There’s a new museum in town. Yet I’m not sure how many Chicagoans know the good news. The DePaul Art Museum opened last September in a new, three-story structure adjoining the Fullerton CTA stop.
The museum is only new in a technical sense. Since 1998, it has been housed in two large rooms within Richardson Library, unknown to outside passersby. Louise Lincoln, its highly capable director since 1997, has mounted numerous noteworthy exhibitions under serious limitations.
Though art has been present on campus from 1985, it was hidden in the literal sense. What the striking red brick building achieves is a freestanding space for the museum’s art collection (2,000 objects with extensive holdings of Chicago art) with the size (15,000 sq. ft.) and facilities (a new collection study room) befitting a true museum. It also signifies the university’s growing commitment to the arts.
A tip of the hat is warranted for the contextually-rich design by Antunovich Associates, their first museum project.
My earlier post focused on Chicago’s formerly feisty publication, The New Art Examiner, and its dedicated focus on Chicago and the greater Midwest art community. Lincoln and assistant director, Laura Fatemi, opted for an equally strong local focus and provocative theme for their opening show
Re: Chicago opens with a wall text that states, “Chicago rivals—and surpasses—other cities in music, architecture and theater; yet in the visual arts, it has too frequently been seen as a ‘second city’.” Though many prominent artists, past and present, sport Chicago connections, many left and made their reputations elsewhere.
The exhibit seeks to reframe Chicago as a true artistic center vis-a-vis other centers such as Paris, New York and even Los Angeles. Alongside the Chicago theme, Lincoln chose a novel way to showcase the chosen works: a group-curated show. She polled 43 curators, collectors, critics and scholars to name a favorite Chicago artist. The result is an alternate canon of the famous, the no longer famous and the ought to be famous.
The show is both a delight to walk through and an entertaining guessing game. New discoveries loom at each hang while one wonders what did James Elkins, Neil Harris, Lew Manilow and James Rondeau choose? For every known artist like Ivan Albright, Karl Wirsum, Dawoud Bey and Richard Hunt, there was the thrill of discovering Manierre Dawson, Art Shay, Macena Barton, Irving Petlin and many more. Most surprising was Franz Schulze’s backward reach into the mid-19th Century for now-forgotten portraitist, George Healy, along with the absence of Ed Paschke, Roger Brown or Jim Nutt.
You’ll want to take home the show’s colorful, attractively-designed catalog to reread not only each curator’s supporting statement but for the scholarly essays buttressing Chicago’s claim for its rightful place in the art world.
Wendy Greenhouse skillfully argues that Chicago’s art tradition has run counter to the prevailing canon throughout history. Its artists have long favored representational or surreal (“cartoonish”) work over an East Coast canon dominated by abstract, expressionistic art.
Lynne Warren champions Chicago’s “extraordinary photographic legacy” and bemoans the near-criminal neglect of such masters as Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Harry Callahan and Aaron Siskind and other renowned figures.
If you are an art lover, you owe it to yourself to get to the DePaul Art Museum by March 4 to catch this appealing yet ultimately serious show. The museum’s next exhibition will feature African photographer, Malick Sidibe. It opens March 29.
DePaul Art Museum is located at 935 West Fullerton Avenue. For information on public events and hours, call 773/325-7506 or visit www.depaul.edu/museum.