Best of the 2010s in Chicago’s visual arts, museums scenes
From pop culture legend exhibitions to icons of the art world retrospectives, the past decade in Chicago’s visual arts/museum scene was one of the most eclectic.
The Chicago-area visual arts scene saw some big events and major transitions during the last 10 years, from the rise of Chicago painter Kerry James Marshall and the beginning of Expo Chicago to unprecedented looks at David Bowie, Takashi Murakami and Vincent van Gogh.
Here’s a look at 10 of the most meaningful milestones ...
(including two happenings that were not directly in the visual-arts realm but clearly deserve attention):
2011: Two major recurring shows significantly transformed the city’s art and design scene and boosted its international profile. Filling an odd void, the Chicago Architecture Biennial became the first such major event in North America, opening Oct. 3 and running for three months in five venues across the city. A year later, Expo Chicago took over where a couple of predecessor art fairs left off, quickly becoming a successful annual event that has inspired several concurrent offerings.
2014-15: David Bowie was a huge sensation for years, so it was hardly surprising that a Museum Contemporary Art Chicago exhibition devoted to the ever-inventive rock star and his multifaceted cultural influences would be a huge hit. “David Bowie is,” which originated at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, was the second-highest attended show of the decade at the MCA with 194,000 visitors. It showcased more than 300 objects, including costumes, photographs, music videos, music instruments, storyboards and handwritten set lists and lyrics.
2015: In April, the Art Institute announced a gift of 44 contemporary masterworks from the collection of Stefan T. Edlis and his wife, Gael Neeson — the largest in the museum’s history. The donation provided the Art Institute with its first examples by Eric Fischl, Damien Hirst and Takashi Murakami and boosted its holdings of such pivotal artists as Jasper Johns, Cindy Sherman and Andy Warhol. The works went on view Dec. 13 as part of a reinstallation of the museum’s contemporary galleries on the second floor of the Modern Wing.
2016: For the first time in North America, the Art Institute brought together all three 1888-89 versions of “The Bedroom,” Vincent van Gogh’s celebrated depiction of his sleeping quarters in Arles. The exhibition, which included about 36 works in all by the artist and a digitally enhanced reconstruction of the bedroom, offered an unprecedented look at the meaning and background of the trio of iconic paintings. It was the museum’s best-attended show of the decade, drawing a total of 433,623 people or an average of 4,872 a day.
2016: Long-overlooked African American art is finally getting the recognition it deserves, and one of the artists leading the way is Chicago’s Kerry James Marshall. He was featured April 23-Sept. 25 in a much-touted retrospective by the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago that was later shown at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. At the same time, his paintings have been drawing record prices on the auction block, including “Past Times,” an evocative work that had hung at McCormick Place. It sold for $21.1 million at Sotheby’s in New York in 2018 — nearly 900 times its original purchase price of $25,000 in 1997 and the most ever for a living African American artist.
2017: “Exhibitionism,” the first-ever major exhibit devoted to the Rolling Stones, made a stop at Navy Pier from April 15 through July 30 as part of an international tour that took it to such cities as Tokyo and London. The nearly 18,000-square-foot show featured more than 500 objects from the legendary band’s private archives, including musical instruments, onstage and offstage apparel and personal diaries. It also included a screening room and interactive recording studio.
2017: The appeal of Takashi Murakami, a neo-pop artist who blurs the boundaries so-called high and low art, goes well beyond the fine arts world. The MCA presented the artist’s first major retrospective in 10 years, a June 6 to Sept. 24 show that attracted 205,000 people — the most of any of the institution’s shows during the decade. Sub-titled “The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg,” it featured paintings brimming with his bright, smiley-face flowers as well as works with a darker dimension, some drawing on Japanese history.
2018: Consisting of 46 groundbreaking exhibitions and dozens of other offerings, “Art Design Chicago” celebrated Chicago’s role as a catalyst and incubator for innovations in art and design. Spearheaded by the Terra Foundation for American Art, the yearlong initiative involved 95 cultural organizations throughout the city and beyond, including the Art Institute, Chicago History Museum and National Museum of Mexican Art, and attracted 2.5 million participants. The project helped bring attention to major accomplishments across a range of disciplines that have sometimes been overshadowed by what was happening on the two coasts.
2018: The Field Museum’s Dec. 21 unveiling of its dramatic reinstallation of SUE, the world’s biggest and most complete T. rex, was a key addition to the Griffin Dinosaur Experience, arguably the institution’s most far-reaching project of the decade. The undertaking, which also included the introduction of a 122-foot-long cast of the largest dinosaur yet found, Máximo the Titanosaur, and a reimagining of Stanley Field Hall, was funded through a $16.5 million gift from the Kenneth C. Griffin Charitable Fund. SUE was moved into a special 5,100-square-foot suite, which includes a narrated light that highlights specific bones on the dinosaur’s skeleton.
2018-19: In the mid-1960s, six largely unknown artists got together for a show at the Hyde Park Art Center, adopting a strange but unforgettable name for their loose-knit group — Hairy Who. It became something of an instant sensation, with an off-kilter, Chicago-centric style that bucked prevailing national art trends. The Art Institute of Chicago paid tribute Sept. 26-Jan. 6 to the short-lived but hugely influential collective, spotlighting it in what the museum billed as the “first-ever major survey exhibition.”
- 2019 – An MCA exhibition devoted to Virgil Abloh, a Chicago-based dynamo working across fashion, art, design and music, drew the institution’s third-highest viewership of the decade.
- 2019 – The Oriental Institute, a world-renowned archeological research center and museum at the University of Chicago, marked its 100th anniversary with the completion of a $3 million overhaul its 16,000-square-foot galleries and related events.
Kyle MacMillan is a local freelance writer.