It’s a little ironic that the impetus for Art Design Chicago, the hugely ambitious, yearlong celebration of Chicago’s art-making history—from the fire of 1871 to the turn of the 21st century—came from the west coast, as seen through the eyes of an east-coast critic.
But that’s how it happened.
In the New York Times of November 10, 2011, critic Roberta Smith rhapsodized about the five days she’d spent taking in “Pacific Standard Time: Art in L.A. 1945-1980,” a six-month, multiproject collaboration by 60 cultural institutions that explored the west coast’s role in 20th-century American art. Contrary to the prevailing narrative, Smith wrote, “Pacific Standard” proved that “New York did not act alone in the post-war era.”
“ ’Pacific Standard Time’ is a great argument for museums concentrating first and foremost on local history, for a kind of cosmopolitan regionalism, if you will,” Smith wrote. “It sets an example that other curators in other cities should follow, beginning in my mind with Chicago and San Francisco.”
Smith wrote that the Los Angeles show had been underwritten by the Getty Center, “to the tune of about $10 million.”
In Chicago the Terra Foundation for American Art—long-focused on promoting the art of the nation—took the hint.
Last week, at the opening of the first Art Design Chicago event of 2018—”Resist, Relate, Unite 1968-1975,” the DePaul Art Museum’s show of prints by AfriCOBRA founding member Barbara Jones-Hogu—Terra executive vice president Amy Zinck recalled the Smith review as a light-bulb moment. In 2012, Terra began convening local curators and scholars, soliciting ideas for publications, exhibits, and programs that would clarify Chicago’s role as a “catalyst and incubator for innovations in art and design.”
The result is a still-growing 29-exhibit, 100-plus-program, 60-institution collaborative effort that includes academic research, multiple books and catalogs, and a four-part public television documentary. Grants director Jennifer Siegenthaler says the foundation’s been funding projects at various cultural institutions in the city since 2005 (after Terra, founded in 1978, shuttered its Michigan Avenue museum space), “but we kept hearing from curators and scholars that there was a lot in Chicago that hadn’t been covered.”
It will be now, and not only in Chicago. A retrospective for painter Charles White, opening June 10 at the Art Institute of Chicago, for example, will travel to MOMA and LACMA; an Intuit exhibit of outsider art, “Chicago Calling: Art Against the Flow,” will go to three European cities after a six-month run here that begins June 29.
The budget for the program is $7.8 million, $6.5 million of which is coming from Terra, with the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation and others contributing the rest; individual grants ranged from $10,000 to $200,000. Among the projects already completed are an updated Smithsonian archives guide to research repositories in Chicago and a comprehensive history of The Wall of Respect (The Wall of Respect: Public Art and Black Liberation in 1960s Chicago), published by Northwestern University Press last fall. The cornucopia to come includes “Arte Diseno Xicago,” March 23 to August 19 at the National Museum of Mexican Art; “A Home for Surrealism,” June 7 to August 18 at the Arts Club; “Hairy Who?” September 1 to January 6 at the Art Institute; “African American Designers in Chicago,” October 27 to March 3 at the Chicago Cultural Center, and a multi-author history of Chicago art to be published by University of Chicago press in the fall.
The DePaul exhibit is the first solo museum show for Jones-Hogu, who died on November 14 at the age of 79, and is one of the women honored in Kerry James Marshall’s Rush More mural at the Chicago Cultural Center. A member of the collective that created The Wall of Respect in 1967 (and a longtime Malcolm X College professor), she was a printmaker whose powerfully communicative work captured the black power ethos and established the visual identity of the subsequent Chicago collective AfriCOBRA (the African Commune of Bad Relevant Artists).
This show, consisting of 22 large prints and a half-dozen drawings, is tightly focused on the AfriCOBRA period. It includes three black-and-white woodcuts from 1968, representing Jones-Hogu’s favorite technique before, as wall text explains, her wood-cutting and etching tools were stolen and she had to switch mediums. After that, there’s an explosion of color and form in a bold blend of 1970s groovy sensibility, African influence, and proudly emergent black identity.
Jones-Hogu’s dealer, Cleveland gallerist David Lusenhop, was at the opening, as was the artist’s son, Kuumba Hogu, who loaned many of the pieces on display. (A catalog of the exhibit will be published later this year.) According to Lusenhop, Jones-Hogu didn’t have to sell her work and “wasn’t about selling it for profit.” That was a good thing because, at the time these prints were produced, he said, collectors were scarce for work with incorporated text proclaiming, for example, “Leave those white bitches alone.” With the exception of Jones-Hogu’s most famous piece, Unite, Lusenhop said, the prints in the show would’ve had editions of no more than ten. v