Art 50 2023: Chicago’s Artists’ Artists

Newcity Art / Sep 5, 2023 / Go to Original

The Wrightwood 659 space, designed by architect Tadao Ando, is a modern-day temple for art. When between exhibitions and free of the “diversion” of work on its walls, as it was during the photography session for the Art 50, it becomes an especially meaningful place for artists to congregate in very small gatherings while they wait for their turn in front of the camera.

What struck me was that every single artist seemed to know and care about every single other artist, with conversations keeping them in the space and even out on the sidewalk in front long beyond their appointed times. This is a signature element of art in Chicago—a powerful sense of community that transcends the competitiveness and careerism that undermines other places.

Indicative of this, one of the Art 50 Hall of Famers, Tony Lewis, asked us to honor the late Gregory Bae, writing: “As a close personal friend, Gregory meant a lot to me, but he meant even more to Chicago than any one person can articulate. I’ve never known anyone more personally connected to so many sectioned-off realms of the Chicago art scene… He was an expansive artist, who was posthumously given a solo exhibition at the MCA Chicago in 2022, and was on the verge of changing the Chicago art landscape—it’s arguable that he already did.”

To describe the compassionate character of art in Chicago is not a suggestion of lesser quality; just the opposite. As Zachary Cahill told us a few months back, “I think Chicago is the Paris of the twenty-first century. We’re living through a moment that one-hundred years from now people will think that what happened in Chicago is amazing.” —Brian Hieggelke

Art 50 2023 is written by Susan Aurinko, Emeline Boehringer, Annette LePique, Vasia Rigou, Jen Torwudzo-Stroh with additional items by Regan Dockery, Ryan Fazio, Nicole NeSmith and Nicky Ni.

All photos by Joseph A. Mietus. 

Shot on location at Wrightwood 659.

Alex Chitty
“Bunch of Pussies,” a series of mobile-sculptures with curlicue black tails and triangle-eyed feline faces, was on view for Alex Chitty’s 2020 exhibition “Becoming the Breeze: Alex Chitty with Alexander Calder” at the MCA. For the show, curtailed by the pandemic, Chitty worked with curators Jack Schneider and Raven Falquez Munsell to mine everything from Calder artworks to conditions of ownership in challenging received institutional hierarchy. Incredulity is integral to Chitty’s practice, invested in the irreducibility of experience, ineffability of beauty, and innumerable ways of knowing—including “the wisdom of weight, texture and temperature,” Chitty says. From steel pierced with brass buds to golden cherry pits stuck between tigerwood slats, Chitty’s disobedient things have been shown in recent exhibitions at Patron, the Hyde Park Art Center, Tiger Strikes Asteroid, the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, GAVLAK, and the McCormick House at the Elmhurst Art Museum. The artist is currently a writer-in-residence at Writing Space in Chicago and advises graduate students at the School of the Art Institute. (Emeline Boehringer)

Bethany Collins
In her striking text-based works, artist Bethany Collins shows that the words on paper aren’t necessarily the most important part of storytelling. In her artworks, the multidisciplinary artist explores how race and language interact by manipulating words and history to pull out what’s missing, the people whose stories have not been told. Collins creates her pieces by stretching and contorting different texts until they take on new meanings. By deconstructing text in everything from newspapers, government reports, history books and story books to encyclopedias and dictionaries, she dives in beyond the written word, and into the subtext. What’s left after her edits, torn, bleached, dyed, scratched, smudged remnants have meaning beyond the simple definition of the words. She challenges the viewer to interpret stories without reading. In her collaborations with composers, she demonstrates that across artistic mediums, the established narrative is only ever part of the story. She’s paving a way for herself as well as the people that history left behind. (Jen Torwudzo-Stroh)

Caroline Kent
Caroline Kent’s installation for the MoMA’s Modern Window created two universes, purple and blue, punctuated with inquisitive wooden forms circling fields marked by cryptic recesses and enigmatic characters: teal, lavender, neon green, yellow. Part game board, part esoteric map, part hieroglyphic tableau, Kent’s work—including, but not limited to, sculpture, painting, and performance—presents a menu of forms that possess a mysterious internal cohesion, challenging language’s regular registers. Learn to read Kent’s signs, and they’ll point you anywhere: from recent solo exhibitions at Patron in Chicago, the Figge Art Museum in Davenport and Casey Kaplan in New York to important group exhibitions at the New Orleans Museum of Art and the Guggenheim (which has also collected Kent’s work, alongside the Walker Art Center, the MCA and MoMA). Kent is an assistant professor in Art, Theory, Practice at Northwestern University. (Emeline Boehringer)