Moving to Chicago, for this native New Yorker, was confusing at times. How come the trains stop running at 1am? Why is the pizza so thick? Must we call them speed “humps”? But when the warm weather finally came along, these vexing questions promptly disappeared. Chicago, I would argue, is the best American city during summer. A cool plunge in the lake is never far away and people put trash in alleyways instead of piling it on steamy sidewalks. Best of all, the galleries stay open throughout August, and the museums and nonprofit art spaces deliver some of their best exhibitions of the year. Don’t believe me? Take a look at the galvanizing shows below.
Lucas Simões: Luscofusco
Squint your eyes in the gloaming and the world begins to shapeshift. Solid slabs of concrete metamorphose into languorous folds of flesh. Or maybe that’s just what happens in the latest show from Lucas Simões, who must practice some kind of alchemical seduction to make steel and cement bend into curls recalling body parts, petals, and waves. The show, titled “Twilight” in Portuguese, would be stunning in any season, but the sensuality of these works best suits the steamy days and long nights of summer.
Patron Gallery (patrongallery.com)
1612 West Chicago Avenue, Chicago
Through August 19
Don’t let the glitter and day-glo palette of the works on display fool you, this exhibition is spiked with sterner stuff. The eight artists on view — members of Rupture, a database of Chicago-based artists of color founded by the exhibition’s curator, Roland Santana — give form to experiences of loss as well as joy. “If I grind my teeth every night for 22 years, how much longer will I have them? How many things can I explain to you before they’re gone?” reads the text in a beaded work by Sophia Karina English. The silhouette of a hanging human body composed of shattered CDs appears on a household door in a sculptural piece by Derek Holland. A longing to communicate, as well as the transcendent pleasures of true connection, pervade the motley works.
Public Works (publicworksgallery.com)
2141 West North Avenue, Chicago
Through August 19
Terra Recognita: A Ceramic Story
Like a perfect summer picnic, this exhibition will leave you feeling energized and lighter than before. The five ceramics artists featured here expertly pair dashes of humor with more serious food for thought. Nadira Husain paints intricate orgies and leafy gardens on vessels that double as jaunty bodies with arms and breasts. Irreverent details, like the poofs of acrylic hair on Leena Similu’s diminutive abstract works, ground more sober reflections on identity that pervade the show. Zizipho Poswa draws from her Xhosa heritage and experiences in the Eastern Cape Town province of South Africa to create works with allusions to Bantu knots and the bundles women in rural areas bear on their heads. The works range in style, but all these artists understand the power of being thoughtful without slipping into self-seriousness. Even rarer, they know how to be funny without being flippant.
Mariane Ibrahim (marianeibrahim.com)
437 North Paulina Street, Chicago
Through August 26
Van Gogh and the Avant Garde: The Modern Landscape
For Georges Seurat, painting was a scientific endeavor, and from 1882 to 1890, the northwestern suburbs of Paris became his laboratory. There, Seurat experimented with placing dabs of complementary colors side by side to create optical dazzle in the eyes of viewers, a technique known as Pointillism. These semi-industrial villages on the banks of the Seine also attracted Vincent van Gogh, Paul Signac, Émile Bernard, and Charles Angrand, who produced luminous views of factories and gas containers, as well as more bucolic subjects like fields in full bloom and sailboats gliding on the river. After soaking in the show, go for a sun-drenched stroll along the harbor behind the museum for a seamless transition between art and life.
Art Institute of Chicago (artic.edu)
111 South Michigan Avenue, Chicago
Through September 4
Makes Me Wanna Holla: Art, Death & Imprisonment
The COVID-19 pandemic threw structural injustices into stark relief in countless contexts across the country, but the experiences of incarcerated people provided some of the most devastating evidence that our system does not value all lives equally. Social distancing was impossible in overcrowded facilities and personal protective gear was rarely available, resulting in rampant infection. Michelle Daniel Jones — a scholar, activist, and artist focused on the carceral system who campaigned in Indiana for the emergency release of sick and elderly inmates, as well as those serving brief sentences — has gathered 61 works by 50 presently or formerly incarcerated artists who created art about or during the pandemic. Hanging from the ceiling are compelling quilted portraits of incarcerated survivors of police violence by artist and “quiltivist” Dorothy Burge, as well as textile memorials to Albert Woodfox, who endured more than four decades of solitary confinement and torture, and two Black trans women killed in Chicago last year.
Logan Center Gallery (uchicago.edu)
Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts
915 East 60th Street, Chicago
Through September 10
Marie Watt: Sky Dances Light
A member of the Turtle Clan of the Seneca Nation, Marie Watt laces abstract sculptures with Indigenous meanings. The musical works in this exhibition — pendulous, many-lobed forms that hang from the ceiling — are festooned with conical curls of tin called “jingles.” These works reference a Seneca creation myth, in which a woman falls from the sky (the artist calls them “jingle clouds”), as well as Indigenous medicine traditions, in which healers wearing dresses adorned with jingles dance to cure patients with the silvery, rain-like sound. Visitors become participants simply by stepping inside the exhibition — we pass through a waterfall of jingle cones, bringing the work melodiously to life with our movement.
Kavi Gupta Gallery (kavigupta.com)
835 West Washington Boulevard, Floor 1, Chicago
Through September 30
Mona Hatoum: Early Works
“I’ve always had quite a rebellious and contrary attitude,” Mona Hatoum once said. “The more I feel I am being pushed into a mold, the more I feel like going in the opposite direction.” As a Palestinian woman who found herself stranded in London when the 1975 civil war broke out in Lebanon, where she was born and raised, Hatoum refused to produce the tidy reflections on exile and Arab womanhood expected of her. Instead, she spent the 1980s crafting the raw, defiantly messy performances and videos in this bracing exhibition. Some pieces, like “Roadworks” (1985), in which Hatoum walks barefoot through Brixton dragging boots tied to her ankles, are cryptic. Others, like “The Negotiating Table” (1983), in which the artist lies bound, drenched in animal blood and viscera inside a plastic bag while recordings of Western leaders discussing peace in the Middle East play overhead, are more stridently political. For fans more familiar with Hatoum’s recent sculptures — elegant and disquieting distortions of everyday objects — these fierce and urgent early works will be a revelation.
Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago (mcachicago.org)
220 East Chicago Avenue, Chicago
Through October 22
William Estrada: Multiples and Multitudes
For more than a decade, the Chicago-based printmaker William Estrada has pushed a cart through the city and its suburbs with a simple goal: to get strangers to make art with him. The cart, inspired partly by those of Mexican ice cream vendors, unfolds into an impressive sidewalk studio where passersby can join free screen-printing workshops, discuss community issues, and make political posters expressing their concerns. Estrada’s commitment to grassroots organizing, increasing public access to art, and questioning the status quo through creative work fuels his wide-ranging practice. This solo exhibition, the artist’s first, brings together prints, photography, and documentation of public projects, as well as works by students and collaborators.
Hyde Park Art Center (hydeparkart.org)
5020 South Cornell Avenue, Chicago
July 22–October 29
LOVE: Still Not the Lesser
The ancient Greeks were onto something when they assigned different terms to different types of love. How is it that, in English, we have just one word for such a mercurial, unruly force that shapeshifts every time it’s felt? The photographers assembled here capture some of love’s many guises: Jorian Charlton seeks out moments of everyday tenderness, private and profound, while Mous Lamrabat stages a theatrical search for love in a desert landscape. Others hint at the inevitable loss waiting in the wings of any relationship. A photo of two candles burning side by side by Jess T. Dugan reminds us that even the longest and happiest flames are necessarily fleeting.
Museum of Contemporary Photography (mocp.org)
600 South Michigan Avenue, Chicago
August 17–December 22
Bodies appear in pieces and surreal states of limbo in the five-dozen paintings, photographs, prints, sculptures, works on paper, and videos comprising this eclectic and enigmatic show. There’s an oversized pair of legs made of scented wax by Iris Bernblum that appear to emerge, upside-down, from the floor; headless figures that parade across a piece of embroidery by Elnaz Javani; and the artificial eye staring at a length of barbed wire in a photograph by Nathan Lerner. The show, which aims to examine “the processes and materials that structure and subtend life,” offers an eerie cabinet of curiosities in which established artists including Michael Rakowitz, Laurel Nakadate, and Charles Gaines, appear alongside more obscure talent.
DePaul Art Museum (depaul.edu)
935 West Fullerton Avenue, Chicago
September 7–February 11, 2024