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Highlights

Chicago Connections

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Chicago—it’s the city where the Obamas first met, where they launched their careers, and where they returned to establish both the Obama Foundation and the Obama Presidential Center.

Join in a civic celebration with this tour featuring works by Chicago artists as well as works intrinsically linked to our city.

This highlights tour accompanies The Obama Portraits exhibition. All featured works are on view at the museum during the exhibition.

Kerry James Marshall’s Africa Restored (Cheryl as Cleopatra) (2003)

On view in Gallery 295


Kerry James Marshall

Chicago-based artist Kerry James Marshall applies themes from art history to examine and recontextualize the representation of Black culture. This work references nkisi nkondi, or power figures, of the Democratic Republic of Congo—sculptures into which metals, mirrors, and nails were driven to channel their forces. Marshall affixed his sculpture with “medallions” or “icons,” laminated images and texts that refer to figures within the Black freedom movement in America as well as to Egyptian iconographies championed by African Americans in the 1970s as a way to challenge dominant Western worldviews. Marshall adds new elements each time the sculpture goes on view, treating it like a living and continually evolving work.

Dawoud Bey’s Oneika I (1996)

On view in Gallery 295


Dawoud Bey

Photographer Dawoud Bey, who has called Chicago home since 1998, is known for his poignant photographs that depict Black history and life in the United States, allowing the subjects of his work “to reclaim their right to look, to see, and to be seen.” The multipanel photographs Bey made in the 1990s use a fractured format that presents multiple perspectives, acknowledging the complexity of his individual subjects. Here, Bey captures a young pregnant woman, Oneika, a loving hand resting on her swollen stomach in a frame separate from the rest of her body.

Daniel Burnham’s View of the Proposed Development in the Center of the City from the 1909 Plan of Chicago (1907)

On view in Gallery 285


Daniel Hudson Burnham

Daniel Burnham first garnered fame as the architectural director of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, creating monumental fairgrounds that quickly became an international marvel. It was no surprise that the Commercial Club of Chicago then chose Burnham to develop a comprehensive plan for the city. Envisioning Chicago as “a Paris by the Lake,” Burnham’s extensive proposal included many features that still distinguish the city today—miles of lakefront parks, harbors, and lagoons, as well as picturesque boulevards radiating into Chicago’s many neighborhoods. This plate, an impressionistic view of Grant Park and Monroe Harbor by Burnham’s frequent collaborator, illustrator Jules Guérin, brings the 1909 Plan of Chicago to life, imbuing it, as Burnham stated about his own aims, with the “magic to stir men’s blood.”

Amanda Williams’s Color(ed) Theory: Flamin’ Red Hots (2014–15)

On view in Gallery 285


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 neighborhood using a palette of colors found in products and services marketed primarily toward Black people, such as Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. Drawing attention to the underinvestment in African American communities around the city, the series asks: What color is poverty? What color is gentrification?

Yoko Ono’s Mended Petal (2016)

On view in Pritzker Garden


Yoko Ono

In 2016, Yoko Ono created a work on an historic Chicago site: the location in Jackson Park where the Phoenix Pavilion once stood, Japan’s contribution to the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. After the close of the exhibition, Japan gifted the pavilion to the city of Chicago, but the structure was destroyed by a racially motivated act of arson in 1946. Ono held a ground-healing ceremony on the site a year prior to installing her sculpture Skylanding, a monumental 12-petal lotus. Mended Petal is the 13th petal of the sculpture, but unlike the smooth forms of Skylanding, Mended Petal shows repaired break lines, a reference to kintsugi, the Japanese tradition of mending broken porcelain, and the healing of Japanese-American relations over the years.

Pablo Picasso’s Maquette for Richard J. Daley Center Sculpture (1964)

On view in Gallery 144


Pablo Picasso

In 1963, the architects of the Richard J. Daley Center commissioned Pablo Picasso to create a sculpture that would anchor the building’s southern plaza. Picasso obliged, creating multiple sketches and two steel maquettes, one which he kept in his studio and one that he gave to the architects to implement. The artist, however, refused the $100,000 fee for his design, insisting that his work be a gift to the city. When it was unveiled, the untitled work initially frustrated a public that wanted to know what exactly it was, but over the years, the sculpture has become a beloved emblem of the city and has continued to inspire private and public investment in more sculpture for Chicago.

Walter Ellison’s Train Station (1935)

On view in Gallery 263


Walter Ellison

Born in Georgia, Walter Ellison moved to Chicago in the 1920s, one of more than six million African Americans who left the South for the promise of a better life in other regions of the country. After studying at the School of the Art Institute, Ellison began exhibiting his paintings depicting his own experiences and those of other Black Americans during the Great Migration. In this composition, Ellison portrays a southern train station, the various corridors underlining segregation under Jim Crow. On the left, white travelers, assisted by Black porters, board trains to southern vacation destinations. On the right, Black passengers carrying their own bags head to northern cities, including Chicago, in search of work. Ellison included himself—a man lifting a suitcase with the initials “W. W. E.”—among the northbound group.

Archibald Motley Jr.’s Nightlife (1943)

On view in Gallery 263


Archibald John Motley Jr.

After graduating from the School of the Art Institute, Archibald Motley Jr. settled in Chicago, drawing inspiration from the city’s African American neighborhoods. In this painting, Motley captured the infectious vibrations of a crowded cabaret in the Bronzeville area on the city’s South Side. As the clock above the bar indicates, it is one in the morning, and the place is hopping with drinkers and dancers. Couples have paired off and swing rhythmically to the music blasting from the jukebox, while drinkers sidle up to the bar for another round. The energetic work vibrantly depicts the fashion and vivacity of jazz clubs in the 1940s.

Takamura Koun’s Ramma (Transom) Panels from the Hooden (1893)

On view in Gallery 108


Takamura Kôun

For its contribution to the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, the government of Japan created Phoenix Hall, or the Hooden. Modeled on the 11th-century Phoenix Temple outside Kyoto, the hall showed Japanese art from various eras within period-appropriate architectural contexts. The ramma panels, produced by celebrated sculptor Takamura Koun, feature the phoenix, a bird said to appear when “people are in enjoyment of peace and prosperity.” The four ramma panels survived two anti-Japanese arson attacks that destroyed the rest of the Hooden in the 1940s and were stored and forgotten under the bleachers at Soldier Field until they were rediscovered there in 1973. They have undergone considerable conservation treatment to return them to their full glory.

Richard Hunt’s Hero Construction (1958)

On view on the Woman’s Board Grand Staircase

Hero Construction, 1958

Richard Hunt

One of the most important sculptors of our time, Richard Hunt was raised in Chicago and has spent much of his six-decade career here. Today Hunt works out of a repurposed Chicago Railway Systems electrical substation built in 1909, creating both towering sculptures and more intimate constructions. Hero Construction, created in 1958, just a year after Hunt graduated from the School of the Art Institute, is composed of found objects—old pipes, bits of metal, and automobile parts—that the artist discovered in junkyards and on the street. Inspired by mythology and heroic sculptures past and present, the welded figure suggests a hero for our times, humble yet resilient in the face of past, present, and future injustices and uncertainties.

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