Chicago Exhibitions – spring/summer 2019

Among the exceptional exhibitions that I saw in Chicago, here are several that continue till July 7th and August 25th:

I’ve written about Theaster Gates’ Stony Island Arts Bank in a previous post, and this time the current exhibition is Rob Pruitt: The Obama Paintings. This series, a painting each day that the President was in office, make for a moving tribute and a reminder of the dignity of the presidency and the many truly great advances that occurred during Obama’s time in office. Each painting is a 24” square canvas with a unified surface of muted red and blue, with an image from mass media loosely brushed in a fluid white. Directly executed, these 2,922 paintings are a reminder of the positive, even though (a segment of) the political machine fought hard, and continues, to obstruct his every achievement. On through August 25th

On through July 7th are several exhibitions at Columbia College’s Museum of Contemporary Photography (MoCP) that explore civil rights and social justice.

The exhibition Birmingham, Alabama, 1963: Dawoud Bey/Black Star consists of a video and a series of photo diptychs by Dawoud Bey that explore issues in response to the 1963 bombing of the 16th St. Baptist Church in Birmingham, AL. These are displayed with a selection of photographs from the Black Star Archive of photojournalism that explore how civil rights protests were presented in 1960s mass media with photographs by Charles Moore, Steve Shapiro, Vernon Merritt III, & Matt Heron. Taken all together, these works are a chilling evocation of the civil rights movement in the south, portraying the courage of the protesters, the violence of the counter-actions and the gruesome terrorist acts, especially the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church. This powerful exhibition reminds us of the struggles, the successes of the civil rights movement, and how, unfortunately, some are intent on returning to those times. Perhaps overshadowed by the horrific event of the bombing, additional murders occurred in Birmingham that very day when two African American teens were also killed: Johnny Robertson Jr. (16) shot by police, and Virgil Ware (13) shot by a white teenager.

In his series The Birmingham Project, Dawoud Bey honors the memory of the four African American girls, Denise McNair (11) Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson, and Cynthia Wesley, (all aged 14) who were killed in the terrorist bombing in 1963. As stated in the publication for the exhibition, “Bey challenged himself to honor these struggles and the children who died in 1963, …to give them a resonant presence.” Bey pairs portraits in this moving series of diptychs featuring a child of the same age as the girls killed, next to an adult at the age the child would have been in 2013.

Among her many perceptive writings, Chicago-based Susan Snodgrass’ in-depth interview with Bey has been published by the online journal Seen; some of her other articles can be found on her website.

Chicago Stories in the upstairs galleries at MoCP presents films and photographs by two artists who live and work in Chicago. The films of Carlos Javier Ortiz depict life in the south and in Chicago, revisit historical locations forever linked to heinous acts, and chronicle communities affected by gun violence. David Schalliol works in some of the same neighborhoods, training his camera on the changing urban landscape brought about by social change and gentrification.

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