It is easy to forget now that HIV/AIDS was a huge, hot-button issue in the 1980s, when thousands of people were dying monthly from the disease. Hundreds of artists, including such major figures as Judy Chicago, Keith Haring, Jenny Holzer and Robert Mapplethorpe, mobilized to create powerful responses to the epidemic then and since, but little scholarly attention has been paid to the work that resulted.
“Given the volume, quality and variety of art made in response to AIDS over 36 years, it seems inexplicable that no mainstream museum ever attempted a historical survey. Now one has,” wrote Holland Cotter in a New York Times review of “Art AIDS America” at the Bronx Museum of the Arts.
The traveling show, which encompasses some 125 works, is coming to Chicago but not to any of the city’s usual visual-arts venues. Instead, it will be shown Dec. 1, 2016-April 2, 2017, at the Alphawood Gallery, 2401 N. Halsted, a temporary space specifically renovated for this offering by the Alphawood Foundation (artaidsamericachicago.org).
Here’s a look at 10 other exhibitions worth a look this fall in Chicago:
Sept. 15-Dec. 18, “On Space and Place: Contemporary Art from Chicago, Los Angeles, Mexico City and Vancouver,” DePaul Art Museum, 935 W. Fullerton (museums.depaul.edu). Public television’s award-winning series, ART21, which explores the multifaceted contours of today’s contemporary art scene, will return Sept. 16 with four episodes highlighting 16 artists in four cities. In conjunction with the program, this exhibition will display examples by each of the participants, including four from Chicago: Nick Cave, Theaster Gates, Barbara Kasten and Chris Ware.
Sept. 16-Oct. 22, “40 Years: Part 1,” Rhona Hoffman Gallery, 118 N. Peoria (rhoffmangallery.com). In an art world increasingly dominated by social networking and the Internet, keeping a brick-and-mortar gallery going for just five or 10 years is a major accomplishment. Yet Hoffman has managed to build a national profile and prosper for 40 years, a milestone she is marking with a series of three thematic group shows, starting with this one. It will focus on minimalist and conceptualist works by artists ranging from Vito Acconci to Claire Zeisler.
Sept. 17, 2016-Jan. 8, 2017, “Procession: The Art of Norman Lewis,” Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington (chicagoculturalcenter.org). Lewis (1909-1979) was an influential if under-recognized artist with a multi-pronged career, including significant contributions to abstract expressionism and a politically activist bent. Organized by the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, this is the first in-depth museum look at the work of this lifelong Harlem resident with 90 paintings and works on paper from the early 1930s through the late 1970s.
Sept. 20-Dec. 17, “Sonnenzimmer: The Arts Club of Chicago at 100,” Arts Club of Chicago, 201 E. Ontario (artsclubchicago.org). As part of the on-going celebration of the Arts Club’s 100th anniversary, this exhibition will offer highlights from its permanent collection and include a graphic timeline designed by the Chicago design studio, Sonnenzimmer. A free open house marking the centennial will be held from noon to 5 p.m. Oct. 22, with eighth blackbird presenting performances of a specially commissioned work by David Lang based on a text by Gertrude Stein.
Sept. 22-25, Expo Chicago, Navy Pier’s Festival Hall, 600 E. Grand (expochicago.com); Nov. 3-6, SOFA CHICAGO, Nov. 3-6, Festival Hall (sofaexpo.com). These two high-end art and design fairs each fall attract thousands of collectors, industry professionals and interested viewers from Chicago and across the country. This year’s edition of Expo Chicago features 145 galleries from 23 countries showing a wide range of modern and contemporary art. Back for its 23rd year, SOFA focuses on sculpture and what it calls functional art and design, with objects on view from 80 national and international galleries.
Sept. 23, 2016-February 2017, “Roger Brown & Andy Warhol,” Kavi Gupta, 219 N. Elizabeth (kavigupta.com). Roger Brown (1941-1997) ranks among the most widely known of the Chicago Imagists with his quickly recognizable pop-tinged, storybook style. This exhibition – the kind of thoughtful examination typically expected of a museum – will look at some of the aesthetic ties between these two artists, as well as such other commonalities as their shared dedication to collecting folk art.
Sept. 24-Dec. 11, “#30 Día de los Muertos: Journey of the Soul,” National Museum of Mexican Art, 1852 W. 19th (nmmart.org). This year marks the 30th anniversary of the museum’s annual Day of the Dead exhibition, which is billed as the largest such offering in the country. This latest edition will feature ofrendas, installations and other artworks by more than 50 artists from across Mexico and the United States. A related free event is “Day of the Dead Chicago,” a festival that will run from 3 to 8 p.m. Oct. 30 and include mariachi performances, face painting and art activities.
Sept. 30, “Concrete Traffic” University of Chicago, Campus North Parking Garage, 5525 S. Ellis Ave. (arts.uchicago.edu/concretehappenings). It remains a startling sight 46 years after German Fluxus artist Wolf Vostell created it for the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago – a 1957 Cadillac de Ville encased in concrete. Following four years of conservation, the 16-ton work will return to its new permanent home at the University of Chicago via an 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. celebratory procession that will take it from Methods and Materials, 1749 N. Harding, to the campus with a noon stop at the MCA, 220 E. Chicago.
Oct. 2, 2016-Jan. 3, 2017, “Moholy-Nagy: Future Present,” Art Institute of Chicago, 111 S. Michigan (artic.edu). One of the great artistic innovators of the 20th century, Hungarian-born László Moholy-Nagy worked in a dizzying array of mediums, including painting, photography, film, sculpture, advertising and theater design. He came to prominence in 1923-28 as a professor at Germany’s Bauhaus art school and brought its transformational precepts to Chicago, founding in 1937 the New Bauhaus, which later became the Institute of Design at the Illinois Institute of Technology. With more than 300 works from 1920 through his death in 1946, this traveling show is the most comprehensive retrospective devoted to Moholy-Nagy in nearly 50 years.
Oct. 22, 2016-Jan. 8, 2017, “Diana Thater: The Sympathetic Imagination,” MCA (mcachicago.org). “For 25 years, the L.A. artist has been creating immersive video installations that appear to breach the contours of the gallery, transporting viewers into other realities: swimming with dolphins, interacting with wolves or exploring the contaminated ruins of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant,” wrote art critic Sharon Mizota in the Los Angeles Times. This survey, which was organized by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, features 22 major works by Thater from the early 1990s through 2015.
Kyle MacMillan is a local freelance writer.