Beyond Frank Lloyd Wright: A Broader View of Art in Chicago
Museums throughout the Chicago metropolitan area have begun an ambitious collaborative effort to flesh out the city’s art history beyond the well-known stories of Frank Lloyd Wright and Mies van der Rohe. At institutions large and small, 29 exhibitions on unsung artists, including Bill Walker, Yasuhiro Ishimoto and Ralph Arnold, are rolling out this year under the banner Art Design Chicago.
The initiative is led by the Chicago-based Terra Foundation for American Art. Since 2012, it has invested $6.5 million in 78 grants to encourage new scholarship on artists and designers working in Chicago and to promote the exhibitions and related publications and public programs.
“We were responding to what we heard from our institutions was an interest and need to present a broader story of what has been the necklace of Chicago art,” said Elizabeth Glassman, president and chief executive of the Terra Foundation. The grant opportunities allowed curators to propose projects many had longed to do but couldn’t because of budget constraints. The vast majority of shows in Art Design Chicago, Ms. Glassman said, would not have happened without the Terra funding.
Those include “Bill Walker: Urban Griot” on view through April 8 at the Hyde Park Art Center. It looks at this pioneering muralist who created the Wall of Respect in 1967 on Chicago’s South Side in collaboration with the Organization of Black American Culture. The wall, now demolished, spurred a community movement of artists on the South Side — and others nationwide — to express the hopes and fears of African-Americans through the mural art form.
Besides jump-starting the exhibition research, Terra put the Hyde Park Art Center in touch with the Chicago Public Art Group (co-founded by Mr. Walker, who died in 2011) that leads tours of street murals and community art sites.
“We had been aware of the Walker exhibit but hadn’t quite known how to connect,” said Steve Weaver, executive director of the Chicago Public Art Group. On April 7 it is hosting a Terra-supported tour of neighborhood murals by Mr. Walker, as well as by artists including Mitchell Caton, Calvin Jones and Justine DeVan, with a stop at the Hyde Park exhibition. The umbrella of Art Design Chicago helps “advertise the tour to a citywide audience, even outside Chicago,” Mr. Weaver said.
Barbara Jones-Hogu, a contributor to the Wall of Respect who died in November, has her first ever solo museum exhibition at the DePaul Art Museum through March 25. By financing the exhibition catalog and promotional efforts, including a podcast on the artist, Terra has helped the very small museum stretch in a new way, said Julie Rodrigues Widholm, the museum’s director and chief curator.
“Terra’s been organizing these convenings of all the partner organizations throughout the last year that have allowed us to participate within the larger cultural community,’’ Ms. Widholm said.
She noted that Ms. Jones-Hogu appears in other Art Design Chicago shows. Those include “South Side Stories,” a collaboration between the Smart Museum of Art and the DuSable Museum of African American History opening in September; and “The Many Hats of Ralph Arnold” at the Museum of Contemporary Photography and “African-American Designers in Chicago” at the Chicago Cultural Center, opening in October.
“That kind of sustained exposure to an artist in different contexts is extremely valuable in terms of writing new histories and expanding the canon, a core tenet of what we’re hoping to do at the DePaul,” Ms. Widholm said.
For Rebecca Zorach, curator of the Smart Museum’s half of “South Side Stories,” receiving a Terra grant four years ago allowed her to amass an extensive archive she hopes will have a life beyond the exhibition. “Some of these South Side artists really hadn’t been studied,” she said.
Her exhibition will get a boost from one of the four neighborhood days planned in various areas over the course of Art Design Chicago. On Sept. 15, “Celebrating South Side Stories” will host art workshops, live performances and a trolley tour of the cultural spaces across the South Side.
“One of the great things about this Terra initiative is the focus it’s putting on African-American artists in Chicago and their centrality to the city’s cultural production,” Ms. Zorach said. “It brings the South Side Community Art Center, as a lending institution for other shows, and the DuSable into stronger communication with many of the better-funded institutions in the city.”
For the crowds who frequent the Art Institute of Chicago — where a major retrospective of Charles White opens in June — the Art Design Chicago brochure and website may direct them to related shows at off-the-beaten-track institutions in Pilsen or Evanston as well as the South Side.
“By putting this platform together, we’ve been able to see some broad themes that have emerged across a swath of exhibitions,” Ms. Glassman said. She hopes “that layering is going to spark new ways of thinking about different American artists and who’s in the story of American art.”
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