Installation view shows pop-up exhibition in the museum atrium, with plastic shopping bags covering the windows and floor sculptures of plastic shipping crates.
Installation view, "Thank You for Shopping With Us," Design Museum of Chicago, 2022 Credit: S.Y. Lim

“Thank You for Shopping With Us,” a pop-up exhibition featuring Chicago artist Thomas Kong and curated by S.Y. Lim, conjures a holiday spirit from unnoticed everyday materials: packaging waste. Kong takes over the corner atrium at the Design Museum of Chicago with rows and rows of plastic thank-you bags that hang across the floor-to-ceiling windows. Each bag serves as a canvas for a unique and colorful collage.

Kong, who also runs the convenience store Kim’s Corner Food in Rogers Park, is dexterous at putting excess into artistic use. Various cardboard papers are cut and arranged into abstract but curious shapes; some elicit their previous packaging duties, others stay completely anonymous. One of my favorites: a penny trapped inside of a plastic clamshell case, on top, a green leaf taped to white paper, below, a small orange block—is it a price tag? A post-it? Origin unknown. It’s plain and simple, almost deadpan funny.

Installation view, “Thank You for Shopping With Us,” Design Museum of Chicago, 2022  
Credit: S.Y. Lim

Stacks of heavily decorated plastic crates comfortably occupy the angular gallery space as freestanding sculptures. The crates declare they are “property of KDP.” But in response, Kong covers up most of the label, leaving only KDP’s bubbly logo hanging like a pilcrow. A new paragraph of glyphs and symbols begins. What remains most memorable are small stickers that read “be happy,” which quietly appear in many of Kong’s compositions. Happiness, as the artist tries to tell us, is often hidden—amid the hurry of everyday life—in plain sight.

“Thank You for Shopping With Us”
Through 1/31/23: Every day 10 AM-6 PM, Design Museum of Chicago, 72 E. Randolph,, free