Chicago's standing as a significant 20th and 21st century art influencer can't be denied. And the world knows it.

This spring, the city is hosting a series of major exhibitions that call attention to Chicago-born and Chicago-connected artists whose work has fundamentally impacted the contemporary art scene: Nina Chanel Abney (February 10-May 6) and Keith Haring (March 3-September 23), both at the Chicago Cultural Center, and Kenneth Josephson (April 28-December 30), at the Museum of Contemporary Art.

If you’re not familiar with these artists, you should be. Their influence is formidable, and continues to shape the work of emerging artists the world over.


Nina Chanel Abney – Royal Flush

February 10-May 6, 2018
Chicago Cultural Center

Chicago-born Nina Chanel Abney emerged as a major force in contemporary art in the early 2000s, and today stands at the forefront of a generation of artists determined to revive and revitalize narrative figurative painting. While inspired by 20th century masters such as Matisse, Stuart Davis and Romare Bearden, Abney’s work is informed by current racial political issues. Each work visually articulates the complex dynamics of contemporary urban life with unwavering, unapologetic honesty.

“In her monumental paintings, Abney takes on some of the most pressing issues today from racial dynamics and criminal justice to consumerism and celebrity culture,” says Marshall N. Price, Nasher Museum of Art Nancy Hanks Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, Duke University. “Her seductive visual language is comprised of a jumble of figures, words and shapes to the point of information overload. With this as her backdrop, Abney creates paintings that explore some of the deeper recesses of human nature.”

While the influence of Matisse et al is clear, Abney’s work is most notably informed by mainstream news media, animated cartoons, video games, hip-hop culture, celebrity websites and tabloid magazines. With an almost stream-of-consciousness sensibility, Abney portrays and conveys controversial issues with irreverence, wit and scathing satire.

Royal Flush is a 10-year survey of approximately 30 of the artist’s paintings, watercolors and collages, and is the first solo exhibition in a museum for Abney.

The exhibition is organized by the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, and is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment of the Arts to the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University.

Keith Haring CPS Murals

Keith Haring artwork © Kieth Haring Foundation

Keith Haring’s Murals for the Chicago Public Schools

March 3-September 23, 2018
Chicago Cultural Center

We have a gutsy local teacher named Irving Zucker to thank for the biggest thing to hit Chicago in 1989. Zucker invited New-York based pop artist and graffitist Keith Haring to visit the city to paint a 500-foot-long mural in Grant Park, assisted by more than 450 Chicago Public School students. What followed was a pure PR sensation, with WTTW producing a short documentary narrated by Dennis Hopper, Off the Wall: Keith and the Kids, and a feature in Rolling Stone magazine.

Haring’s iconic work is internationally recognized and lauded. His incisive draftsmanship and often unsettling cast of symbolic characters—most famously atomic baby and barking dog—catapulted Haring’s neo-expressionist street art to the lead of the 1980s New York art scene.

“Haring crossed boundaries using his work to connect directly to the public,” explains Rachel Wakeman in her MIR Appraisal Services, Inc. blog post, following the organization’s 2017 inspection and research of several Haring pieces. ”From his subway drawings, gallery and museum exhibitions, to organized public sculptures, murals, projects with school children, and corporate commissions of bill boards and logos, Haring redefined the 1980’s art scene. The effects of his practices are still visible today,”

In 1990, only nine months after the Chicago project was completed, Haring tragically succumbed to HIV-AIDS, making these works and this exhibition all the more poignant.

Picture Fiction - MCA

Picture Fiction, courtesy, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago

Picture Fiction: Kenneth Josephson and Contemporary Photography

April 28-December 30, 2018
Museum of Contemporary Art

“Chicago-based photographer Kenneth Josephson changed the way we think about pictures,” the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) explains. “His so-called conceptual photography pushes the boundaries of the medium, demonstrating that photographs are not neutral; on the contrary, they convey an idea in addition to a picture.”

Josephson’s body of work explores the facets and mechanics of a photograph, namely how it is cropped, reproduced, circulated, or archived. He employs techniques such as taking photographs of photographs to create images that comment on themselves—often in a wry, humorous way—bending “the truth in order to expose the inner workings of photographic images.”

In exploring “the building blocks of photography,” Josephson has come to influence artists of every ilk. And, in fact, Picture Fiction strives to highlight the links that exist between Josephson and other contemporary artists working in photography, film, and sculpture, including Roe Ethridge, Jessica Labatte, Marlo PascualJimmy Robert, and Xaviera Simmons.

The heart of the exhibition, however, is four major series produced approximately between 1960 and 1980: Images within ImagesMarks and EvidenceHistory of Photography Series, and Archaeological Series. “Together,” explains the MCA, “their work illuminates the ways images make meaning today.” 

A true Chicagoan, Josephson studied at Illinois Institute of Technology’s Institute of Design, and later taught at the acclaimed School of the Art Institute of Chicago for nearly 40 years.


Must-See Collection: Ed Paschke Art Center

Ed Paschke Art Center

 Courtesy, Ed Paschke Art Center

Established on June 22, 2014, on what would have been Ed Paschke’s 75th birthday, the Ed Paschke Art Center (EPAC) has made it its mission to preserve and provide public access to the work of the legendary artist; serve as an educational resource; and function as an accessible platform for artists to showcase their work.

In opening its doors, EPAC not only brought together the largest collection of Paschke’s work on permanent public view anywhere in the world, but also brought Paschke’s considerable influence over the  contemporary art and pop art scene to the fore.

Raised on the North side of Chicago and educated at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Paschke was significantly influenced by cartoon art (thanks to his father) and the work of GauguinPicasso and Seurat early on. A travel scholarship to Mexico in 1961, as well as an interest in outsider and tattoo art, further informed Paschke’s palette, pattern, and imagery. Andy Warhol, however, was one of his strongest inspirations, both sharing a fascination with darker societal themes such as fame, violence, sex and greed.

The center is open daily from 10 am-7 pm, and admission is free (donations are welcome). EPAC is located in Jefferson Park, at 5415 W Higgins Ave.