inscriptions on ancient monuments and to make spare, unpeopled views of the unfamiliar landscape. In late 1855 he traveled to Algeria, where his evocative images were similarly divided between documentation of excavations and studies of built and natural environments.
Old black and white photo by John Beasley Greene that shows the stone head from an ancient Egyptian colossus of Ramesses II on the ground at the base of some stone columns in the desert

Much of Greene’s story remains a mystery. The albums and photographs he left behind attest to a curious mind, an inventive eye, and a keen sensitivity to the needs and possibilities of archaeology and photography in his time. Although he exhibited his photographs while he was alive, Greene’s work escaped serious notice until the 1970s and 1980s, when an expanding art market for photographs encouraged renewed interest in 19th-century photographers. To 20th-century viewers trained in modernist art, it was impossible to ignore the striking spareness of Greene’s landscapes, his adept manipulation of negative and positive space, and the near abstraction of his close-up views.

Yet a purely formalist reading of Greene’s work obscures the scientific and intellectual goals that underpinned it, as well as the expectations of his intended audiences. Moreover, it overlooks his contributions to a growing body of archaeological scholarship and the geopolitical conditions that shaped such studies.

This exhibition, the first retrospective of this photography pioneer, contextualizes Greene’s career through new scholarship, nearly 70 rare prints and albums, and Egyptian artwork from the Art Institute’s collection. This nuanced examination invites consideration of the complex aesthetic and political lenses that we use to look at photography and the past as well as the complicated relationship between photography, colonialism, and modernism.

Vaginal Davis: The White to be Angry
Feb 1–Apr 26, 2020
Gallery 186

Vaginal Davis is a key figure in the history of queer music, performance, and video art. Naming herself after the activist Angela Davis, she emerged in the queer and punk club performance scene of Los Angeles in the late 1970s. The artist created her own mythology during the live performances of her “multiracial, maxi-gendered” bands—an interplay between identity, fiction, and critique that also informs her influential xeroxed print publications, or zines, and later video work. Davis is a founding figure in the “homocore” movement that reinterpreted hardcore punk through queer cultures, as well as the art and music networks of the 1990s that influenced the emergence of the feminist punk Riot Grrrl movement.
The opening image for the 1990s television show America's Most Wanted, with an official looking seal and figure of a bald eagle.

Vaginal Davis
Davis’s touchstone work, The White to be Angry (1999), challenges constructions and desires around white supremacist culture as it circulates across the entire political spectrum. The title of the video is taken from Davis’s live performances and a music album her band Pedro, Muriel & Esther (PME) recorded in Chicago in the mid-1990s. The video is a visual album of songs as chapters, each referencing a different film director, separated by sequences of appropriated footage from television. Davis’s PME bandmate Glen Meadmore appears in a chapter riffing on Clive Barker playing a serial killer, while an Angeleno skinhead by the name of Edward Ghillemhuire plays a character who is both attracted to and violent toward the people his hate speech–spewing elders seek to demonize. The White to Be Angry embraces ambiguity and extravagant dark humor, creating an image of America that remains unnervingly topical today.
A light-skinned man with a shaved head lays back against a Confederate flag with an expression that indicates intensity.

Carissa Rodriguez: The Maid
Jan 24–May 25, 2020
Gallery 188

New York-based artist Carissa Rodriguez (American, born 1970) creates artworks that explore the material and social conditions of art’s reproduction and circulation.

This exhibition features Rodriguez’s film The Maid (2018), which takes its name from a 1913 short story by Swiss writer Robert Walser. In the story, a maid spends 20 years searching for a young girl who happens to become lost while in her care. Rodriguez’s film orbits around conceptual artist Sherrie Levine’s 1993 Newborn sculptures, a series of works that are themselves casts of sculptures by early 20th-century artist Constantin Brancusi. The film tracks six of Levine’s Newborns across the world through private residences, a museum storage facility, and an auction house, providing the viewer with a prolonged contemplation of their journey.

Also highlighted in the exhibition is a second video work, The Girls, filmed on a playground in Rodriguez’s Chinatown neighborhood in 1997 and recently edited to accompany The Maid. Shown alongside these video works is All the Best Memories Are Hers, a photographic portrait of embryos taken with an EmbryoScope, a hybrid instrument that is at once an incubator and a time-lapse camera. Metaphors of creation, reproduction, and the passage of time unite the three works in this exhibition, the artist’s first in Chicago.

Bauhaus Chicago: Design in the City
Nov 23, 2019–Apr 26, 2020
Gallery 283

How the Windy City put its own stamp on the Bauhaus aesthetic.

In 1933, when the Nazi regime closed down the German Bauhaus, the renowned school’s history of progressive design education seemingly ended, and with it, its innovative synthesis of art, craft, and technology. Yet by the late 1930s, as World War II loomed on the horizon, a number of the school’s notable designers and educators left Europe and found their way to Chicago, taking positions at the New Bauhaus, later the Institute of Design (ID) and the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT). As leaders at these institutions, László Moholy-Nagy and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe not only introduced the Bauhaus’s avant-garde ideals to the American Midwest but set about translating them the region’s urban spaces, materials, and industries.

This exhibition, part of the worldwide celebration of the Bauhaus centenary this year, focuses on this period of translation when both instructors and students at the ID and IIT adapted design methods and aesthetics from Germany to the United States. Featuring works that range in scale from jewelry, photography, and textiles to furniture, monumental sculpture, and urban planning, the presentation includes pieces created by many instrumental teachers and talented students—including Ludwig Hilberseimer, Elsa Kula, Nathan Lerner, Emmett McBain, Art Sinsabaugh, and Angelo Testa—who shaped the 20th-century history of design and architecture at these schools.

Structured around key educational themes and workshops, such as light, materials, and shelter, the exhibition dynamically reflects on the nature of design teaching in the studio, in the city, and in spaces of production, highlighting the Bauhaus’s continuing legacy in Chicago and around the world.

Adornment: Jewelry of South Asia’s Nomadic Cultures
Nov 2, 2019–Jan 9, 2021
Gallery 50

The wide range of vegetal, geometric, and animal motifs that tribal jewelers wrought into silver and gold reflects the diverse functions and varied origins of these artworks.
A substantial silver bracelet featuring a temple-shaped design at top and intricate detail work throughout.

During the 19th and early 20th centuries, cattle-herding nomads from tribes as geographically and culturally diverse as the Ersari and Kuchi of Afghanistan, the Balti of Pakistan, and the Rabari and Ahir of India moved seasonally across Central and South Asia in search of fresh pastures. Although they carried few belongings, these travelers developed a material legacy of adornment practices embodied in the textiles and finely crafted jewelry they wore and bartered, practices that continued as they settled into modest villages over time.

These adornments were made by artists of tremendous skill using a range of traditional techniques still practiced today, including sandcasting, lost-wax casting, stamping, engraving, enamel inlay, and the careful twisting and sodering of wire. In their original contexts, such objects served as expressions of tribal affiliation, personal wealth, spiritual beliefs, and cultural heritage. They functioned as capital and currency for men as well as women, protected skin from sunburn and insect bites, and stimulated vital pressure points, or marma, to enhance fertility and relieve pain.

This focused exhibition, made up of promised works from the collection of Barbara and David Kipper, presents a sampling of these objects, from ornate headdresses to simple stud earrings, lending insight into their cultural legacy. In recent decades, loss of land due to population growth and industrialization has had significant impact on traditions of adornment. As rapid urbanization continues, preserving and understanding the diverse visual legacies of South Asia’s nomadic cultures remain urgent endeavors.

Postcommodity: With Each Incentive
July 25, 2019–April 26, 2020

Postcommodity is an arts collective made up of collaborators Cristóbal Martínez and Kade L. Twist, who aggressively tackle some of the most pressing issues of our day. Their site-specific installations, interventions, videos, and sound pieces aim to foster constructive dialogues around social, political, and economic processes that destabilize communities and geographies and to connect Indigenous narratives of cultural self-determination with the broader public sphere.

For their project at the Art Institute, titled With Each Incentive, Postcommodity reimagines the Bluhm Family Terrace as a stage for Chicago’s architectural future and contemplates how it might be transformed by the current wave of Indigenous American refugees from Mexico and Central and South America. The project is a symbolic gesture toward a desirable future that considers the culturally defined, kinship-centric architectural pragmatism often associated with Mexican and Central and South American cities, where a building is not an end but an ongoing process of growth or expansion. On the terrace, this takes the form of an ephemeral sculptural installation with columns of cinder block and steel rebar in various states of completion.

With Each Incentive references an Indigenous American worldview of continual emerging, becoming, and manifesting, rather than completion, finality, and wholeness. It is about making space—socially, culturally, and aesthetically—for refugees and for the intergenerational stewardship of family, culture, and community. This vision of a nimble approach to construction, of being prepared to add on and to build on, presents a new framing of the city’s historic skyline, inviting visitors to glimpse and further imagine Chicago’s Indigenous future.

This exhibition is organized by the Art Institute of Chicago with major funding from the Bluhm Family Endowment Fund, which supports exhibitions of modern and contemporary sculpture.

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