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A portrait by Gio Swaby and a vivid photograph by Aïda Muluneh

April brings a strong slate of exhibitions, including textile portraitist Gio Swaby (left) at the Art Institute of Chicago and work by Ethiopian photographer Aïda Muluneh (right) as part of a citywide public art exhibition on bus shelters and billboards.

Gio Swaby, ‘My Hands Are Clean 4,’ 2017. Collection of Claire Oliver and Ian Rubinstein/Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago. Aïda Muluneh, ‘To Speak in Silence,’ 2022. Photography by David Sampson/Courtesy of Public Art Fund, NY

Spring is peak art season in Chicago. Here are 12 don’t-miss events.

Fall used to be the season where art in Chicago blossomed, but that time is past. Last year, EXPO CHICAGO, the city’s largest international art event, moved from fall to spring. And with it, galleries and museums followed suit with their own marquee events.

With collectors and curators in town, April in particular has a dazzling lineup. As part of our weeklong Spring Culture Guide, here are 12 don’t-miss happenings.

“The Metropol Drama”

When: Now to July 9

Where: The Smart Museum of Art

Culture under the microscope: “The Metropol Drama” is a somewhat meta exhibition that aims to show the ways art is used as a cultural mirror. Expect traditionally defined works and media alongside common objects such as legal documents and currencies. Together, the items present a strong and subversive curation of individuals, societies and how they tick.

Info: The Smart Museum of Art, 5550 S. Greenwood Ave. Free.

Conversations at the Edge 2023

When: March 30 through April 27

Where: Gene Siskel Film Center

“Conversations at the Edge” is an ongoing series of art-driven films screenings where the director is usually in attendance, so audience members can gain special insights. The spring lineup is particularly strong, with Art Institute alums Deborah Stratman (Last Things, 2023) and Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Memoria, 2021) each returning to discuss their projects. Plus, Claudia Hart, a pioneering digital artist and School of the Art Institute professor, speakers about her work Memory Theater, a new live performance that includes video elements reflecting on her life and career.

Info: At the Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State St. General admission tickets are $13; tickets are free for students.

All week long, WBEZ is curating lists of the best of spring culture in the Chicago area.

“Forecast Form: Art in the Caribbean Diaspora”

When: Now through April 23

Where: Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago

The ‘90s are still having a resurgence, but in addition to the allure of low-rise denim and crop tops, the decade had a major effect on the production and circulation of Caribbean art. “Forecast Form” explores themes of weather, identity and place in ‘90s Caribbean art, and showcases the impact the region has had on our evolving culture.

Info: Through April 23 at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, 220 E. Chicago Ave. Tickets are $15.


Aïda Muluneh

When: Through May 21st

Where: All over Chicago

Ethiopian photographer Aïda Muluneh has shown her work at the Museum of Modern Art and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art. But this spring, her imprint will be seen all over Chicago, from displays on bus shelters (now through May 21st) to digital billboards downtown (April 3rd through 23rd). Muluneh’s photography often features women gazing at the camera with graphically painted faces. Beyond the first striking impression, there is deeper meaning: The artist often channels religious iconography, reflecting upon various political regimes she has lived through.

Info: Click here for more on Muluneh’s work.

Gio Swaby: “Fresh Up”

Gio Swaby My Hands Are Clean 4

Gio Swaby. My Hands Are Clean 4, 2017. Collection of Claire Oliver and Ian Rubinstein. Copyright Gio Swaby

Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago

When: April 8 to July 3

Where: Art Institute Chicago

Gio Swaby’s textile portraiture is simply beautiful to look at. Swaby specializes in embroidered work that channels Blackness and womanhood. In them, she plays with ideas of textured hair, clothing and jewelry. She is a master of portraiture and an expert in empowering her subjects by highlighting their truth.

Info: April 8 to July 3 at The Art Institute of Chicago, 111 S. Michigan Ave. Tickets from $14.

EXPO Chicago

A large installation by local artist Michael Rakowitz

Crews put the final touches on the 2022 Art EXPO booth for Rhona Hoffman Gallery. Art EXPO draws galleries and curators from all over the world but always includes a strong local presence. Pictured here is a large installation by local artist Michael Rakowitz.

Manuel Martinez

When: April 13 to 16

Where: Navy Pier’s Festival Hall

Chicago’s marquee art event returns in its new seasonal slot with 170 groundbreaking exhibitors and artists from 36 countries. The event is a draw for art experts and serious buyers who come to hobnob with each other and scout emerging talent — but with a strong roster of installations, speakers and more, it’s also a great event for those new to the scene or simply curious about art.

Info: Navy Pier’s Festival Hall, 600 E. Grand Avenue. Tickets start at $30.

Art in Common: “Boil, Toil & Trouble”

A brightly colored sculpture by Niki De Saint Phalle

Niki De Saint Phalle, ‘Sphinx,’ 1990. 11 x 16 15/16 x 12 ⅝ in. Painted polyester

Courtesy of Art In Common

When: April 12 to April 23

Where: 400 N. Peoria St.

For those into all things witchy and mystical, “Boil, Toil & Trouble” is bound to cast a spell. The show, put on by Art in Common, will make use of a 15,000-square-foot commercial space currently not in use in Chicago’s Fulton Market district. It will feature 50 contemporary artists and explore the role of witches in contemporary art.

Info: 400 N. Peoria St. Free.

Richard Bell

When: April 12 and April 15

Where: Gene Siskel Film Center

Richard Bell is an aboriginal artist in his 70s whose work has been widely exhibited in Australia and Europe but has not received a lot of U.S. attention. The Gene Siskel Film Center hopes to correct that by having a sneak peek screening of You Can Go Now, a documentary about Bell’s work and life. Even better, in addition to the film, the artist will be featured at EXPO CHICAGO and hold a talk on Saturday, April 15.

Info: Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State St. Tickets are $14.

Allana Clark

When: April 14 to April 23

Where: Kavi Gupta’s Washington Boulevard gallery

Trinidadian-American artist Allana Clark uses unconventional materials — such as hair bonding glue — to create work that is both interpersonal and intercultural. Her sculptures contrast the rich complexity of Black experiences with the way our culture pigeonholes and oversimplifies, exploring such topics as health, image, beauty and expression.

Info: Kavi Gupta, 835 W. Washington Blvd. Free.

Barely Fair: International Miniature Fair

A row miniature galleries offers a smaller version of the traditional art fair.

Barely Fair’s miniature galleries offer an alternative to the largescale of the traditional art fair.

Courtesy of Barely Fair

When: April 14 to April 23

Where: Julius Caesar Color Club in Irving Park

Good things come in small packages, and Barely Fair is no exception. Now in its third year, the event gives less established and alternative galleries a platform for exhibiting their work in smaller booths that, together, offer a more digestible take on a traditional art fair. The venue — a new gallery and performance space in a former Latvian cultural center — is worth a visit, too.

Info: Color Club, 4146 N. Elston Ave.

“Skin + Masks”

An installation view of Skin + Masks, which will be mounted in April in collaboration with EXPO CHICAGO, The Magnificent Mile Association and Kavi Gupta.

An installation view of Skin + Masks, which will be mounted in April in collaboration with EXPO CHICAGO, The Magnificent Mile Association and Kavi Gupta.

When: Through April

Where: 535 N. Michigan Ave.

For some, an art gallery may feel inaccessible. “Skin + Masks” is hoping to rectify that by remounting a popular gallery show from 2022 and bringing it to Chicago’s iconic Michigan Avenue. Put on by Chicago rapper Vic Mensa, known for his unique lyrical style and collaborations with Chance the Rapper, the exhibition spotlights 30 emerging and established Chicago-based contemporary artists expressing themes of identity and experience. Artists include AFRICOBRA co-founder Gerald Williams, Nikko Washington, Mia Lee, Thelonious Stokes and Lola Ayisha Ogbara.

Info: 535 N. Michigan Ave.


Film, Video, New Media, Animation and Sound Festival

When: May 10 through 13

Where: Gene Siskel Film Center

Anything is possible at the School of the Art Institute’s annual student showcases for its undergrads and grads. This year’s lineup includes stories about travel, the pandemic, isolation, coming of age, heartbreak, climate change and more. They’re experimental, free and test the boundary of what’s possible in 2D and 3D.

Info: Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State St.

Julia Binswanger is a WBEZ audio producer and curator. Follow her @juliabinswanger.

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