William J. O'Brien, Untitled, 2011. Collection of Howard and Donna Stone. Image courtesy of the artist; Shane Campbell Gallery, Chicago; Marianne Boesky Gallery, New York.

William J. O’Brien, “Untitled” (2011) (image courtesy of the artist; Shane Campbell Gallery, Chicago; Marianne Boesky Gallery, New York)

CHICAGO — There will be hundreds of exhibitions between now and the end of March, when the weather starts to warm up around these Middle West parts. Culled from this group are 10 not-to-miss shows opening during this period that ask questions about climate change, tensions in the Middle East, long-gone Chicago cultural spaces, why the 3D printer matters, “cuteness,” African-American communities, photography in India, and adolescents. Keep your winter jacket on, and go see some art.

Remixed Beatles’ album cover from Michael Rakowitz’s exhibition The Breakup at Rhona Hoffman Gallery (image via rhonahoffmangallery.com)

Michael Rakowitz’s The Breakup at Rhona Hoffman Gallery (January 11–February 22)

Rakowitz created a ten-episode radio series that reenacted the Beatles’ last concert, using it to draw parallels to the completely confounding, ongoing collapse of Middle Eastern relations. The piece’s temporal nature and its repetitive ability — both from within the gallery context and as an audio-only version on an archival website — adds a layer of placelessness to this piece, questioning the ways that break-ups, breakdowns, and disconnections can happen anytime. There are no conclusive answers, and it’s possible to fall into a black hole of questions and ponderings about who, what, when, where and why — and that’s the point. This staging at Rhona Hoffman Gallery is the third iteration of The Breakup, which was originally commissioned by the Al Ma’mal Foundation for Contemporary Art Jerusalem and broadcast via the Palestinian Radio Amwaj in 2010, and then remounted at Lombard Fried in New York. In his careful piecing together of Beatles memorabilia — both visual and audio, ephemeral and physical — the artist considers the nature of not only breaking up, but breaking down, collapsing, and confusing all borders both personal and political.

Kris Studios drawing by Edie Fake (image via Facebook event)

Pictures and Palaces at Links Hall (3111 N Western Ave) on January 17

In its ongoing exploration into art spaces and collectives that no longer exist, Chicago-based project Extinct Entities commissions artists and individuals to create works and performances inspired by cultural hubs that have left us. In Pictures and Palaces on January 17, the third performance in the ongoing Extinct Entities’ 9-day performance art festival at Links Hall, Edie Fake will lecture on the psychic and/or psychological buildings of Chicago, Jillian Soto and Joseph Hutto stage a performance about the Kris Studio Archives (a “male physique photography studio in Chicago)”, and Nic Kay uses archival sound from Chicago ACTUP protests and text from the Women’s Caucus to consider the “silence-cutting techniques”of confrontational direct actions taken by both of these groups. The Extinct Entities performance art festival at Links Hall runs through January 25; previous events include Hindsight Lesbian Chicago 1994/2014 and Ashes and Dust.

“Ghost Nature” poster (image via the exhibition’s Facebook event)

Ghost Nature at the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Gallery 400 (January 17–March 1)

Ghost Nature features work by  20 artists who seek to understand our changing landscape. News of a giant oarfish washing up on the California shore points to one way that romanticized notions of the deep sea continue to change. The other week, fake news broke that a giant squid had washed up on the Santa Monica shoreline; fake scientists “believed [that it] could have been a result of the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant explosion.” How far from reality is this, actually? Curator Caroline Picard asks questions about the emergence of such monsters, plants and technology. The exhibition features work by visionary Chicago artists such as Jenny KendlerAssaf EvronRebecca MirRobert Burnier, and Heidi Norton, not to mention Xaviera Simmons, Marcus Coates and Devin King, among others.

Arianna Arcara and Luca Santese, “Found photos in Detroit project,” (2009-2010) (image via mocp.org)

Archive State at the Museum of Contemporary Photography (January 21–April 6)

Exhibitions at the Museum of Contemporary Photography tend toward the sociological and political. This is evident from last year’s gorgeous exhibition Backstory, which featured works by LaToya Ruby Frazier, Ron Jude and Guillaume Simoneau, and wove together personal narrative, cultural backstories and relationships. This year’s first exhibition promises much of the same. Archive State features the works of Arianna Arcara, Luca Santese, Simon Menner, David Oresick, Thomas Sauvin, and Akram Zaatari, and uses photography and other digital imagery to discuss location-specific political and economic moments that have changed the world — from the collapse of the auto industry to a rapidly developing China. But rather than working in a photojournalistic vein, the artists in this show use archival images, thus furthering questions about appropriation and authorship, questioning who shapes the narratives that define culture. The catalogue essay by Natasha Egan is already available online.

Tom Burtonwood, “Orihon (3D Printed Accordion Book)” (2013) (image via thingiverse.com)

Dialogues on the New Plastic at Firecat Projects (January 24–February 22)

Chicago 3D printing fanatics Tom Burtonwood and Holly Holmes consider the proliferation of 3D printing — both in desktop and open-source formats — in this show of readymade-esque works of conceptual 3D printed art. The artists have been collaborating on these ideas for the past two years, producing works such as “Orihon (Accordian Book),” an art book printed entirely in three dimensions. Much in the same way that copy machines transformed printing in the late 1990s, 3D printing points to the future of how we will read kids’ books, eat foods, make art, and perhaps even build houses.

William J. O’Brien, “Untitled” (2007) (Collection of Dana Hirt. © William J. O’Brien. Photo: Tom Van Eynde, courtesy of the artist; Shane Campbell Gallery, Chicago; Marianne Boesky Gallery, New York)

William J. O’Brien at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago (January 25–May 18)

In his first major survey exhibition, O’Brien presents his signature goopy, loopy, materialistically bizarre sculptures that are quite the opposite of contemporary artists who repeat the drab monotones of modernism. There is no defining linear narrative to O’Brien’s body of work and, naturally, this exhibition is “organized like a poem,” according to the MCA. Is this work anti-minimalism, exuberantly maximalist, outsider art or none of the above? Who cares. The exuberance therein creates a new aesthetic exterior — a shell that works against an opportunity to become molded.

Samantha Hill, “A Jeli’s Tale: An Anthology of Kinship (McColl Center),” (2013), installation dimensions variable (image via hydeparkart.org)

Topographical Depictions of the Bronzeville Renaissance at the Hyde Park Art Center (February 2–May 18)

Chicago is a notoriously segregated American city with a strong separation occurring between the North and South Sides. Bronzeville, a historically African-American neighborhood on the South Side that was once known as the “Black Metropolis,” continues to boast a thriving community. In Topographical Depictions of the Bronzeville Renaissanceartist/archivist Samantha Hill shares her collection of oral narratives alongside materials donated from the Bronzeville community in order to build an interactive map installation at the Hyde Park Art Center. Visitors are welcome to add to this exhibition by donating artifacts from their own histories, including family photographs and other ephemera. Hill also brings the history of photography into the exhibition by shooting tintype portraits of the community members.

Sebastian Black and India Donaldson at QT Gallery. (image courtesy of the gallery)

Sebastian Black and India Donaldson’s collaborative exhibition at Queer Thoughts Gallery (February 28–March 30)

This collaborative exhibition marries the photograph, fashion and critical theory. Working in the same fashion-as-found-objects-as-art fluid fashion as Donna Huanca, who exhibited at the gallery last fall, Black and Donaldson’s garments, video, painting, sculpture, as well as Black’s gouache on press release which — as the press release for this show states “directly reference his own proprietorship of a project gallery (Malraux’s Place in Brooklyn) — take a meta approach to notions of the art market. Oh, and there’s bound to be work that could be considered and commodified as “cute,” as considered by Sianne Ngai in Our Aesthetic Categories.

Dayanita Singh, “When Chaman took Ayesha from me, I could not bear the pain, so I would come to the graveyard to tell my pain to the dead people and my only friend Dayanita who liked the old hindi film songs that I sang for her, from the series, Myself Mona Ahmed,” (1998, printed 2008). Photography Associates and Contemporary Art Discretionary Funds. Courtesy of Dayanita Singh and Frith Street Gallery. (image via artic.edu)

Dayanita Singh at the Art Institute of Chicago (March 1–June 1)

Coming to art with a background in photojournalism, Singh now calls herself a “bookmaker working with photography, and is considered “the most important figure in contemporary Indian photography.” Based in Delhi and Goa, Singh’s work is rooted in histories of non-Eurocentric art history, as is clear from her participation in the “Black Arts” movement in late 1980s London. Now she creates what she calls portable “museums,” which are built to display 30–40 images at once, with 100 available as backups, and all organized around single themes. In her exhibition at AIC, Singh will display her photographic series Myself Mona Ahmed (1989-2001), documents her friendship with now-deceased Mona Ahmed, a trans person who, like Singh, understands what it means to be viewed as perpetually “other.”

Roe Ethridge, “Louise with Red Bag,” (2011). C-print 69 1/2 x 52 1/2 in. (image via renaissancesociety.org)

Teen Paranormal Romance at the Renaissance Society (March 9–April 13)

The Renaissance Society opens the exhibition Teen Paranormal Romance, a show exploring the transition of the “teen romance” genre into the “teen paranormal romance,” which directly references psycho-sexual films such as The Hunger Games and True Blood. Gone are the days of characters in Judy Blume novels freakin’ about bleeding and orgasming; now teens traverse war-torn post-apocalyptic landscape, and fall in love whilst the threat of death explodes at every wrong turn. Is there any time for first kisses and the loss of innocence? In the new teen romance landscape, sweet nostalgia is dead, and a new breed of adolescence emerges.

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Alicia Eler

Alicia Eler is a cultural critic and arts reporter. She is the author of the book The Selfie Generation (Skyhorse Publishing), which has been reviewed in the New York Times, WIRED...