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Expressive Ink: Paintings by Yang Yanping and Zeng Shanqing
Aug 10–Nov 10, 2019
Galleries 101, 108, and 109

Yang Yanping and her husband Zeng Shanqing belong to a generation of Chinese artists whose early careers were stifled by the Cultural Revolution of Mao Zedong. From 1949 through the late 1970s, the People’s Republic of China regulated the lives and work of its artists, limiting their expression and shutting out international influences. As these policies were loosened, Yang and Zeng were able to practice their art freely in China, winning acclaim before moving to the United States in 1986.

Yang developed a unique style in the early 1980s, rooted in traditional Chinese painting but indisputably modern. Originally trained as an architect, she worked in oils before adopting a more traditional Chinese media—ink on paper. Her signature style features a wiry ink line speckled with tiny dots, executed with pen rather than brush, depicting her favorite themes: lotuses and landscapes. Yang’s contrasting washes, often incandescent in hue, bleed into each other, dissolving these subjects into abstract nebulas of color.

An ink painting by Zeng Shanqing that depicts a man pulling forcefully on a horse's lead as the horse rears into the air. The composition is dynamic and bold, conveying strength and pent-up energy.

Zeng’s work has largely focused on figure and horse painting, more acceptable subjects in early revolutionary China. Nevertheless, the former professor at the Central Academy of Art suffered political criticism during the Cultural Revolution and endured several years of physical labor. Painted with a large, rapidly wielded brush, Zeng’s boldly polychromatic figures are expressions of dynamic and pent-up energy. Their contorted forms, sometimes in the fetal position, hint at the trauma of his earlier years.

Although celebrated in China in the early 1980s, the couple’s art has been largely neglected in the three decades since they emigrated to New York. This exhibition marks the first presentation of their work in a major United States art museum.

Weaving beyond the Bauhaus
Aug 3, 2019–Feb 16, 2020
Galleries 57–59

Established in 1919, acclaimed German art school the Bauhaus was home to an innovative weaving workshop whose influence stretched across the Atlantic.

Like the larger institution, the weaving workshop embraced the principal of equality among artists and the arts alike. Although the realities of the Bauhaus never quite matched its utopian vision, the workshop nonetheless served as an effective incubator of aesthetic and pedagogical talent. In the decades following the school’s forced closure in 1933, the Bauhaus went on to have a wide-reaching impact on American art—due in part to the large number of affiliated artists who immigrated to the US, where they continued to practice and teach in the spirit of the school’s educational system and theories.
A work made of cotton, plain weave; painted with pigment and gold leaf; attached linen threads in grid pattern.

Presented on the centenary of this foundational organization, Weaving beyond the Bauhaus traces the diffusion of Bauhaus artists, or Bauhäusler, such as Anni Albers and Marli Ehrman, and their reciprocal relationships with fellow artists and students across America. Through their ties to arts education institutions, including Black Mountain College, the Institute of Design, the Illinois Institute of Technology, and Yale University, these artists shared their knowledge and experiences with contemporary and successive generations of artists, including Sheila Hicks, Else Regensteiner, Ethel Stein, Lenore Tawney, and Claire Zeisler, shaping the landscape of American art in the process.

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.

Moyra Davey: Les Goddesses
Jul 19–Oct 6, 2019
Gallery 186

In Les Goddesses, filmed almost entirely in the artist’s New York apartment, Moyra Davey draws parallels between her familial experience and the family of 18th-century writer and feminist Mary Wollstonecraft.

Leafing through postcards, book pages, and her own photographs as she talks, Davey reflects on varied approaches to photography and film, such as planned versus unscripted recording of reality and the passage from private to public realms with a camera. Davey punctuates her narration with thoughts on writing as she simultaneously listens to and recites a script based on her 2011 essay, “The Wet and the Dry.”

The video’s coda reveals a development in Davey’s photographic practice informed by the filming process of Les Goddesses. The work closes with the artist venturing out and entering the New York City subway, where she focuses her camera on riders engaged in various forms of writing. Les Goddesses highlights the importance of chance in the artist’s work and the paradoxical nature of the creative process. Davey states: “Just when I’d been writing about the disappearance of the figure from my photographs, I found myself taking street pictures again, in the dim green lights of the Manhattan subway.”

Benjamin Patterson: When Elephants Fight, It Is the Frogs That Suffer—A Sonic Graffiti
Through Oct 20, 2019

Benjamin Patterson’s When Elephants Fight, It Is the Frogs That Suffer—A Sonic Graffiti, an immersive 24-channel sound installation, transforms the Art Institute of Chicago’s McKinlock Court into an acoustic frog pond with a symphony of croaks from eight frog species. These croaks, emanating from the bushes and fountain, are echoed by human imitations in English, German, and Greek—each language having its own onomatopoeia for the amphibian’s call. The playful animal chatter intermingles with human choruses intoning proverbs and political messages, including excerpts from texts by Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, and former president Barack Obama, and passages from the Brothers Grimm fairytale The Frog King (1812) and Aristophanes’s ancient Greek comedy The Frogs (405 BC).

Patterson was a founder, and the sole African-American member, of Fluxus, an international collective formed in the 1960s that sought to blur the boundaries between art and life, artist and audience, and the visual and performing arts. This installation references Patterson’s signature 1962 performance piece Pond. In both works the artist expressed his admiration for frogs, which he found an apt stand-in for marginalized groups in society. The title of the work is derived from a Greek proverb of African origin that suggests that, in times of financial and political instability, it is the small creatures that are most affected.

When Elephants Fight, It Is the Frogs That Suffer—A Sonic Graffiti was originally commissioned for the exhibition documenta 14 (2017; Athens and Kassel) and was acquired by the Art Institute of Chicago in 2018. Prior to his death in 2016, Patterson provided a participatory score for the work, and in the spirit of Fluxus, institutions are prompted to become coproducers of the installation as they adapt the work to specific environmental contexts. Its exhibition in the museum’s McKinlock Court marks the first time the work has been realized in the United States.

This installation will remain on view as long as the weather permits.

The Idea of America in 19th-Century Japanese Prints
Through Sep 15, 2019
Gallery 107

The array of prints featured in this exhibition emerged from the specific historical events initiated when a fleet commandeered by US Commodore Matthew C. Perry first landed in Japan in 1853. Perry’s arrival marked the beginning of a period of mutual curiosity between two cultures, and his mission was to open Japan to trade after more than 200 years of restrictive policies under the Tokugawa shoguns. The terms of the trade treaty were not finalized until 1858, at which time five Japanese ports—including Yokohama, the most active—were opened to the member nations: the United States, France, England, Russia, and the Netherlands. Surrounded on all sides by water, the modest foreign settlement at Yokohama was designed to both contain and protect the newcomers.

Prints known as Yokohama-e, or “pictures of Yokohama,” soon capitalized on the novelty of the people and goods coming into the busy international port. The Japanese public had a great appetite for news about the arrivals, and publishers enjoyed a much-needed boost to their businesses when they mass-produced commercial images of this fresh subject matter. However, Yokohama-e were often misrepresented as realistic or factual. While a few of the images take genuine, observed scenes as their source, the prints were often based on engravings in foreign newspapers. Japanese artists created convincing or amusing scenes of Western customs, dress, technology, and transport, and even American cities, often fictionalizing them in the process. The resulting prints found an eager audience among visitors from Europe and the United States as well as domestically.

Manet and Modern Beauty
May 26–Sep 8, 2019

The first Art Institute exhibition devoted exclusively to Édouard Manet in over 50 years focuses on the transformation of the artist’s style in his later years.

By the late 1870s, when this exhibition begins, Édouard Manet had become recognized as a painter of modern life. He had long looked to historical subjects and style for inspiration but in the 1870s grew more and more immersed in the now—eventually proposing a radical new alignment of modern art with fashionable femininity. While he continued to pursue highly finished, heroically scaled paintings intended for the Salon throughout these later years (a time also marked by health problems and limited mobility), he simultaneously approached smaller works more fluidly and spontaneously, taking up pastel and watercolor while unapologetically embracing beauty and visual pleasure.

This exhibition is the first to focus on this important period in the artist’s career, bringing together an impressive array of portraits of fashionable women—favorite actresses and models, bourgeois women of his acquaintance, and his wife—as well as intimate male friends. Among these are two striking paintings, one of the young model-actress Jeanne Demarsy and the other of his friend Méry Laurent. Called Jeanne (Spring) and Autumn (Méry Laurent), the pair comprises the only two completed works in a project to portray the seasons through paintings of stylishly attired women.

Supplementing this display are the delicate and rarely seen letters Manet wrote to his friends, featuring exquisite illustrations of fruits and flowers; garden pictures, which themselves often feature elegantly attired women; and flower studies, consummate expressions of Manet’s favorite subjects at the end of his life. Punctuating the presentation are large-scale multifigure paintings, including In the Conservatory and Boating, both shown in the 1879 Salon, which focus attention on modern social and gender relations. Together these works showcase both Manet’s responsiveness to the moment and the continual flowering of his artistry.

Everyone’s Art Gallery: Posters of the London Underground
May 25–Sep 5, 2019

In 1919, 39 posters came to the Art Institute of Chicago, courtesy of the Underground Electric Railways London. The posters, full of brilliant colors and innovative designs, were part of an effort to encourage Londoners to use this commercial transportation system: to visit the city’s cultural attractions, go shopping, attend sporting events, and even venture into the countryside—all by taking Underground trains and buses, of course. Installed outside Underground stations on public streets and on the front of buses that traversed the city, these posters formed a vibrant civic art presence—a public gallery available to all.

Over the next 20 years more posters arrived at the museum, coming at irregular intervals and eventually forming a collection of almost 350 artworks—an extraordinary sample from the golden age of this remarkable poster campaign, one that continues to this day. Until now, however, the story of how and why these posters came to Chicago has not been known. The architect of the poster campaign, from its inception in 1908 until 1939, was Frank Pick, an executive with London’s Underground. Pick’s enthusiasm for art education led him to commission poster designs from many young artists. Indeed, it is likely that the close relationship between the Art Institute of Chicago and the School of the Art Institute was one reason that Pick chose the museum as the eventual keeper of this poster archive.

This exhibition, the first at the museum to showcase this unique collection, begins with a chronological sampling of the posters. Thematic sections feature popular subjects, such as the zoo, museums, and Hampton Court, the royal palace southwest of London on the Thames, while focused displays are devoted to three of the greatest artists who worked for the Underground: Charles Paine, Frederick Herrick, and one of the most illustrious poster artists of the 20th century, Edward McKnight Kauffer, who studied briefly at the School of the Art Institute on his way to Europe.

Among the show’s highlights is Charles Paine’s clever take on King Henry the VIII, depicting him with large shears trimming the heads off his topiary queens in Hampton Court by Tram (1922). Others include Mary Koop’s Summer Sales (1925), which invites viewers to follow a riot of brightly colored umbrellas toward their shopping destination; a modernist depiction of time by Clive Gardiner from 1928 urging riders to buy a season Underground ticket; and Harold Sandys Williamson’s Cheap Tickets to Town, Shop between 10 and 4 (1939), an almost surrealistic view of the London cityscape, its sky a sea of floating barrage balloons as protection from German bombs.

A century after the initial posters arrived at the museum, this exhibition features 100

Room to Move
Through December 31, 2019
Interactive Gallery, Ryan Learning Center

The Interactive Gallery in the museum’s Ryan Learning Center is a place for creative play—a space where visitors of all ages are invited to experiment with artistic ideas, materials, and practices, and to respond creatively to the things they see, feel, and think about their experiences in the museum.

Visitors who have stepped into the Interactive Gallery over the last year will know that this space has hosted different types of participatory interactions. Drawing Room made space for people to engage with drawing as an interpretive act. Living Room encouraged visitors to contemplate and converse, inspired by the museum’s collection. Coloring Room was a celebration of hues and tones, engaging participants in hands-on explorations of color theory. This exhibition, Room to Move, is the first installation in the Ryan Learning Center that invites people to work together in movement-based creations.
A concept sketch for the Room to Move installation by School of the Art Institute of Chicago undergraduate and exhibition design intern Juan Arango Palacios.

A concept sketch by School of the Art Institute of Chicago undergraduate and exhibition design intern Juan Arango Palacios, who contributed to the development of the space’s design and interactive zones.

The installation is inspired by performance art and connects to a number of notable happenings in the museum this year. One is Iterations, the Art Institute’s new series of contemporary performance commissions. Launched this past February, Iterations explores the range of practices in the world of performance art today. The series will continue over the next three years with artists activating various museum spaces, challenging both our understanding of those spaces and what a work of art can be.

This year also marks the 100th anniversary of the Bauhaus, the German art school founded by Walter Gropius. Bauhaus artists worked in a range of media and techniques—from painting and sculpture to textile design, graphic design, typography, architecture, and performance—and understood these different artistic disciplines as being equal and connected. Bauhaus performance artists often investigated the relationships between human movement, geometry, structure, and physical space.
Sketch by artist Sandra Leonard of a design for the costumes for the Room to Move. The sketch shows a figure in a pink skirt.

Artist Sandra Leonard designed the exhibition’s costumes, based on works from her own staged pieces.
While Room to Move connects to historical and contemporary performance practices, it is first and foremost a place for intergenerational creative play. You don’t need to know anything about performance art to enjoy dressing up and inventing new ways to move—but you may just discover how moving playful participation can be.

Christien Meindertsma: Everything Connects
Through Oct 20, 2019

Exhibitions are free with museum admission.

What can you do with an entire harvest of flax or 1,000 wool sweaters? The possibilities are endless and entwined.

Since graduating from the Eindhoven Design Academy, Christien Meindertsma has become known for her research-oriented work that explores the potential of raw materials and reveals processes that have become obsolete due to industrialization. Her prototypes, documentary videos, and finished objects highlight our relationship to the materials and products in the world around us and address concerns of environmental sustainability.
A photo of the different stages of turning flax into a biodegradable chair.

This exhibition showcases two of Meindertsma’s recent projects. For Flax Project (2012–present), she purchased a harvest of flax from a farmer in order to study methods of production from unprocessed material to final products. On display in this exhibition is each step involved in transforming raw flax into an entirely biodegradable chair, one that won Meindertsma the Dutch Design Award in 2016. The designer shifted her focus to a different production process for Fibre Market (2016–present), using fiber-sorting machines to scan and sort 1,000 wool sweaters based on their material content. The scanned results revealed frequent inaccuracies in the information provided on the sweaters’ labels, making evident the fact that common clothing is often made from a wider range of materials than indicated. After sorting, the sweaters were shredded and made into fibers that Meindertsma developed into a yarn and then a bespoke Donegal tweed. This recycled fabric can be used in many ways, including as an upholstery fabric for one of her biodegradable Flax Chairs—bringing Meindertsma’s design process full circle.

By exploring the often hidden lives of products within their social, political, and material contexts, Meindertsma invites us to reconsider the value of objects, especially the potential of undervalued resources such as flax and recycled wool. Her projects suggest that intelligent processes and design can play an important role in addressing the overconsumption of resources and prompting positive change.

Christien Meindertsma: Everything Connects is the second exhibition in the Franke/Herro Design Series, which highlights the work of important design talent. This exhibition is made possible by Jay Franke and David Herro.

The People Shall Govern! Medu Art Ensemble and the Anti-Apartheid Poster
Through Sep 2, 2019

Revolutionary images with bold slogans were one tool this art collective used to advocate for social justice and pan-African solidarity.

The Medu Art Ensemble formed in the late 1970s in opposition to South Africa’s apartheid policy of racial segregation and violent injustice. Through graphic design and poster production, members forcefully articulated a call for radical change, advocating for decolonization or majority (nonwhite) rule in South Africa and in the neighboring countries of Angola, Mozambique, Namibia, and Zimbabwe. Medu, meaning “roots” in the Sepedi language, evolved organically and operated underground, as its name suggests. Persecuted by the South African Defense Force, Medu members lived and worked in exile just across the South African border in Gaborone, Botswana. Defying a ban on their existence, the Medu collective at its height numbered as many as 50 South African and international artists, musicians, and writers.

The People Shall Govern! is the first-ever exhibition on Medu in North America. Featured among its 130 objects are more than 60 posters by members of the ensemble and related makers, all recently acquired by the Art Institute of Chicago. Collaboratively executed and often printed in the hundreds, Medu’s offset lithograph and screen-printed posters combine sobering and revolutionary imagery with bold slogans that, in word and image, mobilized citizens to support causes in social and economic justice and encouraged pan-African solidarity.

Surviving examples of Medu posters that were smuggled into South Africa and mounted in public spaces are exceedingly rare, as they were regularly confiscated or torn down on sight. With this recent acquisition, the Art Institute is home to the most comprehensive holding of these vibrant works outside South Africa. Additional items, on loan for this exhibition from former Medu members and archival sources in South Africa and Chicago, make clear how the Medu spirit of oppositional creativity transformed the culture of resistance in southern Africa during the late 20th century.

Ornamental Traditions: Jewelry from Bukhara
Through Oct. 16, 2019
Gallery 50

Located in present-day Uzbekistan, the Emirate of Bukhara (1785–1920) was an important center of Islamic religion and scholarship and a major oasis on the famous Silk Road that traversed Central Asia from ancient times. As such, it was highly diverse—home to the majority Uzbek and Tajik populations in addition to communities of Arabs, Jews, and Turkmens who played a role in the emirate’s vibrant trade. Over time, Bukhara developed its own iconic style of jewelry characterized by intricate blue enamelwork that mirrored the area’s blue-glazed, tiled architecture. Russia’s colonization of the region in 1866 brought with it more advanced enameling techniques, allowing for increasingly complex designs.

In almost every context, the jewelry of Bukhara embodied great meaning and was rarely considered mere decoration. Incredibly large, ornate suits of jewelry were thought to protect the wearer from evil spirits, particularly during important events like weddings, and were the strongest assertion of a person’s power and wealth. Throughout Uzbekistan, such objects were designed to be worn as sets rather than exist as singular pieces.

Some of the most magnificent examples of Uzbek jewelry come from the court of the last emir of Bukhara, Mohammed Alim Khan (1880–1944), where men and women dressed in embroidered silks, fine silver, and enameled jewels. Their jewelry served various functions, often simultaneously: indicating political status and wealth, signifying religious and spiritual practice, and marking important rites of passage or ethnic identity.

Ornamental Traditions: Jewelry from Bukhara brings together nearly 50 jeweled objects from the Central Asian region of Bukhara—promised gifts from the private collection of Barbara Levy Kipper and her late husband, David—and rare ikat and embroidered textiles from the Art Institute’s permanent collection. The jewelry and decorative objects presented in this exhibition offer an exceptional experience of a rich and vibrant artistic heritage rarely seen outside the former Soviet Union.

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