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Bassim Al-Shaker

With shorter days and a slight chill in the air comes the fall art season, and 2023 has a bounty of cultural offerings. Launching this season is the first-ever Chicago Exhibition Weekend, presented by Expo Chicago and cultural agency Gertie, taking place September 29 through October 1. The event is aimed at getting more visitors out to the dozens of visual arts institutions we have throughout the city, from the South Side Community Art Center in Bronzeville to the Hyde Park Art Center to a bevy of galleries in West Town and our hub of museums in the Loop, and many more in between. Many sites are staging activations alongside their openings, from artist talks to tennis matches—be sure to check their website for the full schedule. And all offerings, with the exception of the Art Institute and the MCA, are free of charge. In addition to CXW, here are seven more recommendations of art exhibitions to check out this season.

“Camille Claudel”
Like many brilliant women artists, Camille Claudel’s life has often overshadowed her work. Her relationship with fellow sculptor Auguste Rodin and her long, forced institutionalization later in life have been portrayed onstage and film and in music and books. But her works! Viewing her lifelike sculptures, in terracotta, plaster, bronze, and stone, depicting busts and real-life and allegorical scenes, is a rare delight. Her Torso of a Crouching Woman, though headless and missing pieces, looks as though it might start to breathe. And her well-known The Waltz is a masterful depiction of a couple midstep. Working at a time when there were few women sculptors, it’s no surprise that a contemporary critic described her as “a revolt of nature: a woman genius.”

This exhibition, which will travel to the Getty Museum next year, is the first U.S. show on Claudel in nearly 20 years. Indeed, the show is meant to, in part, bolster the French artist’s renown stateside, where less than ten of her works are held in museum collections. Claudel’s reintroduction to the U.S. taking place in Chicago could not be more apt; her work was first shown in this country 130 years ago, at our city’s 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. She deserves a warm welcome. 10/7/23-2/19/24: Mon 11 AM-5 PM, Thu 11 AM-8 PM, Fri-Sun 11 AM-5 PM; Art Institute of Chicago, 111 S. Michigan,, adults $32 ($40 Fast Pass, $27 Illinois residents, $20 Chicago residents), seniors 65+, students, and teens 14-17 $26 ($34 Fast Pass, $21 Illinois residents, $14 Chicago residents), children and under 14 and Chicago teens 14-17 free

“Celebrating 100 Years of Rafael Tufiño” 
Rafael Tufiño is kind of a big deal. In his lifetime, the painter and printmaker was known in Puerto Rican communities as the “Painter of the People,” and he’s still a highly regarded cultural figure. Trained in the history, style, and techniques of artists such as Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, and Taller de Gráfica Popular (People’s Graphics Workshop), he borrowed from a Mexican tradition of populism to describe Puerto Rican history, life, and ideas, particularly for Puerto Rican audiences. Now, his work is part of museum collections such as MoMA, the Met, and Galería Nacional.

In this retrospective, 39 paintings, drawings, and prints—most never shown in the continental United States—capture the breadth of his work. Tufiño worked at a time when there was robust government and private funding for public works, and developing a visual language for Boricua identity—through narrative, style, image, and color—was a broad cultural priority. Represented are recurring aesthetic fascinations, like motion, as much as central themes, like collaboration. “Celebrating 100 Years of Rafael Tufiño” is a must-see for anyone excited by muralism, wheatpasting, block printing, Latine history, or modern art—and in keeping with Tufiño’s values of accessibility, it’s a museum show that’s free. Through 8/24: Tue-Fri 10 AM-5 PM and Sat 10 AM-2 PM, National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts & Culture, 3015 W. Division,, free

“Gelitin: Democratic Sculpture 7″
Gelatin: it’s very cheap, and silly willies love its ability to assume endless shapes and colors while maintaining a deliciously whimsical bounce. No wonder a humanist and play-oriented collective from Vienna owes its namesake to the food (and toyed with its spelling). Gelitin was founded in 1993 by longtime friends Ali Janka, Florian Reither, Tobias Urban, and Wolfgang Gantner. For their populist, free-spirited interventions, the group has become renowned in the world of relational aesthetics—a contemporary art movement where artists are aesthetic facilitators of experiences that make viewers into participants in ways that challenge their relationships to the world.

Gelitin makes its Chicago debut at the Neubauer Collegium Gallery with “Democratic Sculpture 7.” It’s a giant piece of New York-style pizza made mostly from used clothes with five holes where toppings would be for people to poke their heads through. In doing this, observers become part of the pizza, inviting them to consider how pizza is a uniquely human way of feeding ourselves as much as clothes are a uniquely human way of marking ourselves. But also . . . you’re putting your head through a pizza made of clothes, presumably with others (strangers?). That’s pretty “hee-hee.” Don’t overthink it—or do! Deeper conversations and having fun can coexist. Your relationship to the materials and the object is up to you. Isn’t it fun to make things for people? Isn’t it fun to be people making things? “Democratic Sculpture 7” is a perfect introduction to what these intellectual jokers are about. 9/23/23-1/12/24: Mon-Fri 9 AM-4 PM, Neubauer Collegium Gallery, 5701 S. Woodlawn,


“Four Minutes”
In 2003, painter Bassim Al-Shaker was living in Iraq when then-President George W. Bush decided to go jingo on the country. It’s an experience many Americans, like myself, understand only at a distant remove mediated by television and computers—–a thing we can intellectualize as very real and tragic but that we’ve only witnessed on a screen, allowing us to exercise a certain detachment. Al-Shaker experienced it firsthand. In his new solo exhibition “Four Minutes,” he uses sumptuous oils to attempt to distill his experience into frames on canvases but with his own remove: time.

Warm, lush colors and explosive streaks give the images a firework-like quality, while the compositions border on something AI-generated. But they’re not; they exist like the escapist or worldbuilding potential of a video game while retaining all the evidence of a human’s touch, including the ethereal glow of oils that even the best inkjet couldn’t capture. Al-Shaker describes his emotional experience of the bombing by appropriating a digital aesthetic in a very human way, articulating something both physically and emotionally specific while using qualities only paint has. “Four Minutes” are the works of a paint lover living in a digital world as much as they are dispatches from a warm, open human who survived—like the “Firework” described by the great poet Katy Perry. Through 10/21: Tue-Fri 10 AM-5 PM, Sat 11 AM-5 PM, Rhona Hoffman Gallery, 1711 W. Chicago,

“Dala Nasser: Adonis River” 
For her first institutional solo exhibition, Lebanese artist Dala Nasser will stage a re-creation of sorts of the Adonis temple, the cave where Adonis was said to be killed, and its surroundings. In Greek mythology, Adonis—the mortal lover of Aphrodite—was killed by a wild boar near the body of water, now known as the Abraham River in Lebanon. Some versions of the myth describe anemones growing in the places where his blood was shed; legend has it that the river ran red each year during the festival of Adonis, hosted annually to commemorate his death.

Taking over the Renaissance Society’s gallery space, Nasser will configure fabrics dyed with the reddish clay of the Abraham River and washed in its water. On the fabric are paintings made inside the Adonis cave. In her work, Nasser, who often comingles disciplines, is interested in making direct contact with land, drawing attention to both the materiality of the work and the political and environmental degradation of the location. Curated by Ren executive director Myriam Ben Salah, the immersive installation surely needs to be experienced in person. Through 11/26: Wed and Fri noon-6 PM, Thu noon-7 PM, Sat-Sun 10 AM-6 PM, Renaissance Society, 5811 S. Ellis, Cobb Hall, 4th Fl.,


“Back to the Stars” 
For Sanford Biggers’s fourth solo show with Monique Meloche Gallery, the New York-based artist will show new marble works and three-dimensional quilt sculptures. In his work, Biggers takes historical art forms and delves into their materiality and social context—bringing new energy to formal structures. 

In his Chimera series, Biggers draws attention to the historical erasure of sculptures’ contexts—from the tradition of polychromy (wherein classical Greek and Roman sculptures, which we typically associate as purely white, were originally multicolored) to the “blackwashing” of African art objects. For this series, the artist will show two new hand-painted marble busts. As part of Biggers’s ongoing Codex series, the artist will show a new large-scale quilt sculpture, wherein he stretches geometric fabric across wooden frames. The resulting pieces are origami-like in execution, as seen in his last solo presentation at the gallery, 2018’s “New Work.” Through 10/28: Tue-Sat 11 AM-6 PM, Monique Meloche Gallery, 451 N. Paulina,

“Judy Fiskin: The Way We Live Now” 
In “The Way We Live Now,” Chicago-born photographer Judy Fiskin appropriates and augments images of expensive homes from real estate websites to underscore the isolating qualities of capitalism, including the increasing dissolve between public and private life. Fiskin came of age as an artist in the 1970s in southern California, where, among other things, she was codirector of Womanspace Gallery during a time when feminist art championed reflections on the politics of the domestic sphere. This is the eye she brings to her snapshots of homes for sale during late-stage capitalism.

From opulent fixtures to eccentric staging, the images provide a quiet window into the specifics of wealth while capturing a sweeping sense of loneliness. Some of this owes to the artist’s intervention, and some of it is inherent to the spaces and how they’re staged and lit for a digital audience of would-be buyers and voyeurs. Identifying when it’s the former vs. the latter (and why) requires carefully studying the images. This show is an exercise in visual meditation that’s sure to raise questions about lifestyle, loss, and where wealthy Americans’ homes sit within the narrative of western expansion. 9/24-11/19: open by appointment only, email, Ruschwoman, 2100 S. Marshall, Unit 105,

Written by Kerry Cardoza and Micco Caporale

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