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Art in Chicago

A History from the Fire to Now

For decades now, the story of art in America has been dominated by New York. It gets the majority of attention, the stories of its schools and movements and masterpieces the stuff of pop culture legend. Chicago, on the other hand . . . well, people here just get on with the work of making art.
Now that art is getting its due. Art in Chicago is a magisterial account of the long history of Chicago art, from the rupture of the Great Fire in 1871 to the present, Manierre Dawson, László Moholy-Nagy, and Ivan Albright to Chris Ware, Anne Wilson, and Theaster Gates. The first single-volume history of art and artists in Chicago, the book—in recognition of the complexity of the story it tells—doesn’t follow a single continuous trajectory. Rather, it presents an overlapping sequence of interrelated narratives that together tell a full and nuanced, yet wholly accessible history of visual art in the city. From the temptingly blank canvas left by the Fire, we loop back to the 1830s and on up through the 1860s, tracing the beginnings of the city’s institutional and professional art world and community. From there, we travel in chronological order through the decades to the present. Familiar developments—such as the founding of the Art Institute, the Armory Show, and the arrival of the Bauhaus—are given a fresh look, while less well-known aspects of the story, like the contributions of African American artists dating back to the 1860s or the long history of activist art, finally get suitable recognition. The six chapters, each written by an expert in the period, brilliantly mix narrative and image, weaving in oral histories from artists and critics reflecting on their work in the city, and setting new movements and key works in historical context. The final chapter, comprised of interviews and conversations with contemporary artists, brings the story up to the present, offering a look at the vibrant art being created in the city now and addressing ongoing debates about what it means to identify as—or resist identifying as—a Chicago artist today. The result is an unprecedentedly inclusive and rich tapestry, one that reveals Chicago art in all its variety and vigor—and one that will surprise and enlighten even the most dedicated fan of the city’s artistic heritage.
Part of the Terra Foundation for American Art’s year-long Art Design Chicago initiative, which will bring major arts events to venues throughout Chicago in 2018, Art in Chicago is a landmark publication, a book that will be the standard account of Chicago art for decades to come. No art fan—regardless of their city—will want to miss it.

See a gallery of images from the book.

448 pages | 160 color plates, 29 halftones | 9 1/4 x 11 | © 2018 

Art: American Art, Art--General Studies

Chicago and Illinois

History: American History


"If Chicago is a city of civic cheerleaders with self-esteem issues, this might serve as the inspiration for a better future. It’s the smartest, most thorough one-stop argument for the importance of Chicago art since Thomas Dyja’s 'The Third Coast.'"

Chicago Tribune

"Art in Chicago: A History from the Fire to Now is the first book to follow the flow of Chicago art from the nineteenth century to the present, and it is revelatory. Art historians Taft and Cozzolino and their expert contributors illuminate multiple dimensions of the Chicago art world, from its established institutions to its 'bohemian enclaves.' Era by era, elements that distinguish Chicago come into focus, especially the insurgent use of art as a force for dissent, social change, and community improvement."


"The most comprehensive treatment of the topic to date. . . . The book conspicuously lacks timelines and keywords, avoiding the encyclopaedic approach of past efforts. At the heart of this new history is instead a compelling story about how artistic identity is formed in the shadows. . . . All of these topics are deeply covered in the book's excellent essays."

Art Newspaper

"The book makes a persuasive proposal that Chicago, as a metropolitan art center, was and still is ahead of the curve. . . . The contributing authors and editors of Art in Chicago do not merely chronicle the recent progress and issues that arise around this unique but fickle economy; they also present tangible dialogue between artists, writers, and curators in an extensive series of interviews that comprise the latter half of this book. I have barely been able to touch on the wealth of knowledge and history this comprehensive text has to offer, let alone the cultural ambitions that can be garnered from the discussions in it. . . . It is a resource and reference that feels essential not only to anyone who is interested in art but also to anyone who is interested in urban life and culture, as well as politics and history."

New Art Examiner

"Art in Chicago: A History from the Fire to Now, edited by Maggie Taft and Robert Cozzolino, addresses Chicago’s art world in both its historical precedents and contemporary trajectory... It is a city that has, according to Taft and Cozzolino, the 'strength of art education, the prominence of women in the arts and the flourishing of African-American cultural institutions, the constancy of activism and social practice,' and these assets continue to attract people from all over the world to the city."

Newcity Art

"Art in Chicago surpasses all previous accounts of the city’s artistic heritage. Unintimidated by the immensity of the task, its editors have matched their subject in ambition, inclusiveness, and verve. If you are a Chicagoan, this history will make you proud."

Art in America

"Art in Chicago, the ambitious new attempt to fit the city’s art history between the covers of a book… explicitly pushes against the New York-centric art world narrative… With seven chapters on periods of Chicago’s art history each written by a different author or authors, editors Maggie Taft and Robert Cozzolino’s project grapples with Chicago’s insider-outsider status in the art world, negotiating between its geographic focus on a city that is not the capital of the modern world or modern art, and its interest in artistic tendencies outside the central thrust of art-historical narratives."

South Side Weekly

Table of Contents

Maggie Taft and Robert Cozzolino
1          Chicago Rising, 1871–1912 / Wendy Greenhouse
Finding Alice / Tom McCormick
Hull-House Arts / Heather Radke
Field Trips / Tony Jones
“Art for the Masses” / Wendy Greenhouse
2          Routes to Modernism, 1913–1943 / Jennifer Jane Marshall
The Lane Tech Murals / Sylvia Rhor
Small Wonders / Erin Hogan
Little Rooms / Liesl Olson
The Better Homes Institute / Erin Hogan

3          The Meaning of Place, 1933–1956 / Maggie Taft
William McBride / Maggie Taft
Hyde Park Art Center mission statement
The Great Ideas of Western Man / Lara Allison
The Taller de Gráfica Popular / Victoria Sancho Lobis
Bebop Artist Gertrude Abercrombie / Donna Seaman

4          Raw Nerves, 1948–1973 /Robert Cozzolino
Chicago Experimental Music, Part I / John Corbett
Vivian Maier / Pamela Bannos
Hef and LeRoy / Travis Vogan
The Fate of Regional Exhibitions / Studs Terkel

5          Making Space, 1961–1976 / Rebecca Zorach
Art Criticism in Chicago / James Yood
57th Street / Max Grinnell
Rhona Hoffman Gallery / Rhona Hoffman
On Henry Darger / Nathan Lerner

6          Alterity Rocks, 1973–1993 /Jenni Sorkin
Curating Chicago / Lynne Warren
How often are you at home in an exhibition? / Anthony Elms
Chicago Experimental Music, Part II / John Corbett
A Lovely So Real / Michal Raz-Russo
Cool, Conceptual, Controversial / Kathryn Hixson
7          Chicago Speaks, 1990–present
Karen Reimer and Diane Simpson
Matt Witkovsky on Dawoud Bey
Nick Cave and Anne Wilson
Stanislav Grezdo and Cesáreo Moreno
Gregg Bordowitz
Faheem Majeed
Dan Peterman and Michael Rakowitz
Kay Rosen and Tony Tasset
Hamza Walker with Tempestt Hazel
Chris Ware
Julia Fish and Judy Ledgerwood
Mary Jane Jacob and Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle
Caroline Picard and Temporary Services
Matthew Metzger and Richard Rezac
Maggie Taft on Amanda Williams
Michelle Grabner
John Corbett
Theaster Gates with Rebecca Zorach
Lin Hixson and Peter Taub
Kerry James Marshall
Contributor Biographies         
Illustration Credits     

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