5 Must-See Gallery Shows in Chicago

Dealers opened major exhibitions during Expo Chicago with giants like McArthur Binion, Jules Allen, John Chamberlain, and many more.

Shinique Smith, Red Swan (2024). Image courtesy the artist and Monique Meloche Gallery, Chicago.

Expo Chicago, the Windy City’s marquee art fair, just closed on Sunday, after bringing more than 170 exhibitors to the famous Navy Pier on Lake Michigan. The event drew even more attention than usual, since it was acquired by Frieze last summer, and galleries all over town opened major new exhibition amid the festivities. Here are five that are not to be missed.

McArthur Binion and Jules Allen: Me and You” at Gray Chicago

Through May 31, 2024

an image of a blue and gray painting with an overlaid blue grid pattern by McArthur Binion

McArthur Binion, Handmadeness:two (2023). Image courtesy Gray Gallery.

Artists McArthur Binion and Jules Allen have been friends since the early 1980s, when they met in New York as members of a circle of Black avant-garde musicians, writers, and artists, but this show marks the first time their work has been presented together. Binion is debuting 11 new paintings alongside photographs by Allen. Binion’s new series, “Handmadeness,” delves into the lexicon of what he terms the “under conscious,” visual markers of his identity collected in a repeating, interwoven grid. He uses copies of his birth certificate and his address book, as well as photographs of himself, his hand, his father, and mother. Allen, a New York-based photographer and Kamoinge Workshop member who was a protégé of Roy DeCarava, is showing series from the 1980s to present.

Shinique Smith: METAMORPH” at Monique Meloche Gallery

Through May 18

an image of a work by Shinique Smith with spirals and whirls of vibrant colors

Shinique Smith, Midnight in my garden (2024). Image courtesy the artist and Monique Meloche Gallery.

Shinique Smith has become famous for her monumental, totem-like fabric sculptures and abstract paintings that embrace calligraphy and collage. She says they’re inspired by her “magical childhood experiences,” like chanting with the Dalai Lama, tagging in a graffiti crew in Baltimore, and going to fashion shows with her mother in Paris and New York. The show, her first with Monique Meloche, introduces a series of new large-scale paintings that incorporate fabric, brocades, and embroideries that produce a burst of color, light, and motion. Smith says of the work: “Unfolding, unraveling, and dancing around the perimeter of the gallery, the paintings are a reminder that everything is in motion and constantly evolving.”

Lorraine O’Grady: The Knight, or Lancela Palm-and-Steel” at Mariane Ibrahim Gallery

April 10-May 25, 2024

an image of a black and white photo depicting a knight holding a sword

Lorraine O’Grady, Announcement Card 2 (Spike with Sword, Fighting), 2020. Image courtesy of the artist and Mariane Ibrahim (Chicago, Paris, and Mexico City) © 2024 Lorraine O’Grady/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Lorraine O’Grady’s first solo exhibition with Mariane Ibrahim also marks the first time she has focused fully on her most recent artistic persona, the character of the Knight, or “Lancela Palm-and-Steel.” The Knight made its first appearance in the artist’s 2021 retrospective at the Brooklyn Museum, four decades after the creation of her most famous avatar, “Mlle Bourgeoise Noire,” who confronted the prevailing racial segregation of the New York art world through unannounced performances at public art events. The Knight—along with Pitchy-Patchy, her squire, and Rociavant, her horse—is on a mission to finish what her predecessor started. However, this avatar’s identity is concealed within a suit of armor made in the style of a conquistador.

Jamal Cyrus + Harold Mendez: On turning ground” at Patron Gallery

Through June 1, 2024

an image of an artwork by Jamal Cyrus feautring a blue pyramid on a white background made with bleached denim, denim, zippers, cotton, thread, sea shells, glue

Jamal Cyrus, Signal (2023). Photo: Evan Jenkins. Image courtesy Patron Gallery, Chicago.

This two-person exhibition—the gallery’s second presentation with Jamal Cyrus and its third with Harold Mendez—combines new bodies of work in sculpture, drawing, textile, and sound. Cyrus’s expansive practice draws on collage and assemblage, and explores the evolution of African American identity within the context of Black political movements and the African diaspora. Mendez, who was born in Chicago and is now based in Los Angeles, was part of the 2017 Whitney Biennial, and is known for two- and three-dimensional works that feature rich textures and multilayered surfaces that result from labor-intensive processes.

John Chamberlain: Black Mountain Poems” and “Richard Wetzel: Some Must Watch, Paintings 1983-85” and “Damon Locks, Terri Kapsalis, Wayne Montana, Rob Shaw Noon Moons,” at Corbett vs. Dempsey

Through April 27, 2024

Corbett vs. Dempsey is offering three separate presentations. John Chamberlain’s Black Mountain College poems, composed during his time at the fabled institution in the mid-1950s and displayed here in typewritten form, are sure to be a revelation for those who know him only for his crushed-metal sculptures. Meanwhile, Richard Wetzel, a member of the Chicago Imagists, is showing mid-1980s paintings and prints of “original biomorphic creations—monstrous forms in eerie, opalescent hues with monochromatic backgrounds,” according to the gallery.

Last but not least, the gallery is showing in its “Vault” space a collaborative video, Noon Moons, with a remarkable backstory. In 2012, musician Damon Locks and writer Terri Kapsalis were each commissioned by Chicago’s Experimental Sound Studio to create pieces in response to the ESS Sun Ra/Alton Abraham archive. They decided to team up on a sound work and invited Wayne Montana, Locks’ colleague in the Eternals, to help. After they finished, they had animator Rob Shaw create accompanying visual element. The final work, clocking in at 17 minutes and 30 seconds, incorporates elements of Sun Ra’s philosophy via spoken word—a worldview that is “simultaneously bleak and optimistic,” as the gallery put it in a statement.

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