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Highlights

Contemporary Artists in Chicago

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Chicago has long been a city that fosters and inspires artists, from students who are just starting their careers to acclaimed painters and sculptors. And the present day is no exception—the contemporary artists who call Chicago home make the city a vibrant community that welcomes creativity and big ideas. This tour, featuring a rotating selection of works created since 1990, showcases just a few of the many contemporary Chicago artists whose works are in the museum’s collection.

Explore all the works by Chicago artists in the museum’s collection.

Dawoud Bey


Dawoud Bey

Photographer Dawoud Bey has called Chicago home since 1998. While known for his color photography and striking portraits, for this project, Bey returned to black-and-white printing of his early years and turned his attention on an unpeopled landscape: homes and patches of land that are understood to have formed part of the Underground Railroad. For the title of the series, Night Coming Tenderly, Black, Bey was inspired by the closing couplet of a short poem “Dream Variations” by Langston Hughes: “Night coming tenderly / Black like me.”

Gladys Nilsson


Gladys Nilsson

Among the most celebrated watercolorists working today, longtime Chicagoan Gladys Nilsson studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) and has taught at the school for over 25 years. As a member of the artist group known as the Hairy Who, Nilsson helped inject new and unique energy into the city’s art landscape. Her mischievous scenes of figures interacting and engaging in various pursuits, including disguise and voyeurism, express her sense of humor and boundless curiosity. This watercolor, originally commissioned by SAIC to be used as an advertising poster, depicts playfully arranged crowds of students painting, listening to music, chatting, and hanging out in many different spaces.

Jeanne Gang


Jeanne Gang

Internationally renowned for her Aqua Tower, Jeanne Gang has designed buildings across the world, and many in and around Chicago, including the Writers’ Theatre, several residential buildings, two boat houses along the river, the Nature Boardwalk at Lincoln Park Zoo, and a community center in the Auburn-Gresham neighborhood. Gang designed this space to provide a welcoming, familiar space for Chinese immigrants arriving in Chicago. Finding subtle ways to incorporate traditional Chinese colors and signs within a modern, airy space, Gang organized the small structure to maximize the intergenerational connections common within the Chicago Chinese community.

Kerry James Marshall


Kerry James Marshall

For the last three decades, artist Kerry James Marshall has applied themes from art history to examine and recontextualize the representation of black culture. In his painting series Vignette Suite, Marshall used characteristics of the fanciful 18th-century French Rococo style and projected positive images of black life, centered around the notion of love. He focused his series on the air-borne embrace of a man and woman and surrounded them with various emblems of black affirmation, including a Black Power clenched fist, hands breaking through chains, the Black Liberation flag, African artifacts, and a panther. The result is both a multifaceted and evolving depiction of love and black identity as well as a powerful reinterpretation of a traditional art form.

Richard Hunt

Richard Hunt Installation 1 Social

Three sculptures from Richard Hunt’s 2020 installation Scholar’s Rock or Stone of Hope or Love of Bronze.


One of the most important sculptors of our time, Richard Hunt was raised in Chicago and graduated from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Still in the city today, Hunt works out of a repurposed Chicago Railway Systems electrical substation built in 1909, creating both towering sculptures and more intimate constructions. His 2020 installation on the Art Institute’s Bluhm Family Terrace features the title work, Scholar’s Rock or Stone of Hope or Love of Bronze, a monumental bronze sculpture that Hunt created over six years through a durational process of adding, removing, and reshaping the work. Read more about this installation in a conversation between Hunt and curator Jordan Carter.

Anne Wilson


Anne Wilson

Anne Wilson, the Chicago-based artist and professor emeritus of Fiber and Material Studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, defies easy categorization. Working with everyday materials such as table linens, bed sheets, human hair, lace, thread, glass, and wire, Wilson considers the inequities of factory labor, the impact of globalization, domestic and social rituals, and themes of time and loss. For her Dispersions series, Wilson created 26 works from fragments of heirloom damask tablecloths and napkins. Wilson opened up a damaged area in each piece of cloth into a perfect circle and embellished the edges with colored thread and hair. These are ambiguous material images, suggesting the trace from a gunshot or a celestial explosion and evoking the mortal and physical alongside the transcendent and unknowable. Wilson draws our attention to the contrasts between the machine-made cloth and the intricate hand stitching; creating tension between the artist’s intervention and its foundation, and between the formal tone-on-tone design of the white cloth and the small bursts of color and texture dispersed around damaged cloth. 

Amanda Williams


Amanda Williams

Currently based in the South Side neighborhood of Bridgeport, Amanda Williams was born and raised in the Chicagoland area. Her work blends her architectural training with traditional art approaches to confront issues of race, value, and urban space. For her most famous project, Color(ed) Theory, which debuted at the Chicago Architecture Biennial in 2015, Williams painted eight soon-to-be-demolished houses in Chicago’s Englewood using a palette of colors found in products and services marketed primarily toward Black people, such as Flamin’ Red Hots. Drawing attention to the underinvestment in African American communities around the city, the series asks: What color is poverty? What color is gentrification?

Pope.L


Pope.L

Known for his groundbreaking performances as well as for text-based drawings and paintings that disrupt the conventions of cultural identity and explode traditional artistic categories, artist Pope.L has lived in Chicago for over a decade and has been a professor at University of Chicago since 2010. The title of this work, Finnish Painting evokes a strangely specific yet enigmatic sense of national identity while also offering a play on words, the imperative to “finish painting.” This work presents the barely legible text of a poem, the last word of which is “decode”—as if acknowledging that to see, read, and understand others is always a struggle, and that meaning is often fluid. Another text-based feature is the attribution at the lower right, “R. Ryman,” referring to Minimalist artist Robert Ryman, whose monochromatic white paintings were often layered color underpainting and who treated his signature as an important visual element within a painting’s composition, never simply as authorization of a finished canvas. Perhaps this Pope.L work reveals what might lie beneath Ryman’s white surfaces.

Stanley Tigerman


Stanley Tigerman

Architect, designer, and provocateur Stanley Tigerman—a lifelong Chicagoan—made it his mission to push the city’s architecture beyond the then reigning style of the modernist glass box. His design for the Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Skokie integrates symbolic gestures of Judaism in various ways—the site plan, materials, and formal language. This model for an early scheme shows how the museum is composed of two wings—the darkened wing points six degrees toward the Western Wall in Jerusalem, and the lighter education center toward the rising sun. He suggested that the use of such symbolism serves an act of defiance to those who would eliminate a particular culture and its history.

Bethany Collins


Bethany Collins

Originally from Alabama, Bethany Collins currently lives in Chicago making work that explores the deep-rooted connections between race and language. In The Birmingham News, 1963, Collins presents 18 embossed and distressed front pages from issues of the Birmingham News published during 1963, a seismic year for the civil rights movement. While most national media outlets were covering the area’s sit-ins, demonstrations, and police brutality, the Birmingham News did not, supposedly to subdue racial tension. By embossing, darkening, and distressing these pages, Collins transforms them into a kind of memorial to events ignored by the Birmingham press and demonstrates how authored and institutional texts are always politicized.

Terry Evans


Terry Evans

From the series Revealing Chicago

A Kansas City native, Terry Evans moved to Chicago in 1994 and has lived here since. After focusing on the Midwestern prairie for many years, Evans took to the skies and photographed the city from above for her Revealing Chicago project. From backyard pools to the city jail, the lakefront to industrial areas, Evans sought to show “the diversity and complexity of Chicago.” She lamented that she “hadn’t even come close. This is an incomplete portrait, a fraction of a second in the life of Chicago, and every picture contains more stories than the image reveals.”

Judy Ledgerwood


Judy Ledgerwood

A longtime Midwesterner and decades-long Chicagoan, Judy Ledgerwood paints monumental abstractions that explore both the perceptual effects and the politics of color, luminosity, pattern, and scale. After earning her MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1984, she turned to traditionally “feminine” pastels and decorative forms in order to challenge the stereotypes of gendered approaches to painting. Ledgerwood borrowed this work’s title, So What, from a 1959 “cool period” jazz composition by Miles Davis. Made during winter, the painting features pale colors evocative of the season and at first appears quiet and serene. Yet sustained looking reveals subtle modulations in the blue-green, yellow, and white circles, which seem to alternately recede and advance across the work’s surface.

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