Re: Chicago — the current exhibition at the DePaul Art Museum — pulls together works of artists nominated by 40 people in the Chicago art world. Two DePaul faculty members talk about their artist nominations and about participating in the process.
Artist: Ellen Lanyon
Nominator: Mary Ann Papanek-Miller, professor and department chair
When I was asked to choose an artist for the exhibition, I thought of Ellen Lanyon. As an artist and a fan, I’ve admired Lanyon’s work — as well as her spirit, her work ethic, and her subject matter — for most of my adult life, perhaps because our work shares a sympathy and sensibility: we both record images that include representational language, thereby creating “readability” in our paintings. The images in her work (and mine) can be assembled by the viewer to tell a story; there’s no “right” story, but the narrative hits a nerve in memory.
We also have other qualities in common. Lanyon composes her images from objects that she collects, “cast away” objects; I have a vast collection of toys, which make their way into my work. And we both started in Chicago. Where you come from matters — it affects the way people move through space, the way they think, the anecdotes they tell, and their responses to the world at large. Being a “Chicago artist” means something.
Participating in Re: Chicago was an unusual opportunity for me to extend my work as an artist and my vocation as a professor and to draw on my experiences as both in a new way. The exhibition is rich and full of energy; the works in the show speak to many different groups and people. I’m grateful to have had the chance to add Ellen Lanyon’s voice to the conversation.
Papanek-Miller wrote this caption for The Italian Box:
"Ellen Lanyon’s private mythology encompasses several dual realities: fear and delight, right and wrong, interior and exterior. Each of her paintings represents a moment of time, a piece of a visual — even theatrical — narrative in which land, water, animals, and her collected objects co-exist, and each manifests her interests in environmental issues, science, magic, and humor.
"The Italian Box lives in these dual realities as an interior object located in an idyllic, exterior space. The snake (a symbol of life to some and danger to many) enters the box by its own means, perhaps serving as a reluctant or tardy guardian of the forbidden candies carefully placed outside it. The snake’s choice to curl up in the interior tempts us to consider grabbing a piece of chocolate since it appears the snake is just far enough away for us to do so. Or have we been magically tricked to fall for this illusion of safety?
"Lanyon’s artistic practice formed during the uncertain decade of the 1960s while she was living in Chicago. The time and place informed her artistic practice and fostered her independence as an art maker and thinker. She continues to be an active and respected artist today, and her quiet influence hovers over many in this city, myself included."
Artist: Margaret Burroughs
Nominator: Joanna Gardner-Huggett, associate professor
I was asked to pick an artist who has not received enough attention, and Margaret Burroughs fits that bill.
In my research I ask why some artists, particularly women, disappear from history. One cause is that entrenched patterns prevent a comprehensive view of what the “art world” was like during specific periods. For example, Chicago was a good place for women artists before the ‘50s, and one reason was that the WPA hired them and gave them a weekly salary, thereby allowing them to thrive. Now, the Illinois Women Artists Project — a collection of artists, teachers, and students — is reviving the study of artists that have been neglected; when asked to research an artist, some of my own students selected from the IWAP list. One picked Margaret Burroughs, and so my interest was piqued.
Like everyone else, I knew about Burroughs from her philanthropy, her career in art education, and her commitment to art access in the African American community. But I really didn’t know much about her artwork.
Her paintings are not art for its own sake. Rather, she makes simple scenes and charges them with questions of social justice. That drew me to her work. The painting I proposed for Re: Chicago was done in 1967, in the middle of the civil rights movement. But Burroughs doesn’t show clashes with police or violence; rather, she depicts the younger generation, the next step: two girls standing together in the same space.
The wonderful thing about Re: Chicago was that each nominator acted independently; we didn’t have to choose art strategically, and that made for a lot of surprises. This unique way of putting the show together really shows off the museum’s commitment to Chicago and to the city’s diversity. Without an agenda, the show engages discussion, debate, and discourse — and that’s wonderful for the art, the artists, and the viewers.
Gardner-Huggett wrote this caption for Peace:
"Margaret Burroughs is remembered by the Chicago arts community as the founder of the DuSable Museum of African American History and the South Side Community Arts Center, as a poet, and as a scholar of African American culture. These significant accomplishments often eclipse her production in the visual arts, but Burroughs was also an accomplished painter, draftsman, and printmaker.
"Utilizing figuration in dialogue with African traditions, social realism, and European modernism, her images encourage the viewer to engage with the history and iconic voices of the abolitionists and civil rights movements. More subtle, but equally powerful, are Burroughs’ images of ordinary and tender moments in the African American community — like families sharing a meal, the embrace of a mother and her child, a girl playing hopscotch or standing in front of a classroom — which suggest the promise of racial equality for succeeding generations.
"Peace features two girls, one African American and one white. The former stares outward with her black-and-white cat; the later offers a red bird, an acknowledgement of the bloodshed due to racism, yet also a commitment to an integrated future. The cat’s disinterest in the bird may be read as an acceptance of her offering and a common desire to move forward in peace."