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Installation view, Duro Olowu: Seeing Chicago at the MCA Chicago, 2020 (photo by Kendall McCaugherty, courtesy MCA Chicago)

CHICAGO — In Duro Olowu: Seeing Chicago, Nigerian-born British designer Duro Olowu has curated a show of treasures from the vaults of the MCA and other Chicago museums, as well as works from Chicago collectors and Chicago artists. The result is a dazzling collage of artistic styles, mediums, and messages, as varied and colorful as the patterns that Olowu incorporates in his clothing. For instance, Rene Magritte’s “Les merveilles de la nature” (“The Wonders of Nature,” 1953) hangs across from pen-and-ink drawings by punk singer-songwriter Wesley Willis. Chicago Imagists rub shoulders with the original Surrealists.

In the exhibition’s introductory text, Olowu advocates a “second look” at artworks, explaining, “there is meaning in the act of seeing something again and, perhaps, anew.” The show is divided into themes, with such titles as “Look at Me,” “Toward Abstraction,” and “Lost in Space”; all ask viewers to consider the affinities among seemingly disparate works of art.

Clothing by Duro Olowu, installation view, Duro Olowu: Seeing Chicago at the MCA Chicago, 2020 (photo by Kendall McCaugherty, courtesy MCA Chicago)

“Look at Me” best epitomizes this idea by pushing the boundaries of portraiture. The section includes Genevieve Gaignard’s 2018 “She Was Afraid of Heights, But She Was Much More Afraid of Never Flying,” a life-sized birdcage with a Black doll inside. Nearby, Jimmy Robert’s sculpture “Untitled” (2008) is a bust without a head wearing a collar of A4 paper; crumpled paper lies at its base. This work questions if a portrait needs to be a face at all.

In addition to the kaleidoscope of shapes, patterns, and colors, overhead speakers broadcast Olowu’s thoughts about the pieces, along with short statements by some of the artists. These add another element to the rich tapestry that Olowu had already assembled with the unexpected pairings.

Ultimately, it’s Olowu’s love letter to Chicago’s artistic world.

Kim MacConnel, “Taco Bill” (1979), acrylic on fabric, thread, and adhesive (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

Genevieve Gaignard, “She Was Afraid of Heights, But She Was Much More Afraid of Never Flying” (2018), birdcage with stand, custom hand-painted porcelain figure, skeleton key, feather, doily (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

Monir Shahroudy, “Farmanfarmaian” (Group 4 Convertible Series, 2010), mirror and reverse glass painting on plaster and wood (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

Karl Wirsum, “Chest Peter” (1971), acrylic on wood and metal (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

Duro Olowu: Seeing Chicago is scheduled to continue at the MCA Chicago (220 E. Chicago Ave., Chicago, Illinois) through May 10.

Editor’s note: Please note that physical viewing hours for this exhibition have temporarily ended in light of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. An audio element and images are presented online. Cognizant of the importance of discussions around art and culture during this time, we encourage readers to explore the exhibition virtually as many of us continue to self-isolate. Please check the gallery website to see when viewing hours will resume.

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Elisa Shoenberger

Elisa Shoenberger is a writer and journalist in Chicago. She writes regularly for Book Riot, and has written for The Boston Globe, Deadspin,...