This monumental and vibrant painting was created by Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960–1988) at the height of his brief career. Basquiat often depicted what he called “kings, heroes, and the street,” alluding to his representation of black figures in New York City’s street life. In this work, a boy and his dog stand near a fire hydrant, also called a “johnnypump,” uncapped to provide relief on a hot summer day. Basquiat’s signature gestural application of red, yellow, and orange paint mimics the gush of water yet transforms the water’s cooling effect into a fiery scene, creating a visceral tableau of everyday street life.
See it on view in Gallery 293.
Marguerite Thompson Zorach was a modern painter, textile artist, and graphic designer who helped to dissolve the barriers between craft and fine art. She composed the textile work Nude and Flowers of particolored looped (or “hooked”) woolen strips, pulled through and held in place by the woven linen ground, engaging the sense of touch as well as sight. The compression of space, in which the figure with dark flowing hair appears in repose, heightens the intimacy of the work and reinforces the artist’s particular use of abstraction.
This textile joins two landscape paintings by the artist in our collection—Landscape (recto) and Nevada Falls, Yosemite Valley, California—expanding the museum’s narrative of 20th-century American modernism.
See it on view now in Gallery 272.
Jordan Casteel’s Barack, a material testament to Obama’s return to ordinary life after presidency, is somewhat of an outlier in the artist’s oeuvre as a painting of an iconic individual rather than a person she encounters in her everyday sphere. Like all of her portraits, it stems from a photograph—in this case an official White House photograph—and Casteel renders her subject with a sense of closeness and immediacy.
See it on view in Gallery 295, and read more on the blog.
Originally a Surrealist poet based in Paris, Alice Rahon took up painting when she fled Europe at the beginning of WWII and joined the community of artists forming in Mexico City around Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. She became fascinated with the cultures and landscapes of Mexico and developed a singular personal style inspired by the power of Paleolithic cave art. Her Self-Portrait and Autobiography, a work that combines oil paint and sand on canvas, represents the artist’s life as a series of ascending switchbacks, visually alluding to her journey of becoming a painter, as well as her itinerant lifestyle, which brought her not only to Mexico and Altamira, Spain, but also India and the Pacific Northwest.
See Rahon’s painting in Gallery 396.
In The Milliners, Theresa Bernstein explored the aesthetic qualities of community and concentration, depicting a group of women engaged in the meticulous and artistic labor of fashioning hats. The window at upper left suggests that they are in a city apartment, and therefore undertaking piecework at home to earn extra income. An important voice in early American modernism, Bernstein celebrated the vibrancy and dignity of immigrant and working-class experiences in 20th-century New York. Born in Krakow, she trained at the Philadelphia School of Design for Women, a noted center for female professionalism in the arts. Bernstein pursued a dynamic style of realism throughout her long career, working well past the age of 100.
See The Milliners on view now in Gallery 272, and read more on our blog.
Blacklash is a pivotal example of Clark’s pioneering painting method. It is the artist’s most direct response to the country’s racial politics, painted in the aftermath of the protests in Harlem in 1964 following the murder of 15-year-old James Powell by an off-duty police officer. The title, combining the words “black” and “backlash,” evokes the violence against black people that occurred that summer, violence that is further emphasized by Clark’s use of broad strokes and splattered paint, as well as the bright red and orange colors.
See it on view now in Gallery 29, and learn more on the blog.
These teacups are rare examples of functional objects made by artist Sargent Claude Johnson. Best known for carved figural works from the 1920s and ’30s that depict the beauty and dignity of African American people, Johnson experimented with a wide range of media over the course of his career, including painting, printmaking, frame making, and ceramics. Here, he focused on geometric forms to shape and decorate his vessels, using contrasting semicircles and rectangles for the handles of his cups and abstract patterns, silhouetted figures, and musical instruments in the glazed imagery.
See these works on view now in Gallery 264.
Addressing social concerns through abstraction, avant-garde painter Norman Lewis pushed the limits of nonrepresentational art by evoking of the energy of American cities. In Multitudes, he combined gestural mark making and Color Field painting, layering tight and rapid calligraphy atop a soft ground of pulsating color. With a nod to Walt Whitman’s poem “Song of Myself,” the title alludes to the United States’ struggles and potential after World War II.
Multitudes is on view now in Gallery 398.
Ana De Orbegoso’s “new huaco” recalls the complicated past of Peru’s ancient ceramic vessels, asking how Peruvians should now relate to their history. Its mirrored surface allows Peruvian viewers to gaze upon this modern “portrait vessel” and see their own reflection, offering an embodied connection to their ancestors.
See Neo-Huaco #3 on view now in Gallery 136.
In her quilt The Safety Patrol, Butler plays with artistic conventions and expectations, choosing seven children of varying ages as her subject. Set on background fabric with a subtle gray and white floral pattern, it features a tight group of children in brightly colored clothing that gaze out at the viewer. The child in front wears a belt and sash that identify him as part of a school safety patrol, a group of children that protect fellow students and serve as leaders. His presence reminds viewers that children, black children especially, need to be seen, valued, and protected, while the work as a whole offers an imaginative glimpse into the complex and varied lives of youth.
The Safety Patrol is currently on view in Bisa Butler: Portraits.
This figurative sculpture from Burkina Faso seems to evoke a vulture. It is one of only three known expressions of a distinctive style attributed to a Lobi artist whose identity has unfortunately not been recorded. This particular work is remarkable not only due to its large size—rare in Lobi bird figures—but also to the richness of its patina. In their original setting, such sculptures are placed in shrines or used in divination practices where they serve as intermediaries between humans and nature spirits known as thila.
Read more about Bird Figure on our blog and see it on view in Gallery 137.
Joining another exceptional example decorated by the Chicago Painter that has been in the museum’s collection since 1889, this hydria, or water jar, depicts three women. The subject on the left of this vase examines her face in a mirror, the central figure holds a chest, which may contain such personal effects as jewelry and cosmetics, and the woman on the right holds a large, lobed fruit. An artist active in 5th century BC, the Chicago Painter is so named because the first vase acquired by the museum was the first examples of his work ever identified.
Both works by the Chicago Painter are currently on view in Gallery 151.
In this painting by Domenco Fetti, a Romantic painter who worked in Rome in the wake of Caravaggio, a young woman kneels stooped over a table, resting her head heavily on her hand as though burdened with the weight of the universe. This image, recurrent across centuries, has come to define the iconography of the universally experienced human emotion of melancholy.
It is on view now in Gallery 206.
A cascade of overlapping circles derived from the form of a seated female figure, Étude No. 1 is widely considered to be Georges Vantongerloo’s first abstract painting. Although difficult to discern, a body starts to emerge when the viewer directs their eyes toward the red triangle at bottom. From this sharply pointed toe, legs and torso ascend, rising up along an axis that is also the physical centerline of the painting.
It is on view now in Gallery 393.
This extraordinary late Renaissance casket reflects a synthesis of Venetian and Islamic design sensibilities, brought together in the years around 1600 by a courtly—or, more likely, a Papal—commission. As early as the mid-19th century, it was theorized that caskets like this were linked to a Papal tradition of bestowing the gift of blessed linens for the baptism of the first-born son of royal families of Catholic Europe, thereby cementing the relationship with the church and various ruling dynasties.
Find this rock glass casket on view in Gallery 205.
Intimately scaled crosses, such as this newly acquired work, were extremely popular devotional objects in 17th-century Spain. This example is exceptional as it is dated and signed by a female artist, María Josefa Sánchez. Very little is known about Sánchez; she was active 1639–49, probably in Castile, and the only works currently attributed to her are four other crucifixes.
The work is currently installed in Gallery 209A. Read more on our blog.
The works that Dutch painter Gerrit van Honthorst created during and after his studies in Rome often feature candlelight or torchlight in night scenes, presenting a gentler, more meditative variation on the dramatic light effects employed by his Italian peers. This painting expands the range and complexity of the Art Institute’s collection of Dutch paintings. Moreover, as a character or head study—called a tronie, in the parlance of the day—it complements our great Rembrandt, Old Man with a Gold Chain (1631).
See A Boy Blowing on a Firebrand in the John L. and Helen Kellogg Gallery 213 alongside other Dutch works. Read more about this work on our blog.
One of Duchamp’s iconic readymades—an ordinary object transformed into art by the artist’s selection of it—this version of Bottle Rack was a prized possession of the painter Robert Rauschenberg before coming in to the Art Institute’s collection.
This recent acquisition is a superb example of a well-known genre of helmet mask of the Makonde people. It is characterized by the realistic imitation of incised angular facial scarification marks, carved renderings of chipped teeth, and insertion of real human hair in asymmetrical patterns on the mask’s skull.
Find it in Gallery 137.
This depiction of Saint Jerome, hailing from the Flemish city and trade center of Antwerp, shows him as both a scholar and a penitent. The exaggerated angle of his head, the gesture of his open hand, the thin application of paint, and the nervous contours all belong to the Master of the Lille Adoration’s signature style.
Find this Old Master work in Gallery 207.
This sculpture represents the 13th petal from Yoko Ono’s installation SKYLANDING, a 12-petal lotus in Chicago’s Jackson Park that rises from the ashes of the Phoenix Pavilion. In contrast to the smooth petals of SKYLANDING, MENDED PETAL has visible seams of repair, symbolically commemorating the ground-healing ceremony held by the artist in June 2015 through which she prepared the site of the lost Phoenix Pavilion for her new work.
Find MENDED PETAL in Pritzker Garden.
The five vessels in this set would have been the focus of either Buddhist or Confucian spiritual ceremonies. Each vessel is painted with the Eight Buddhist Emblems over a lime green background—a color perhaps inspired by enameled metalwork introduced to China from Europe.
Find this altar set in Gallery 134.
Yellow and underglaze-blue dishes of this type are among the most treasured Ming dynasty porcelains in China; they are particularly rare, making this example, covered in traditional motifs, an exquisite acquisition for the Art Institute.
Find this dish in Gallery 134.
Gorham was the first major American silver company to introduce Japanese-inspired designs to their product line, with this particular vessel featuring interpretations of Asian motifs, likely drawn from print sources: giant carp and a turtle thrash in violent waters, suggesting the movement of the sea.
Find this tureen in Gallery 273.
Sebastiano’s depiction of Christ carrying the cross has dramatic visual impact in the expressions of the figures, in the diagonals lines created by the cross, and the luminous background. This work is a significant addition to the museum’s holdings of central Italian paintings.
Find this painting in Gallery 205.