Art Design Chicago

From now through December 2018, art museums throughout Chicago showcase some of the city's greatest achievements in art and design.

in Arts & Culture, Activities
July 03, 2018

| words

Chicago is well known for its baseball, deep-dish pizza and, of course, spectacular architecture. Many are also aware of the world-class Art Institute of Chicago and the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. But sometimes overlooked is the full scope of the city’s dynamic art and design heritage.

That’s where Art Design Chicago comes in. This unprecedented yearlong project—which includes more than 30 exhibitions, as well as hundreds of tours, talks, and special events—seeks to heighten national and international awareness of the city’s pivotal accomplishments across a range of artistic disciplines.

To make this ambitious undertaking possible, the Terra Foundation of American Art has teamed with more than 75 area cultural organizations, with programming taking place both downtown and in the neighborhoods all year long.

Whether you are a Chicagoan wanting to better understand your city’s cultural heritage or a potential visitor just looking for an opportune time to travel to the Windy City, Art Design Chicago has something for you. 

Above: Greetings from Chicago postcard, Curt Teich Postcard Archives Collection, production number 2BH-327, The Newberry Library, Call No. Midwest MS Teich Co.

Chicago's Art and Design History

Turning the Spotlight on an Underrated Legacy

Did you know Radio Flyer had a 45-foot pavilion at the 1933–34 Chicago World’s Fair that was constructed as a three-dimensional representation of the still-functioning company’s logo—a kneeling boy in a toy wagon?

Or that one of Chicago’s best-known artist groups had the funky name, Hairy Who?

Or that the city was one of the earliest to embrace and support self-taught or “outsider” art?

Not only does Art Design Chicago provide new insights into familiar art movements like the Chicago Imagists, but it also shines the light on artists and groups who were sometimes overlooked because of their race, gender, or country of origin—or who, for whatever reason, have just not received the attention they deserve.

In addition to a four-part public-television series, scholarly publications, and hundreds of academic and public programs, the project features exhibitions and events that expand the understanding of Chicago art and design, aiming to broaden the narrative that surrounds it while also offering plenty of ways to just have some fun with family and friends.

Above: Kenneth Josephson, Chicago, 1972. Gelatin silver print, 4 3/4 x 7 in. (12.1 x 17.8 cm). Collection Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Gift of the Foster Charitable Trust in memory of Reuben A. Foster, 1983.37 © 1972 Kenneth Josephson. Photo: Nathan Keay © MCA Chicago

From the 1893 World's Fair to Hairy Who

A big part of Art Design Chicago is filling in the gaps and adding to what visitors might already know about Chicago’s rich history. Here are three exhibitions to do just that:

  • A Home for Surrealism, The Arts Club of Chicago, June 7–Aug. 17. The quirky paintings of Belgian surrealist René Magritte have made him one of the most recognized artists of the 20th century. Surrealism proved popular with Lindy and Edward Bergman and other noted Chicago collectors who have helped ensure the Art Institute of Chicago built a strong holding devoted to the style. Less recognized is that Chicago had its own notable surrealist painters in the 1940s and '50s, such as Gertrude Abercrombie, Julio de Diego and Dorothea Tanning.
  • Hairy Who?, Art Institute of Chicago, Sept. 27, 2018–Jan. 6, 2019. The Imagists stand as Chicago’s most important art movements with an accessible vernacular style that drew on comic books, surrealism, and fetishism. At its heart was a six-member group that banded together in 1966 under the wacky name of Hairy Who and included such now-famous artists as Gladys Nilsson, Jim Nutt, and Karl Wirsum. This is the first comprehensive retrospective dedicated solely to examining the legacy of this scrappy band of creative upstarts.
  • Pictures from an Exposition: Visualizing the 1893 World’s Fair, Newberry Library, Sept. 28–Dec. 31. Sure, almost everyone has heard of the World’s Columbian Exposition, which grandly took place on Chicago’s lakefront. But why did the extravaganza so thoroughly capture the public’s imagination? What did it actually look like? This assembly of exposition-related materials from the Newberry’s extensive holdings marks the 125th anniversary of this seminal event and examines how fine art and popular imagery enhanced its popular allure.
Above: Egon Weiner working on a stone sculpture of mother and child, c. 1950. Photo by D. Koehle.

Other Perspectives

From Outsider Art to Mexican Immigrants

Several of the exhibitions in Art Design Chicago set out to reveal stories that have previously gone untold. Here are three examples:

  • Arte Diseño Xicágo (Art Design Chicago): Mexican Inspiration from the World’s Columbian Exposition to the Civil Rights Era, National Museum of Mexican Art, now through Aug. 19. This unprecedented exhibition explores the influence of Mexican visitors and immigrants on the artistic and cultural fabric of Chicago from the late 19th century through the end of the 1960s. Works by more than 30 artists are on display, including José María Jara’s “The Wake,” which was shown at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. 
  • Chicago Calling: Art Against the Flow, Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art, June 29, 2018–Jan. 6, 2019. Chicago’s early embrace of self-taught or “outsider” art helped spur its acceptance in recent decades by the larger mainstream art establishment. This internationally traveling show explores the changing attitudes toward this once-ignored realm and highlights key thematic threads within the work of 12 artists, including such Chicago icons as Henry Darger, Lee Godie, and Joseph Yoakum.
  • South Side Stories–The Time is Now! Art Worlds of Chicago’s South Side, 1960–1980, Smart Museum of Art, University of Chicago, Sept. 13–Dec. 30; South Side Stories–The Art and Influence of Dr. Margaret T. Burroughs, DuSable Museum of African American History, Sept. 13, 2018–March 4, 2019. The socio-political ferment on Chicago’s South Side during the 1960s and '70s helped shape a range of the city’s artists from the Hairy Who to the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians.
Above: Errol Ortiz (b.1941), Astronaut Targets, 1965. Acrylic on canvas, 48”x60” Courtesy of Corbett vs. Dempsey. Photo by Tom Van Eynde. (On view as part of Arte Diseño Xicágo.)

Having Fun with Art and Design

From Ghoulish Portraits to the Ever-Popular Bicycle

All the exhibitions in Art Design Chicago are meant to be informative and enriching, but many are meant to put a smile on visitors’ faces at the same time. Here are three that rank especially high on the fun scale:

  • Flesh: Ivan Albright at the Art Institute of Chicago, Art Institute of Chicago, now through Aug. 5. Known as a “master of the macabre,” Albright holds a unique place in the city’s art history. His fancifully ghoulish and endlessly entrancing paintings of decaying human bodies have long been favorites with visitors to the Art Institute of Chicago, the largest repository of the Chicago native’s output. More than 30 of Albright’s gently disturbing works will be assembled in this exhibition, the first devoted to this challenging yet beloved artist in more than 20 years.
  • Keep Moving: Designing Chicago’s Bicycle Culture, Chicago Design Museum, Oct. 19, 2018–Feb. 15, 2019. Just about everyone has ridden a bicycle at some time or another, so the subject of this exhibition could hardly be more familiar. Although many of the early innovations in bicycles were centered in Europe, Chicago became a major manufacturing hub by the end of the 19th century. This show looks at this popular fixture in American life—its rise, its decline with the emergence of the automobile, and and its resurgence in recent years as commuters reclaim the utility of the two-wheeled vehicle.
  • Modern by Design: Chicago Streamlines America, Chicago History Museum, Oct. 27, 2018–Dec. 2, 2019. Spurred by the innovations showcased at the 1933–34 World’s Fair, Chicago’s vast manufacturing complex flooded the American marketplace with an array of cutting-edge, modern designs in the 1930s through '50s. Among the objects on view will be Holabird & Root’s blueprints for the Burlington Zephyr train, 1930s and ‘50s Radio Flyer wagons and a Shure Unidyne microphone.
Above: Visitors at the opening of “Barbara Jones-Hogu: Resist, Relate, Unite 1968‒1975,” a DePaul Art Museum exhibition presented as part of Art Design Chicago from January 11 to March 25, 2018.

Learn More about Art Design Chicago

Art Design Chicago runs through December 2018, with a few events spilling over to 2019. For a complete line-up of events and any other information about Art Design Chicago, please visit or the websites of any of its participating organizations.

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