CHICAGO — A giant red X greets you as you walk up the stairs to Amanda Williams’s eponymous solo exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, but only if you happen to glance up. The X is a painted brace in the landing above, and titled “First Responders” (2017), a nod to the mark once placed on vacant buildings’ doors to warn emergency personnel of structural dangers that may be inside. The architectural intervention makes sense for the architect-turned-artist, who has shifted her practice from constructing buildings to making work that understands and reveals the social implications of how and when they are destroyed. In her exhibition Chicago Works: Amanda Williams, the artist highlights Chicago neighborhoods in a state of continuing erasure, both in the news media’s representation and through the loss of physical structures that are torn down after being condemned.
Several pieces from Williams’s series “Color(ed) Theory” (2014-2016) (a project included in Chicago’s first architectural biennial in 2015) are prominently displayed in the exhibition’s largest room. For the project Williams used brightly colored paint to draw attention to houses in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood slated for demolition. The colors reference consumer products marketed towards African Americans in Chicago: the orange associated with Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, the deep purple of Crown Royal bags, and the bright blue hue of Ultra Sheen hair conditioner. The images provide a cheerful glimpse into the past of the sites, while simultaneously showcasing an aspect of the area’s culture that slowly diminishes with each demolished home.
Elements salvaged from the razed homes are scattered throughout the exhibition. A segment of orange trellis leans against the wall next to a photograph of the house where it once stood. This installation seems awkward and unplanned when compared to its counterpart found elsewhere in the exhibition: a toy box Williams constructed from fragments of another demolished home. The piece was made in collaboration with a boy who had become enamored with the house before its destruction, and sits in front of a wall painted in the same shade of Crown Royal purple. “Reliquary II: LOT 49 IN THE SUBDIVISION OF BLOCK 1 IN WRIGHT, EMBREE AND AYRE’S, A SUBDIVISION OF BLOCK 33 IN SCHOOL TRUSTEES’ SUBDIVISION OF SECTION 16, TOWNSHIP 36 NORTH, RANGE 14 EAST OF THE THIRD PRINCIPAL MERIDIAN, IN COOK COUNTY, ILLINOIS. C/K/A: NJ’s Toybox” (2017) projects a possibility of regrowth in an area plagued with removal, a neighborhood often seen through the news media as a nexus for crime and death.
Several pieces seek to interrogate this negative reputation impugning many far south and west Chicago neighborhoods. The series “Chicago is Iraq?” (2017) places laser cut paper outlines of Iraq over paper maps of neighborhoods such as Englewood and Auburn-Gresham (the neighborhood where Williams was raised) to dispel the nickname “Chiraq” that circulated widely in songs, film titles, and documentary media during and after the Iraq War. Others seek to simply imbue pride, such as “A Dream or Substance, a Beamer, a Necklace or Freedom?” (2017), a tiny walled-off room scaled to a typical Chicago lot. The room is covered in imitation gold leaf, and can be only entered by the residents of Englewood who were commissioned to build the work.
Gold leaf subtly fills the grout of the stairs leading to and from the exhibition, another element not readily apparent, and only noticed if you happen to stare at your feet. This coupled with the gesture of the painted brace are outstanding, quiet moments that prep the viewer to look where they might not typically. These interventions, alongside Williams’ photographs and sculptures, act as architectural call-outs that bring acknowledgment to spaces that for some are consistently overlooked.
In an exhibition that consists of mostly small-scale black and white works on paper, viewer engagement almost magically awakens the sleepy room.
Maria Maea’s All in Time continues an intergenerational conversation and exemplifies the artist’s process, not simply the finished pieces.
This adventurous theater festival returns in person with 36 artists and companies from nine countries performing at different venues across the city.
Koestler Arts works with incarcerated people and patients in secure mental health units, aiming to improve their lives through creativity.
Local artists and culture workers are wondering how the arena will impact the arts landscape, including museums and alternative spaces.
Learn more about the New York-based, globally linked program and its upcoming discussions on art and society in the time of AI and data governance.
Huaca Pintada comprises a rare mixture of elements of two northern Peruvian civilizations.
Lensa AI’s digital avatars have captivated users, but some say the app is stealing from artists and reflects racial stereotypes.
The program, along with recently announced visiting critics, will provide long term funding, promote access, and safeguard experimentation for future students of color.
New research contests the myth that it was Christianity’s opposition to public nudity that led to the decline in large-scale bathing in the late Roman Empire.
An exhibition at San Francisco’s Letterform Archive highlights typography’s role in iconic social movements from the 1800s through the present.
Rocks, ducks, and a self-organized survey of Gingham are some of the things to see right now in four Chicago art galleries.
Three weeks into their strike, part-time professors are escalating their protests, backed by public figures and disgruntled parents.