For those of us who are reluctant to say goodbye to summer gallivanting, I’ve got good news. If one theme connects the various shows opening in and around Chicago this fall, it is the notion of journeys. The artists on view invite us to venture into speculative futures and imagine new worlds, to wend our way back through collective histories, and soar above the city to admire the Earth from above. Through these transporting shows, we can keep traveling (at least in spirit) far and wide.

Arlene Turner Crawford, “Nina, Mississippi, Goddam” (2023), acrylic paint and lettering, 23 1/2 x 18 1/2 inches (image courtesy the artist)

Sapphire & Crystals: Freedom’s Muse

There were limited opportunities for women of color to exhibit their work in Chicago in 1987, but Marva Pitchford Jolly and Felicia Grant Preston refused to resign themselves to the status quo. Instead, they founded Sapphire & Crystals, a collective of African-American women artists, and organized their own shows at venues around the city. Nearly 40 years and dozens of exhibitions later, the group is now a prominent force on the cultural scene and a multigenerational community. For their upcoming show at the Logan Center, members will honor Shirley Chisolm, the first Black woman elected to Congress, and their other muses in a wide range of media, from ceramics to textiles.

Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts (
915 East 60th Street, Chicago, Illinois
October 6–December 10

Faith Ringgold, “Committee to Defend the Panthers” (1970), cut-and-pasted colored paper, pencil, and presstype on paper, 33 3/4 × 27 3/4 inches (artwork © 2023 Faith Ringgold / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; photo © The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA / Art Resource, NY; image courtesy ACA Galleries, New York)

Faith Ringgold: American People

Originally organized by the New Museum in New York City, this commanding survey of Faith Ringgold’s remarkable career takes its title from her breakout series of paintings in which the Harlem-born artist starkly depicted the racism and sexism pervading everyday American life during the 1960s. In “Neighbors” (1963), for instance, Ringgold confronts her viewers with the icy stares of a suspicious White family forming a tight, defensive barricade. Relegated for much of her career to the fringes of an art world that paid scant attention to women of color — especially those making figurative paintings and textile work like Ringgold — the artist nevertheless persevered and the pieces she produced, which reflected her fears and joys, are now considered canonical works of American art history. This comprehensive exhibition includes the posters that Ringgold, a committed activist, produced for the Black Panthers and other causes during the 1970s, as well as the textile sculptures and story quilts that have been her focus in recent years.

Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago (
220 East Chicago Avenue, Chicago, Illinois
November 18–February 25, 2024

Detail of Candace Hunter’s study for her solo exhibition at Hyde Park Art Center (2023) (image courtesy the artist)

Candace Hunter: The Alien-nations and Sovereign States of Octavia E. Butler

For her largest exhibition to date, Candace Hunter will immerse visitors in a world of survivors, shapeshifters, and hybrid beings inspired by the work of Octavia Butler. The speculative fiction author has been an enduring muse for Hunter, but this show will include more sculptures and installations than past exhibitions. A series of doors with excerpts from Butler on one side and images of refugees on the other simultaneously conjures up the fictional climate disaster in Butler’s prescient novel Parable of the Sower (1993) and our own, very real planetary crisis. Other installations feature panels with plants, silhouettes of women, and loops of industrial red felt that contain multiple references, from circular concepts of time in ancient cultures to the cowrie shells that served as currency in parts of pre-colonial Africa. A short film, a cozy reading nook, a neon piece evoking the final words of George Floyd, and rich public programming round out this ambitious exhibition that addresses race, gender, and our uncertain future as a species.

Hyde Park Art Center (
5020 South Cornell Avenue, Chicago, Illinois
November 11–March 3, 2024

William Kolano, “Bobbin Lace Building” (2023), AI-generated 9-color print on glossy, 250, 36 x 36 inches (image courtesy William Kolano)

Ornament IS: Arguments on Ornament in Design

For Adolf Loos, the Austrian architect whose disdain for lavish decoration directly shaped the streamlined sensibilities of the modern period, embellishing a building or household object was tantamount to scrawling pornographic graffiti on a bathroom wall. By 1930, Loos was confident that Western civilization was on the right track — and that he was responsible. “I have freed mankind from superfluous ornament,” he wrote in the introduction to a book of essays. With apologies to Loos, the works in this exhibition demonstrate just how alive and well ornamentation is and where it might yet go. Chicago-based design firm Jordan Mozer and Associates submitted sinuous candlesticks, gooseneck lamps, biomorphic stools, and other playful pieces that would make Loos lose it. Thomas Boyster proposes an elaborate spire that would deflect lightning from flammable ecosystems while providing roosting sites for prairie birds. William Kolano renders an airy, temple-like structure entirely made of lace, prompting us to picture a more porous world.   

Bridgeport Art Center (
1200 West 35th Street, Chicago, Illinois
Through November 3

Dala Nasser, “Adonis River,” installation view at the Renaissance Society (2023) (photo by Bob. studio, courtesy the Renaissance Society)

Dala Nasser: Adonis River

To create the elegiac work on view, Dala Nasser journeyed to the riverside cave in modern-day Lebanon where the myth holds that Adonis, the doomed lover of the Greek goddess Aphrodite, was killed by a boar. Springtime snowmelt infuses the river with red clay, which flows into the Mediterranean in seasonal tides, symbolizing his blood. Nasser made rubbings in the cave on long bolts of fabric, stained the cloth with ash and local clay, and draped these paintings on two large wooden structures in the vaulted space of the Renaissance Society. The pieces of cloth, encrusted with grit and pebbles, form curtains, shrouds, and walls that capture and hold the reverberations of a sound piece Nasser created with fellow artist Mhamad Safa: mourning prayers they recorded, slowed down, and then played and re-recorded inside the cave to incorporate its echoes. Even as university students clamor outside the gallery, the haunting space Nasser has created within is a world apart.

The Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago (
5811 South Ellis Avenue, Chicago, Illinois
Through November 26

Remedios Varo, “Armonía (Harmony)” (1956) (© 2023 Remedios Varo, Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VEGAP, Madrid; image courtesy the Art Institute of Chicago)

Remedios Varo: Science Fictions

Androgynous explorers pilot ships through flooded forests and reclusive alchemists conduct obscure experiments in the paintings of Remedios Varo. The scientist in “Hallazgo (Discovery)” (1956), for instance, threads prisms, leaves, and stones onto a floating musical score with the help of a spectral being emerging from the laboratory wall. Varo, who was born in northeastern Spain in 1908, led a bohemian life in Barcelona and Paris before emigrating to Mexico City during the German Occupation. By the time she died of a heart attack in 1963, Varo had become a local icon, but it’s only recently that she and other Surrealist women with mystic tendencies, including her close friend, Leonora Carrington, have gained broader recognition. This exhibition of Varo’s paintings, sketches, and personal effects — the first museum show dedicated to the artist in the United States in more than 20 years — is a rare chance to enter her enigmatic world.

Art Institute of Chicago (
111 South Michigan Avenue, Chicago, Illinois
Through November 27

Romare Bearden, “Mother and Child” from the portfolio Conspiracy: The Artist as Witness (1971), color lithograph on paper, 24 x 18 inches (© Romare Bearden Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY; image courtesy the Block Museum of Art)

For One and All: Prints from The Block’s Collection

Contemporary stars like Amy Sillman and Jaune Quick-to-See Smith brush against Old Masters and modernists in this wide-ranging exhibition of prints belonging to the Block Museum, which has made the often-overlooked medium a focus since its founding in 1980. Some are fully abstract, others are figurative. Some are stridently political, while others resist interpretation. The sheer variety allows surprising conversations to occur across time and space. “Mother and Child” (1971), a vivid lithograph of a woman cradling an infant by Romare Bearden, pings off “In the Omnibus” (1890–91), Mary Cassatt’s depiction of a nanny bouncing a well-dressed baby on her knee as their tram glides across a bridge, and the serene Madonna in Albrecht Dürer’s “Adoration of the Magi” (1503).

The Block Museum (
40 Arts Circle Drive, Evanston, Illinois
Through December 3

Ruth Duckworth, “Untitled (Mama Pot)” (1975), stoneware, 18 x 21 x 23 inches, © Estate of Ruth Duckworth (image courtesy the Estate of Ruth Duckworth and Salon 94)

Ruth Duckworth: Life as a Unity

The work of Ruth Duckworth has been part of the University of Chicago since 1969, when the British artist unveiled “Earth, Water, Sky” at the Henry Hinds Laboratory for Geophysical Sciences. The monumental ceramic mural, which covers the ceiling and walls of the foyer with tectonic rifts, high-relief craters, and undulating ripples of clay, was partly inspired by topographical maps and cutting-edge satellite photography. This piece and the more intimately scaled sculptures in Duckworth’s retrospective at the Smart Museum reflect her scientific curiosity and the environmentalism that guided her work. “I think of life as a unity,” the artist once said. “This includes mountains, mice, rocks, trees, women, and men. It’s all one big lump of clay.” Cap your visit to the museum with a stop at the nearby Joseph Regenstein Library, where a second ceramic mural inspired by aerial views of the region, “Clouds Over Lake Michigan” (1976), just went on permanent display.

Smart Museum of Art (
5550 South Greenwood Avenue, Chicago, Illinois
Through February 4, 2024

Carlos Cortéz, “I Have Come… (He venido…)” (1985), woodcut or linocut (image courtesy the National Museum of Mexican Art)

Carlos Cortéz 100 AÑOS

The solidarity with international workers that defined the life and art of Carlos Cortéz was already apparent in 1944 when the 21-year-old Chicano socialist received his draft notice. Cortéz refused to serve in a conflict he believed pitted workers against one another and spent the next 18 months in prison — an experience that only sharpened his political convictions. After his release, Cortéz began contributing cartoons and articles to the Industrial Worker newspaper and, following his move to Chicago in 1965, he became a prolific printmaker, producing woodblock prints and linocuts promoting antiwar and union causes with a basement letterpress nicknamed “El Gato Negro.” This galvanizing exhibition, which marks what would have been the artist’s centennial, brings together works on paper, paintings, and poetry by Cortéz, as well as the work of socially engaged artists carrying on his legacy of resistance and protest.

National Museum of Mexican Art (
1852 West 19th Street, Chicago, Illinois
Through February 18, 2024

Arnaldo Roche Rabell, Isla Vacía (1987), oil on canvas, 57 1/16 x 77 9/16 inches (image courtesy the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago)

entre horizontes: Art and Activism Between Chicago and Puerto Rico

For most of the 20th century, Chicago was home to the largest population of stateside Puerto Ricans after New York, and the city became a crucible for social justice. The current exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago focuses on Puerto Rican artists and activists with ties to the city, such as Elizam Escobar, a member of the Puerto Rican liberation group Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional, who continued painting while serving a prison sentence for “seditious conspiracy” that ended with clemency from then-president Bill Clinton. Carlos Flores, an artist and educator who documented Puerto Rican life in Chicago during the 1970s, photographed the headquarters of the Young Lords, which grew from a local gang into a national movement for Puerto Rican empowerment, as well as subjects that evoke ongoing issues of gentrification and police violence, such as the Teatro San Juan, a Puerto Rican cultural hub in Humboldt Park with a glittering marquee that was torn down in the 1990s to make way for condominiums, and the funeral of the activist Orlando Quintana, who was shot to death by Chicago police in 1973.

Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago (
220 East Chicago Avenue, Chicago, Illinois
Through May 5, 2024

Zoë Lescaze is a freelance writer and editor based in Chicago.

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